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Journal of Management
Volume 23, 1994

Select Articles

A Profile of Successful Exporters From India :
Findings and Implications for Decision - Makers
Mallika Das, Mount Saint Vincent University, Canada

Success In Exporting
External Variables
Behavioural Variables
Measuring Export Success
Research Study
Successful Indian Exporter: A Profile
Theoretical and Practical Implications

International trade has often been cited as an important means of achieving the developmental goals of the developing nations.  Public policy-makers in India have also begun to concentrate on improving India's export performance.  In fact, the Planning Commission Working Group on Exports during the Eighth Plan has recommended the adoption of a "broader, more comprehensive, and contemporary approach".  The present study examines the role of the managerial, organisational, external, and behavioural factors to help differentiate between successful and unsuccessful exporters from India.  For this, managers in charge of exporting from 58 Indian organisations were interviewed.  The results indicate that managerial values and expectations will increasingly play a key role in afirm's export behaviour.

As early as in 1837, Adam Smith (1837) described exports as a "vent for surplus" which encourages a nation to "improve its productive powers .... augment its annual produce to the utmost, and thereby increase the real revenue and wealth of the society".  Exporting thus is considered to be even more important to the developing nations, such as India due to their high dependence on imports, more frequent fluctuations in their balance of payments, the impact of export instability on growth, and several other factors (Hirschman, 1960; Glazekos, 1973, Wolf, 1982).

Public policy-makers in India have also begun to realise the importance of world trade to the country's economic development and this has resulted in a slow but steady process of trade and industrial liberalisation.  This has led to significant improvements in India's export volume, for instance, the country posted a 38 per cent increase in exports during 1989-90.  Such figures become even more impressive when viewed against the continued unfavourable trading environment in the world.  During the early 80s, for example, while the GNP of most industrialised nations was stagnant and protectionist tendencies were strong, India's export trade increased significantly.

Yet, there is reason to be concerned with the country's export performance.  To begin with, while India's export volume might show consistent and impressive gains, its percentage in total world trade has not kept pace with those of several other developing nations; in fact, the share came down from 1.40 per cent in 1955 to 0.60 in 1982 (U N Year Book, 199-).  Since then, there has been a slight improvement in its share but the increases have not been significant.  Furthermore, the increases seem to come from an increase in the number of firms involved in exporting but not through increases in the export volume of individual firms.  The emerging global scenario indicates that the 90s will see a consolidation of other trading blocs in Europe, North America, and in South-East Asia, and the Far East.  As Mukherjee (1990) notes, while the benefits of such large markets to India are vague, the risk of exposing the fragile export advantages of such a developing nation to greater competition may be high.

while liberalisation of trade policies and an export friendly approach to industrial development are key factors in improving India's export performance, there might also be other variables to consider.  Past research in the field of export marketing has indicated that managerial attitudes and expectations regarding exporting, and some managerial characteristcs seem to play a significant role in the export behaviour of firms.  For instance, a study by Simpson (1973) found that managerial apathy was a major impeding factor for not exporting.  Several studies have found that managers of exporting firms have more positive attitudes towards exporting and use better management practices than those working in non-exporting firms (Tookey,1964; Cunningham, Spiegel, 1971; Tesar, 1975; Bilkey, Tesar 1975, 1977).  Other variables, such as the nature of the relationship between the exporter and importer, external factors (for instance, competition), and organisational factors (such as, size, age) have also been shown to have an effect on export success.

The present study examines the effects of managerial, behavioural, organisational, and external variables on the export success of the Indian exporters.  The next section provides a summary of the research findings on the impact of these variables on export success.  This will be followed by details of the study, the results, and a discussion of the findings.

Success In Exporting
Past research has identified several variables that influence success in exporting.  These can be broadly classified into four categories: organisational, managerial, behavioural (or aspect of buyer-seller relationships), and external variables.  This section will provide a brief summary of the findings concerning these factors.

Organisational Characteristics:

Several characteristics of the Organisation, such as organisational size, presence of an export department/manager, product type, age of the firm, export experience, and R&D efforts have been linked to export success.  Of these, the firm size has been most often associated with a firm's export activities and interest in exporting (Bodur, Cavusgil, 1985; Cavusgil, Nevin, 1981; Denis, Depleteau, 1985; Gottko, McMahon, 1988; Gronhuag, Lorenzen, 1982; Hirsch, 1971; O'Rourke, 1985; Piercy, 1981; Reid, 1982, 1986; Tookey, 1964).  Other researchers have either found no significant relationship between size and exporting (Bilkey, Tesar, 1977; Fenwick,, Amine, 1979; Kammath, Rossen, et al, 1989), or found the relationship between size and export success to be significant only within certain ranges (Hirsch, 1971, Cavusgil, 1976; Lall, Kumar, 1981).

Conflicting findings have also emerged in the case of other organisational variables and their impact on success in exporting.  Some researchers have found that newer firms tend to be better at exporting (Ursic, Czinkota, 1984), and that age of the firm affects the type of adoption process used while exporting (Lee, Brasch, 1978).  Others, notably Reid (1989), and Kammath, Rossen, et a] (1989) found no relationship between age and export success.  Another related area of research has been the impact of an organisation's export strategy on export performance.  For example, several researchers have noted that an organisation's choice of intermediaries has an important effect on its export performance (Gronhuag, Lorenzen, 1982; Bello, Williamson, 1985; Bilkey, 1985; Rosson Ford, 1982; Yaprak, 1985).

Managerial Variables:

A finn's export marketing activities and its success in exporting may also be related to the quality, attitudes, and characteristics of its managers.  For instance, export involvement and success have been found to be associated with the manager's knowledge of foreign languages (Bilkey, Tesar. 1975), and foreign experience (Langston, Teas, 1976; DaRocha, Christensen, et al 1990).  Managerial attitudes towards exporting are seen by many researchers as a critical variable in a firm's export involvement and success.  Positive managerial attitudes towards exporting have been linked to increased probability of exporting, perception of fewer barriers to exporting (Pavord, Bogart, 1978), and increased exports (Tookey, 1964; Bilkey, Tesar, 1977: 1975).  Similar findings have been reported by several other researchers (Gronhuag, Lorenzen, 1982; Bauerschmidt, Sullivan, et al, 1985; Cavusgil, 1984: Johnston, Czinkota, 1982; Keng, Jiuan, 1989: Sullivan, Bauerschmidt, 1987).

In a detailed study of successful Canadian exporters, Kammath, Rossen, et al (1989) found managerial characteristics, such as quality, and skills of top managers to be the key factors in successful exporting.  The same study found that some managerial factors, such as international background of company personnel are not crucial for export success.  Managerial experience has also cited as a key variable affecting the export activities of Brazilian firms (DaRocha, Christensen, et al, 1990).  Similar findings were reported in a study of the Central American firms exporting to the developed nations (Dominguez, Sequeira, 199 1).

External Variables
Variables external to an Organisation, such as the level of competition, the type of industry the firm is in, the country's economic and political environment, and the country of origin of the buyer are seen by many researchers to have an impact on exporting.  However, a very few studies in the field have actually examined the impact of these factors on export success. Tookey (1964) found that the type of competition faced by a firm affects its interest in exporting.  Some other researchers (Sullivan, Bauerschmidt, 1987; Hallen, Johnson, (1985) have found that the destination of exports - the country of origin of the buyer - affects the type of channel strategy utilised by the exporters.  A study of a developing country's firms found that govemment-business relations played a key role in their success in international trade (Aggarwal, Agmon, 1990).

Behavioural Variables
Several European researchers in the fields of international and industrial marketing have concentrated on examining the nature of buyer-seller relationships and its impact on export performance (Cunningham, 1980; Tumbull, Cunningham, 1981: Rosson, 1984; Rosson, Ford, 1980: Leonidou, 1989).  Variables, such as the degree of uncertainty, perceived distance, conflict, co-operation, power dependence and the degree of adaptation have been identified as factors influencing the export marketing activities of firms.

A strong association between the levels of conflict and export performance has been found by many researchers (Rosson, Ford, 1980-, Leonidou, 1989; Ford, Djeflat, 1982; Ford, Rosson, 1982; Frazier, 1984), and that importer' and exporters' perceptions of the level of conflict in a relationship often differ (Katsikeas, Piercy, 199 1).  While the other relationship variables have not been studied in as much depth, there are indications that the level of perceived distance between the parties and the power dependence balance may affect the nature of the relationship between the buyers and the sellers (Hallen, Johanson, 1985; Leonidou, 1989; Ford, Rosson, 1982), and channel structure (Klein, Roth, 1990).

Measuring Export Success
A literature review indicates that there is little agreement among researchers on how success in exporting is to be defined and measured.  In general, researchers have measured export success by using either quantitative measures or qualitative measures.  The most widely used quantitative measures of export success found in the literature are export sales growth, export intensity, (that is, percentage of the total sales exported), export market share, and composite measures using a combination of the above. (Kirpalani, Balcome, 1989).  Researchers using the interaction approach to study exporter-importer relationships have favoured the use of qualitative measures, such as perceived satisfaction with the relationship (Leonidou, 1989: Ford, Djeflat, 1982).

None of these measures is free from criticism.  For example, export intensity can be affected by changes in the denominator (sales) as well as in the numerator.  Export market share is often very difficult to measure, especially for smaller firms.  Some researchers (Kirpalani, Balcome, 1989; Bilkey, 1982); have suggested using different methods based on fin-n size.  Qualitative measures, while providing greater insight into the relationship, suffer from weaknesses associated with measuring perceptions of performance rather than actual performance itself.

Research Study
The objectives of the present study are: TO

  1. identify the managerial, organisational, external, and relationship variables that differentiate successful exporters from one less developed country (LDC) from those that were unsuccessful; and
  2. develop profiles of successful Indian exporters.

To achieve these objectives, a survey of exporters from India was conducted.  The depth of infon-nation required, the large number of variables on which information was sought, and the difficulties in gathering infon-nation using mail surveys in a country such as India, led to the selection of in-depth personal interviews as the method of data collection.

Since the study aimed at identifying variables that differentiated the successful Indian exporters from unsuccessful ones, it was decided that only firms that had been exporting for at least five years would be included in the sample.  The final sample consisted of 58 exporters chosen from the lists of "active" exporters provided by various export promotion councils formed the sample.  These were firms that the export promotion councils considered to be consistently and seriously involved in exporting.  Every effort was taken to include firms from different parts of the country and from different industries.  The final sample included firms from seven different industries, and came from eight cities in different parts of the country.Mey ranged from those involved in the export of the traditional goods (spices, textiles, handlooms and handicrafts, and leather goods) as well as non-traditional ones (engineering goods, and chemical and allied products).  The respondents were managers in charge of the export marketing activities of these firms.  The interviews were approximately an hourand-a half in length, and utilised a structtired questionnaire as a guide.

The firms included in the sample were predominantly from the private sector (91 per cent),and nearly a third were entirely export-oriented units (with over 90 per cent of their sales coming from exports).  Nearly 70 per cent of the firms had over 20 years of business experience, and most (74 per cent) had over 10 years of business experience.  Most of the managers interviewed were middle- or senior-level managers (73 per cent); a significant proportion ( 25 per cent) was owner-managers.  Over 56 per cent of the fin-ns had an export division or at least a person specifically in charge of exporting.  Around 57 per cent of the respondents was over 40 years of age, and most (88 per cent) had at least a bachelor's degree.  Very few had any specialised training in exporting and all were males.  Table I provides details of the selected sample characteristics.

The managers were asked to consider their relationship with their major importer - the importing firm, that accounted for the most exports in the previous year while responding to the questions during the interview.

Measurement of Key Variables
In this study, success in exporting was measured in two ways -percentage of exports to sales (export intensity), and growth in export volume during the past five years.  A five-point scale ranging from "increasing rapidly" to "decreasing rapidly" was used to measure the trend in sales.  A five-year cut-off was used as pretesting which had indicated that repondents were less able to comment on more than a five-year period - most occupied their present position for only about that period.  The actual percentage of exports to sales was used to measure the export intensity.

Table 1: Selected Sample Characteristics*


Seven firm characteristics (sales volume, number of employees, domestic market share, total business experience, total export experience, type of product, and type of channel chosen), ten managerial characteristics (age, years of service, years in current position, education, knowledge of foreign languages, past experience in exporting, foreign experience, extent of foreign travel on the present job, training in export management, and attitudes towards exporting), two external variables (industry characteristics, and the country of origin of the buyer), and three relationship variables (mutual dependence, perceived distance from the buyer, and conflict) were examined in this study.

The measures used for characteristics of the firm and the manager are straight forward, the characteristics themselves were chosen, based on the literature surveyed. For certain other variables, such as distance, an dependence, multiple measures were used.  These were developed, based on the past research in the field.  Appendix 1 provides information regarding the variables included in this study and the scales used to measure them.  The scales were developed based on the past research in the field.

Very few of the respondents knew any foreign languages (other than English which is the language used for business communications in India), and hence this variable was dropped from further analysis.

Data Analysis
Given the large number of variables involved in the study, sample size considerations and possible multi-collinearity problems, a series of factor analyses were conducted first.  The managerial, organisational, and behavioural variables included in the study were factor analysed separately. This led to a reduction in the number of variables. Four of these were managerial variables. Four of these were manageriable variables [years the manager had been in his present position, whether he has lived/ worked abroad, his previous experience in exporting, and attitude towards exporting), three were relationship variables (presence of conflicts over delivery, perceived overall closeness with buyer, and percentage of exports accounted for by the buyer), two were organisational (nature of the product, and years in business), and two were external factors (nature of the industry, and country of origin of the buyer).  These eleven variables were again checked for multi-collinearity and it was found that multi-collinearity problems did not exist.

A step-wise discriminant analysis was used in order to identify the variables that  differentiate between the successful and the unsuccessful exporters in the study.  While one of the measures of export success (ratio of exports to total sales) is interval in nature, the other - export sales trend - was not truly interval in nature.  Besides, one of the aims of the present study was to differentiate between the successful and the unsuccessful exporters in order to draw a profile of a successful exporter.  For these reasons, discriminant analysis was chosen over linear regression for the present study.  The step-wise procedure was chosen over simultaneous discriminant analysis as this is considered to be better suited for studies involving a large number of independent variables (Hair, Anderson, 1987, et al).  This method also aids in rank ordering the variables in terms of their discriminating power.

For the purposes of this analysis, firms with constant or decreasing sales were classified as unsuccessful and those with increasing sales (increasing slowly or increasing rapidly) being classified as successful exporters.  For export intensity, a cut-off of 20 per cent was used after considering the mean and the median of the sample.

Results and Discussion
Of the two measures of success, export intensity yielded more significant and relevant discriminant functions.  As can be seen from table 2, the resulting discriminant function was significant at 0.0007 level, and had a high canonical correlation (0.6522) indicating that a higher amount of the variance in the data (approximately 40 per cent) could be explained by the discriminant function.  The seven significant discriminating variables were: nature of the product (PRODUCT), years in business (YRSBUS), country of origin of the buyer (PARTNER), years that the manager had been in his present position (YRSPOSI), his past experience in exporting (EXPERNCE), his foreign experience (FOPNEXP), and the overall nature of the industry (INDUSTRY).  The percentage of the cases correctly classified ' using the discriminant function was also significantly higher (80.69 per cent), indicating that the above variables are good discriminators of success2.  With trend in sales, there were three discriminating variables - the manager's foreign experience, the number of years he had been in his current position, and the nature of the product.  The discriminant function had a significance level of 0.04 with canonical correlation of 0.404, and a classification rate of 66.07 per cent.

As can be seen from Table 2, the three most important discriminators were product type, destination of exports, and the nature of the industry.  These variables had the highest factor loadings.  The three managerial variables, while adding to the discriminant function, had lower discriminant loadings and hence are less important discriminators.

Successful Indian Exporter: A Profile
How are the successful Indian exporters different from unsuccessful ones?  Firms with exports accounting for more than 20 per cent of the total sales were found to be younger fin-ns (average years in business of 28.8 years Vs 41.3 years), were more likely to be the exporters of consumer products and more likely to export to the developed nations.  The managers in charge of exporting in these firms had been in their positions longer (9.3 years Vs 7.1 years), had less past experience in exporting, and almost similar foreign experience. (It should be noted that the last two variables have low discriminant function coefficients and are thus less important discriminators).  These firms were operating in industries with turbulent environments - they were more likely to be in rapidly changing, risky industries with many competitors.

Interestingly, it was found that firms with higher export intensity were the small privately-owned ' firms, while those with export intensity of 20 per cent or less were more likely to be larger, public limited companies.  These firms were more often structured as separate export units as opposed to being export departments operating within a large firm.  They were also more likely to receive a higher price for their products in foreign markets than within

Table 2: Results of Stepwise Discriminant Analysis With Export Intensity as Dependent Variable


India (p< 00 1).  As much as 70 per cent of these firms got a higher price for their products abroad than within India as opposed to only 9 per cent of those with lower export intensity (Table 3).  Chi-square analyses of firms based on their export sales trend with the same variables did not yield any significant results.

As part of the present study, four export organisations - two successful exporters, and two unsuccessful exporters were studied in greater detail.  The findings from these were in line with the results of the survey.  For instance, the two successful exporters were both privately-owned family enterprises.  One, an industrial products manufacturer producing diesel engines, and other related component parts, faces severe competition from other manufacturers who dominate the industry.  This market consists of many large producers, many of whom are well established firms with considerable resources.  Some are also subsidiaries of major multinationals or Indian conglomerates.  In Madras city alone, where the firm is located, in one of the industrial areas within the city, there are half-a-dozen manufacturers of such items.  Unlike most other industrial exporters in the present study, this firm exported 20 per cent of its output and was hoping to increase this further.  The firm saw exporting as a primary vehicle for growth due to the highly competitive nature of the domestic market.  The owner-manager had taken considerable initiative in developing contacts abroad and was confident of this firm's ability to meet international standards.  In spite of being a relatively young firm (under 15 years), the company had managed to gain a foothold in foreign markets due to its emphasis on producing high quality products and providing dependable service.  Its competitors (with major shares in the domestic market) were exporting less than 5 per cent of the total sales and were not planning to increase exports any further.  The other case studies also yielded results that were in line with the results of the quantitative study.

Table 3: Results of Chi-square Analyses (With Export Intensity)


Theoretical and Practical Implications
From a theoretical point of view, the present study has four definite implications.  To begin with, the results indicate that while there may be some validity in generalising the findings of the research based on the developed nations to the developing world, other variables may also have to be examined while studying the export behaviour of LDC firms, such as those in India.  The nature of the product and the destination of exports may be the key factors in the success of the Indian exporters.  Secondly, the study highlights the importance of examining the external factors while studying export success.  Only some studies have taken factors, such as industry competitiveness, and destination of exports.  These might be the key factors in determining export success of the Indian firms.  Third, the results indicate that it might be important to use more than one measure of export performance.  Some measures may prove to be better than others in certain instances; multiple measures may also be useful in adding further significance to the results of a study.  For example, in this study, while export sales trend did not yield as significant a discriminant function as export intensity, the results using export sales trend seem to corroborate the importance of manageial variables and product type.  Finally, looking at the entire spectrum of factors affecting the export performance may be necessary to identify the relative importance of managerial, organisational, behavioural, and external factors.  Several studies in the field concentrate on one (or two) set of factors and this may lead to misleading results.  For example, this study indicates that while managerial variables are important, at least in the LDC context, other variables may play a more critical role in determining export success.

This study also presents certain practical suggestions for the Indian exporters.  Firstly, from a firm's point of view, the study indicates that considerable care should be taken while hiring managers.  This may be even more important for the Indian firms due to their status as relative newcomers to the field of exporting.  Secondly, the firms may also need to give their export managers time to learn the intricacies of the export business - the export managers in successful firms in this study had over nine years' experience on the job.  Thirdly, the study suggests that for the Indian exporters to succeed, they may have to look at the destination of their exports more carefully.  While exporting to other LDCs may seem safer, and easier, the successful firms appear to be the ones willing to enter more competitive, developed markets.

The study provides some guidance to the governmental policy-makers in India.  To begin with, since the nature of the industry was a key discriminating variable, the policy-makers could attempt to focus their export promotion activities on certain industries. it may be worthwhile to focus export promotion activities on industries with high internal competition and overall turbulent internal environments.  Opening p domestic industries to foreign competition may also encourage the Indian firms to start looking to foreign markets for growth.  Secondly, since the managerial variables seem to play a major part in export success, measures to improve the managerial perceptions of exporting may lead to increased motivation to export on the part of the Indian firms.  Third, the results also indicate that policy-makers should concentrate on diversifying the product-mix of the Indian exports.  That the successful exporters from India are still concentrated in the low value-added consumer products category should be of concern to policy-makers.  Finally, at least in the Indian context, more aggressive measures to. open up the economy may have to be taken.  Stable export policies and provision of a good climate for exports may also be required if the Indian firms are to become serious exporters.  Most of the exporters with lower export intensities (and a significant number had export intensities of around 5 per cent) were not interested in increasing their efforts at exporting.  Unless these firms can compete internationally (and that would require changes in the industrial climate), they will continue to be marginal exporters.  This also suggests that while exports volume may be growing, long-term benefits are unlikely to occur until major changes in the economic system are made.

This study was primarily exploratory in nature and hence was limited in the number of industries examined and the size of the sample.  Further studies would need to examine exporting from other industries and draw from a larger sample of the Indian exporters.  Examining the buyer-seller relationship from both the exporter's and the importer's perspectives would add further insights into the export activities of LDC- based firms.

As part of the present study, two in-depth case studies, each of successful and of unsuccessful firms, were conducted and the results were in line with the survey findings.  However, further case studies are needed to provide additional insights and validity to the results found in the present study.


  1.  The sample size did not allow a separate set of cases to be used for classification purposes.  It is recognised that using the same sample for calculating the discriminant function and classification purposes would lead to artificially higher classification rates. However, as Hair, et al (1987) point out, this is still better than not attempting to classify the cases.
  2.  Note that this is far greater than the  maximum chance criterion of 58 percent, the proportional chance criterion   of 51.6 per cent, and even the classiflcation accuracy relative to chance criterion of 73.3 per cent.  For details on  the above criteria, refer Hair, et al, (1987).

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Appendix I
Details of Variables Included in the Study

Variable  Label Description  Measurement Scale
Firm Characteristics:
SALES Sales volume in rupees  Actual value
EMPL Number of employees   Actual value
EXPER Percentage of sales from exports Actual value
MKTSHAR  Share of the domestic market  Percentage
PRODUCT  Nature of the product  0 = Consumer 1 = Industrial
YRSBUS  Years in businesss  Actual value
EXPERIEN  Years of export experience Actual value
CHANNEL  Type of channel chosen for exports 0 = Indirect  I = Direct
Managerial Variables:
ATTITUDE Manager's attitude towards exporting (based on his expectations of the effect of exporting on the firm's growth, profit, overall business, ability to open new markets, overall stability, and contribution to India's growth) 5 point scale
TRAINING  Export-related training  0 = No I =Yes
EYPERNCE Past experience in exporting  0 = No I =Yes
FORNEYP  Foreign experience(lived/worked abroad)  0 = No I =Yes
TRAVEL  Current foreign travel  0 = No I =Yes
EDUCAT Educational level 1 = High school (12 yrs) 2 = Diploma (14 yrs) 3 = Bachelor's (16 yrs) 4 = Master's + (18 yrs)
 FORNLANG Knowledge of foreign Languages other than English Actual number
AGE Age in years Actual number
YRSSERV  Years of service in firm Actual number
YRSPOSI  Years in current position Actual number
Extemat Variables:
INDUSTRY Overall score for industry (based on responses to statements of whether industry is unstable, has unpredictable changes, changes rapidly, has seasonal/cyclical fluctuations, is very risky, has high level of competition, and many new competitors are entering the industry) 5 point scale
PARTNER Country of import 0 = Developing 
I = Developed
Behavioural Variables:
AVDIST Average score on statements measuring the manager's perceptions of the buyer (Agreement/ disagreements with satements that it was not  easy to form relationships with people from buyer'sfirm, would not like to call home, buyers are very different from Indians, religious  differences affected relationship, dealing with buyer is different from dealing with Indians, language differences caused problems, and  special care should be taken in dealing with  people from buyer's country) 5 point scale
 FORMAL  Perceived formality of relationship  0 = infon-nal       I = formal
OVRCLOS Perceived overall closeness with buyer 0 = close      1 = not close
BYSIZE % of exports going to buyer Actual value
BYNEED % of buyer's need (for this product) supplied by firm Actual value
 FRQCONF  Overall frequency of conflict 1 = V. frequent to  5 = Never
CNDELIV Conflicts over delivery  0 = No I =Yes
CNPROD Conflict over product quality    0 = No I =Yes
Notes:  _ =This variable was excluded from further analyses as only six of the respondents knew  any foreign languages (other than English)