Language in International Business

 

One of the first barriers that companies face on the path of internationalisation is differences in natural languages.

Surprisingly though, language in international business remains an ignored research field. There might be several reasons for this.

 

Why is this an ignored research field?

  • Business researchers and linguists alike may have been deterred by the cross-disciplinary nature of the subject.
  • The pre-eminence of Anglophone researchers who may have a reduced perception of the importance of language.
  • The enormous influence of Hofstede's cultural dimensions and the Kogut & Singh scale for cultural differences, which eclipsed the earlier but more cumbersome cultural measure of Psychic Distance in which language difference was a crucial component.

The language barrier and its solutions

Perhaps the most serious barrier to language research in business has been the absence of clear conceptual frameworks that explain how the language barrier actually works and what solutions might be available.

With Alan Feely I published two papers that helped answering these questions, one focusing on the language barrier in HQ-subsidiary relationships and one on language management in MNCs. On a citations per year basis, these two papers have become two of the three most cited papers published in Cross Cultural Management: an International Journal since its inception.

A later interview-based study in Japanese subsidiaries of German MNCs has led to an article with Kathrin Köster and Ulrike Mayer, identifying a range of solutions to overcome the language barrier in HQ-subsidiary relationships.

Finally, work with Helene Tenzer and Markus Pudelko, published in JIBS, looks at the impact of language barriers on trust in a multinational team context.

Scenario-based research: response styles and leadership styles

In 2005 I started a new project that investigates the impact of language on management practices within MNCs, funded by an ARC Discovery Grant of more than A$190,000. Part of this project used a critical incident technique to collect data with MBA students in 20 different countries, leading to a systematic comparison of ranking and rating to study cross-cultural differences.

A second paper - published in a special issue of the Journal of World Business in 2011- examined whether managerial reactions to specific leadership scenario-based situations change as a consequence of the language they use.

English and competitive behaviour

An experimental study with Dirk Akkermans and Arjen van Witteloostuijn showed that language impacts the competitive behaviour of students. A prisoner’s dilemma game played in English lead to significantly more competitive behaviour than when the same game was played in Dutch. The resulting paper was published in Management International Review in 2010.

Language in HQ subsidiary relationships

A large-scale cross-sectional survey in a wide range of host countries (Australia/NZ, China, Japan, Korea, France, Germany, Spain, UK, Denmark, Finland, Norway & Sweden) resulted in an article that proposes four home country clusters (Anglophone, Asian, Continental European and Nordic) that show substantial differences in terms of language competencies, policies and practices.

A further paper dealing with language and communication was published in The International Journal of HRM, whereas a paper investigating the role of language in knowledge transfer was published in Journal of International Business Studies.

Selected publications

Online papers - Full list of publications

  1. Tenzer, H.; Terjesen, S.; Harzing, A.W. (2017) Language in International Business: A review and agenda for future research, paper presented at the 11th GEM&L International Workshop on Management & Language, 3-5 July, Copenhagen, Denmark.
  2. Zhang, L.E.; Harzing, A.W. (2017) Language as a Local Practice: Why English as a Corporate Language Won’t Work in China, paper presented at the 16th European Academy of Management annual meeting, June 21-24, Glasgow, UK. 
  3. Zhang, L.E.; Harzing, A.W. (2016) From Dilemmatic Struggle to Legitimized Indifference: Expatriates’ host country language learning and its impact on the expatriate-HCE relationship, Journal of World Business, vol. 51, no. 5, pp. 774-786. Available online... - Publisher's version (free access!)
  4. Harzing, A.W. (2016) Language and thinking in management and OS field: Main findings and challenges, towards a European multilingual field, panel presentation at the 15th European Academy of Management annual meeting, June 1-4, Paris, France.
  5. Harzing, A.W. (2016) Babel in Business: The role of language in international business [inaugural lecture at Middlesex University]
  6. Reiche B.S.; Harzing, A.W.; Pudelko, M. (2015) Why and how does shared language affect subsidiary knowledge inflows? A social identity perspective, Journal of International Business Studies, vol. 46, no.5, pp. 528-551. Available online... - Publisher's version (free access!) [Also incorporated in a JIBS collection on Language and selected as one of 9 articles reprinted in Language in International Business. Developing a Field.]
  7. Terjesen, S., Hinger, J., Tenzer, H. & Harzing, A.-W. (2014): Language in Management research: A review and agenda for future research, Paper presented at the 40th EIBA (European International Business Academy) Conference, Uppsala, 11-13 December.
  8. Tenzer, H.; Pudelko, M.; Harzing, A.W. (2014) The impact of language barriers on trust formation in multinational teams, Journal of International Business Studies, vol. 45, no. 5, pp. 508-535. Available online... - Publisher's version  [Also incorporated in a JIBS collection on Language] - ESI top 1% most Highly Cited Paper
  9. Harzing, A.W.; Pudelko, M. (2014) Hablas vielleicht un peu la mia language? A comprehensive overview of the role of language differences in headquarters-subsidiary communication, International Journal of Human Resource Management, vol. 25, no. 5, pp. 696–717. Available online... - Publisher's version (free access!)
  10. Harzing, A.W. (2013). The language barrier, solutions & its impact on HR policies, Keynote Speech at the 2013 International AHRD Asia Conference, November 5 - 8, 2013, Taipei, Taiwan.
  11. Reiche, B.S.; Harzing, A.W.; Pudelko, M. (2013) The relationship between shared language and subsidiary knowledge inflows: A social identity perspective, paper presented at the 11th EIASM Workshop on International Management (formerly International Strategy and Cross-Cultural Management), Berlin, Germany, October 18-19.
  12. Reiche, B.S., Harzing, A.W., & Pudelko, M. (2013) The sensitivity of subsidiary knowledge in- and outflows to language proximity, paper presented at the 70th Academy of Management annual meeting, August 9-13, in Lake Buena Vista (Orlando), Florida, USA.
  13. Harzing, A.W.; Pudelko, M. (2013) Language competencies, policies and practices in multinational corporations: A comprehensive review and comparison of Anglophone, Asian, Continental European and Nordic MNCs, Journal of World Business, vol 48, no. 1, pp. 87-97. Available online...
  14. Tenzer, H.; Pudelko, M. & Harzing, A.W. (2012) Cognition, emotion and identification: The influence of language barriers on trust in multinational teams, paper presented at the European Institute for Advanced Studies in Management (EIASM) 10th Workshop on International Strategy & Cross-Cultural Management, October 19-20, Reykjavik, Iceland.
  15. Harzing, A.W.; Pudelko, M. (2011). Language policies, competencies, and problems in multinational companies: Comprehensive evidence from nine countries/regions, conference proceedings of the 37th EIBA conference, Bucharest, 8-10 December.
  16. Harzing, A.W.; Köster, K.; Magner, U. (2011) Babel in Business: The language barrier and its solutions in the HQ-subsidiary relationship, Journal of World Business, vol. 46, no. 3, pp. 296-304. Available online...
  17. Zander, L.; Mockaitis, A.; Harzing, A.W. et al. (2011) Standardization and contextualization: A study of language and leadership across 17 countries, Journal of World Business, vol. 46, no. 3, pp. 279-287. Available online...
  18. Akkermans, D.; Harzing, A.W.; Witteloostuijn, A. van (2010) Cultural accommodation and language priming. Competitive versus cooperative behavior in a prisoner’s dilemma game, Management International Review, vol. 50, no. 5, pp. 559-584. Available online... - Publisher's version (read for free)
  19. Harzing, A.W.; Köster, K.; Magner, U. (2010) Babel in Business: The language barrier and its solutions in the HQ-subsidiary relationship, conference proceedings of the ANZIBA annual meeting, 15-17 April 2010, Sydney, Australia.
  20. Zander, L.; Mockaitis, A.; Harzing, A.W. et al. (2009) Don't just say what you mean - contextualize it: A leadership study across 17 countries, paper presented at the 68th Academy of Management annual meeting, August 7-11, 2009 - Chicago, Illinois.
  21. Zander, L.; Mockaitis, A.; Harzing, A.W. et al. (2009) Why do leaders do what they do? A 22-country study on leadership behavioral intent, paper presented at the 2009 Academy of International Business annual meeting, June 27-30, San Diego, California.
  22. Harzing, A.W.; and 26 collaborators (2009) Rating versus ranking: what is the best way to reduce response and language bias in cross-national research?, International Business Review, vol. 18, no. 4, pp. 417-432.
  23. Zander, L.; Mockaitis, A.; Harzing, A.W.; et al. (2008) Getting closer to the action: Examining leaders’ behavioral intent with Globe’s leadership dimensions across 22 countries, conference proceedings of the Australian New Zealand Academy of Management, Auckland, 2-5 December 2008.
  24. Zander, L.; Mockaitis, A.; Harzing, A.W.; et al. (2008) Explaining cross-national differences in leadership behavior with cultural syndromes: a 22-country study, paper presented at the Academy of International Business annual meeting, Milan, 30 June – 3 July 2008.
  25. Akkermans, D.; Harzing, A.W.; Witteloostuijn, A. van (2008) Cultural accommodation and language priming. Competitive versus cooperative behavior in a prisoner’s dilemma game, conference proceedings of the 35th Annual Conference of the UK Chapter of the AIB, Portsmouth, 28-29 March.
  26. Harzing, A.W.; Feely, A.J. (2008) The language barrier and its implications for HQ-subsidiary relationships, Cross Cultural Management: An International Journal, vol. 15, no. 1, pp. 49-60. Available online...
  27. Harzing, A.W.; and 26 collaborators (2007) Ranking and rating in native-language versus English-language questionnaires: A methodological comparison, conference proceedings of the EIBA annual meeting, 13-15 December, Catania, Italy.
  28. Harzing, A.W.; and 26 collaborators (2007) Ranking versus rating: What is the best way to reduce response and language bias in cross-national research?, conference proceedings of the ANZIBA annual meeting, 8-10 November 2007, Newcastle, Australia.
  29. Harzing, A.W. (2005) The language barrier and its implications for HQ-subsidiary relationships, paper presented at the third JIBS frontiers conference, Rotterdam, 28-30 September.
  30. Feely, A.J.; Harzing, A.W. (2004) The language barrier and its implications for HQ-subsidiary relationships, paper presented at the 64th annual meeting of the Academy of Management, New Orleans, August 6-11. Available online...
  31. Feely, A.J.; Harzing, A.W. (2003) Language management in multinational companies, Cross-cultural management: an international journal, vol. 10, no. 2, pp. 37-52. Available online...
  32. Feely, A.J.; Harzing, A.W. (2002) Forgotten and neglected - Language: The orphan of International Business research, paper presented at the 62nd annual meeting of the Academy of Management, Denver, 9-14 August. Available online...

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