European Journal of Language Policy

Strategic communication across languages in business environments

A study of the language management strategies of small and medium-sized enterprises on the island of Ireland

European Journal of Language Policy (2022), 14, (1), 29–52.


There has been little research focusing on how small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), particularly those in anglophone contexts, approach language management with a resultant lack of understanding hindering language policymaking at national levels. Therefore, this study assesses the extent to which a sample of thirty-eight SMEs, fifteen in the Republic of Ireland (RoI) and twenty-three in Northern Ireland, have a language management strategy (LMS), that is, a plan of action enabling them to communicate across languages with suppliers and/or customers abroad. The survey also explored the attitudes of the SMEs toward adopting a strategic approach to language management focusing on four interrelated elements: first, whether the SMEs felt they needed an LMS; second, how effective they regarded their communication with speakers of languages other than English to be; third, their views on whether they had missed a business opportunity owing to a lack of language capacity; and fourth their perceptions regarding whether language was a factor in choosing export markets or suppliers. The results indicate that 16% of the SMEs report having an LMS, 33% of those in the RoI and 4% of those in Northern Ireland (NI). The analysis of the responses further revealed that 45% of all respondents engaged, in some form, with languages other than English, albeit often in an apparently ad hoc manner. The article discusses the findings and considers the supports and policy initiatives likely to assist SMEs in developing LMSs in these predominantly anglophone (European Union and non-European Union) contexts.

Il n’y a pas beaucoup de recherche sur la façon dont les petites et moyennes entreprises (PMEs), en particulier celles des contextes anglophones, traitent de la gestion des langues. Cela entrave l’élaboration des politiques linguistiques au niveau national. Cette étude cherche à savoir si 38 PME, 15 en République d’Irlande (RoI) et 23 en Irlande du Nord, ont une stratégie de gestion linguistique (SGL), c’est-à-dire un plan d’action leur permettant de communiquer avec des fournisseurs et / ou des clients à l’étranger dont la première langue n’est pas l’anglais. L’enquête a également examiné les attitudes des PME à l’égard de l’adoption d’une approche stratégique de la gestion des langues axée sur quatre éléments interdépendants: premièrement, si les PME estimaient avoir besoin d’une SGL, deuxièmement, l’efficacité de leur communication avec des locuteurs de langues autres que l’anglais, troisièmement, s’ils avaient manqué une opportunité commerciale en raison d’un manque de compétences linguistiques, et quatrièmement, si la langue était un facteur dans le choix des marchés d’exportation ou des fournisseurs. Les résultats indiquent que 16% des PME ont un SGL, 33% de celles de la République d’Irlande et 4% de celles de l’Irlande du Nord. L’analyse des réponses a en outre révélé que 45% de tous les répondants s’engageaient, sous une forme ou sous une autre, avec des langues autres que l’anglais, bien que souvent de manière apparemment ad hoc. Nous analysons les résultats et nous examinons les soutiens et les initiatives politiques qui pourraient aider les PME à développer une stratégie de gestion linguistique.

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Author details

Bruen, Jennifer

Buckley, Finian