After 2 years engagement across Europe, and helping businesses to expand within the one digital market Europe, we recognize that the language barrier is bigger than originally anticipated. The vast majority of mid market businesses in particular in Spain, Italy, France and Greece are incapable to conduct international business in Europe, let alone on a global scale, due to the lack of English language knowledge. Looking at those countries and the general language skills of their population show a striking pattern: Countries with a relatively high distribution of the English language do rather well and those with a pretty low popularity of English have some serious problems. After all we consider the language barrier the single biggest obstacle for a European success story and a healthy European Economy.
Language barrier, Europe’s single biggest business obstacle
When the European Commission in Brussels decided to support all the European languages, it actually supported the idea that EU countries maintain and continue working with their own language. However, this behavior makes it almost impossible to make any significant inroads in a Pan European trade engagement. Obviously it was important for the EC to get the ‘buy in’ from all the various countries. In addition it is certainly important to not exclude countries right from the beginning by building a language barrier, requiring everybody to speak a common language.
Also we from the DSEU decided to add a foreign language page for each country to make it easier to understand what we are doing. Yet, whether it’s easy or not – there is no effective digital single market without overcoming the language barrier and everybody speaking English.
A great example is the island of Malta. With its approximately 450,000 inhabitants, Malta makes great progress as a EU member country. Malta is able to attract businesses and also able to conduct business across all Europe. While locals still speak and practice the local language ‘Malti’, English is the primary language.
To the contrary, in Spain for example most senior business people speak only Spanish or some of the other Spanish languages like Catalan, Basque and Galician. For quite a while French was the first foreign language and only in the more recent past English became the first foreign language at school. International information flow is not making it deep into the Spanish population and as such foreign technologies, foreign trade initiatives and global competition is just not comprehended well enough. A very similar problem is in French or Italy, where English isn’t a preferred second language. Those rather large European nations are dependent on their inner economic stability. France is even actively trying to promote the idea of focusing on french products to their citizens – not understanding that this suggestion is weakening the French economy even further.
Our Suggestion for the European Commission
After all, we still recommend to support all the currently supported languages in order to make it easy to get access to European Commission initiated programs. However we strongly recommend the EC is undertaking three major efforts to increase the inter European trade and stimulate more business, resulting in more jobs:
1) English Language Stimulation Program
We recommend putting some significant pressure on countries with rather large business population between 35 and 50 not speaking English and create highly motivating programs to motivate those to learn English even at an age of 35 plus.
2) Language controlled funding and grants
We recommend the EC is no longer funding any program or company that is not able to introduce or sell there products in countries outside their own and have product or service descriptions available in English language. While there maybe a need to support some of those businesses, the funds however should not come from the EC but from local governments if at all.
3) Joint Government Engagement
We recommend that the EC is closely collaborating with all European government officials and helping the various country representatives understand the importance of speaking English in order to be able to compete on a global scale and at least within the European Union.
Without a common business language, a European Economy will remain to be in danger and further weaken the already weak countries. The EC must find a way to close the economic chasm between those healthy countries that are easily able to conduct trade with other countries such as Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, Netherlands, Belgium, Malta…. and those with major language issues such as France, Italy, Span, Portugal, Greece…