Multilingualism is good for the economy, researchers have found. Countries that actively nurture different languages reap a range of rewards, from more successful exports to a more innovative workforce.
“Language matters on a large-scale national level and at the level of smaller businesses,” says Gabrielle Hogan-Brun, a research fellow in Language Studies at the University of Bristol, citing data that links economic growth to linguistic diversity.
Switzerland, for example, attributes 10% of its GDP to its multilingual heritage. The country has four national languages: German, French, Italian and an ancient Latin-based language called Romansh.
Britain, on the other hand, is estimated to lose out on the equivalent of 3.5% of its GDP every year, because of its population’s relatively poor language skills.
This may be partly because languages can help build trade relations. A study of small and medium-size companies in Sweden, Germany, Denmark and France found that those which invested more in languages were able to export more goods. German companies that invested heavily in multilingual staff added 10 export countries to their market. Companies that invested less said they missed out on contracts.