Multilingualism and business

Multilingualism and business

The Linguamón-UOC Chair in Multilingualism has carried out a study of the current state of multilingualism in Catalan businesses. The Chair has benefitted from the collaboration of Professor Stephen Hagen (lead researcher for Europe’s ELAN report), the Catalan Department of Innovation, Universities and Enterprise,  the Secretariat of Language Policy of the Vice-President’s Department, Linguamón - House of Languages and the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya.

Multilingualism offers a key opportunity for the internationalisation and growth of Catalan SMEs. This is the view of the study are Catalan businesses multilingual enough?, which concludes that its exporting businesses do not sufficiently master the languages of some leading and emerging markets and highlights the need for both governments and companies to encourage language learning, in order to consolidate the internationalisation of the Catalan economy. The report also underlines the fact that knowledge of Catalan has become generalised in SMEs and that it is the language most often used in commercial relations inside Catalonia, in 97.9% of cases.


The languages most commonly used in foreign trade are English (69.2% of exporting firms), French (55.3%) and Spanish (40.8%). The use of Portuguese, German and Italian is no more than 17%, despite the fact that these are some of today’s key markets. 15.5% of businesses surveyed intend to open up new markets, many of which require the knowledge of languages such as Chinese, Russian, Japanese or Arabic. China and Russia are the second and third-most important markets that Catalan firms wish to do business with in the future, though only 1.8% and 1.1% of them contemplate providing their workers with Chinese or Russian classes in the next three years. Firms are over-confident about the value of the exclusive use of English as an international lingua franca, and this is underlined by the fact that 90% of firms believe that their staff will need English classes.


Only 6.3% of businesses surveyed are aware that they need training on international cultural matters, beyond a mere understanding of a country’s language. According to, Catalan businesses make only a very limited use of translation and interpreting services, and only 10.6% have hired translators or interpreters in the last five years. Nevertheless, a clear increase has been seen in the demand for translations into the languages of emerging markets. It is also worth highlighting that 33% of businesses operating abroad still do not have their web site in English.

As far as external communications are concerned, answering in a customer’s own language is a criteria shared by 97.2% of businesses, and 69.5% of those surveyed have documentation in the customer’s language. On the other hand, only 37.8% have a formal communication strategy for establishing contact with customers in the different language areas in which they do business.


The ELAN report defined the four language-related keys to international competitiveness as: having a well-defined language strategy, employing linguistically-competent staff, having native speakers, and making proper use of translation/interpreting services.
The chief objectives of this study were:

1. To understand the economic impact of language and cultural barriers to trade and their relationship with businesses’ size and area of activity.
2. To understand the extent to which the availability of staff with skills in different languages impacts upon the development of commercial relations.
3. To ascertain the importance of different languages within the context of business relations and communications.


Go to the study opuscule.

Furthermore, the Linguamón-UOC Chair in Multilingualism took part in the organisation of the seminar Global market, local market: implications for business multilingualism". The seminar was based around the presentation of leading European studies and experiences on managing multilingualism in business and provided an analysis of the current state of the Catalan economy in this regard.


For more information, you can also click on the following links:

An overview of the European Union’s policy on multilingualism.
The ELAN report.


Report by Stephen Hagen on the ELAN.CAT study