Germany leading the way with business… and language

As UK businesses come under increasing pressure to maximise their potential overseas, this has highlighted just how lacking Britain is when it comes to languages skills.
Much has been written about the problems the UK export market faces, and how language skills are not being developed in line with business needs. But is it different elsewhere? Here, Comtec’s in-house experts, Marion and Katharina, explain how France and Germany are dealing with this issue.

Much has been written about the problems the UK export market faces, and how language skills are not being developed in line with business needs. But is it different elsewhere? Here, Comtec’s in-house experts, Marion and Katharina, explain how France and Germany are dealing with this issue.

French perspective
It’s a surprise that, given France’s economic strength and plenitude of produce, their businesses struggle when it comes to developing business overseas. This is largely down to their lack of linguistic skills.

The introduction of the Toubon Law, a monolingual policy passed in 1994 to ‘protect’ the French language, has severely affected their language skills development. This, in turn, has impacted France’s export potential.

  • Just 41 per cent of French companies consider linguistic skills important compared to the European average of 61 per cent, while 21 per cent see linguistic skills as an important requirement for hiring graduates compared to 31 per cent across other European countries.
  • Only 40 per cent of French companies have a multi-lingual export policy compared to 63 per cent of German ones.
  • 17 per cent of French companies hire graduates from elsewhere in Europe, compared to 28 per cent of German companies.

But times are changing. The French government is more and more determined to improve students’ language skills as part of a common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

One such improvement has come from the French Ministry of Education, which has introduced additional courses in spoken English, meaning 97 per cent of students aged 11-18 now learn English. French students can now also learn a foreign language from the age of six, and add a second language after the age of 13.

German perspective
With exports earning them approximately $1,337 trillion in 2010, it’s hardly surprising that Germany is second only to China when it comes to world exportation. This is not down to chance, but rather solid manufacturing and business strategies, combined with a strong linguistic policy.

Currently 40 per cent of Germans speak at least one foreign language, with 30 per cent speaking two or more. Put simply, language skills are considered essential.

  • 70 per cent of all German companies use foreign languages on a regular basis, with one third of employees communicating regularly in a language other than their mother tongue.
  • Half of all companies are encouraging employees to take language courses on a regular basis, using modern technology such as e-learning to ensure they are accessible.
  • A third of German companies are working to expand cross-cultural competences amongst their employees in order to avoid any cultural differences that might arise when working with companies overseas.

The Germans themselves also understand how important languages are to their employment prospects. Over 96 per cent said that, without a good command of English, it is very hard (or even impossible) to find a job there.

This is applicable across all industries and sectors – including food, metal and electronics, service, tourism, hotel, wholesale and finance. Job opportunities are also better if people speak two languages, with French and Spanish most required after English.

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