6th Issue, January 2010

Language Use in Companies: Common Sense, Not Strict Rules

Multinational companies do not insist on the use of a particular language, other than for the purposes of reporting. In general, the companies have a project-based and dynamic orientation towards the daughter companies.

Many multinational companies do have a corporate language, but the actual language use takes into account the local needs rather than strictly a corporate language policy, which often applies only to limited domains.


Common sense defines language use
Among the various employees interviewed in this research project, there was a general consensus that the official corporate language is a matter of common sense in terms of when to use it. An expression of this common sense may be the following: in the Germany-based companies under scrutiny in general, employees acknowledged that many people in the Central European region speak German, so either German or English would be acceptable.

Another example of how flexible language use is, despite an officially defined corporate language: in a Hungarian subsidiary of a German-owned multinational company, the corporate language was German at first. Then, after the company had been taken over by another company, the corporate language switched to English. However, employees who used German when they were communicating with the headquarters continued using German.


Opportunities as opposed to problems
Interview data from the parent company perspective indicate an attempt to outwardly present the highly functional international character of large multinationals, with the experience of socio-cultural problems as an opportunity for learning. However, interviews with employees reveal communicative problems such as employees having difficulties in following a meeting because of their lack of language skills (including the ability to understand local varieties of English).

To avoid such problems, large companies have special departments which are oriented toward training future delegates for their assignments abroad, both in language and in cultural issues. However, these services are not always used fully due to time constraints. In this vein, parent company employees showed a stronger orientation toward such training when being sent to more far-off locations such as Asia than to other countries in Central Europe.


LINEE website: Scope, components and contacts of this project