About the Audit
The European exporting SME sector is on average losing 11% of cross-border trade due to the lack of communication skills, whether they are connected to foreign languages, intercultural knowledge or both. Recent studies, like ELAN (Hagen, 2006) identified the factors behind the loss and found that defining and adopting a communication strategy can be responsible for a 44, 5% increase in SME export sales. Four factors were seen to be essential:
I. That the company worked according to a Language Management Strategy
II. That the company recruited native speakers
III. That the company recruited local agents
IV. That the company hired translators and interpreters.
Since then other factors such as translating the company website, hiring staff with language skills and intercultural training to mention a few have been added. The Language and Communication Audit was designed by Semantica Ltd to identify these communication problems, which small and medium sized companies on a daily basis might come across in their cross-border trade. In its original form it was used in the Leonardo da Vinci project Protocol I (2001) and has since then been developed and improved to suit today’s companies to a higher extent.
The training of Language and Communication Auditors is an educational process in two stages:
1) Theory, which describes the state of languages in the world and provides the economic background as to why Communication skills are vital to an exporting company’s survival. The main body of theory is based on Geert Hofstede’s work, the results of the pan-European study Elan and subsequent Pimlico campaign. It also teaches Intercultural Interface Design and presents case studies of top-performing SMEs across Europe, who all succeed in communicating and trading successfully across borders. The future auditor takes a theory test to pass the first stage.
2) A practical training programme, with no equivalent in formal education, where the trainee is taught to identify why the communication in a company is not working through an auditing process. Each stage in the auditing process is explained and practiced to enable the student to undertake a trainee audit at an existing company. The company in turn receives a report and suggestions on how communication can be improved.
The existence of a scheme dedicated to language and culture issues in export communications is, by itself, an important facility to improve SME awareness to an increasing globalised business environment.
The newly trained language auditors, accredited by a competent body provide a new and highly innovative form of employment. As experts in their particular field they constitute an invaluable resource to expanding companies. By auditing and teaching SMEs to engage more effectively in international trade the auditors ultimately assist in improving the companies’ ways of communication and thus their competitiveness and entrepreneurial approaches in the international arena.