Language Is Important Tool For Marketers Commerce Essay

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As per Arthur Lee Jacobson (2001), Humanitys highly developed ability to communicate verbally is our essence. Without our tremendous vocabulary, wed perhaps be not much better off than gorillas and monkeys. Language is taken for granted since it is a basic characteristic. But it is, for all its universality, among the most powerful of human tools, so that's why they say "The pen is mightier than the sword." Language informs, persuades, queries, expresses emotions, allows transmission of complex ideas and data, and its usage is often artful, whether prosaic or in verse. (Arthur Lee, 2001)

As per Hall, Edward T (Hall, 1960) cited in International Marketing Management (Jain, 1996), Language as part of culture is considered not only in the literal sense as the spoken word, but also as symbolic communication of time, space, things, friendship, and agreements. Communication occurs for mainly to inform, to argue, to convince. A language is a system and set of symbols for encoding and decoding information which can be understand by human beings. Since language and languages became an object of study by the ancient grammarians, the term has had many and different definitions. The English word derives from Latin word "lingua", which means "tongue", with a reconstructed Proto-Indo-European root of 'tongue", a metaphor based on the use of the physical organ in speech. (Wikipedia, 2010)

It is difficult to give an exact figure of the number of languages that exist in the world, because it is not always easy to define what a language is. The difference between a language and a dialect is not always clear-cut. It has nothing to do with similarity of vocabulary, grammar, or pronunciation. Sometimes, the distinctions are based purely on geographical, political, or religious reasons. It is usually estimated that the number of languages in the world varies between 3,000 and 8,000.

There is a list of the world's languages, called "Ethnologue" (Lewis, 2009). There are 6,500 living languages listed. Of these, 6,000 have registered population figures. 52% of the 6,000 languages are spoken by less than 10,000 people, and 28% are spoken by less than 1,000 people. 83% of them are limited to single countries.

The ten largest languages in the world are the first languages for nearly half of the world's population. Here is a list of the top 10 languages in February 1999 according to Ethnologue ( (Lewis, 2009):

Mandarin - 885 million speakers

Spanish - 332 million speakers

English - 322 million speakers

Bengali - 189 million speakers

Hindi - 182 million speakers

Portuguese - 170 million speakers

Russian - 170 million speakers

Japanese 125 million speakers

German - 98 million speakers

Wu - 77 million speakers

The Growing Importance of Language in Business:

As the global market continues to grow, more and more organizations are adopting the viewpoint that to truly become a global business leader, knowledge of a foreign language has become a vital skill that most of the employees must have. In order to be a contributing part of an environment that is no longer western-centric as it has been in the past, being able to communicate with your clients is only part of the issue. Knowledge of their language as well as their culture shows that you respect the ideas that they bring to the table and you understand their needs and wants better than somebody who does not have this background. Additionally, there is the psychological aspect of direct communication during your business transactions. Your clients will be more likely to trust what you are saying and there will be a more intimate relationship than if you were to conduct all communication through a translator. This could be an important step in building strong and lasting business relationships that help ensure the success of your own business.

As per Clarke and Wilson (Clarke & Wilson, 2009), the three main aspects of every business to be a global leader are as follows:

To inform - to pass the required information in such a manner that the receiver can understand that information with all the intended meanings.

To persuade - to argue on something or to present ones critical or general views on certain things with very decent manner without hurting anybodies dignity.

To negotiate - to negotiate in business development activities to increase scope or business in wider range.

As per Marschan et al. (Marschan, Welch, & Welch, 1997), from their paper: "Language: the forgotten factor in multinational management", as the authors state language has tended to be given in the research on multinational firms even though there is an increasing focus on communication processes and network development. The implicit solution in much research is that language standardization has solved the problems of different languages in the subsidiaries of the multinational organization. However, as the authors point out, language standardization is not the same as assuring meaningful communication. Instead poor communication across languages is often one of the major problems in the integration of subsidiaries in different countries.

Factors influencing the communication situation

Language Differences

Economic Differences

Sociocultural Differences

Legal / Regulatory Differences

Competitive DifferencesElements of the International Communication Process:

Context of Home Country

Context of Foreign Country

Channel or Medium

Mass Communication media

Personal Selling (word of mouth)



Firm's message translated into 'market' language


Firm with an offering (product or service)



Potential Customer

Feedback (sales, positive brand recall, etc.)


Competitor Communications



Figure 1: International Communication Process

Source: (Hollensen, Communication Decisions (Promotion Strategies), 2001)

To communicate in an effective way, the sender needs to have a clear understanding of the purpose of the message, the audience to be reached and how this audience will interpret and respond to the message. However, sometimes the audience cannot hear clearly what sender is trying to tell about its product because of the noise of rival manufacturers making similar and often contradictory claims about their products. Another important point to consider in the model shown above is the degree of 'fit' between medium and message. For example, complex and wordy message would be better for the press than a visual medium such as television or cinema.

Language Differences:

While informing / advertising / conveying message:

The many different languages of the world do not literally translate from one to another, and the understanding of the symbolic and physical aspects of different cultures' communication is even more difficult to achieve. There are some examples given in David Rick's article (Ricks, 1984), a phrase such as "body by Fisher" translated literally into Flemish means "corpse by Fisher", similarly, "Let Hertz put you in the driver's seat" translated into Spanish means "Let Hertz make you a chauffeur".

Sometimes the same word may mean an entirely different thing in different cultures. "Table the report" in the Unites States of America means postponement; in United Kingdom it means "bring the matter to the forefront." Therefore, an international marketer must be careful in handling the matter of language in business dealings, contracts, negotiations, advertising, and so on. Coca-Cola Company, for an example, did not use the diet name in France since the word "diet" suggests poor health. Instead, the company called it Coca-Cola Light. (Jain, 1996)

Some more examples are unfortunate translation of brand names and slogans are as follows - General Motors has a brand name for one of its models called the "Vauxhall Nova" this does not work well in Spanish speaking market because there it means "no go". In Latin America, "Avoid embarrassment - Use Parker Pens" was translated as "Avoid pregnancy - Use Parker Pens". (Hollensen, Communication Decisions (Promotion Strategies), 2001)

From one of the best examples given by Joensen S. (Joensen, 1997) from Danish newspaper on 24 April 1997 as cited in Hollensen's Global Marketing (Hollensen, Communication Decisions (Promotion Strategies), 2001) is from Copenhagen Airport. There was poster having slogan on it as "We take your baggage and send it in all directions"; a slogan was used to express a wish of giving good service, but given rise to some concern as to where the baggage might end up.

Exxon's Japanese brand name, Esso, meant stalled car when pronounced phonetically in Japanese. Exxon's replacement of Enco referred to sewage disposal truck. A Spanish translation for Budwiser: King of Beer used the wrong gender; Beer (cerveza) is a noun of the feminine gender in Spanish, and therefore cannot be the King, but must be Queen. (Herbig, Handbook of Cross Cultural Marketing, 1998).

Some examples from China cited in (Herbig, Handbook of Cross Cultural Marketing, 1998), as it is being major market for all manufacturers. In mainland China, the people say "no problem" frequently; this actually means there is a bit of a problem, but that it is not serious. When they say "there is a little bit of a problem", this implies that task will not be completed at all unless special action is taken. And vice-versa, to those are from Taiwan, "no problem" means there really is no problem and "there is a bit of a problem" means just that, a small relatively insignificant problem. (Chang & Ding, 1995)

While pursuing information/ arguing on subject matter:

Questionnaires or other stimuli have to be translated so that they are understood by respondents in different countries and have equivalent meaning in each research context. The importance of translating questionnaires and other verbal stimuli into different languages is readily apparent. Often this helps to pinpoint problems with regard to whether a concept can be measured by using the same or similar question in each cultural context, and whether a question has the same meaning in different research contexts. The need to translate non verbal stimuli to ensure that they evoke the desired image, and to avoid problems of miscommunication, is less widely recognized. Misunderstanding can arise, however, because the respondent is not familiar with a product or other stimulus, or because the associations evoked by the stimulus differ from one country or culture to another. Translation of verbal and non verbal stimuli thus plays a key role in establishing equivalence. Often translation provides a focal point both for uncovering and for making pragmatic decisions as to how to resolve equivalence issue. (Douglas & Craig, 1995)


Negotiation is the process by which at least two parties try to reach an agreement on matters of mutual interest. The negotiation process proceeds as an interplay of perception, information processing, and reaction, all of which turn on images of reality, on implicit assumptions regarding the issue being negotiated, and on an underlying matrix of conventional wisdom, beliefs, and social expectations. This becomes more apparent when the negotiation process is international, when cultural differences must be bridged. (Herbig, Cross Cultural Negotiations, 1998). Further Herbig (1998) explains, only when dealing with someone from another country with a different cultural background and language, does process usually becomes a critical barrier to substance; in such settings, process first needs to be established before substantive negotiations can commence. (Herbig & Kramer, 1991).

All successful international marketers have personal representation abroad. Face-to-Face negotiations with the customer are the heart of the sales job. Negotiations are necessary to reach an agreement on the total exchange transaction, comprising such issues as the product to be delivered, the price to be paid, the payment schedule and the service agreement.

International sales negotiations have many characteristics that distinguish them from negotiations in the domestic setting. First and foremost, the cultural background of the negotiating parties is different. Successful negotiations therefore require some understanding of each party's culture and may also require the adoption of negotiating strategy that consistent with the other party's cultural system. It is interesting to note that Japanese negotiations, among other things, routinely request background information on American Companies and key negotiators. Therefore, Japanese negotiators often know in advance the likely negotiating strategies and tactics of the other side as explained by Hollensen in Global Marketing (Hollensen, 2001).


National and Organizational Culture

Adaption of Seller's behavior

Actual Seller Behavior

Gap 2:

How to close this Gap?

Market Research

Education of salesperson

Gap 1:

Cultural Distance

Actual Buyer Behavior

Adaption of Buyer's behavior


National and Organizational Culture

Figure 2: Gap Analysis in a Cross-cultural Negotiation

Source: (Hollensen, International Sales and Negotiations, 2001)

In negotiation situations, the most fundamental gap influencing the interaction between buyer and seller is the difference between their respective cultural backgrounds as shown in above figure as Gap 1. This cultural distance can be expressed in terms of difference in communication and negotiation behaviours, the concepts of time, space or work patterns, and the nature of social rituals and norms as said by Madsen (Madsen, 1994) cited in Hollensen's Global Marketing (Hollensen, International Sales and Negotiations, 2001).

If both the buyer and especially the seller adapt their own behavior in such way that they think it is acceptable to other party. Then in this process, the initial Gap 1 is reduced to Gap 2, through adaption of behaviors. But neither the seller nor the buyer obtains full understanding of the other party's culture, so the final result will be a difference between the cultural behavior of the seller and buyer i.e. Gap 2. Though this cultural Gap is still there, results in increase in friction between these two parties and thus there will be increase in Transactional cost which might be quite high in cross cultural negotiations. (Hollensen, International Sales and Negotiations, 2001)

One good example of language misunderstanding is when American says "Yes", it usually means "I accept the terms". However, "Yes" in many Asian countries may one of four different items. It may mean that the other side recognizes that one is talking to them, but not necessarily that they understand what is said. Second, it could mean that what was said was understood and was clear but not that it was agreed to. Third, it may mean that the other party has understood the proposal. Last, it may mean total agreement. But in real, the actual meaning must be understood from the context of the message. (Ruthstrom & Matejka, 1990)

One more interesting example is from United States of America, when Ford agreed to acquire the production side of Ferrari and use the Ferrari name in the United States, the deal was made on handshakes. Soon thereafter, Ford's attorneys arrived with contracts and accountants came to take inventory - normal business practice as per Americans. Ferrari, the owner, was upset; he had an understanding with gentlemen, not with attorneys and accountants, and the deal fell through. (Herbig, Cross Cultural Negotiations, 1998)

From Japanese perspective, they prefer that the contractual obligations be left as vague as possible in order to provide for a maximum amount of flexibility; Japanese contracts are always considered open for negotiation. Japanese negotiators do not mind suggesting major changes even after contract is signed. The traditional Japanese view is that a contract is secondary in business transaction, which should be premised on an ongoing, harmonious relationship between two parties who are committed to the pursuit of similar objectives; relationships, not contracts, are negotiated (Tung, 1983). The Japanese do not believe that a contract alone can ensure the success of a venture. According to Japanese thought, a truly wise person would not absolutely commit himself or herself, since human interactions are so indeterminate. (Oikawa & Tanner, 1992)


From my point of view I support Clarke & Wilson's statement, "The use of Language is an Important Tool for Marketers: to inform, persuade and negotiate".

As it has been seen from some of the examples above, that mere straight translations of any business advertisement, phrases, or statements may cause huge difference in understanding while working for a cross cultural business. It raises risk of potential customer loss, business loss or failure of joint ventures and no one is ready to take this kind of risk in such global competitive business environment.

The cultural distance between two partners may increase the transaction costs. And we can directly observe this cultural difference mainly from language difference. So to become successful negotiator, one needs to have better understanding of the business language of the other party. To overcome these things practice of knowing other language and getting continuous feedback from other party about their cultural difference is major exercise.