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Benefits of language skills in international business

SDI staff at Guangdong Investor Forum 2017

Benefits of learning a language in international business

From gaining a competitive edge to winning new contracts, family-run business ACE Aquatec is finding that developing language and intercultural skills among its team and accessing the right support, is helping it grow in international markets.

In his 2015 article in the Scottish Journal of Political Economy, Professor James Foreman-Peck reported that lack of language skills and the assumption that "everyone speaks English" costs the UK economy around £48 billion a year.
If you're looking to grow your business in international markets, having a grasp of languages and intercultural skills could well give you the upper hand when doing business abroad. ACE Aquatec is a good example of a Scottish company doing exactly that.
Andrew Gillespie, ACE Aquatec's Operations and Support Specialist, talks about the company's success to date:

"Co-founders, inventor John Ace Hopkins and investor Annette Pyne-Carter, saw the potential that technological innovations could have to speed up the adoption of responsible fish farming practices. From our headquarters in Dundee, ACE Aquatec project manage global R&D projects, partnering with world-leading experts in different scientific fields to apply breakthrough technological developments to aquaculture and marine industries.

"Ultimately, ACE Aquatec has grown from a family-run business into a global supplier of aquaculture solutions. Understanding the language and culture of doing business in different markets has been fundamental to our success, helping retain a focus on local partnerships and personal customised solutions."

Gaining a competitive edge

"Understanding the challenges that our customers face in their industry, market and sector, separates us from our competitors. Our customers appreciate our ability to hold a conversation with them in their mother tongue.

"We, as a team, have developed knowledge of other cultures through language learning and, ultimately, how businesses operate in terms of conduct, styles, attitudes and values.

"My colleague, Mike, and I were incredibly successful at generating new leads at Aqua Sur. These leads have since transformed into contracts for our humane electric stunner, acoustic deterrents and biomass estimation systems. Follow-up visits with multinational companies, growing our distribution network, and visiting fish farm sites in Chile, would certainly not have been possible without the ability to speak Spanish.

"Moreover, our managing director speaks a little bit of German, which was incredibly useful for finalising contracts in both Germany and Switzerland.

"I share an office with our Marketing and Finance Specialist, Michelle, who's from The Netherlands. Last year, ACE formed a strategic partnership with Van Oord in Rotterdam for their innovative acoustic device, The FaunaGuard. The device will be made available to all marine contractors to protect marine life near marine construction activities. In addition to fluent Dutch, Michelle speaks German and conversational French, as she previously lived and studied in France. We had also both tried our hand at learning some Norwegian via the Duolingo app for our visit to AquaNor in Trondheim this year."

What support have you received to enter new markets?

"Scottish Enterprise and Business Gateway supported ACE Aquatec to set up an office in Canada and develop our network of distribution partners in key markets worldwide. External expert consultants helped us with rentals and sales of goods to markets such as Russia, New Zealand, Canada and Chile.

"Two of the ACE Aquatec team travelled to Puerto Montt in Chile for the exhibition, Aqua Sur in October 2018. Scottish Enterprise supported our participation at the event and introduced us to dignitaries from the British Embassy in Santiago.

"Scottish Enterprise also helped us secure funding for various R&D projects that offer technological solutions for facilitating sustainable aquaculture in Scotland and the rest of the world. We regularly attend their workshops and seminars, which help us promote business, both at home and abroad, and allow the company to exceed commercial expectations."

ACE Aquatec product demo

Does having foreign language skills help employee prospects?

"Knowing another language undoubtedly separates you from other candidates, at interview stage. And arguably it helps you to become a more rounded individual, as many aspects of your social life will often spill into your working life. This is certainly relevant for networking events, either in terms of increased confidence or being able to switch between languages almost effortlessly.

Languages help us:

  • improve our decision-making skills
  • avoid communication errors
  • plan better
  • really understand our target market or audience

"Language learning also helps us to place a greater importance on diversity and open-mindedness, which is vital in business nowadays. Many multinational companies, which expand business globally, almost expect you to know another language."

What are the wider benefits of language learning?

"As a team, we're constantly in contact with stakeholders via telephone or e-mail. And it's important to be able to demonstrate an excellent working knowledge of the industry culture. This is very beneficial in sales and customer support.

"Again, on a personal note, I have been fortunate to have been given the opportunity to travel and represent the company at exhibitions in different continents, enhancing the profile of ACE Aquatec on a global platform.

"Language learning allows for the broadening of both personal and professional horizons, while serving to break down barriers, and not just for business.

"The British Council recognises Spanish as number one of 'Top 20 Languages to Learn', so I may well be opening the South American office in the not-so-distant future."

Andrew Gillespie and Mike Forbes, ACE Aquatec

Language and interpreting resources for Scottish businesses

Watch our recent webinar hosted by Dr Jonathan Downie on 'Language Services for Exporting Businesses' (with an emphasis on interpreting). Slides for this webinar start at 1:50 minutes in.

Institute of Translation and Interpreting is the only UK-based independent professional membership association for practising translators, interpreters and language services businesses. It can help your business:

Our Talent Scotland team can help Scottish companies access a network of international skilled professionals, including language skills.  

SCILT – Scotland’s National Centre for Languages provides information and advice on language learning programmes in Scotland.

Need help growing your business?

Talk to our advisers to learn more about market entry and culture of doing business abroad.