business, culture, international business, language

Would You Like To Speak My Language?

All the world’s a stage

– As You Like It by William Shakespeare

When I think about languages, the first person that comes to my mind is William Shakespeare. His creativity in his sonnets and plays has contributed to the expansion of English language. It was during his time when theatre plays has become popular as the form of entertainment.

Language is that aspect of communication which provides understanding to both the speaker and the listener (or the giver and the receiver). Needless to say, language plays the important role in business negotiations which is critical for company’s revenue.

He’s my nephew. Photo taken at Amsterdam, The Netherlands on September 2010.

Not everyone can speak the English language. And even English language spoken by Americans still possesses differences to the English language spoken by the British. In combination of culture, knowing a host country’s language is an added advantage for the international business negotiator. With Culture + Language, we can understand with clarity where the prospect customer(s) or the prospect business partner(s) are coming from. Not all languages are spoken, there are also the bodily languages that we need to understand.

Language is one of the challenges of an international manager or negotiator that need to overcome in order to win the business negotiation or implement the company’s global strategy.

Benjamin Lee Whorf is the known American linguist famous for his study of linguistic relativity. As per Whorf’s hypothesis, the language determines the nature of culture.

Whorf argued that words provide the concepts for understanding the world. According to Whorf, all languages have limited sets of words. These restricted word sets in turn constrain the ability of users to understand or conceptualize the world. Since language structures the way we think about what we see, it determines the cultural patterns.

Whorf’s hypothesis can also be interpreted as the most influential language has the control of economy and the world.

Although there are other studies conducted to disagree with Whorf’s claims, however, in my opinion, Whorf’s hypothesis and theory is true.

Taking into example the Southeast Asia region with countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, and Philippines, these three countries are until now sharing words. Language between these three countries varies due to the colonization of different countries depicted in their country history. However, having been living, working, and communicating with these countries made me realized that we are still sharing few old words of which the meanings are exactly the same. And those words that we don’t have the commonality have been borrowed from the countries who colonized us. The behavior of the people or some aspects of culture vividly show similarities. When I consider comparing the country ratings of Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions country ratings, it also shows similarities to some aspects of culture. Below is my analysis based using Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions of National Culture:

In conclusion, by basing from this example, the influence of language to other countries can be a tool to tap and to gain advantage during business deals and transactions to the host country. However, this is only the beginning or door opener for the international manager or business negotiator, it is still necessary to further understand not only the language that is verbally communicated but also the body language (implicit languages) from those countries belonging to the High Context Languages as distinct by anthropologist Edward T. Hall.

In the current economy, English has been the most common form of language used in business negotiations. As such, it is important for the international manager or negotiator to use the simplest English words (avoid the ‘slang’) in order to clearly deliver the message to the targeted audience.

As the famous Shakespeare once coined:

Brevity is the soul of wit.

It is through the simplest and precise words one’s intelligence is shown.

Til next time. Au revoir.


  1. Cullen J, Parboteeah P, Multinational Management Strategic Approach 4ed, Thomson South-Western, c. 2008, pp. 641 – 643
  2. Benjamin Lee Whorf, “Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia”, Geert
  3. Hofstede Cultural Dimension

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