Exploring languages and cultures
Exploring languages and cultures

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Exploring languages and cultures

4.2 Benefits and challenges

You will now hear what the staff have to say about the benefits and challenges of working in a multicultural and multilingual company. You’ll have seen the first part of the video in Activity 28, but this is an extended version, and lasts about 15 minutes.

Activity 29

Watch the next video about Guidance and answer the three questions below by making notes in the boxes.

Download this video clip.Video player: Guidance (Part 2)
Skip transcript: Guidance (Part 2)

Transcript: Guidance (Part 2)

Guidance, an internationally successful company based in the English midlands, was founded in 1991 as a technology consultancy business.

[cuts to colleagues talking]

Since then it’s grown into a technology product business, making navigational positioning equipment for a range of marine and industrial uses.
Jan Grothusen (group CEO):
The company is based here in Leicester, both with its headquarters, its manufacturing facilities, but we also have an innovation centre here in Leicester where a lot of the research and development is being done, and we have a small group working out of Oxford, a small group working in Hitchin, and we’ve recently established our first overseas office in Brazil.
The company sells typically globally. All our customers are globally distributed from Australia all the way to the Americas or Japan, and we serve a wide variety of vessel owners, oil companies, shipyards, in our marine division as well as, er, a range of industries, whether it is car manufacturing, paper industries, food-processing industries, with our automation products for factories.
The workforce is drawn from one of Britain’s most culturally diverse cities.
Jan Grothusen:
Guidance has grown quite quickly over the last ten years. At the moment we have a head count of around 105, mainly full-time people. We are very culturally diverse, reflecting both Leicester with its population, but also reflecting the recruitment we’ve done recently, in particular in the R&D division where we have a lot of qualified PhD-level employees coming from Spain, Italy and also further afield, Poland, all the way to China.
We’re also very strongly connected to universities, and they have a very, very international student community, reflecting the diversity in the UK, so it is quite natural that we get a lot of applicants from those sort of backgrounds. Also, it’s word of mouth. Once people have been here for a while, they know their mates back in Italy or Spain, um, they’re telling them about career opportunities and then we do get a couple of referrals that way, and therefore, our recruitment has recently been taking in more and more people from outside the United Kingdom.
Shuja Ahmed (embedded hardware and software engineer):
My name is Shuja, my surname is Ahmed, I’m Muslim and I’m originally from Pakistan, and I’m working in this company as a vision system engineer.
Shazia Maqbool (senior embedded systems engineer):
My name is Dr Shazia Maqbool. I work as a senior embedded systems engineer. I’m originally from Pakistan. I did my first degree from there, and then I worked for a year there, and then it was in 2001, 12 years ago, that I came here, and since then I’m living here and working here.
Brian Tse (software engineer):
My name is Brian Tse. I’m a software engineer on the vision team. I’m from Hong Kong. I came over to the UK about 15 years ago and throughout this time mostly study, and I graduated last July and, and then moved on to Guidance.
Marina Magnabosco (navigation systems engineer):
I’m Marina Magnabosco, um, I’m a software engineer for Guidance Navigation and I’m Italian, been living, er, in Italy until 2009, since I was born, and been in UK since, so four years now.
Łukasz Gawryluk (production team leader):
My name is Łukasz. I am from Poland. I work for Guidance for two years now. I’m production team leader. I speak, er, Polish and English.
Sharda Bhalsod (purchases and payments supervisor):
My name is Sharda Bhalsod, I’ve been working in this company for past eight years and I work as a purchase payment supervisor. I’m actually born in East Africa, Nairobi, but then I went to India for a few years. I am Hindu. We speak Gujarati. That’s our main language. The company is based in the multicultural city, so that gives a good multicultural understanding, background, and the company employs people from all over the world, so that makes it very interesting to be friends with multicultural people and come to know the backgrounds and technical issues that they bring in.
I celebrate Diwali. I bring in food and everybody joins in. Polish people celebrated their own New Year’s, er, I think the Chinese people did their New Year’s, so, like Muslim people did their Eid, so whoever has their occasion, they all come and celebrate together, and I think everybody enjoys that. So it makes, like a family event when everybody takes part, so it’s really nice to be working for a company that respects individuals.
But cultural differences can sometimes affect the running of an organisation, perhaps influencing the way people behave with or talk to each other. At Guidance, staff at all levels are good at understanding cultural differences and at putting their own culture into perspective.
Łukasz Gawryluk:
I think here in UK everything is less formal and the biggest difference for myself is that you can call your bosses by his, their first names, which is a bit unusual in Poland. In Poland I used to start earlier and also finish earlier. We have actually flexible working hours, er, so I can start few hours later.
Brian Tse:
China in general, the people work for, er, longer hours during the day, and then meetings, er, business meetings, are held over lunch as well as dinner, whereas in UK, generally we have very fixed working hours, so after work, people don’t tend to talk about work too much.
Shazia Maqbool:
Generally speaking, environment in the UK is more informal, more flexible, whereas in Pakistan it is more formal and does not support too much integration, if you like, between people at work. People won’t call each other with their first names at work, for colleagues, they would rather call each other with surnames, Mr and Mrs, and then for boss and for seniors we don’t call them with their names at all. We either call them as Sir or Ma’am.

[cuts to colleagues talking]

Marina Magnabosco:
At the beginning was a bit strange, try to get used to call your boss with his nickname instead of his full name. Talking with colleagues in Italy, you would interrupt each other in a meeting. You might try to find the, the right spot to interrupt people, so always with respect, of course. Certain culture is allowed, some other are not, but from where I come from, I think it is allowed [laugh].
An awareness of linguistic and intercultural differences is essential when conducting business abroad.
James Wheeler, managing director (marine):
This year I’ve been to America, south-east Asia, last year I was in Rio, um, across Europe, and in various places, so I do get to experience not only other cultures and countries but doing business in other places around the world, and it … changes everywhere you go, and people will do and say different things in a different way. Sometimes it’s the tiniest details, so in south-east Asia, for example, or China, if somebody gives you a business card, they give it to you with both hands, and then you receive it with both hands, and then you leave it on the table and you refer to it during the meeting. Well, you wouldn’t do that in America or in Europe.

[cuts to James Grimshaw speaking on the phone]

James Grimshaw (marketing assistant):
So, in order to support the marine division of the company and the products we have a worldwide support network that is made up of 14 service partners. So they’re based in key regions around the world, the States, the Middle East, um, Brazil, India, a lot of key regions, and we use them for service and maintenance of our products, but really the key thing for us is they have a relationship with suppliers in that area. They understand the customers, the traditions, the culture, and they’re the kind of benefits that really, um, you can’t learn here in the UK.

[cuts to Alessandra Bunel speaking Portuguese on the phone]

The company has recently recruited a Brazilian national to be their business development manager in Brazil.
Alessandra Bunel (business development manager):
It is a very potential market. There are lots of progress in Brazil, and the oil and gas industry is booming, but, er, the problem is, is not an easy market to work, so you have to understand the market to work in there. We Brazilians, we have a Latin root, so we’re very personal. We like to interact with people. We like to know who we are actually doing business with, so I believe the reason why Guidance hired me first, I’ve got a good grasp of the language, because Portuguese is my mother tongue language, and communication is very important. Second, I’ve got a very good network, because different than the majority of, er, European countries, you need to know people to do business with them, and networking is really important. I would say that’s important in all the industries, but in Brazil especially, if you know people, they will make your life much easier and they will help you out.
In addition, Guidance sponsors language classes at the workplace for employees involved in business with Brazil.

[cuts to Portuguese class]

James Wheeler:
We sponsor Portuguese classes specifically because we identified Brazil as a target market for us. Brazil is, is fairly unique. The level of English speaking in business is not hugely commonplace. As well as now employing a Brazilian person, we’ve also got our staff involved in learning, er, Portuguese, which is extremely helpful, and whilst they’re not going to become fluent Portuguese speakers, it gives them an appreciation of other languages and other cultures. We’ve learned a lot about Brazil as a consequence, which is really important.

[cuts to Peter Paxton speaking Portuguese on the phone]

Peter Paxton (finance director):
I find it quite difficult to learn languages, so I think it’s very useful to show that you are making an effort when you speak to people in their country.

[cuts to Peter Paxton speaking Portuguese on the phone]

Declan O’Dea (international sales manager (Marine)):
After a year now, I would say that I’m able to understand basic conversation. I can certainly pick up the gist of emails, which is really useful, and I think what is most important in Brazil is to be seen making the effort. So, that first exchange of three or four sentences, if you can say, ‘Hello, how are you doing? How’s business? How’s the family?’ in Portuguese, they love it.
For staff at Guidance, having more than one language or experience of several cultures, are assets that can enhance their career and the profile of the company.
Peter Paxton:
In terms of the CV, yes, I certainly put down that I’ve got the London Chamber of Commerce exam in French and O-level German. I think the conversational Portuguese is stretching the point a little bit, but it certainly helps, I think, shows that you’ve got a, a wider understanding of what’s going on in the world.
Shuja Ahmed:
In my career I believe, er, having a multicultural experience is really, really important. If I apply for a job somewhere and if I mention that I have been to these different countries, and I’m OK going on with people from any different origin, then people really respect my, this adoptive, er, ability, and yeah, it’s, it’s easy getting more job offers from different countries.
Shazia Maqbool:
UK is a multicultural country. It is very commonplace that you will end up finding a multicultural team, yeah. Now, having my background as being part of another culture, you know, it’s very easy for me to connect with, er, with the fears, concerns, motivations, desires of a person with a different culture, yeah, and therefore I feel that it’s very easy for me to connect with them, and I feel that that confidence is very important for any managerial role, it has been very useful, and I really value this experience.

[cuts to Łukasz Gawryluk speaking Polish]

Łukasz Gawryluk:
The fact that I’m bilingual, well, I’m pretty sure it affects my career. Maybe Polish is not so useful like Spanish or German, however it is another skill and I’m pretty sure this is something employers look for. I think it led me do have a look on some things from another point of view.

[cuts to Jan Grothusen speaking German on the phone]

Jan Grothusen:
I’m originally from Germany, Hamburg in the north of Germany, and my main language is obviously German, as a native language, and I speak English, and I’ve got a bit of a knowledge of French and possibly Spanish.
Jan Grothusen
[inaudible] stage gate 2 process, um, if we can have a VOC, voice of customer activity.
Jan Grothusen:
English is a dominant language, but you get a lot further in particular markets by investing into the local language, and apart from all of that, not just from normal business transactions but also just for the social level. You need to establish some rapport with the people you’re dealing with, and then at least they feel you’re not putting your particular view across immediately. You’re not imposing your culture and your interaction onto the meeting. You’re leaving it open, and you’re letting maybe the hosts respond, and you just get a much, much warmer reception.
The management team at Guidance understands that to work successfully in international markets, the company not only has to be outward looking but also ensure that their employees are open to and engaged with the different cultures of the countries in which they do business.

[cuts to Alessandra Bunel speaking Portuguese on the phone]

Celebrating the different cultures of the workforce, sharing experiences about cultural encounters, and encouraging language learning are some of the ways the company goes about achieving this.

[cuts to Portuguese class]

Jan Grothusen:
It’s really important to be aware of all the cultural differences and use the local languages wherever you can.
End transcript: Guidance (Part 2)
Guidance (Part 2)
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1 What benefits of working in a multicultural and multilingual environment do the Guidance staff list?

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Guidance’s staff list the following benefits: 

  • it encourages ‘multicultural understanding’
  • it is interesting to work with people from different backgrounds
  • it allows an appreciation of other languages and cultures
  • it facilitates the establishment of a rapport with clients in different countries
  • it makes it easier to empathise with people from different cultures and see things from a different point of view
  • it means that language skills and multicultural experience are prized by employers.

2 What are the differences in cultural working norms that the staff identify?

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Guidance’s staff list the following cultural differences they have encountered:

  • that the business culture in the UK is less formal and more flexible than in other countries
  • they can use their bosses’ and colleagues’ first names
  • that the UK working day starts and ends later than in other countries, but allows for flexible working
  • that business meetings in the UK are rarely held over lunch or dinner, and that people in the UK tend not to talk about work outside their set working hours
  • different rules with regard to interrupting in meetings
  • different cultural practices around the giving and receiving of business cards.

3 What are the company and its staff doing to meet the challenges of doing business internationally?

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Guidance uses ‘service partners’ in the regions where they do business, who understand the cultures and traditions of their clients there and can maintain a positive relationship with them. For cultural, linguistic and networking reasons they have appointed a Brazilian business development manager to tap the market in Brazil. They are sponsoring Portuguese language classes for those employees who will be involved in doing business with Brazil. This has taught them a lot about Brazil and is an important factor in building rapport with Brazilian clients.


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