Is English Enough? Strategies for Dealing with Foreign Language Encounters in the Financial Sector Mary Fischer March 2012
The Research Context • Languages in Multinational Companies • English as a Business Lingua Franca • Why Language Policies are important • Language as barrier, facilitator, source of power (Marschan-Piekkari et al., 1999) • Areas where the language barrier has the greatest impact: • Buyer/seller relationships, foreign market expansion, HQ subsidiary relationship and staffing policies (Feely and Harzing, 2003) • Language research in the UK/Anglophone countries
Language Policy Research in the UK • Initially triggered by the establishment of the European Single Market. • Language Audits (e.g. Hagen, 2004) • Export Performance in SMEs (e.g. Hagen, 1998; Crick, 1999) • Language skills as a quantifiable asset (e.g. Dhir, 2004; Foreman-Peck, 2007) • Surveys of good practice (e.g. Feely and Winslow, 2005)
Is English Enough? • Pilot sample of four UK Fund Managers • Research focus: • The language barrier: How do companies research and deal with colleagues/clients in non English speaking environments? • How aware are the companies of any intercultural issues? • Are the companies aware of any issues with the use of English? • Does recruitment policy reflect their international (multi-lingual) focus?
The Language Barrier • Language use in investment management • Strategies for overcoming the language barrier: • Interpreters and translators • Using ‘bridge’ individuals, typically a bi-lingual colleague who sets up the relationships and hands them over to monolingual colleagues when they are established • Utilising the language skills of native speakers in house • Training
Intercultural Issues • Formal intercultural training • Use of consultants • Informal methods
Problems with the use of English ‘If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.’ (Nelson Mandela) • Local language needed for relationship-building • Preference for local languages in some markets • Problems caused in meetings using interpreters • Varying levels of English by non-native speakers
Language Policy and Recruitment Language not a criterion for recruitment Criteria included • Technical skills • First class degree • Evidence of rounded personality There is evidence that these skills and the required international outlook are provided by non UK nationals who also (indirectly) bring language skills.
Conclusions • The dominance of English is based on historical circumstances which all companies agreed were now changing. • There were inherent contradictions in what was said about language use. • All admitted that there is an increasing requirement to use the local language in certain markets. • UK graduates may be losing out because they are less likely to be able to demonstrate evidence of a ‘global mindset’ – language skills are being increasingly ‘outsourced’.
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