Language in International Business

Language in International Business

The Multilingual Reality of Global Business Expansion

Rebecca Piekkari, Denice E. Welch and Lawrence S. Welch

Language matters in international business and global business expansion inevitably mean encountering challenges of communication, language and translation. This book presents a thorough and rigorous analysis of language related to all aspects of global business – international management, networks, HRM, international marketing, strategy and foreign operations modes.

Chapter 4: Language and international management

Rebecca Piekkari, Denice E. Welch and Lawrence S. Welch

Subjects: business and management, international business, strategic management


In Chapter 3, we discussed the language effects of global expansion, with an emphasis on the individual. In this chapter, we extend the analysis to the organizational level, focusing on key aspects that expose how language intrudes into the internal functioning of the internationalizing firm. These aspects include organization structure, headquarters–subsidiary relationships, communication and the ability to transfer knowledge throughout the various parts of the firm. There are inherent dilemmas confronting the internationalizing firm: how to balance the needs of the global entity and those of its local operations; and how to maintain unity (integration) yet be responsive to the diverse and often conflicting demands of operating in different national environments (differentiation). Chini et al. (2005) use the concept of the headquarters–subsidiary trench to describe the differing perceptions, expectations and dependence among the various parts of the internationalizing firm. Management is also concerned with maintaining overall strategic direction and preserving the firm’s own unique characteristics. As noted in Chapter 3, language standardization may assist in fostering a sense of corporate identity. As one of the respondents in the original KONE study commented, speaking English, the company language, made him feel ‘international’ and ‘KONE’ (Marschan et al., 1997, 595). However, having to operate in diverse language and cultural settings may work against this drive for unity.

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