The ELAN findings served as a basis for honing the concept of a ‘Language Audit’ which was then refined following the PIMLICO Study, Promoting, Implementing, Mapping Language and Intercultural Communication Strategies in Organisations and Companies, which published the most successful examples of European companies undertaking carefully thought-through and implemented models of language Management strategies in their companies leading to significant increases in export turnover.
The key feature of the PIMLICO Study was that the European companies participating in the study were able to place a value on, and/or measure the impact of, their language management strategy in tangible bottom-line terms:
- Of the 40 selected companies in the study, 43% reported to have increased their turnover by more than 25% by introducing a strategy with new languages. An additional 30% put the impact in terms of trade at 16-25% of additional turnover.
- For nearly three in four companies, sales turnover has increased by a minimum of 16%.
- In several cases, a specific increase in sales was attributed to one or more of three particular measures, i.e. multilingual website adaptation, recruitment of native speakers or use of local agents to solve language problems.
This revealed common measures being used by successful companies which, during the process of an LCA, could be transferred into other companies leading to their success. For example, successful international companies tend to share a pattern of common characteristics in how they apply their language management strategy, they all have:
- Functional Capability across a Range of Languages
Most of the companies have fluency, characterized by the ability to negotiate in at least three foreign languages, one of which is invariably English. There is a common recognition, however, that a competitive edge comes from their multilingual and multicultural capability.
- High-Level Competence in English
A high level of competence in English is taken for granted in making company appointments and employees are expected to maintain high-level skills in English.
- Ability to Operate Globally and Adapt to Differing Linguistic Demands
Different languages are used for different markets or in parallel. Third languages are used for trading in various markets where companies don’t have the existing linguistic capability, e.g. German in Hungary.
- Use of Local Agents for Solving Linguistic and Cultural Issues
Companies experience a clear correlation between using local agents for solving language problems and their trade volume.
- Pervasive Internationalisation Underpinned by HR Strategy
The companies follow practical steps in using their linguistically able staff and in developing their people to be internationally, culturally and linguistically competent, e.g. they:
- Keep careful records of their staff’s language ability and put it to good use;
- Employ native speakers;
- Undertake linguistic and cultural training;
- Develop deeper intercultural understanding;
- Use professional translators and interpreters;
- Adapt their websites to other cultures;
- Work in partnership with local universities to hire short and long-term language support, including foreign students on placement.
Even amongst these ‘success stories’ there are examples of exceptional performance. For example, out of the 40 cases, ten ‘super-SME’ shared the following criteria:
- A unique and innovative combination or range of diverse language measures (forming a ‘complex’ LCA);
- An awareness of the cultural and/or linguistic complexity and sophistication of the markets in which they successfully trade;
- A willingness to trade ‘far and wide’: they traded in foreign ‘overseas’ markets, beyond Europe, notably in the BRICS;
- The quality and support for multilingualism as a policy in the company.
The ‘super-SMEs’ enjoy significant success in terms of export sales relative to total sales, which can be directly attributed to the existence of their language management strategy. Super-SMEs generally export at least 60% of their goods or services abroad and, in some cases this rises to 90%.
The analysis of successful trading companies in Europe also pointed to the contribution of extraneous factors to this success: such as the levels of infrastructural support in their respective countries or regions, e.g. available from business intermediaries, that have provided extra resource or information to help companies address specific language barriers. These intermediaries include chambers of commerce, education providers and government organisations operating at different levels (mainly at regional or local) in various Member States.