The Importance of Language in Global Teams: A Linguistic Perspective

Hello in various languagesIn this week’s Matrix Monday post, Phil Stockbridge reviews “The Importance of Language in Global Teams: A Linguistic Perspective” by Chen,  Geluykens and Choi.

One of the key messages I deliver to British participants in our workshops is the incredible advantage and the tremendous responsibilities they have as native English speakers  – the incredible advantage, that, as mother tongue speakers of the World’s business language, they are able to communicate without any secondary processing taking place.

They miss out the stages that many non-native English speakers regularly encounter: knowing what you want to say;  thinking whether you have the right words in English to express those thoughts; thinking through how best to express your idea; mentally rehearsing the statements before delivering them.

I also point out the tremendous responsibility that native English speakers have: to ensure that they choose a form of language that is easy for non-native English speakers to understand.

This latter point is developed into a fine linguistic review by Chen, Geluykens and Chong Ju Choi. They introduce a hypothesized relationship between language and global team performance, using it to highlight some important steps global teams should take with language.

They point out that it is not just English where language is important. Once a team has chosen a ‘lingua franca’ for its operations, the same considerations apply.

Whilst stating an obvious point, they remind us that there are still many companies that operate a ‘lingua franca’ but don’t educate people in the language, leading to masses of non-communication.

Getting into the detail of linguistics, the paper introduces the reader to phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantic, pragmatics, sociolinguistics and anthropological linguistics. (I’m delighted to say that my spell checker recognised all of these words, even if I did not!). It makes the point that perceived ‘rudeness’ through being too direct can often be associated with a lack of vocabulary. In covering pragmatics, they make a link we discuss in our workshops relating to a lack of context in the communication.

The report concludes with a number of practical recommendations, from the adoption and development of competence in a common business language through to the responsibilities of native language speakers to non-native language speakers.

Source: The Importance of Language in Global Teams : a linguistic perspective, by Stephen Chen, Ronald Geluykens and Chong Ju Choi. Management International Review, Vol. 46, Issue 6, p.679-696  (2006)


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