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Andrew Gillespie, left, and Mike Forbes at Aqua Sur, where Gillespie's language skills helped secure new orders. Photo: Ace Aquatec.
Andrew Gillespie, left, and Mike Forbes at Aqua Sur, where Gillespie's language skills helped secure new orders. Photo: Ace Aquatec.

Dundee-based aquaculture technology supplier Ace Aquatec is being held up as an example to Scottish businesses of the importance of having staff with a second language.

While many potential customers abroad speak English, there are many who don’t, as Ace Aquatec marketing boss Mike Forbes and Spanish-speaking operations and support specialist Andrew Gillespie discovered during a trip to the Aqua Sur trade show in Chile last year.

“Having Andrew there in Chile, being able to speak in their language, was very useful,” said Forbes.

Local language speakers

“We left the event with over 100 contacts, and I wouldn’t have been able to speak to about half of those in English.

“It gave us a really great entry point to Chile. We will eventually extend our team to have someone in Chile and this trip helped us test the waters. It reinforced the importance of having local language speakers.

“We are a Scottish company, but we are thinking and operating globally. It is no good expecting people to take exactly what you’re offering clients in your home country; you have to make it locally relevant.”

Gillespie will be part of a panel at an Erasmus+ ‘Make Languages Your Business’ event, held by Scotland’s National Centre for Languages at University of Strathclyde on Wednesday, October 2.

Attendance is free but limited venue capacity means attendees must register here by today.

Leads transformed into contracts

In an interview with Scottish Enterprise, Gillespie said: “Understanding the challenges that our customers face in their industry, market and sector, separates us from our competitors. Our customers appreciate our ability to hold a conversation with them in their mother tongue.

“We, as a team, have developed knowledge of other cultures through language learning and, ultimately, how businesses operate in terms of conduct, styles, attitudes and values. 

“Mike and I were incredibly successful at generating new leads at Aqua Sur. These leads have since transformed into contracts for our humane electric stunner, acoustic deterrents and biomass estimation systems. Follow-up visits with multinational companies, growing our distribution network, and visiting fish farm sites in Chile, would certainly not have been possible without the ability to speak Spanish.”

German, Dutch and French

Gillespie is not the only member of Ace Aquatec’s small team who can converse with customers in their own tongue.

“Our managing director (Nathan Pyne-Carter) speaks a little bit of German, which was incredibly useful for finalising contracts in both Germany and Switzerland,” said Gillespie.

“I share an office with our marketing and finance specialist, Michelle, who’s from the Netherlands. Last year, Ace formed a strategic partnership with Van Oord in Rotterdam for their innovative acoustic device, the FaunaGuard.

“The device will be made available to all marine contractors to protect marine life near marine construction activities.

Breaking down barriers

“In addition to fluent Dutch, Michelle speaks German and conversational French, as she previously lived and studied in France.

“We had also both tried our hand at learning some Norwegian via the Duolingo app for our visit to Aqua Nor in Trondheim this year.”

Gillespie concluded: “Language learning allows for the broadening of both personal and professional horizons, while serving to break down barriers, and not just for business.

“The British Council recognises Spanish as number one of ‘Top 20 Languages to Learn’, so I may well be opening the South American office in the not-so-distant future.”