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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

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Harzing, Anne-Wil & Köster, Kathrin & Magner, Ulrike, 2011. "Babel in business: The language barrier and its solutions in the HQ-subsidiary relationship," Journal of World Business, Elsevier, vol. 46(3), pages 279-287, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:worbus:v:46:y:2011:i:3:p:279-287
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. 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.
    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. 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 101-113, Autumn.
    5. 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.
    6. 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;Academy of International Business, vol. 37(3), pages 321-339, May.
    7. 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.
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