Monday, December 20, 2010

Finally, proof of the connection between language and revenue

For the past several years, I have been talking about the connection between international trade and translation. I have also characterized language as an enabler and a multiplier for business. An enabler because it allows more consumers to learn about products, and a multiplier because companies that start localizing to sell abroad tend to grow faster and never go back to selling in one language only. I have been saying this based on empirical information, logic, and common sense; as I never had the time to make a more detailed study of data.

However, I was recently referred by my former colleague Anne-Marie Colliander Lind to the work of Professor Ingela Bel Habib, a Swedish PhD and Independent Researcher who published a fascinating paper called "The effects of linguistic skills on the export performance of French, German and Swedish SMEs."

Her study demonstrates that multilingualism and economic competitiveness are closely linked. Swedish, French and German SMEs all use multilingualism as a strategy for exports to varying degrees. Only 27% of Swedish SMEs have a multilingual export strategy, compared to 68% of Danish SMEs, 63% of German SMEs and 40% of French SMEs. The study shows that there is a correlation between language and export performance.

Another conclusion from the study is that, contrary to popular belief, English does not suffice in economic relations as many tenders are lost through lack of skills in local languages. In fact, the percentage of companies that declare they have missed out on export contracts due to a language barrier were much higher in Sweden (20%) than in Denmark (4%), Germany (8%) and France (13%).

This study is relevant on multiple levels. First, because Sweden, Denmark, Germany and France have a similar industrial structure and compete for the same international markets. Second and most importantly, because the study is based on economic data, which provides a better platform for the continuous quest by the language industry to establish the Return on Investment (ROI) of translation.

I found this information to be so important and unique to the sales and marketing efforts of LSPs that I invited Professor Bel Habib to speak at ELIA's upcoming Networking Days in Stockholm in May 2011. Don't miss it.


  1. Nice shot, dr Ben Habib. Renato, may I suggest François Grin's book for Routledge "The Economics of the Multilingual Workplace"? It seems going in the same direction as Ingela Ben Habib's research, although professor Grin cannot be accused in his view to be biased for being a linguist, as he is an economist. Thank you, anyway, I will tell my students about this.

  2. Anonymous6:07 AM

    Interesting numbers, Renato, and a good idea to invite Professor Bel Habib to speak.

    So, 68% of Germany's companies use a multilingual approach and at the same time Germany is, as we know, year after year world champion in exporting goods (well, China taking over rapidly). While I support the statement that translations are a business multiplier, I see opposing facts with the above mentioned.

    What's your take on it?


  3. Nice article, Renato, though one might argue with you on "First, because Sweden, Denmark, Germany and France have a similar industrial structure and compete for the same international markets."