Brexit Resources

Here are a couple of websites that may be of interest when researching potential impact of the UK leaving the European Union:

FT: Brexit Briefing

HMRC: Overseas trade statistics in November 2016

Institute of Export: Survey results
Following the Brexit vote, over 600 participants from 180 sectors responded to a survey of the UK’s Institute of Export. Members, established exporters and importers as well as trade association members were asked to share their views on associated risks, impact on business growth, current export/import procedures, key markets, etc.

CBI: ReportMaking Brexit a Success

DIHK / German Chamber of Industry & Commerce: Monthly Brexit Newsletter

German-Irish Chamber of Commerce: Brexit – a view from the Chambers in December 2016


Foreign Languages – worth the Investment?

In Germany, this question never really presented itself. First of all, learning a foreign language is compulsory. Secondly, there is a visible demand for such skills from employers and required even when applying for many apprenticeship places.

With English being the language of business and travel, how important is it for native English speakers to become fluent in another language? What are the benefits and are there some languages that are more ‘valuable’ than others?

Foreign Languages in Germany

In 2012, the Federal Institute for Vocational Education & Training (Bundesinstitut für Berufsbildung – BIBB)) carried out a study with 20,000 employees. Overall, 17.9% stated that their job demands expertise in a foreign language, with another 39.6% stating that they need a basic knowledge.

The higher skilled and educated an employee, the more likely is the requirement for foreign language skills. 68.8% of graduates of science, chemistry or physics are expected to have foreign language competency and in core IT jobs, the majority (63.2%) have to be able to communicate effectively in a foreign tongue.

English is the language most in demand by German companies and used by around 86.7% of all employees with a foreign language requirement.

The German school system caters for this demand, with English being the first foreign language most students learn. Before reunification in 1990, Russian was the first foreign language in east German states. French has been the second foreign language for many students, but Spanish and Italian are growing in popularity. And dependent on border regions, schools also teach Dutch, Danish or Polish.

Foreign Languages in English Native Countries

So if English is your mother tongue, how important is it for somebody in Britain, the US or Australia to invest time and effort to learn a new language?

In 2014, a joint CBI/Pearson survey of British employers stated that 65% of them value foreign language skills among their employees. The most popular languages were considered to be French (50%) and German (49%), and due to increased business dealings with China, a knowledge of Mandarin has also gained in importance (31%).

One year earlier, research commissioned by the UK’s Department of Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) concluded that the lack of foreign language proficiency costs the UK economy around £48bn (ca. 3.5% of GDP). It also stated that due to a lack of skills, 17% of vacancies were left unfilled.

This was followed by a report of the British Council on the Languages of the Future and identified, in this order, Spanish, Arabic, French, Mandarin Chinese, German, Portuguese, Italian, Russian, Turkish and Japanese as the top 10 languages.

In England, foreign languages are now compulsory in primary schools, but no longer in secondary education.There has been a steady decline of students taking GCSE and A-Levels and in the academic year 2013/14, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, only 1,845 students studied French, 1,480 Spanish, 640 German and 635 Chinese across the UK.

Last year, a Freakonomics radio podcast in the US debated the question if foreign languages offered an ROI (return on investment). One of the contributors, Albert Saiz, an economist at MIT, was himself disappointed when he learnt that languages only add a small return on US salary packages – for example 1.5% for Spanish skills, French 2.7% and German 4%.

Benefits of Foreign Languages

The salary impact of those foreign languages may depend on the country, what demand and supply there is for a particular language and the individual’s competency. It may also improve chances of overseas assignments or international projects work. It is not unheard of that companies send their staff on overseas placements that have no local language skills yet.

Being able to communicate with other team members or business partners in their native language should also help establish better relationships and deeper local understanding. An individual who had to study another language can also empathise more with a counterpart trying to communicate in a foreign language. They may find it easier to understand foreigners’ accents or notice quicker that something is ‘lost in translation’ than a native speaker.

Students may also find, that they have more options when choosing a university by not being limited to their own country. They add enhanced language skills and overseas experience to their academic achievements, making their CV even more attractive to potential employers.

But how else can you define ‘value’ or ‘return on investment’ of language learning? There are various studies that have highlighted the positive impact on the brain such as better memory, but also later diagnosis of illnesses like Alzheimer’s.

Another interviewee during the Freakonomics radio podcast, Boaz Keysar, a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, mentioned that it made a difference to decision making depending on which language he was thinking in.

Learning that Language!

There are many people today that grow up bi- or tri-lingual. Children speak their native language, but attend maybe an international French or German school, while living with their parents in a third language country. Or children of multi-cultural parents, where the mother speaks one, the father another language.

However, most of us are not that lucky and have to learn languages in different ways. School and university seem to be the obvious places, but there are also many other options.

That language learning doesn’t end after formal education in Germany is demonstrated by 11.9% of employees (around 4.3m people) that indicated in the BIBB study that they were planning further language training within the next two years. There are for example Germany’s ‘Volkshochschulen’ (evening classes funded by the public sector/donations), but also many private language schools.

Online training is also gaining popularity and students can study from home at a time that’s suitable for them. The internet enables them to engage with teachers all around the world and they can participate in either a virtual classroom, one2one lessons, supported by videos or online exercises.

Language holidays are another option to combine language learning with travelling and meeting locals and other like-minded people from around the world.

Or you could just take the plunge – take time out, visit the country, do some work, take classes and learn it ‘on the ground’. Your reward should be fluent skills, maybe a local accent and a very good insight into the local culture and people. You will have been challenged in a new country, had to adapt and learn many other new skills. And in terms of input and output, it may possibly give you your best return on investment!

Please feel free to share your experience of learning a language and what benefit it is to you. If you are a recruiter or employer, it would be great to find out more about your experiences.

The Lingua Franca

A recent BBC Radio 4 programme with German comedian Henning Wehn – This is me totally sausage –  explored the challenges that non-native, but also native speakers of the English language face. Listen to entertaining interviews with people from around the world and their experiences of miscommunication revolving around the meaning of words, implicitness, irony, accents, pronunciation, spelling etc.

Have you experienced any linguistic faux pas in English or another language, that you would like to share with us?

Small Talk or Straight to Business?

Imagine two German business visitors. They are in the UK for a business meeting and arrive ten minutes before their scheduled meeting at the offices. The meeting is due to start at 9am and finish at 10.30am and they come well prepared. The secretary welcomes them and offers some tea or coffee. They remain at reception until one of their hosts arrives, shakes hands and takes them through to the meeting room. They chat a little bit about their trip. Another colleague arrives as he got stuck in traffic on the way into work. They talk a little bit more about travelling, the weather on the day, where they last met and about joint acquaintances. At 9.30am, the formal part of the meeting begins ….

The German visitors had not planned in such a delay. They had originally prepared for a presentation with questions & answers to fill the 90 minutes of the meeting. Now they needed to rethink what was most important and drop some of the material and focus on the essentials. Some less important information was left with the client as part of the hand-outs. The two German visitors decide that next time they need to leave some time for small talk and not get caught out wrong footed again.

In a British subsidiary of a German company, the accountant works flat out for over a week on a major finance project for the management. Colleagues from other departments help out as it’s a time critical work. She receives an email from her German counterpart, simply saying that they cross-referenced certain figures and those highlighted are unclear and are to be checked. Written in the present tense, the email contains no acknowledgement that the British accountant may currently be under pressure nor does the German colleague offer any potential time window for the response.

People’s own preferences, the type of organisation you work in, or customs derived from your national culture can all impact how people communicate and what information they share at work. Do they get straight down to business to effectively use their limited time and focus on the task ahead? Or are they trying to get to know their counterparts better to build up relationships, goodwill and trust?

The German accountant focused on what she needed to communicate. She got her message clearly across. Her intention was not to put pressure on her colleague or be impolite – she just advised a status. Her British colleague felt that she was not appreciating the immense pressure her team was under and was unclear when her colleague needed the information by and reacted therefore initially defensively.

Direct communicators may want to re-read their email before sending it off to more implicit and relationship focused colleagues. Start off with your core message, then think of it as a sandwich and add some ‘niceties’ at the top and bottom. On the other hand, relationship focused people may sometimes cut down the length of their communication to focus on the essentials and communicate this without ambiguity. Otherwise, their direct counterpart may not be clear what is expected of them as the message may get lost in the ‘small talk’.

A direct American, who had previously successfully worked in Germany, is now extremely frustrated with, what he perceives, lack of focus in the UK. He tries to avoid the ‘time-wasting chit chat’ before meetings by simply arriving ten or fifteen minutes late when the actual business part starts. However, he misses out on building very important relationships with his British colleagues who often use small talk and informal meetings to clarify topics, sound people out and influence decision makers.

In a North East manufacturing company, the first hour of each Monday was dedicated to a rather work unrelated ‘meeting’ – the previous weekend’s football results. And considering the popularity of football hospitality, I assume football talk must considerably contribute to the bottom line in many companies around the globe.

When engaging in this ‘small talk’ in the meeting room, the evening dinner, the airport or the hospitality suite – the international business traveller may need to do some homework. How did the local/national team play last? What’s going on in the country that people may talk about? The impending Football World Cup in Brazil may not mean that much to an American who doesn’t follow soccer. Questions or comments about age, weight, money or marital status may not go down well in some countries, but are acceptable in others. What kind of humour is seen as funny and what’s unacceptable? And beware of those tv references – Butler James & Miss Sophie, Don Camillo & Peppone or Maya the Bee may be well-known characters in Germany, while Germans may struggle with references to Dr Who, Ant & Dec or the Magic Roundabout.

And even when visiting just one ‘country’, communication style and small talk topics may vary from region to region. The English broadcaster and journalist Simon Hoggart put it like that: “In Washington the first thing people tell you is what their job is. In Los Angeles you learn their star sign. In Houston you’re told how rich they are. And in New York they tell you what their rent is.”

‘Pleased to meet you’

InterNations will hold its 12th monthly event in ‘Pleased to Meet You‘ on Tuesday, 27 May from 6pm onwards. This trendy bar and eatery in Newcastle’s city centre (High Bridge Street, just off Grey Street) is particularly famous for its gin and tonic selection. You can either register directly at the InterNations website for this event – it’s free to join, you simply pay for your food & drink on the night.

Our group is very international – the guests are from all around the globe and all newcomers are made very welcome.  

InterNations Newcastle meets at Jamie’s Italian

Join our InterNations Newcastle Group on Wednesday, 30 April 2014 from 6pm for our monthly meeting. Jamie’s Italian at the Monument in the city centre will be the venue and we will meet in the downstairs cocktail bar. If you’re hungry after a hard day’s work, there’ll be snacks at the bar or you can also sample the new spring/summer menu in the restaurant.