Why is learning the host country language important for expatriates?

A new online paper on the impact of host country language learning on expatriate local relationships in China

I have been working with Ling Eleanor Zhang (and Argyro Avgoustaki) for quite a while now organising regular meetings for our London network for female academics. However, Ling and I are also working on several papers and a book from her PhD. The first paper has now been accepted for Journal of World Business and is available online.

  • 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, 51(5): 774-786. Available online... - Publisher's version (free access!)


We address the lack of knowledge concerning the role of host country languages in multinational corporations based on an inductive qualitative study involving 70 interviews with Nordic expatriates and host country employees (HCE) in China. Building on the strongly discrepant views of expatriates and HCEs, we demonstrate how expatriates’ willingness to learn and use the host country language lead to different types of expatriate-HCE relationships, ranging from harmonious to distant or segregated. In doing so, we emphasize the subtle and fragile connection between expatriates’ attitude towards HCEs’ mother tongue and trust formation in addition to the construction of superiority-inferiority relationships.

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