In his welcome speech Leonard Orban, the European Commissioner for Multilingualism, explained the significance of the event: "This is a unique gathering: we have business and employee interests; language specialists and academics; policy makers; and interested individuals. It is a much-needed opportunity for all stakeholders to start a debate on languages and businesses which should trigger change in attitudes and bring real results."
Among the prominent business representatives at the conference were Viscount Etienne Davignon, Minister of State and Chairman of the Board of Brussels Airlines; Simonetta Luz Afonso - President of Instituto Camões; António Gomes de Pinho - Chairman of the Board of Directors of Portgás and of the Serralves Foundation, in Portugal; Hermann Funk - Professor, Universität Jena; Paul Garrido - Responsable Ressources Humaines, Bouygues Entreprises France-Europe; Peter Mathews- Chairman and Managing Director of Black Country Metals Ltd, in the United Kingdom. Representatives from other European companies are also present at this conference.
The conference was convened following the results of research, published earlier this year (see also IP/07/230), which shows that lack of language skills leads to loss of business. Companies that have a strategic approach to multilingual communication were shown to be able to boost their export sales by more than 40 % compared to their competitors without formal language strategies.
The same study went on to show that even though English is in the top position as the "lingua franca" for international business, there is also increasing demand for other languages. While around one quarter of the companies surveyed felt that they still needed to improve their English, a similar proportion felt the need to expand into German or French, with Spanish and Russian also featuring prominently in the ranking. Many companies – particularly large ones - also stressed their need for non-European languages such as Chinese, Arabic and Urdu, as they seek to expand into non-European markets.
According to a recent study in the United Kingdom, the number of people worldwide who are learning English will peak at around 2 billion in the next 10-15 years. Contrary to popular belief, this is actually bad news for monolingual English speakers. A previous study, by the organisation CILT, into the impact of language skills on the UK economy showed that UK companies export as much to Denmark, with a population of 5 million, as they do to Central and South America, with a population of 390 million.
As a follow up to the Business Conference, a new Business Forum on Multilingualism, chaired by Viscount Davignon will be launched. The Business Forum will bring together a small group of European managers who will identify how companies can make operational use of language management as part of their efforts to maximise their economic performance.
 Effects on the European Economy of Shortages of Foreign Language Skills in Enterprise