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

  • Harzing, Anne-Wil
  • Köster, Kathrin
  • Magner, Ulrike
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    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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    File URL: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1090951610000441
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    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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    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    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. 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.
    5. 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.
    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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