Chapter 5. A social representational perspective on languages and their management in the Danish corporate sector

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The chapter reports the main results from an investigation into the social representations of multilingualism in the Danish corporate sector. Within the framework of social representation theory, which seeks to understand the nature of social knowledge and thinking, interview data from 12 Danish companies have been analysed with a view to exploring the representations of (a) German, French, Spanish, Chinese and (b) foreign language learning. In addition, the nature of corporate approaches to language are investigated, including the use of English as a corporate language, the use of native speakers, in-service language training, and the language requirements and assessment measures applied when recruiting. The analyses reveal that specific languages are represented differently but using the same categories of aesthetics, complexity, utility and status. Language learning is anchored in characteristics of the learner and the learning process. There is evidence that people see language learning as a special skill and that informal learning is evaluated more positively than formal, classroom learning. Tension surrounds understandings of language competence, which fluctuate between ideals of perfection and the pragmatics of actual use. With regard to language management, companies generally do not have any systematic strategy. Even when companies have adopted English as a corporate language, there is no explicit formulation about what this entails and individuals may represent the actual concept differently. In relation to languages other than English, there is a tendency for the multinational company to outsource its multilingual needs from the Danish head office to native-speaking employees in affiliates or agents based in foreign markets.


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