PLEASE NOTE: JAVASCRIPT IS DISABLED ON YOUR BROWSER. For the best user experience, please enable javascript on your browser now.


In an increasingly multilingual world, the workplace is no exception. This is why English has taken an increasingly larger role as a working language. This solves some problems but causes many others, because mastery of the language is not always present, and cultural background also has a lot of influence.

We know it well, and certainly in Belgium: the majority of companies today are multilingual. Obviously these companies quickly found themselves confronted with this multilingualism, and the solution that imposed itself was the use of a working language, common to all – typically English.

Just open the website of any company and you’ll see: there is almost always an English version. Moreover, English often becomes the language of official company communications, used on the intranet, the company newsletter, e-mails from general management, etc.

And yet, although the use of English solves some problems, it unfortunately causes others:

  • not everyone has the same level of language proficiency, which can create communication difficulties;
  • eventually, a parallel hierarchy may emerge in the company, favoring individuals with the best language skills;
  • divisions between “white collar” and “blue collar” workers can be reinforced;
  • the understanding and interpretation of a foreign language are always subject to the knowledge of a person from another culture. The same message in English can be interpreted differently by a German, an American and a Chinese person, because they will apply their own cultural framework to the tone, the choice of words, etc. This can result not only in big misunderstandings but also in conflicts and difficulties, even loss of contracts.


How are companies tackling this issue?

We can cite 2 examples.

  • At Electrolux, a Swedish company, English is the official working language for everyone, including within the parent company in Sweden. The company wants everyone to feel comfortable and dare to express themselves, regardless of their level of knowledge. Staff are therefore asked to use not "good English", but to use the simplest possible sentences. Avoiding difficult phrases and words makes it easier for everyone to understand. That said, according to the communication director, their working language is therefore rather “bad English” more than anything else…
  • When the alliance between Renault and Nissan was formed, it seemed very difficult to impose French on the Japanese. So they also turned to English. A few years later, the general management expressed doubts about this choice, regretting “a reduced performance on both sides”.

The proposed solution was to set up systematic English training for all staff, and a minimum TOEIC score requirement for all managerial and technical candidates. In international teams, preference was given to candidates who also had knowledge of the other language (French or Japanese).

In either case, improvements have been made, but no solution is 100% perfect.

The example to follow today seems to be that of international organizations such as Unesco, where mutual understanding is advocated. That is for everyone to express themselves in their mother tongue, but to be able to understand what the other is saying in their own language. This requires skills in at least 2 foreign languages to be practical. But because comprehension and expression require different linguistic levels, it is easier to achieve than bilingualism. We see that this form of multilingualism promotes mutual respect and improves business results.

Two multilingual countries are pioneers in this area: Switzerland… and Belgium!

Do you also encounter linguistic and cultural difficulties within your company? Call International can help you by putting its 30 years of experience at your service.

Contact us for a quick, no-obligation quote.

    Title (required)

    Last name (mandatory)

    First name (mandatory)

    Email (mandatory)

    Telephone (mandatory)


    Your message

    I agree to leave my personal data in the Call International database for 2 years and to receive Call International newsletters.

    I agree to receive Call International newsletters.


    Source of examples: Article de Geneviève Tréquer-Felten, Synergies Italie N°9, 2013, pp 47-58

    Comments are closed.