The chairman of the Institute of Directors in Scotland promised to push the issue of foreign languages up the business agenda.
Nick Kuenssberg said the creation of jobs and wealth could depend crucially on talking to businessmen in their own language, not simply to pick up on nuances and avoid confusion but to establish the personal chemistry so vital in clinching deals.
In a message relayed to the conference, John Noble, chief executive of Loch Fyne Oysters, said the 40 per cent growth in his business over the past two years would not have been possible without expanding into foreign markets, which was largely the result of having three members of staff who could speak other languages.
Alan Moys, the inquiry's secretary, said young people in Britain were not getting jobs in Europe because of a lack of language skills. Even UK companies were taking on MBA recruits from other countries because they have foreign language competence.
Ann Carnachan, head of educational support with Falkirk Council, entered a plea for companies to demand language skills in recruiting advertisements. "This would help to get the message back into schools so pupils and teachers would realise that this is serious," she said.
Patricia Young, head of modern languages at Kilmarnock Academy, said television should stop dubbing foreign language speakers and subtitle their comments instead. "This would be a good way to make languages accessible to young people," Ms Young said.
She hoped Trevor McDonald, the ITN newscaster, would help by using his influence within the media. Mr McDonald is co-chairman of the Nuffield inquiry with Sir John Boyd, Master of Churchill College, Cambridge, and a former British ambassador to Japan.