From dilemmatic struggle to legitimized indifference: Expatriates' host country language learning and its impact on the expatriate-HCE relationship

Ling Eleanor Zhang*, Anne-Wil Harzing

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


We address the lack of knowledge concerning the role of host country languages in multinational corporations based on an inductive qualitative study involving 70 interviews with Nordic expatriates and host country employees (HCE) in China. Building on the strongly discrepant views of expatriates and HCEs, we demonstrate how expatriates’ willingness to learn and use the host country language lead to different types of expatriate-HCE relationships, ranging from harmonious to distant or segregated. In doing so, we emphasize the subtle and fragile connection between expatriates’ attitude towards HCEs’ mother tongue and trust formation in addition to the construction of superiority-inferiority relationships.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)774-786
JournalJournal of World Business
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Expatriate
  • Chinese
  • Learning
  • Host country employee
  • Host country language

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