Language experts based in Stirling say William Wallace would be embarrassed by the lack of foreign skills possessed by Scottish companies.
Translation and interpreting agency Global Voices are situated in the shadow of the Wallace Monument, a memorial to arguably Scotland’s greatest hero and a man who could speak two languages as well as his own. They are worried about Scottish firms’ ambivalence to the importance of foreign culture and language in business.
It is well known that Wallace was fluent in French and Latin as well as his mother tongue, but today more than 700 years on you would be lucky to find a Scottish firm conversant in more than one language.
Luigi Koechlin, who runs his agency from Stirling University’s Innovation Park, has interpreters and translators to cover all of the world’s languages, but he fears Scottish companies could lose out on millions of pounds of business if they do not address their language inequality soon.
William Wallace knew the value of understanding different cultures and tongues. The English underestimated him thinking he was a barbarian and he managed to win great victories over them.
“However, I think he would be a bit embarrassed that we expect everyone else to speak English instead of making the effort to train employees or call on agencies like ourselves to help out when it comes to breaking down the language barrier.”
And he adds:
“The world is getting smaller year by year in the business sense. It is turning into a United Nations of business and anyone not embracing the fact is going to struggle. It is unrealistic to rely on everyone speaking English.”
The pitfalls are everywhere – and making the mistake of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, or inadvertedly offending potential business partners – is easier than you think.
“The European Union is getting bigger and bigger with recent additions to the Union such as Romania and Bulgaria, but I think unless Scottish firms wise up on foreign culture and language they could lose out on a lot of money.”
“I have seen the passion that Wallace inspires in people all over the world, but especially the Scottish people. Hopefully his example will encourage the Scottish business community to seek more language and cultural freedom.”
Luigi Koechlin has travelled extensively and knows that although many people speak English overseas, they will usually prefer to carry out negotiations in their native language.
In reality, 75% of the world’s population does not speak English. British businesses, usually without realising it, lose millions every year because they do not speak the languages of their customers.
Placed in the context that 60% of British trade is with non-English speaking countries, we soon realise the implications of not bothering to “learn the lingo”. We must compete on an equal footing therefore we must exploit languages more effectively.
Further figures from the Scottish Executive
- Funding to support foreign language learning has increased from £3.7 million in 2000-01 to £4.2 million in 2001-2002 and £4.7 million in 2002-03 and 2003-04. On March 1, 2004, Peter Peacock announced that a further £4 million would be available for local authorities for 2004/05.
- Over £23 million has been spent on support language education since 1993.
- We have developed two information leaflets explaining the benefits of languages, aimed at parents and secondary school pupils.
- All pupils are entitled to learn a foreign language from Primary 6 – S4. They are encouraged to continue their entitlement to learn a language as part of their post-16 study.
- In 2001 Ministers accepted the recommendations contained in the report “Citizen of a Multilingual World” by the Ministerial Action Group on Languages. The report provided recommendations on how modern language learning could be supported and promoted in schools. Central to this was the recommendation that all students should be entitled to an experience of learning a modern language, beginning no later than P6.
Global Voices are a Translation Services Company with headquarters based in Stirling, Scotland. Visit the Global Voices Website to find out more about our service and for a free instant online translation quotation.