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Miya Komori-Glatz

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Miya Komori-Glatz

Researcher of the Month

Eng­lish as a busi­ness lin­gua franca: from the chat­room to the board­room

As busi­nesses in Ger­man-speak­ing coun­tries be­come in­creas­ingly in­ter­na­tional, the topic of Eng­lish as a lin­gua franca is also at­tract­ing ever more at­ten­tion. Chan­ging the cor­por­ate lan­guage is more dif­fi­cult, and more com­plex, than it might seem. Miya Ko­mor­i-Glatz, of the In­sti­tute for Eng­lish Busi­ness Com­mu­nic­a­tion, stud­ies Eng­lish as a lin­gua franca in mul­ti­cul­tural team­work and the im­plic­a­tions of in­tro­du­cing a for­eign lan­guage in the work­place. Her re­search re­veals that the change to Eng­lish is not easy, but it opens a win­dow on the world.

Work­ing in in­ter­na­tional teams, trav­el­ling the globe, speak­ing mul­tiple lan­guages – for many people today, this is the norm. But work­ing in a for­eign lan­guage such as Eng­lish is not easy for every­body. “Chan­ging the work­ing lan­guage from Ger­man to Eng­lish is a ma­jor step and dif­fi­cult for many em­ploy­ees,” says Miya Ko­mor­i-Glatz, a re­searcher at the In­sti­tute for Eng­lish Busi­ness Com­mu­nic­a­tion at WU Vi­enna. “In­tro­du­cing Eng­lish as a com­mon cor­por­ate lan­guage re­quires care­ful plan­ning. The con­sequences – and the costs – of lan­guage-­based prob­lems in a com­pany can be severe.”

Devel­op­ing a com­mon lan­guage as the path to suc­cess

Ko­mor­i-Glatz’ re­search com­bines per­spect­ives from busi­ness and lin­guist­ics to develop a frame­work that high­lights com­mon is­sues and po­ten­tial prob­lem areas when im­ple­ment­ing Eng­lish as a cor­por­ate lan­guage. “The most im­port­ant th­ing is to ask whether in­form­a­tion is reach­ing all your em­ploy­ees and where lan­guage may be block­ing in­form­a­tion flows,” says the re­searcher. Com­mu­nic­at­ive com­pet­ence in Eng­lish – or the lack thereof – has con­sid­er­able im­plic­a­tions for an em­ployee’s pos­i­tion in the com­pany’s power struc­tures. “At the same time, mul­ti­cul­tural teams can develop their com­mu­nic­a­tion jointly,” claims Ko­mor­i-Glatz, re­fer­ring to her own study, where she ob­served and in­ter­viewed mul­ti­cul­tural stu­dent teams work­ing in Eng­lish as part of their mas­ter pro­gramme at WU. She found that, over time, the groups developed a shared rep­er­toire of tech­nical and team-spe­cific vocab­u­lary as well as more gen­eral com­mu­nic­at­ive prac­tices, strength­en­ing their own learn­ing pro­cesses and a com­mon team iden­tity. “They not only ad­ap­ted what they said, but also how they said it,” Ko­mor­i-Glatz re­ports. “When teams make an ef­fort to find ways of achiev­ing smooth and in­clus­ive com­mu­nic­a­tion, they are also mak­ing a ma­jor con­tri­bu­tion to achiev­ing their joint goals.”

From the chat­room to the board­room

However, keep­ing all com­mu­nic­a­tion chan­nels open – between col­leagues or man­age­ment hi­er­arch­ies or across a mul­tina­tional con­cern – is a chal­lenge. The key is to re­main flex­ible and aware of how lan­guage can cause bar­ri­ers. “Only is­su­ing in­form­a­tion in Eng­lish doesn’t al­ways make sense – espe­cially if there’s a range of pro­fi­ciency levels across the com­pany. If man­agers want to keep in­form­a­tion flow­ing between em­ploy­ees – from the chat­room to the board­room – it’s es­sen­tial to re­main flex­ible and find the lan­guage, or lan­guages, that will be most ef­fect­ive to en­cour­age those in­form­a­tion flows. This might mean con­tinu­ing to of­fer cer­tain in­form­a­tion in Ger­man to pre­vent em­ploy­ees miss­ing out on key in­form­a­tion or to avoid the cre­ation of shadow hi­er­arch­ies,” says Ko­mor­i-Glatz. “At the same time, it’s im­port­ant to en­sure that new col­leagues are not ex­cluded by us­ing the local lan­guage.”

Lan­guage as a chal­lenge and an op­por­tun­ity

Es­tab­lish­ing a com­mon cor­por­ate lan­guage re­quires hav­ing a well thought-out policy: where, with whom, and why should Eng­lish – or other lan­guages be spoken? Im­ple­ment­ing a new com­pany lan­guage is highly re­source-in­tens­ive. Mul­ti­lin­gual em­ploy­ees are often used as lan­guage “nodes” to fa­cil­it­ate com­mu­nic­a­tion across lan­guage bound­ar­ies, which can lead to the devel­op­ment of shadow hi­er­arch­ies and un­sus­tain­able levels of de­pend­ence on cer­tain in­di­vidu­als. Yet a shared lan­guage makes it possible to gain new in­sights and take ad­vant­age of a wider range of re­sources. Mul­ti­lin­gual em­ploy­ees tak­ing on the role of lan­guage nodes also have ac­cess to in­form­a­tion through formal and in­formal chan­nels, and often thus have a com­pet­it­ive ad­vant­age. "Ad­apt­ab­il­ity is key, and our gradu­ates are ex­pec­ted to be able to use lan­guage(s) flex­ibly and com­pet­ently. As an uni­versity, we give them the com­mu­nic­at­ive skills to do so."

Links:

Ko­mor­i-Glatz, Miya and Schmidt-Un­ter­ber­ger,  Bar­bara. (2018) Eng­lish-me­dium busi­ness edu­ca­tion: cre­at­ing the in­ter­na­tional man­agers of to­mor­row, today?In: Sh­er­man, Tamah & Jiří Nek­vapil (Eds.), Eng­lish in Busi­ness and Com­merce: In­ter­ac­tions and Policies. Ber­lin: Mouton de Gruyter, 310-334.

Ko­mor­i-Glatz, Miya (2018) Con­cep­tu­al­ising Eng­lish as a busi­ness lin­gua franca (BELF). European Journal of In­ter­na­tional Man­age­ment 12(1/2), 46-61.

Ko­mor­i-Glatz, Miya (2017): (B)ELF in mul­ti­cul­tural stu­dent team­work. Journal of Eng­lish as a Lin­gua Franca 6(1), 83-109.