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Using English as the common corporate language in a German multinational

Jonathan S. Swift (Salford Business School, University of Salford, Manchester, UK)
James Wallace (Balluff Ltd, Cheadle, UK)

Journal of European Industrial Training

ISSN: 0309-0590

Article publication date: 1 November 2011




This study aims to examine a German multinational that uses English as the common corporate language (CCL) for internal communications with its international subsidiaries/agencies. It examines use of English within the workplace, and problems/opportunities it presents to those who use it.


The questionnaire was piloted with a German employee on placement in the UK. The e‐mail questionnaire was then used to collect data from a random sample of 10 per cent (142) of respondents in non‐English‐speaking countries, using the company database.


CCL is supported by employees and English is used widely: a total of 90 per cent of respondents need to speak English for their job, and wish to continue English training – a virtuous circle of instrumental motivation. Varying levels of fluency create problems in meetings, and dissuade some from contributing. Whilst most wish to continue their English training, few currently take lessons.

Practical implications

In meetings, use handouts, and remind those with greater fluency to speak more slowly, and not use colloquialisms/idioms. Language audit is needed, to allow a more targeted training programme, based on levels of competence. Conversation classes with native English speakers: for higher levels of competence, focus on slang expressions, idioms and colloquialisms. Job rotation in English‐speaking countries – on return, employees help with language classes and cultural briefings. Selective recruitment across the company's global network.


The study examines many aspects of CCL use, and as such, should provide a useful indicator of areas that other researchers might like to examine in greater detail in future.



Swift, J.S. and Wallace, J. (2011), "Using English as the common corporate language in a German multinational", Journal of European Industrial Training, Vol. 35 No. 9, pp. 892-913.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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