Babel in business: The language barrier and its solutions in the HQ-subsidiary relationship

Anne-Wil Harzing*, Kathrin Koester, Ulrike Magner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

179 Citations (Scopus)


Using interview data from managers in eight German and Japanese corporate HQs and their subsidiaries in Japan or Germany, we provide the first large-scale empirical analysis of the language barrier and its solutions. We found that language is an important barrier, slowing down and increasing the cost of decision-making. Our research suggests twelve different solutions, ranging from informal day-to-day solutions such as changing communication patterns and code-switching, to more structural solutions such as language training and a common corporate language. We confirm and extend previous research and conclude that future research should more explicitly consider the different configurations of language skills for HQ and subsidiary managers. (C) 2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)279-287
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of World Business
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Language barrier
  • Multinationals
  • Communication
  • HQ-subsidiary relationships
  • Japan
  • Germany


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