English Business Communication Needs of Mexican Executives in a Distance-Learning Class

By Grosse, Christine Uber | Business Communication Quarterly, March 2004 | Go to article overview
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English Business Communication Needs of Mexican Executives in a Distance-Learning Class


Grosse, Christine Uber, Business Communication Quarterly


Many firms within and outside the United States operate in multilingual environments that require executives to do business in English as well as in other languages. Executives for whom English is a second language often face special challenges communicating in such settings. This study examines how 115 executives in a distance-learning business communication class in Mexico used English to conduct business and their perceived strengths and weaknesses in the language. Although most executives used English regularly at work and in their classes, many continued to have language problems. They cited vocabulary, writing, and grammar as critical areas to improve, followed by pronunciation and speaking. Their audiences consisted of native and nonnative speakers of English who faced their own language challenges. E-mail and phone were the most commonly used channels for English communication. The study results have implications for teaching international students in U.S. MBA and international executive programs. They give insight into the English language use and into the needs of managers overseas. Instructors can use a needs assessment to identify and target language challenges, develop class activities to address problems, and provide remediation in language need areas.

Keywords: multilingual environments; Mexican executives

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MULTILINGUAL ENVIRONMENTS provide the backdrop for business in many firms within and outside the United States, requiring executives to do business in English as well as in other languages. Executives for whom English is a second language often face special challenges communicating in such settings. This study focuses on the English language use of more than 100 Mexican executives enrolled in a graduate business communication class delivered via distance learning. Although we cannot assume that the responses of the Mexican executives in this study are representative of all international executives, their input helps us to understand some challenges that international managers face in regions where English is a foreign language.

U.S. and international MBA business communication classes today often have significant enrollments of students whose second language is English. Even students with advanced levels of English proficiency continue to need additional language skills development. To teach international students more effectively, faculty require information on how their students will use English in their home countries and what their ongoing language challenges are. In spite of communication challenges faced by international students and the need to understand the English language, relatively little research has been done in this area.

This study examined the English language use of more than 100 executives from about 80 companies in Mexico, as well as the executives' self-reported strengths and weaknesses in English. The managers in the study were enrolled in an English Business Communication for Executives course in the fall of 1998 in Masters in International Management in Latin America (MIMLA), a distance-learning program that was offered jointly by Thunderbird and the Virtual University of ITESM (Instituto Tecnologico de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey). The managers (numbers in parentheses) attended seven 3-hour Saturday interactive satellite TV classes in Monterrey (70), Mexico City (39), and Guadalajara (6). They submitted assignments via e-mail and Thunderbird Intranet.

The study addressed three research questions:

1. How do nonnative speakers of English who are executives in Mexico use English on the job?

2. What do the managers see as their strengths and weaknesses in English?

3. How might this research help business communication faculty to meet their international learners' English language and communication needs?

This article examines how the executives in a distance-learning business communication class in Mexico used English to conduct business.

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