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JAN 10

Linguistic and cultural barriers in MNCs

In the global forefront of progressive advancements, language management in multinational companies is of utmost importance and concern. In fact, multinational corporate companies are becoming perpetually more cognizant of the significance of global coordination as a source of a competitive edge as language sometimes limits the aspirations of the corporation seeking an international presence at an organizational level

Language thus needs to be deliberated as an important component in managing multinationals because it infiltrates virtually every facet of the business activities. As most of the multinationals host their operations in different regions with multiple languages, sharing a common language may or may not lead to effective or meaningful communication. One of the reasons for this being people of different nations or even regions often feel antagonized about language and cultural differences and outlook.

Though independent elements, language, and culture are closely interwoven where a language sometimes could be culturally bound to its speaker, expressing a specific perception varying from region to region. Thus, when one put forth an effort to learn a foreign language it becomes one’s window to understand and appreciate a new culture.

Language Issues in Multinational Corporate

Although there are many definitions and perceptions of what makes a multinational corporation, one of the views defines it as a large company with its headquarters in one country while its subsidiaries are spread across different countries. Most often these subsidiaries are an integral part of the parent company or the headquarters both organizationally and strategically.

Depending on the degree of the MNC’s spread across various countries, the degree of its multinationalism may be determined. Similarly, the gradation of an MNC’s multi-nationality may or may not be a function of the foreign subsidiaries both quantitatively and qualitatively for the activities and the functions accounted by the subsidiaries like their proportion of assets, revenue, income; or the employment where the management is concerned in terms of its top managers hailing from different nationalities and the international ownership base of the MNC.

Bridging the Language Gap in MNCs

It is understood that a domestic firm spread across a large country faces cultural or ethnic differences, it increases many folds for MNCs where the subsidiary-subsidiary and headquarters-subsidiary relationships are largely influenced by the diversity in their respective local languages. As aspiring future managers and entrepreneurs, one needs to be cognizant of the influence or the impact languages play in the MNCs. Despite the prominence, a foreign language holds in an MNC, it has gained very little attention in international management in general. However, language issues in a corporate take the front seat and especially more today considering the fast pace with which the world is progressing towards globalization.

A multinational corporation may choose one common corporate language and prioritize it in its internal communication while other MNCs may consciously or unconsciously avoid making this decision consciously or even without their knowledge. The fact is, developing global competency is no longer a choice with rapid globalization. Hence, having a common language facilitates effective communication. In scenarios where the common language is a foreign one for the workforce, it is their responsibility to invest their time and effort to learn the language if the objective is a synergy with the MNC for a longer span. The ability to adapt and embrace challenges not limited to languages is one of the key requirement of becoming a globally competitive individual.

As the progression of globalization unfurls, the need for a workforce with language and cultural competence will also grow. In an international business context, the implications of the same would affect one career choice, career management, corporate culture, diversity issues, etc. It thus requires the MNCs to strengthen their organizational behavior, strategic management, and sociolinguistics.