Adopting a Lingua Franca: Pros & Cons

This is the second post in a series centered around crafting an effective language strategy for your business, featuring the work of Harvard Business School professor Robert S. Kaplan.

Multinational companies throughout history—either by choice or necessity—have adopted a lingua franca, or a common language. It might have been Greek, Latin, Spanish or, these days, English. It’s an important decision, but do you really need it? Let’s look at some pros and cons.


The obvious benefit to adopting a lingua franca is streamlining the language strategy of the organization. As the company expands internationally, incoming employees will understand that they will need skills in the common language.

Because internal communication is increasingly technology-based, there will be no There are advantages and disadvantages of adopting a single language across an enterprise.confusion about which language will be spoken in which videoconference. Everyone will be on the same page.

It also provides a certain value proposition to potential clients and customers, but only if they speak the same lingua franca.


Although a lingua franca can make things easier for many organizations, it can also complicate matters. Professor Robert S. Kaplan, with co-author Tsedal Neeley, elaborates in a recent Harvard Business Review article:

The decision to adopt a lingua franca must be balanced with the need to speak local languages and adapt to local cultures. For another, individuals’ proficiency (or lack thereof) in the common language can cloud leaders’ judgment about how suitable those people are for specific assignments and promotions. Decision makers may undervalue or overvalue language skills and therefore misjudge talent.

We’ll go more into judging talent based on language skills in the next post of the series, but the bottom line is that adopting a lingua franca puts a precedence on language in your organization. The problem might be that it puts a precedence on one language.

This all ties in with a free webinar we are producing, featuring Professor Kaplan, entitled “Why Your Business Needs a Language Strategy”. The webinar will go live on Tuesday, April 21st at 11 am EDT. Through this informative 30 minute conversation with the professor, you will gain a greater understanding about the role language plays in the business world and how to craft your own language strategy.

Click here to register for the webinar today!

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