Languages and Communication: a New Challenge for Management Education

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Jane Kassis-Henderson and Philippe Lecomte argue that globalisation means that communication is about more than learning a foreign language.

Since the mid-1990s business schools have undergone major changes due to the globalisation of the higher-education market. These changes are characterised by the development of academic research, the process of internationalisation of campuses and faculty, and the greater proximity of faculty to the business world.

These changes have in turn led to the increasing importance of international accreditation bodies, whose quality labels are a key factor in the drive to attract the best students and faculty members on an open international market. Globalisation has also changed the requirements of companies regarding the training of managers, who must now operate worldwide within growing networks of international business connections.

This means that business school graduates, in order to prove their employability, are required to understand and analyse complex situations in multicultural and multilingual environments. They must also be adaptable and reactive as the world around them is changing rapidly.

These major consequences of globalisation should have made the question of communication competencies a central issue of company policies and of management education. It is therefore worth investigating how this has been translated into the strategies of today’s corporate world and business school curricula.

Some decades ago questions of foreign language use in the corporate world were of a marginal nature. They tended to be associated with the exportation of products or the expatriation of company personnel and concerned a relatively small proportion of the workforce. However, with the internationalisation of companies an increasing number of employees at all levels of the corporate hierarchy are confronted with a variety of languages in the course of their daily business, be it in the head office or in foreign subsidiaries. They will often be faced with the need to speak, understand, read or write in a foreign language. The language question should therefore have shifted from being a marginal to a central concern for management.

However, in spite of this increasing need for organisations to understand the repercussions of working in a multilingual environment, language has, until recent years, been a much neglected factor in international management research.

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