If you follow us on Facebook and twitter (and you really should!), you’ll have seen that we recently linked to an article by Chris Pyak, CEO of Immigrant Spirit GmbH in the Huffington Post, itself an updated and extended version of an article that appeared in The European in November 2014. Chris Pyak calls for English to become Germany’s second official language and bases his call on a number of key points:
- The German economy is dependent on exports and international business relies on English as its lingua franca.
- Even SMEs have become global companies, with teams spread across the world, and English is the basis for internal, as well as external, communication.
- Germany’s ticking demographic time-bomb means that only immigration can avert future economic and social decline and it is up to Germany to adapt to future immigrants as much as it is for the new arrivals to adapt to Germany.
- The creation of a European identity requires a shared language, and English is best placed to fulfil this role.
The importance of English
It doesn’t take long to find other key voices speaking out about the importance of foreign languages to German businesses and the crucial role a company’s ongoing commitment to improving its staff’s skills plays in a company’s overall success:
- “There are almost no medium-sized companies left that only serve the domestic German market,” says Tanja Schumann from the Association of German Engineers (VDI). “When it comes to recruiting new employees, foreign language skills are always a priority for companies.”
- “SMEs that employ native speakers, employees with foreign language skills or professional […] translators […] achieve export turnovers 44.5% higher than SMEs who neglect such investments.” European Commission PIMLICO Project, http:/ /ec.europa.eu/languages
- “93% of German employees who need to use a foreign language at work, need to use English.” Representative survey carried out by the Bundesinstitut für Berufsbildung (BIBB) and the Bundesanstalt für Arbeitsschutz und Arbeitsmedizin (BAuA)
There are further reports outlining the tangible costs to businesses of language barriers, such as the European Commission’s ELAN report which surveyed almost 2,000 SMEs from Europe’s 27 member states and stated that, “As many as 11 % of the SME’s in the sample declared having lost contracts as a direct result of linguistic and intercultural weaknesses.” With over a billion English speakers out there, at home, in Europe and across the world, it should be clear to every business in Germany that the benefits of improving your presentation and your staff’s English skills can be a major driver of growth.
Improving your company’s language management strategy
There are a range of concrete steps you can take to enhance the way you do business with international clients, suppliers and partners. One of the major messages from all of these reports, studies and articles is that it is important to use native-speaker employees and translators wherever possible. It’s well worth investing in high-quality translations of your website(s), published material, letters, emails, marketing copy, press releases, etc. It also makes sense to organise language courses for your staff and to support them in their private language learning (in-house courses, workshops, Bildungsurlaub, etc). The return on these investments, as the figures mentioned earlier clearly demonstrate, is tangible, direct and substantial.
As Ludwig Wittgenstein famously said, “The limits of my language are the limits of my world.” The only question is, “Where do you want to set those limits?”
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