Academic journal article The Journal of Business Communication

Korean Business Letters: Strategies for Effective Complaints in Cross-Cultural Communication

Academic journal article The Journal of Business Communication

Korean Business Letters: Strategies for Effective Complaints in Cross-Cultural Communication

Article excerpt

Many South Korean business people regularly write business documents in English. This use of English as a foreign language reflects the economic "globalization" policy adopted by the Korean government in 1995, a policy aimed at reinforcing the country's economic strength so that Korea can compete with other developed countries in the world market. Indeed, the 1997 economic turmoil that required the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to provide US$114 billion in aid to South Korea, Indonesia, and Thailand (with South Korea receiving the lion's share - US$57 billion) underscores the importance of developing countries in East Asia to world commerce. Economic instability there is quickly felt around the world, so it is not surprising that the IMF moved quickly to intervene. East Asia will continue to attract the interest and attention of developed nations that seek to expand commercial ventures globally.

South Korea in particular promises an intriguing future. The inauguration of Kim Dae-Jung in February 1998 signaled a political move toward enhanced democratic processes and freer trade markets. If implemented successfully, Kim's vision of an economically competitive Korea may radically alter business in the region. For Korean business writers, one consequence of this move toward a free-market economy is a growing interest in English, which remains the language of international business communication. The liberalization of the Korean market should encourage business communicators in developed countries to anticipate increasing contact with their Korean counterparts.

However, writers who use a second language (L2) for business or other purposes may continue to use the rhetorical patterns of their native languages. First-language (L1) readers may expect writers who use a second language fluently to have a similar fluency in culture and customs. Ironically, violation of these expectations by fluent L2 writers can damage relationships more than does similar behavior by a nonfluent L2 writer. In short, while becoming more fluent in a second language has benefits, it may also create a new set of problems (Du-Babcock & Babcock, 1996). Successful interaction thus requires some understanding of differences in styles and strategies that may otherwise hinder communication.

Contrastive analysis (CA) provides a useful methodology for illustrating cultural differences in rhetoric and for explaining the influence of first-language rhetorical patterns and norms on second-language writing behavior (Bell, Becker, & Dillon, 1995; Dillon, 1992, 1993; Hinds, 1987, 1990; Hinkel, 1994; Kaplan, 1966, 1972; Matalene, 1985; Liebman, 1988; Norton, 1987). One important implication of CA research is that what is rhetorically effective in one culture might not be effective in another, and vice versa. In general, researchers recognize the need for contrastive analyses that can inform strategies for effective communication in an international workplace (e.g., Beamer, 1995; Boiarsky, 1995; Bosley, 1993; Driskill, 1996; Scollon & Scollon, 1995; Varner & Connor, 1996). However, studies that contrast business communication practices in two particular cultures are relatively rare: Bell, Dillon, and Becker (1995) contrast German and U.S. memos and letters; Connor, David, and Rycker (1995) compare U.S. and Flemish approaches to completing job applications; Dillon (1992, 1993) analyzes patterns of cohesion in Indonesian and Vietnamese business discourse; Varner (1988) compares U.S. and French business correspondence; Yli-Jokipii (1994) considers the ways that requests are presented in British, U.S., and Finnish business writing. Contrastive studies of business communication in Asia emphasize the Japanese experience (e.g., Barnlund, 1989; Connor, 1988; Jenkins & Hinds, 1987, who consider French along with English and Japanese business letters). To our knowledge, no rigorous contrastive analysis of Korean business writing exists. …

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