Vol. 1. No. 2 A-2 August 1994
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Ad-hoc English and Creolized Corporate Culture: Translingual and Intercultural Communication in a Japanese Computer-assembly Plant in Germany

Janet Sutherland
Fachhochschule Regensburg, Regensburg, Germany


Field research consisting of direct observation and interviews conducted at the plant examines the use of English as a lingua franca between Japanese and Germans. This case study reports on several interesting aspects of translingual and inter-cultural communication between the Japanese and the Germans, citing evidence of both accommodation and conservatism within the two language/culture groups. The author suggests implications for English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teaching.


On April 1, 1989, a leading Japanese electronics manufacturer laid the cornerstone for a factory on the periphery of a town in southern Germany. Viewed as an admirable convergence of the needs of the Japanese-owned firm and the local economy, the plant was to assemble laptop computers, thus guaranteeing the manufacturer access to the post-1992 unified European market while generating tax revenues and, in the long run, providing high-tech jobs for the local economy.[1] The investment had been actively solicited by the municipal government, which had annexed the farmlands on which the plant was to be built, thus assuring their prospective clients essential services such as water, sewers, construction and upgrading of streets. To provide direct access to the site, a new autobahn exit was built by the state of Bavaria, in addition to a new limited access road leading from the commercial heart of the town. The first assembly line went into production on April 1, 1990, and a second followed in October of that year. A facility expansion program completed in the summer of 1991 doubled laptop production capacity and added on-site manufacturing of printed circuit boards (PCBs). By the end of 1991, approximately three hundred people were employed at the facility. Though the plant is not unionized, wage and benefit packages are at levels comparable to those negotiated by the German metal workers union (IG-Metall). Within the local community, the firms management is well-regarded, and the modern, state-of-the-art plant quickly gained a reputation for being a good place to work.[-1-]

As is common with this type of facility, a limited number of key positions were filled by transfers from the home office; the remainder of the management, administrative staff, and all of the production workers were hired locally. Of the thirteen major managerial positions on the organizational chart, five are filled by Japanese staff: the General Manager, three senior managers (for quality control and engineering, for accounting and finance, and for production control), and one manager (for laptop engineering). The Deputy General Manager and the senior managers for manufacturing and for personnel and general affairs are German.

For at least the first two and a half years of operation, there were no native speakers of English working in the plant. Only those who attended English courses had regular native-speaker input, and that was limited to ninety minutes once a week. After the plant had been in operation for over a year, a multilingual administrative assistant (a Japanese woman who has a degree in linguistics from an American university and who is married to a German) was hired locally.

Until October 1991, when PCB manufacturing began, the only activity at the plant was computer assembly, with all components being shipped from Japan. Assembled computers are shipped to a warehouse elsewhere in Germany. Production quotas are determined by the head office in Japan in conjunction with the European marketing and distribution center located in northwestern Germany.

Translingual Communication At The Plant

Translingual communication is defined as any language-based communication and information transfer between native speakers of different languages.[2] When native speakers of different languages wish to communicate, the language of communication must be negotiated, imposed, or otherwise determined. The assembly plant which is the subject of this study is located within the German Sprachraum, or language territory; there is, therefore, a strong territorial presumption for the use of German in all situations and for all functions. Nevertheless, from the outset, English was declared by the Japanese to be the house language, a decision which was accepted without apparent resentment by the first generation of German employees.

Both as a matter of policy and practical necessity, everyone from line foreman on up is expected to be able to communicate with Japanese colleagues in English. While English proficiency is not required of the semi-skilled workers on the production line, English classes for beginners and false beginners were nevertheless offered as an employer-paid benefit to these workers, and participants in those courses often reported being asked questions in English by visitors to the plant. Among those whose work involved interacting [-2-] with Japanese colleagues, skill levels varied. While all these employees had at least the four to six years of English required for the ˝Mittlere Reifeţ qualification (roughly equivalent to American non-college preparatory high school graduation or British O-levels), few of the staff had a working knowledge of the special terminology or commonly used expressions their position required. At one extreme of the job-related language proficiency continuum was a German quality control staffer who had to carry defective parts to his Japanese supervisor and physically point out the flaws because he was unable to describe them adequately in English.

At the other extreme were three members of the managerial staffäthe Deputy General Manager, the Senior Manager for Manufacturing, and his deputyäwho were hired away from the German offices of an American electronics manufacturer, where they had had ample opportunity to hone their English skills in daily interactions with native speakers. Aware that 1) they needed to be able to communicate in English, and 2) their own skills were not sufficient to the task, a few of the German staffers signed up for off-site English courses on their own initiative even before on-site courses were offered.

Among Japanese staff, active English skill levels, as evaluated subjectively by the English teachers (considering fluency, vocabulary, grammatical correctness and pronunciation), ranged from very good to well below the minimum required for effective on-the- job communication. Passive competence was somewhat better, ranging from marginally adequate to very good.

Apart from the formal and informal expectations regarding the house language, there were also visual indicators that the plant was considered English-speaking territory. English-language signs identified the various functional areas and departments: Showroom, Warehouse, Assembly Line, General Affairs. Upper echelon position designations were (and still are) predominantly English: General Manager, Deputy General Manager, Senior Manager. Tours of the facility, presentations, and press briefings are given in English for non-Anglophone, non-German visitors.

With the exception of interactions involving the multilingual administrative assistant, English is at least nominally the lingua franca for all significant communication between Japanese and German employees. Thus, all discussions involving quality control between a (German) line leader and the (Japanese) senior manager or manager for quality control take place in English. English also serves as the lingua franca when German administrative and technical staff visit the home office in Japan. As would be expected, however, employment contracts, personnel and payroll records, as well as dealings with the host-country regulatory environment are handled in German by the German-led department of personnel and general affairs or, in the case of customs-related [-3-] matters, by the German-led shipping and receiving department. Similarly, signs which must conform to German regulations (such as those relating to safety procedures and those identifying fire extinguisher locations or first aid boxes) are in German.

Over the first two years of operation, accommodations were made by both language groups. Personnel forms which are used by both German and Japanese employees (such as job descriptions) were originally printed in German; these have now been translated into English and are printed bilingually, with the English text below or to the right of the German originaland in a much smaller typeface. Push/pull signs on doors were initially English only, but have recently been replaced by bilingual (German and English) versions. Handwritten notices (i.e., requests to keep doors closed or tea kitchens tidy) may be in any of the three languages, or any combination, depending on the author and the intended audience. At the same time, however, it is clear that both Japanese and Bavarian German are used esoterically, i.e., to allow for a degree of conversational privacy in the presence of colleagues.

Corporate Policy And The Politics Of English Language Instruction

That English was to serve as the in-house language was at least symbolically underscored by the hiring of two freelance English teachers in February 1990, two months before the assembly line startup and about the same length of time after the first group of locally hired administrative staff started work. The first courses offered were intermediate and advanced level conversation courses for managers and administrative personnel. Then, as each line began production, the new employees were offered the opportunity to take part in English classes at the appropriate level, even though they were not required to use English on the job. In addition, special- purpose intensive courses were provided on a just-in-time basis for engineering and technical personnel to prepare them for extended stays at the home office in Japan. In such courses, attention was given not only to general communicative functions but also to technical and business vocabulary and Japanese business culture. In contrast to the ongoing, extensive courses, which were held after the assembly lines had shut down for the day, intensive courses were held during regular working hours.

Initially, all courses, regardless of the level or purpose, were been paid for by the company, though this policy was revised by the education and training specialist who joined the personnel staff in late 1991. She decided that the company would continue to offer beginning on-site courses and perhaps one advanced conversation course. Those whose skills fell between the two levels (the vast majority) were told to seek instruction outside the plant. Eventually, as the electronics market became increasingly depressed and the company began looking for ways to cut costs, language [-4-] courses were eliminated altogether, though with the expectation of resuming them at an undetermined future date.

German employees who successfully complete English language training and whose work requires the use of English can expect this to be considered in the granting of promotions and pay increases, though the exact weighting of such a qualification may vary from position to position. It is also not clear what role English language competency plays in selecting Japanese employees for assignment to the German facility.

Japanese participation in English courses has been limited. Initially, two Japanese managers expressed an interest in attending the conversation courses. Only one actually appeared for the first session, however, and he attended less and less frequently as the first line went into production and his workload increased. For their part, Germans taking part in the classes increasingly interpreted the lack of Japanese participation as a sign that (unlike themselves) the Japanese simply did not care about improving their English skills. In early 1991, though, three Japanese managers expressed an interest in organizing a course in English pronunciation for speakers of Japanese. Of the three, one began individual tutoring in both English and German.

Factors Affecting Translingual Communication

It is perhaps noteworthy that the primary interest expressed by the Japanese staff was for additional work in pronunciation, perhaps because many of the difficulties the two non-Anglophone groups had communicating with each other in the lingua franca were due at least in part to significant interference from Japanese and German accents. External software consultants (Bavarian German speakers) who were brought in to customize in-house applications software reported significant difficulties communicating with their Japanese clients, both in understanding their heavily-accented English and in determining intended meanings once the words had been understood. In-house war stories told of similar difficulties experienced by employees within the plant. The simplest communicative acts often required great inventiveness and patience; extensive use was made of gestures and sketches to facilitate communication.

For this observer, it was clear that factors other than pronunciation also played a role. On one occasion, for example, a Japanese manager was observed accompanying a clerical employee to her desk to complete a communicative act that had begun in the production area on the other side of the facility. Holding up a standard-sized sheet of lined paper with writing on it, he said, with a pronounced Japanese accent and accompanying gestures, This paper. Three. Only after many wrong guesses and much gesturing [-5-] back and forth was it established that the request was for three standard-sized (DIN-A4) pads of lined paper.[3]

Both German and Japanese speakers, even those who construct more or less grammatical sentences when speaking with a native English speaker, tend to simplify sentences when speaking with other non-Anglophones in hopes of improving their chances of being understood. For example, on hearing that a colleague was interested in learning Japanese, one of the Japanese managers smiled politely and replied, Japanese too hard. Why you want learn Japanese? Speak Japanese ok. Twenty years. Maybe. Write Japanese very difficult. Germans talking to Japanese colleagues tend to use verb infinitives and gerunds and to omit auxiliaries and modifiers, apparently resorting to foreigner talk (Ferguson, 1971, p. 144). In practice, however, communication is more often hindered than helped by such tactics.

Nevertheless, those German employees who have been on the staff from the beginning now report having fewer difficulties understanding their Japanese colleagues, at least those with whom they have worked the longest. Typically Japanese pronunciations are now recognized and correctly understood, as are the idiosyncratic speech patterns of long-standing colleagues. Moreover, Japanese staff temporarily assigned to the plant are now somewhat more likely to be understood, depending on their general proficiency and pronunciation and on the similarity of their English pronunciation and usage patterns to those of permanently assigned Japanese staff.

The linguistic accommodation process has resulted in the development of an in-house pidginized Englisha lingua franca which incorporates both Japanese and German vocabulary and a tendency to truncate English syntax. The first Japanese and German expressions to be taken up generally tended to be fixed or formulaic. German staff who regularly refer to German colleagues using the English ˝Mr.ţ or ˝Mrs.ţ use the Japanese honorific ˝-sanţ when addressing or referring to Japanese colleagues. Other Japanese expressions heard being used regularly by both German and Japanese speakers in English interactions include ˝Hai!ţ (yes), ˝Domo!ţ or ˝Arigato!ţ (thanks), ˝Doitashimashite!ţ (you═re welcome) and ˝Wakarimashita?ţ (Do you understand?). German expressions in general use included ˝Gruess Gott!ţ (the most common Bavarian greeting), ˝Mahlzeit!ţ (literally, ˝mealtimeţäa greeting used around the lunch hour) and ˝Feierabend!ţ (roughly, ˝quitting timeţ).

In addition, two types of imitative performances have been observed. In the first, a few Germans have been observed doing exaggerated imitations of specific Japanese colleagues═ speech and gestural patterns. While the German imitators and their German audiences find the performances amusing and not disrespectful or aggressive toward their Japanese colleagues, they nevertheless refrain from performing in front of Japanese colleagues. The second [-6-] type of imitative performance appears to be an unconscious imitation of pronunciation, and not done for amusement. Several German staff membersäincluding some with otherwise excellent English proficiencyähave picked up a distinctly Japanese-sounding accent when speaking English, an accent which is present regardless of the audience. Considering the primary English language models are their Japanese colleagues and superiors, this is not surprising. So far, an analogous accommodation in pronunciation has not been observed among Japanese staff members, though they do tend to include both Japanese and German vocabulary when speaking with long- term colleagues.[4]

Language Use And Training: Corporate Policy Versus Local Practice

The home office commitment to using English as the in-house language world-wide is a logical consequence of another company policy: that of moving Japanese management staff approximately every three years. In this firm, the typical pattern is as follows: each three-year overseas assignment (which usually includes a promotion) is followed by a return to the home countryeither to the head office or to a manufacturing facility in Japan. While the move to an overseas assignment is often accompanied by a promotion, the move home is usually a lateral one, designed to broaden the managers experience before sending him abroad again. Those whose success in their overseas assignment has been limited may be reassigned at a lower level when they return to Japan; the chances of receiving a promotion on returning to Japan are remote.

As the overseas assignments may be in any of a number of language territories, and as English is already long established as the language of the marketplace (outside the former Soviet sphere of influence, at least), it is reasonable to assume that proficiency in English is considered far more important than proficiency in any other foreign language. Nevertheless, the firm does pay for in- country language training at the beginning of an overseas assignment. For those assigned to the German facility, this meant a standard, two-month intensive (eight hours per day) language and culture course at a Goethe Institute in Germanya solid foundation, but scarcely sufficient to prepare one for the vagaries of the dialects spoken by many of their Bavarian German colleagues, not to mention the special-purpose German required on the job.[5]

While official company support for German language and culture training was limited to the initial orientation period, and Japanese participation in English conversation classes was limited to one senior manager, two wives and two children, Japanese staff and their families were enthusiastic and attentive participants in a series of tours and social events organized during the first year by one of the English instructors. These activities included English-language guided tours of the town and various buildings of historical [-7-] interest, shopping orientation sessions, and excursions to local beer gardens. The General Manager, whose primary local function is to interface with the local community, was a particularly avid student of that communitys culture and customs, a trait which his German colleagues found genuinely endearing, even when they did not understand or appreciate his management style.[6]

The assumptions (Francis Lide, personal communication, 1992), widespread in the American foreign language community, that Japanese businessmen consistently demonstrate superior linguistic and cultural accommodation, or that they achieve some mysteriously enhanced insight into the workings of language are challenged by the current study. The following anecdote reflects rather mechanistic assumptions made by the Japanese management about interlingual relationships, meaning, and translatability. In late 1990, a company biblea detailed technical manual describing operating procedureswas to be made available to German-speaking employees. To accomplish this, the original Japanese text was first translated into English in Japan by native speakers of Japanese. This already unreliable English translation was then translated into German by native speakers of German who had no knowledge of Japanese. As trained language specialists well know, the potential for distortion of meaning using such a process is mind-boggling, yet for some reason, the administrative assistant fluent in all three languages was not consulted.

Intercultural Communication

While Japanese and German cultures as a whole present researchers with a rich assortment of contrasting beliefs, values, expectations, and forms, certain of these contrasts are especially apparent in a business setting. Of particular interest in the present study are those related to space, time and social forms.[7]

The original facility was designed in Japan with only two private offices, one for the General Manager and one for the Deputy General Manager. All other office staff were expected to share two large open offices. This led to intercultural conflict with the Germans, whose preference for closed doors and clearly defined private spheres was described a quarter century ago by cultural anthropologist Edward T. Hall (1966, pp. 126-28). Corollary to this, as Americans working in Germany soon learn, is the assumption that an open door is an invitationand a compelling one, at that to intrude, either visually or physically. Understandably, personnel staffers felt uncomfortable conducting interviews under these conditions and retreated to one of the conference rooms to gain a measure of privacy and to avoid interruptions. Eventually, five- foot-high, free-standing partitions were brought in to divide their office space into functional areas. Over the months, these dividers were added to, until only door-width access remained. As one [-8-] personnel staffer frankly admitted, Das haben wir schwer erkaempft. [We had to fight very hard for them.] With the completion of the facilities expansion project, the Personnel and General Affairs staff achieved a degree of privacy more acceptable to Germans for such an administrative function; they moved into their own office, complete with a door that remains closed, and are now physically well-removed from other administrative areas. Interestingly, one Japanese senior manager has also claimed private office space in a room with a door that can be closed. This space, however, appears to be used most frequently as an informal conference area where the desire not to be interrupted can be communicated in terms readily understood by German colleagues.

Expectations regarding the appropriate length of the workday provide another example of cultural differences between Japanese and German staff. German office staff are accustomed to working roughly the same thirty-seven-hour week as their co-workers on the assembly line. Upper-level German managers expect to work nine or ten hours a day, less than the eleven or more hours typical in Japan. For some months, the Japanese managers appeared to be gradually accommodating themselves to the shorter German workday. Then, however, a VIP delegation arrived from the home office for consultations. Following the delegations departure, the Japanese managers were observed to be working longer, Japanese-length days again. A Japanese informant not associated with the plant (Matsuyama, personal communication, 1992) interpreted this changed behavior as an indication that the accommodation to the shorter work week had not been well received by the VIP visitors. The same informant also suggested that the German-based Japanese staff might well have been reminded of their traditional Japanese roles and responsibilities.

Differing beliefs about the nature of organizational structures and functions and about what constitutes appropriate behavior in meetings have also given rise to frustration and misunderstanding on both sides. The Germans, accustomed to Western-style, conflict- model discussions, interpreted their Japanese colleagues silence in meetings as passivity and acquiescence. Their initial amusement and sense of having the upper hand turned to frustration, however, as it became apparent that the Japanese were anything but pushovers. For their part, the Japanese were accustomed to staff meetings whose primary function was the unhindered transmission of information up and down the organizational structure; they were dismayed at their German colleagues often embarrassingly confrontational behavior. Indeed, after a year and a half of such departmental disharmony, one Japanese senior manager became so frustrated with these cross- cultural sessions that he stopped holding staff meetings altogether for a timean understandable move, but one that did nothing to improve the situation.

In a closely related matter, the Germans were initially enthusiastic about what they understood to be a non-hierarchical, [-9-] participatory management structure and style, one that would be open to individual initiative and input at any level. They soon found, however, that many decisions they had expected to make locally were in fact being made by the home office. While a specific multinational corporate culture may be a factor here, the primary frustration surely derives from differences rooted in the two contrasting national cultural styles. Germans, seeing the forum of a staff meeting filtered through the metaphors of competitive sports or military campaigns, simply do not see the significance of the endless conversations that go on (in Japanese) outside staff meetings. They tend to underestimate the importance of building a broad consensus before presenting an idea at a staff meeting. In addition, they consider it normal to question or challenge a colleague in front of others in a staff meeting, while their Japanese colleagues expect to defer to their superiors and to behave in such a way as to maintain the harmonious atmosphere essential to their sense of corporate well-being. When their actions fail to achieve the hoped-for results, the Germans perceive the structure as rigid and unresponsive.[8]

Related misunderstandings arise over the kinds of relationships that are appropriate to the workplace. Japanese tend to value corporate relationships that have developed over time and have proven trustworthy and reliable. They respond positively to non- Japanese colleagues who, acting on their own, befriend their families, go out to dinner with them or include them on weekend excursions.[9] This same behavior is viewed with disdain by Germans, who tend to separate private and professional spheres and who see in it nothing more than an attempt to get ahead in the company.[10] Not surprisingly, Japanese managers tend to promote colleagues with whom they feel most comfortable, and occasionally promote someone they know well over someone who is clearly better qualified in other respects. While this can happen in any organization, it is perhaps more commonäand certainly more acceptedäin organizations which stress harmonious corporate relationships over individual competition.


The salient conclusion to be drawn from the present study is that the linguistic accommodation Japanese show toward Americans is not a general rule applicable to their behavior in other language areas in which the Japanese do business. Rather, the Japanese strategy appears to be the same as that used by many non-Anglophone European multinationalsto concentrate on English as their second language for use in the English-speaking world and then to attempt to negotiate it as a lingua franca elsewhere. If this is true, the relative interlingual weight of English as a world language depends less on the current economic strength of the United States or even of the English-speaking world as a wholethan on the [-10-] languages long-established status as the dominant language of business and technology throughout the Pacific Rim as well as most of the rest of the world.[11]

This case study presents a picture of a highly successful Japanese-run enterprise with an excellent image in the local German community. Within the firm, however, translingual and intercultural communication have been far from smooth. Competence in English has not been adequate, either among the Japanese or among the German native speakers, to permit smooth, efficient communication in the lingua franca. The facility was designed without taking into consideration culturally conditioned expectations concerning organization of space in the country where it was to be erected; conflicting expectations regarding workday length generate subtle tensionsthe management workday tends increasingly to follow Japanese cultural norms; documents are transliterated into English in Japan by native speakers of Japanese, then retranslated into the target languagethe person with the most foreign language expertise is left out of the information loop; company support for foreign language acquisitionwhether English or another languagethough significant, is less than adequate to ensure smooth, efficient communication among employees. Clearly, assumptions about translinguistic and intercultural competence in the corporate world need to be reexamined.

For EFL/ESL professionals, this reexamination has several implications; some of these are of a practical nature, others may require a more fundamental shift of pedagogical priorities. 1) Those of us who teach for commercial and industrial clients need to do a better job of helping them define or clarify their firms local and global language needs and priorities. Where it is not already the case, needs assessment must be made an integral part of EFL/ESL professional training and practice. Competence in needs assessment enhances ESL/EFL professionalism as well as our ability to meet our own expectations and those of our clients/students.

2) Pronunciation is a crucial aspect of both passive and active language competence. Listening comprehension skills adequate for extended, low-context interactions (i.e., those which go beyond conversational gambits and other formulaic uses of the language and which occur among speakers from different cultural or professional backgrounds) require intensive and extensive exposure to many different intonations and accents. A lack of this interferes with understanding and remembering what has been said and may have serious economic consequences, the least of which may be the time spent in repeating, explaining and clarifying to ensure reliable communication. On the other hand, simply multiplying the number of native speaker accents presented is not enough; it does not adequately prepare learners for the world out there. Audio-visual materials need to include a healthy range of ESL/EFL speakers as well as native speakers. Similarly, it is not enough to learn to [-11-] understand many different pronunciation patterns; learners need to be able to express themselves with sufficient clarity and standardization of pronunciation and intonation that speakers from other languages can decipher their words and have a chance of guessing intended meanings, even if the grammar is fractured. Note that the aim is not to achieve ˝perfectionţ or ˝native speakerţ equivalence, but effective communication.

3) Language and cultural education are not unilateral, but multilateral. Teaching British (or American or Australian) culture to speakers who will be using English in international contexts misses the point, which is that cultural phenomena are relative. For the vast majority of our students, it is far more important to learn to see into the ˝gapsţ between one═s own way of perceiving and organizing experiences and someone else═s than it is to become fully culturally literate in one or another anglophone culture. ESL/EFL teachers must thus learn to relativize ways of classifying experiences, of viewing the world; moreover, we must emphasize these in our teaching, remembering that the majority of the world═s 2 billion speakers of English are ˝non-nativeţ speakers with little or no exposure to anglophone cultures. Our task is less to turn them into caricature anglophiles than to equip them with the cognitive tools necessary for understanding and valuing cultural differences as well as similarities.

4) A fourth implication arising from the preceding two is the need to thoroughly document, language by language, typical errors as well as native-language and -culture ˝interferenceţ for learners of English and to make this information available to ESL/EFL professionals. While many articles and books have been written on these subjects relating to one or another language, much of the best work is not available in English (i.e., not equally accessible to all ESL/EFL teachers) or is scattered in journals and publications to which teachers in the field have scant access. Whether in the form of a traditional reference volume (along the lines of the Columbia Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups) or a CD-ROM, this type of ˝one-stopţ resource including essential information as well as annotated bibliographies for further reading would be enthusiastically received by those who teach multi-cultural classes as well as those who teach in corporate settings and are increasingly asked to prepare employees for specific overseas assignments.

The present study also has implications for the Anglophone foreign language teaching community. First, that community must come to terms with the fact that English is the dominant world language in business and technology and is widely used as a lingua franca by non-Anglophones for both business and technical communication. To acknowledge this is not to sound the death knell for foreign language programs other than Englishfar from it. Participants in a world economy still urgently need foreign language [-12-]skills to access information encoded in other languages. But the status of English as a world language does affect the conditions under which the language of communication is negotiated in face-to- face and other interactive translingual situations. Second, as with ESL/EFL learning, the need for cultural competence in FL learningis at least as critical as the need for linguistic competence, where cultural competence is understood to include a knowledge of values and behavioral expectations, not mere facts.[12] Third, the observations made and the questions raised in the present study underscore the need for further investigation of the dynamics of translingual communication. ESL and foreign language specialists with training in linguistic, folklore or anthropological fieldwork methods would be well-qualified to seek funding for much-needed research in this area. There are many exciting opportunities to study interlingual communication in vivo as participant observers. Such research, by moving beyond the classroom and away from the taint of the merely pedagogical, can go a long way toward giving applied linguistics (EFL/ESL and foreign languages) the disciplinary status they deserve but do not widely enjoy. Moreover, such research could stimulate the development of badly-needed practically-oriented courses in cultural studies and could give EFL, language, and area studies programs an incentive to new cooperative ventures that truly would serve these three relatively young disciplinary areas, but the global economy as well.


[1] The town is home to a state-funded university and rapidly growing polytechnical institute as well as a variety of private and state-supported business, professional and continuing education institutions. In recent years, it has produced more engineering specialists than the local economy has been able to absorb.

[2] c.f. Francis Lide (1990, p. 114).

[3] This appears to be an intrusion of Japanese categories into English; the word paper is roughly equivalent to the Japanese term which is used to describe booklike things when counting. Thus, the message would have been clear to another Japanese speaker, but incomprehensible to a German speaker.

[4] The authors initial impression was that both groups were using their own versions of English foreigner talk. Though some patterns had begun to emerge by the conclusion of the study, it would be premature to assert that a full-fledged pidgin had developed and stabilized. See Ferguson (1966, p. 144) and Grimshaw (1971, pp. 429-431, 436-439) for detailed discussions of ˝foreigner talk,ţ pidginization and creolization and their social implications.[-13-]

[5] Among the employees are speakers of what one might term Bavarian High German and several distinct variants of Bavarian as well as Romanian and Polish German.

[6] Two incidents seem to have made a particularly lasting impression on the German colleagues: the GM═s interest in and willingness to socialize with his subordinates in the traditional Bavarian beer garden setting and to try traditional (famous for being extremely substantial and high in fat content) Bavarian foods, and his solo vocal performanceäin Germanä of a German Christmas carol at the company Christmas party. Unfortunately, health problems forced him to return to Japan before his scheduled rotation, and his replacement turned out to be an older man of considerable gravity and with little inclination to explore the Bavarian world around him.

[7] Edward T. Hall═s work in these areas is fundamental to an understanding of the nature and importance of cultural differences. See the following: The Hidden Dimension (Garden City: Doubleday Anchor, 1969 (1966)), The Silent Language (Garden City: Anchor Press, 1973 (1959)), Beyond Culture (Garden City: Anchor Press, 1977), The Dance of Life: The Other Dimension of Time (Garden City: Anchor Press, 1983). See also Yi-Fu Tuans excellent monograph, Topophilia: A Study of Environmental Perception, Attitudes, and Values (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1974).

[8] The Australian management consultant Robert M. March, who knows Japanese and held a chair in international business at a Japanese university, notes from his study of negotiations between Japanese and Anglophones that the former are frustrated by the difficulties of negotiating in English (1989, p. 9). In discussing negotiations among the Japanese themselves, March states that the ideological side of Japanese culture...values indirect suggestion. ...In reality, however, Japan is a society where, compared to the West, the exercise of power plays a great part in influencing behavior, while persuasive argumentation is less important (1989, p. 21). In many situations, however, position alone implies sufficient power that none need be specifically invoked.

[9] Some of the Japanese staff members report a degree of relaxation of traditional social constraints within their tiny colonyterms of address and the extent to which they can confide in each other being specific examples cited.

[10] Of course, activities initiated by the appropriate people within the companys organizational structure are not so viewed, since these activities are typically inclusive rather than exclusive: team sports, Christmas parties, etc..

[11] See Haarmann (1989, pp. viii, 249-281, et passim) for a discussion of the prestige functions and symbolic internationalism that now tends to attach to English as a world language.[-14-] Freudenstein, Beneke, and Poenisch have edited an interesting collection of studies concerning foreign languages in industry as viewed from the European perspective which also addresses the role of English in the marketplace. See Language Incorporated: Teaching Foreign Languages in Industry, Reinhold Freudenstein, Juergen Beneke, and Helmut Poenisch, eds., (Oxford, Pergamon Press, 1981).

[12] See Ann Gonzalez interesting discussion of linguistic versus cultural competence in International Business Programs and Foreign Language Departments: The Issue of Cross-Cultural Preparation in Polylingua, 1:3 (Autumn 1990).


Ferguson, C. A. (1971). Absence of copula and the notion of simplicity: A study of normal speech, baby talk, foreigner talk, and pidgins. Pidginization and Creolization of Languages: Proceedings of a Conference Held at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica, April 1968 (Dell Hymes, ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Freudenstein, R., Beneke, J., and Poenisch, H. (Eds.), (1981). Language Incorporated: Teaching Foreign Languages in Industry. Oxford: Pergamon Press.

Gonzalez, A. (1990). International business programs and foreign language departments: The issue of cross-cultural preparation. Polylingua 1, p. 3

Grimshaw, A. D. (1971). Some social forces and some social functions of Pidgin and Creole languages. Pidginization and Creolization of Languages: Proceedings of a Conference Held at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica, April 1968 (Dell Hymes, ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Haarmann, H. (1989). The Symbolic Values of Foreign Language Use: From the Japanese Case to a General Sociolinguistiv Perspective. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Hall, E. T. (1966). The Hidden Dimension. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

Lide, F. (1990). Literature and the foreign language enterprise: A problematic relationship. Polylingua 1, pp. 103-123.

March, R. M. (1989). The Japanese Negotiator: Subtlety and Strategy Beyond Western Logic Tokyo: Kondansha International. [-15-]

OBoyle, T. F. (1991). Under Japanese bosses, Americans find work both better and worse. Wall Street Journal, 27 Nov. 1991, Eastern ed., p. A1+.

Simon, P. (1980). The Tongue-Tied American: Confronting the Foreign Language Crisis. New York: Continuum.

Janet Sutherland has taught in Germany for several years. She is the Forum Editor for TESL-EJ.

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