In Japan, for instance, British people in business who do not realise that blowing your nose in public is considered ruder than breaking wind could blow their chances of a deal.
And too many companies are losing customers because their key staff cannot speak their clients' language and have tried to remedy the situation with half-hearted measures. Some managing directors have been known to ask their children who are studying languages to GCSE to translate vital documents - with catastrophic results.
Such ignorance can hinder proper participation at meetings, advertising locally, hiring agents, carrying out local market research, negotiating, or simply getting around a country and establishing a good working relationship.
In the Department for Trade and Industry's 1996 National Languages for Exports Awards Scheme, which will be launched at the London Language Show, two awards are aimed specifically at schools and colleges that offer language curriculum work focused on business needs and offer experience in the workplace abroad.
The show, now in its fifth year, is being held at the Business Design Centre, Islington, north London, from October 26 to 28, and will include a major exhibition and comprehensive seminar programme with a broad educational interest.
BBC Education will be showing a new Spanish course, Suenos World Spanish as well as self-study language courses and schools language resources. The Anglo-Austrian Society will be displaying details of exchange holidays and language courses for teenagers and adults in Austria.
Euro-Academy will demonstrate French, German, Italian and Spanish language courses on location for all levels and ages, such as a nine-month course in Spain incorporating aspects of Spanish culture, politics and way of life.
The seminar programme opens on Thursday October 26 with "New EU programmes for schools, colleges and businesses", presented by Lindsey Smith of the Central Bureau for Educational Visits and Exchanges, and "How to become an assessor working with National Language Standards", by Gillian Burnett and Geoff Scaplehorn of LAST Group.
On Friday October 27, Robert Holkham, of the National Languages for Export Campaign, and DTI consultant Stephen Hagen will discuss "Following through: the DTI campaign continues".
On Saturday October 28, Graham Davies, president of the European Association for Computer Assisted Language Learning, will look at "Using multimedia and the Internet in language learning".
The Association for Language Learning is also presenting half-day in-service training sessions for teachers working in all sectors.
o The London Language Show is open from Thursday October 26 to Saturday October 28 from 10am to 5pm at the Business Design Centre, Islington, London. Entry is free. For enquiries or seminar booking form contact Brintex on 0171 973 6401. Fax: 0171 233 5054