Dr Doris Dippold, University of Surrey


The project is going to investigate how internationally operating small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) see linguistic and intercultural barriers affecting their ability to trade abroad or with international clients. The team of researchers, from the University of Surrey, the University of the West of England, Bristol and the University of Wales, Newport, will work in collaboration with the Surrey and Bristol and South Wales Chambers of Commerce and a sample of SMEs in southern England and South Wales. The project will also explore how businesses and universities can collaborate to apply academic research into practice and meet the needs of SMEs in relation to intercultural trade.

Previous investigations on language skills and intercultural competence for businesses have shown that businesses loose trade because they lack language expertise or do not have the necessary intercultural competence and awareness. This has a marked impact on economic growth: it has been estimated that as much as 21 billion pounds annually are lost annually because UK SMEs are unable to engage fully in foreign markets, and that adopting a corporate policy emphasizing these skills could result in businesses achieving 44.5% higher export sales.

A survey and interviews with SME managers will be carried out to explore in detail the barriers to international trade UK SMEs feel they face in relation to language and intercultural communication skills, what existing corporate strategies they have in place to deal with them and what support they need to meet training needs. Moreover, we will also attempt to differentiate markets in which English poses a barrier to trade from those in which it does not.

The findings of this research will be used to identify areas in which SMEs need support and ways in which universities can collaborate with SMEs. The research team with their empirical expertise in the study of intercultural communication and languages are uniquely suited to offer that support.

The results of this survey will be fed back to the public and the business community through a dedicated website, a twitter feed and a networking event that will bring together SMEs, business intermediaries (e.g. Chambers of Commerce etc.) and researchers in business studies, language and intercultural studies. They will also feed into the development of the Export Communications Review (ECR) and the training programme for language consultants working with UK export SMEs.

Moreover, we will engage with the media and with schools to ensure that the public is made aware of the personal, economic and societal value of intercultural awareness and language learning.


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