The Lingo Limbo

In business as in teenage life, there are growing pains. If we stick to the entrepreneurial side, one aspect of such growing pains is language. Or, to be more precise, the absence of a common language. Dealing with projects involving staff from diverse countries is a communication challenge. The question is: How do we overcome it and succeed?

In most global companies, English takes precedence. For reasons that are both historical and pragmatic by nature, communication in companies and agencies dealing with multiple nationalities is usually done in English. The language serves here as a lingua franca, a tool to maneuver cross-cultural gaps in corporate culture which of course extend way beyond language and instead lead us right into the realms of societal norms and values.

But what about a corporation based in a country with an extended language realm? Can we assume that the languages spoken by contributors from neighboring countries match sufficiently in both vocabulary and pronunciation to ensure equal understanding? How much information is lost by the assumption that a shared language history is enough to build our communication on? And, even more important: What is being lost, and how do we notice?

Certainly, the implementation of a company lingo for a greater synergy effect within its international branches is dependent on a number of factors. To begin with, there is the number of international contacts and a resulting communication need: How often do we reach out to staff members that do not share our native language, and at what point does it justify the implementation of a company policy on language?

Secondly, there is the ability and willingness of company employees to buy into the concept: Are staff members able to make use of a certain language and to address their communication style? Also, are they up for it? If not, how can we support, educate and motivate them?

Thirdly, there is the commitment issue: As a company or agency undergoing the transformation from a local or national brand to an international or even global one, how committed are we? Expansion comes at a cost, and if information is lost due to language issues impairing communication, the price might be steep.


Julia Ryberg