Is a lack of foreign language understanding limiting SME exports?

A lack of foreign language understanding could be limiting the amount of business that SMEs are capable of completing.


That is the view of Jim Hart, the founder of Europlus Direct which deals with IBM by selling maintenance contracts across the globe.


A lack of foreign languages and what he called an “arrogant attitude” towards them are costing many SMEs business.


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“I think that a lot of British firms are missing out on an enormous amount of business overseas because they take the view that everyone speaks English so they don't need to bother learning other languages,” explained Mr. Hart.


He added that learning about foreign markets was “absolutely critical” for an SME looking to extend business and highlighted the importance of multilingual staff.


Europlus Direct makes around 96% of its £7.5 million sales from overseas markets, stressing the significance of targeting the right areas and the right people within them.


Mr. Hart pointed to the fact that 75% of his staff are multilingual and that between a workforce of 40 people, they are fluent in 14 European languages.


The export markets need full-scale commitment in order to breakthrough them and he added that having staff who spoke different languages allowed barriers to be broken down very quickly.


At the same time, a greater onus needs to be placed on learning language skills at school as Mr. Hart fears the long-term growth and stability of SMEs will require that they open up to foreign markets.


Tailoring websites and specific aspects of a company to targeted countries could open up a host of opportunities for many SMEs, reducing the chance of financial pressure, receivership or worse.


By Phil Smith


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