How Can Multinational Firms Improve Communication? |

How Can Multinational Firms Improve Communication?

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To succeed in a global economy, multi-national businesses face a number of internal and external challenges. The workforce is often multi-national and foreign markets need to be approached in the language of the native audience.

It is common for international businesses to approach such challenges by implementing a multi-language structure, which accommodates a global workforce. However, other companies have made radical changes that have proven to be successful.

The customary approach for international businesses is to build a diverse team, which incorporates a functional expertise with knowledge of the local audience and a gift for picking up the scent of emerging markets.

From a business perspective, subscribing to this type of structural model makes complete sense. However, multi-diverse teams can be difficult to manage. When people from different cultures and functional backgrounds are asked to work together, communication can quickly deteriorate even if the team is speaking a common language.

English is the business language

The majority of multinational companies and business sectors have mandated English as the common corporate language. English is also used throughout the world in foreign business exchanges and political environments.

According to language professionals, English is the accepted default language amongst employees from different cultures. This is particularly true in Europe and South America.

Nowadays, China is a rapidly developing economy which is becoming a superpower in trade and economics, some quarters are pushing for mandarin to be the global business language. However, to facilitate mandarin as the default language would be an onerous undertaking considering the language is barely spoken outside China.

The British Council reports that over 2 billion people will be studying English by 2020. Even in China, students and executives recognise that there is a basic mandate to speak English in order to find a better paid work.

The benefits of speaking English are significant, yet relatively few companies have systematically implemented an English-language policy with sustained results. Subsequently, many have suffered dramatic consequences as a result.

The language landscape depends on the nature of the company of course. If you are an English company setting up a business in a foreign land and the majority of your workforce are natives. It wouldn’t make sense to force your staff to speak English – unless they are dealing with English-speaking customers.

Likewise, if you use a third party outfit such as a logistics company or manufacturer, your company policy and contracts should all be written in the native language. The same is true of meeting minutes and important internal correspondence.

However, not all business owners would agree. Even foreign businesses targeting international audiences recognise the growing trend of English as the primary language on the international business and political front.

Global trade language

As a translation agency, we can observe a very interesting, growing trend in the number of companies wishing to expand abroad. As more firms expand into multinational territory, it is becoming apparent that unrestricted use of multiple languages is ineffective. A lack of communication can prevent important interactions from achieving business goals and hitting targets.

There is a requirement to coordinate tasks across departments which often involves communication between employees that do not speak the same language. As a result, there is a growing acceleration towards English as the dominant language.

How firms choose to adopt a common language may depend on the circumstances. CEO of Rakuten – Japan’s answer to Amazon and eBay – decided to take a radical approach. Hiroshi Mikitani introduced “Englishinization” and made English the official language of the entire company.

Over 7000 Japanese employees were given English lessons and told that if they failed to speak English to a sufficient standard they would be demoted or dismissed. Overnight, the staff menus and instructions were changed to English.

Mikitani’s tactics drew criticism from many in the Asian business community. But ultimately it worked. The multibillion-dollar company enjoyed unprecedented growth and went on a spending in France, Germany, Canada, the UK and the US.

But adopting a global language policy is not easy. Such drastic policies are often met with resistance from employees and workers that don’t speak English as well as their colleagues can feel at a disadvantage. As a result, the dynamic of the office and the performance of the company can suffer.

There are three primary reasons for multi-lingual companies to adopt a one-language policy. And because English is the standard language in boardrooms, it is considered the most sensible option for operations as well.

Why English is the corporate standard?

The spread of the English language throughout the world of commerce stems back to colonization. In today’s global market, the dominance of English speaking companies crossing international borders saw the language break down barriers as a compatible form of communication between foreign firms.

Subsequently, reputable organisations have adopted English as a primary means of communication. English is now the official business language in over 70 countries. The benefits of a shared language are also unequivocal and is sometimes used by companies that have a multilingual workforce yet very few or no English speakers.

Take Aventis for example. This is a company created by means of a merger between a German company and a French company. To avoid showing favouritism, the company adopted English as the universal language for the company rather than either French or German.

One of the primary reasons multinational businesses should adopt English organization-wide is to improve communication between departments, clients and partners. Better communications across all areas of the business provides employees with uniform information they need to know for purposes of efficiency and understanding.

There is also potential for a one-language policy to give companies a competitive edge. Companies that fail to adopt a language strategy of any kind limit growth opportunities, and firms that have a multilingual workforce often find communicating through different channels is time-consuming, costly and ineffective.

It is not always necessary for English to be the primary language between international companies if there is a preferable alternative. However, a language strategy is almost certainly required for cross-border mergers and acquisitions. Negotiations can be complicated and there is also the risk of international business fraud in contractual relationships.

A shared language within an organisation does make collaborative projects run smoother and a uniform language creates a link between internal communication channels and external stakeholders.

Successful businesses are built on sound relationships. And relationships are strengthened by effective lines of communication. Multilingual companies therefore increase their chances of international success by adopting a single language communication strategy.

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