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Babel in business: The language barrier and its solutions in the HQ-subsidiary relationship

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  • Harzing, Anne-Wil
  • Köster, Kathrin
  • Magner, Ulrike
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    Abstract

    Using interview data from managers in eight German and Japanese corporate HQs and their subsidiaries in Japan or Germany, we provide the first large-scale empirical analysis of the language barrier and its solutions. We found that language is an important barrier, slowing down and increasing the cost of decision-making. Our research suggests twelve different solutions, ranging from informal day-to-day solutions such as changing communication patterns and code-switching, to more structural solutions such as language training and a common corporate language. We confirm and extend previous research and conclude that future research should more explicitly consider the different configurations of language skills for HQ and subsidiary managers.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Journal of World Business.

    Volume (Year): 46 (2011)
    Issue (Month): 3 (July)
    Pages: 279-287

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    Handle: RePEc:eee:worbus:v:46:y:2011:i:3:p:279-287

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    Keywords: Language barrier Multinationals Communication HQ-subsidiary relationships Japan Germany;

    References

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    1. Soskice, David W, 1993. "Social Skills from Mass Higher Education: Rethinking the Company-Based Initial Training Paradigm," Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 9(3), pages 101-13, Autumn.
    2. Welch, Catherine & Marschan-Piekkari, Rebecca & Penttinen, Heli & Tahvanainen, Marja, 2002. "Corporate elites as informants in qualitative international business research," International Business Review, Elsevier, vol. 11(5), pages 611-628, October.
    3. Peltokorpi, Vesa, 2007. "Intercultural communication patterns and tactics: Nordic expatriates in Japan," International Business Review, Elsevier, vol. 16(1), pages 68-82, February.
    4. Yadong Luo & Oded Shenkar, 2006. "The multinational corporation as a multilingual community: Language and organization in a global context," Journal of International Business Studies, Palgrave Macmillan, vol. 37(3), pages 321-339, May.
    5. Marschan, Rebecca & Welch, Denice & Welch, Lawrence, 1997. "Language: The forgotten factor in multinational management," European Management Journal, Elsevier, vol. 15(5), pages 591-598, October.
    6. Harzing, Anne-Wil, 2001. "Of bears, bumble-bees, and spiders: the role of expatriates in controlling foreign subsidiaries," Journal of World Business, Elsevier, vol. 36(4), pages 366-379, January.
    7. Marschan-Piekkari, Rebecca & Welch, Denice & Welch, Lawrence, 1999. "In the shadow: the impact of language on structure, power and communication in the multinational," International Business Review, Elsevier, vol. 8(4), pages 421-440, August.
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    Cited by:
    1. Klitmøller, Anders & Lauring, Jakob, 2013. "When global virtual teams share knowledge: Media richness, cultural difference and language commonality," Journal of World Business, Elsevier, vol. 48(3), pages 398-406.
    2. Piekkari, Rebecca & Welch, Denice Ellen & Welch, Lawrence Stephenson & Peltonen, Jukka-Pekka & Vesa, Tiina, 2013. "Translation behaviour: An exploratory study within a service multinational," International Business Review, Elsevier, vol. 22(5), pages 771-783.
    3. Harzing, Anne-Wil & Pudelko, Markus, 2013. "Language competencies, policies and practices in multinational corporations: A comprehensive review and comparison of Anglophone, Asian, Continental European and Nordic MNCs," Journal of World Business, Elsevier, vol. 48(1), pages 87-97.
    4. Youssef, Carolyn M. & Luthans, Fred, 2012. "Positive global leadership," Journal of World Business, Elsevier, vol. 47(4), pages 539-547.

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