So said Leonard Orban, the EU Commissioner for Multilinguism at the First European SME Week, a campaign to promote entrepreneurship across Europe and to inform entrepreneurs about support available for them at European, national and local level.
The roundtable discussion, entitled 'Languages mean business for SMEs', gathered EU officials and SME representatives, including arts and crafts entrepreneurs, to discuss how small companies can "work better with languages". Multilingualism Commissioner Leonard Orban unveiled the EU's new languages strategy in autumn 2008. The strategy called for "significant efforts [to] be made to promote language learning and to value the cultural aspects of linguistic diversity at all levels of education and training".
The EU executive's communication came hot on the heels of a report published by European business leaders last July, which warned that EU industry is at risk of losing competitiveness as other countries start outperforming the bloc in terms of language skills.
Their report complements an earlier one from the High Level Group on Multilingualism chaired by Lebanese author Amin Maalouf, which urged EU citizens to learn a second, 'personal adoptive' foreign language alongside one acquired for professional reasons.
"Sometimes people think that English is the lingua franca for business, but this is not true," Commissioner Orban told participants. "In terms of communication, English might be the lingua franca, but in addressing consumers everywhere in Europe and outside the EU, of course the company should […] develop linguistic and intercultural strategies."
Referring to a Commission-backed report, Orban said "the study clearly shows that small and medium-sized companies are losing business – losing money – due to the lack of linguistic and intercultural skills".
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