English 'not business lingua franca'
"Sometimes people think that English is the lingua franca for business, but this is not true," Commissioner Orban told participants in a roundtable discussion on the importance of language skills for SMEs, held as part of the EU's SME Week.
"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," Orban said.
The commissioner was addressing a roundtable which focused on "practical tools" to help small countries improve their work with languages. Discussions focused on possible shortcuts to better multilingual communication, reaching out to new customers abroad, and "making better strategic use of language skills".
EU business 'losing competitiveness'
Referring to a Commission-backed report released by European business leaders last year, 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".
The report had warned that EU industry is at risk of losing competitiveness as other countries start outperforming the bloc in terms of language skills (EurActiv 14/07/08).
'Platform for dialogue'
Commissioner Orban announced that the EU executive was planning to set up a "permanent platform" to boost dialogue between business and "stakeholders from the linguistic scene," with the aim of helping companies to develop their use of foreign languages.
In last summer's report, the Business Forum for Multilingualism warned that emerging economies, primarily in Asia and Latin America, are quickly acquiring the solid language skills necessary for successful competition and that Europe will have to promote formal and informal language learning more effectively if it wants to compete.