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Language: The forgotten factor in multinational management

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Abstract

This article argues that language needs to be considered as an important element in managing multinationals because it permeates virtually every aspect of their business activities. Due to the demands of operating in multiple foreign language environments, a shared company language does not necessarily ensure that meaningful communication occurs. The investigation of a Finnish multinational elevator company, Kone and its diverse subsidiaries, demonstrates the pervasive impact of language, and the range of individual responses to language constraints. An important implication of the analysis is that multinationals need to ensure that language does not become a peripheral, or forgotten, issue; rather, it should be viewed in more strategic terms.
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... The above scenario reveals the complex influence of language diversity on work communication, and it has been commonly observed among global teams of various linguistic compositions (e.g., [2,32,34,40,44,49]). A long-standing interest of CSCW and HCI scholars is to understand and facilitate global team meetings across language boundaries (e.g., [14,18,25,58,70]). ...
... For global teams, however, the store-and-forward approach turns out demanding because subgroup conversations can happen in multiple languages [2,32,34,40,44,49]. NS employees at international corporations often complain that their colleagues at other sites "will take forever to translate [their local discussion threads or documents] to English [25]." ...
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Global teams frequently consist of language-based subgroups who put together complementary information to achieve common goals. Previous research outlines a two-step work communication flow in these teams. There are team meetings using a required common language (i.e., English); in preparation for those meetings, people have subgroup conversations in their native languages. Work communication at team meetings is often less effective than in subgroup conversations. In the current study, we investigate the idea of leveraging machine translation (MT) to facilitate global team meetings. We hypothesize that exchanging subgroup conversation logs before a team meeting offers contextual information that benefits teamwork at the meeting. MT can translate these logs, which enables comprehension at a low cost. To test our hypothesis, we conducted a between-subjects experiment where twenty quartets of participants performed a personnel selection task. Each quartet included two English native speakers (NS) and two non-native speakers (NNS) whose native language was Mandarin. All participants began the task with subgroup conversations in their native languages, then proceeded to team meetings in English. We manipulated the exchange of subgroup conversation logs prior to team meetings: with MT-mediated exchanges versus without. Analysis of participants' subjective experience, task performance, and depth of discussions as reflected through their conversational moves jointly indicates that team meeting quality improved when there were MT-mediated exchanges of subgroup conversation logs as opposed to no exchanges. We conclude with reflections on when and how MT could be applied to enhance global teamwork across a language barrier.
... The above scenario reveals the complex influence of language diversity on work communication, and it has been commonly observed among global teams of various linguistic compositions (e.g., [2,32,34,40,44,49]). A long-standing interest of CSCW and HCI scholars is to understand and facilitate global team meetings across language boundaries (e.g., [14,18,25,58,70]). ...
... For global teams, however, the store-and-forward approach turns out demanding because subgroup conversations can happen in multiple languages [2,32,34,40,44,49]. NS employees at international corporations often complain that their colleagues at other sites "will take forever to translate [their local discussion threads or documents] to English [25]." ...
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Global teams frequently consist of language-based subgroups who put together complementary information to achieve common goals. Previous research outlines a two-step work communication flow in these teams. There are team meetings using a required common language (i.e., English); in preparation for those meetings, people have subgroup conversations in their native languages. Work communication at team meetings is often less effective than in subgroup conversations. In the current study, we investigate the idea of leveraging machine translation (MT) to facilitate global team meetings. We hypothesize that exchanging subgroup conversation logs before a team meeting offers contextual information that benefits teamwork at the meeting. MT can translate these logs, which enables comprehension at a low cost. To test our hypothesis, we conducted a between-subjects experiment where twenty quartets of participants performed a personnel selection task. Each quartet included two English native speakers (NS) and two non-native speakers (NNS) whose native language was Mandarin. All participants began the task with subgroup conversations in their native languages, then proceeded to team meetings in English. We manipulated the exchange of subgroup conversation logs prior to team meetings: with MT-mediated exchanges versus without. Analysis of participants' subjective experience, task performance, and depth of discussions as reflected through their conversational moves jointly indicates that team meeting quality improved when there were MT-mediated exchanges of subgroup conversation logs as opposed to no exchanges. We conclude with reflections on when and how MT could be applied to enhance global teamwork across a language barrier.
... Then in MNCs, the term "language node" was applied. It was used to refer to those expatriates acting as middlemen between the language used in headquarters and the language used in subsidiary (Nurmi, 1995;Marschan et al., 1997). Studies of language node in MNCs scenario were mainly conducted from the perspective of human resource management, and language nodes were treated as one of the communication strategies to deal with the language diversity problem faced by MNCs (Swift & Wallace, 2011;Brannen et al., 2017), an important and costless solution (Feely & Harzing, 2003). ...
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Taking the China Office of an international Non-governmental Organization (INGO) as its site of study, this article analyzed how an international multilingual language policy was localized by focusing on the solving of communication problems. It was found that overt and covert language policies work together to form a talent pool of potential language broker and language node, who functioned in solving communication problems in planned and unplanned scenarios. The emergence of language broker and language node in INGOs demonstrates on one hand, the exercise of individual and institutional agency in solving communication problems; on the other hand, the interaction of language policy at different layers (international-national-institutional) in shaping individual’s language practice. The article contributes to the study of language policy in post-modern era by providing a conceptualization of language policy localization process that centers around solving communication problems in INGO work places.
... ΰζυ α απκ ζ έ άη λα κθ «ι ξα ηΫθκ παλΪΰκθ α» (Marschan et. al., 1997) βθ πκζυ γθδεά δκέεβ β, παλΪ κθ βηαθ δεσ αθ έε υπκ πκυ Ϋξ δ δμ πκζυ γθδεΫμ κηΪ μ λΰα έαμ, αφκτ δαπ λθΪ κυ δα δεΪ εΪγ π υξά εαδ λα βλδσ β Ϊ κυμ. ΰζυ α ξαλαε βλέα αδ υξθΪ πμ κ υθ δεσ κδξ έκ ά β « αδλδεά εσζζα» (Ferner et al., 1995, . 354) δμ κηΪ μ αυ Ϋμ, εαγυμ έθαδ κ παλΪΰκθ αμ πκυ ηπκλ έ Ϊη α θα υηίΪζ δ βθ αθΪπ υιβ εαζυθ δαπλκ ππδευθ ξΫ π ...
... Language, once viewed as the "forgotten factor" in the international business field (Marschan, Welch, & Welch, 1997), has attracted increasing attention in recent decades. More than just a vehicle for communication, language also has other roles such as the carrier of culture and a component of communicative resources (Karhunen et al., 2018). ...
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... Scholarship in business disciplines was relatively slow to recognize the importance and value of language learning and T&I, in part because of the dominance of global English in the post-World War II economy. In international business management, the challenge and effects of crosslingual communication were referred to as neglected and forgotten (Marschan et al., 1997;Reeves & Wright, 1996). Gradually in recent decades the literature on the effects of language and translation on various facets of international business has grown, including studies researching the ramifications of languages and translation on knowledge management (Holden & Michailova, 2014;Tietze, 2021), marketing (Louhiala-Salminen & Kankaanranta, 2012), leadership and team functioning (Oliverio-Olivieri, 2016;Tenzer et al., 2014), and finance (Cuypers et al., 2015;Jeanjean et al., 2015;Lundholm et al., 2018). ...
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... Moral disengagement Unethical proorganizational behavior FIGURE 1 | Proposed mediated model. the process of language use has been neglected in the areas of international business and MNC management for many years (Marschan et al., 1997). Most MNCs ignore the complexity of language and simply introduce a single functional language policy as the unified answer for all organizational language problems (Feely and Harzing, 2003). ...
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