A Dynamic Approach to the Language Adjustment of Expatriates and the Interaction of their Hierarchy Level and Assignment Vector

An Empirical Analysis

Diploma Thesis, 2010

88 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents


Executive Summary

Table of Contents

List of Tables

List of Figures

1. Introduction
1.1 Problem Statement
1.2 Research Gap and Agenda
1.3 Methodology

2. Literature Review
2.1 Basic Definitions
2.1.1 International Assignments
2.1.2 Expatriates
2.1.3 Culture
2.2 Cross-Cultural Adjustment
2.2.1 Definition of a Multi-Dimensional Adjustment Concept
2.2.2 The Model of International Adjustment
2.3 Theoretical Framework and Hypothesis Development
2.3.1 Mutual Dependencies
2.3.2 Language Proficiency
2.3.3 Willingness to Communicate
2.3.4 Influence of Moderators
2.3.5 Dynamic Approach of two Points-in-Time
2.4 Research Model

3. Methods
3.1 Sample
3.1.1 Participation and Research Relevancy
3.1.2 Demographic Data
3.1.3 Countries of Origin
3.1.4 Countries of Assignment
3.2 Measures
3.2.1 Independent Variables
3.2.2 Dependent Variables
3.2.3 Moderating Variables
3.2.4 Control Variables
3.3 Quantitative Analysis and Procedure
3.3.1 Factor Analysis
3.3.2 Descriptive Statistics
3.3. Regression Analysis and Hypothesis Testing

4. Results

5. Discussion
5.1 Key Findings
5.2 Limitations

6. Conclusion and Implications


Appendix A: Survey Questionnaire

Appendix B: Correlations and Factor Loadings

Appendix C: Regression Analyses


Communicational antecedents obtain a supporting function for cross-cultural adjustment. Hence, this Master Thesis empirically seeks to find a divergence of language proficiency and willingness to communicate towards the adjustment dimensions and additionally investigates adjustment in the beginning of the international assignment and the current point-in-time. Furthermore, these relationships are examined on a potential interaction of the expatriates’ hierarchical position, since it has been argued that language is more important for supervisory personnel and willingness to communicate more denoted to upper management levels. The moderating effect of the assignees’ assignment vector is scrutinized in order to confirm whether the comprehensive model of international adjustment (Black et al, 1991) applies equally well to all 97 participating expatriates. Quantitative analysis revealed a positive relationship of both communication skills towards interaction and work adjustment dimension with a higher significance level at the current point-in-time and a slightly higher importance of willingness to communicate to explain the relationship. Hierarchy level and assignment vector, contrariwise, do not indicate any significant relevance on the adjustment progress.

Keywords: language proficiency; willingness to communicate; hierarchy level; assignment vector; expatriates; cross-cultural adjustment

Executive Summary

Expatriate adjustment has long been subject to research in order to explain the prerequisites for international assignees to alleviate their socio-cultural adaption process. Well-conducted expatriations nowadays are considered to be a decisive factor of the company’s success abroad.

The dynamic cross-cultural adjustment process of communication skills and the influence of the expatriates’ hierarchical position and assignment vector are focus of this thesis. After a thorough literature review, it is assumed that the communication component (language proficiency and willingness to communicate) is highly valued for the adjustment process and thus will be newly investigated by this survey in relation to the three adjustment dimensions.

First of all, a mutual dependency between the two communication skills is anticipated. In a further step the language proficiency and willingness to communicate are separately investigated in relation to the three formerly developed adjustment dimensions. In a last step a potential interaction effect of hierarchy and assignment vector on the above-mentioned relationships is examined. All hypotheses are observed at two points-in-time so as to gather information about certain trends in adjustment.

In order to derive relevant unbiased results, a quantitative survey was conducted, addressing expatriates on their current international assignment. Eventually, 117 assignees replied to the questionnaire, whereof 97 fulfilled the underlying expatriate requirements to compute the sample data using SPSS software. Professionals of 13 different nationalities were sent to 47 destinations in 34 different countries of assignment.

Eventually, language proficiency and willingness to communicate proofed to have a strong direct effect on the interaction adjustment of expatriates. Evaluation also found that older managers more easily adjust to the work environment. Hierarchical position or the expatriates’ assignment vector neither alleviate nor detain the underlying communicational adjustment process.

List of Tables

Table 1 Individual Prerequisite

Table 2 Literature Review on Language Adjustment

Table 3 Literature Review on Willingness to Communicate Adjustment

Table 4 Labor Positions and National Origins

Table 5 Countries of Origin

Table 6 Countries of Assignment

Table 7 Items of Independent Variables

Table 8 Items of Dependent Variables

Table 9 Factor Loadings of the Adjustment Dimensions

Table 10 Factor Loadings of the Communication Variables

Table 11 Means, Alpha Coefficients and Standard Deviations

Table 12 Regressions on Language Proficiency

Table 13 Regressions on General Adjustment

Table 14 Regressions on Interaction Adjustment

Table 15 Regressions on Work Adjustment

List of Figures

Figure 1 Facets of Expatriate Adjustment (Black and Stephens, 1989)

Figure 2 Model of International Adjustment (adapted from Black et al, 1991)

Figure 3 Research Model

Figure 4 Family Situations

Figure 5 Children

Figure 6 Hierarchical Positions

Figure 7 Comparisons of F-Values

1. Introduction


In terms of incremental global interdependencies of economies and business activities in general, it is vital to be aware of the increased mobility of human resources and the variables concerning a proper assessment of international assignments in regards to host countries. Precisely, ‘global business strategies require global human resource systems and globally competent people’ . In fact, the thought and practice of using expatriate managers is very old, nevertheless, multinational companies often fail to introduce international human resource management as a strategic asset, due to lack of labor capacity (Selmer, 1995: 9).

There are different approaches to international human resource management (IHRM), whereas the focus on aspects of HRM in multinational firms with a behavioral component is of interest. According to Dowling (1999: 29), the difference between common HRM and international human resource management derives from the complexity of three distinct groups of employees joining together in the host country (Dowling and Welch, 2005):

- Host country nationals (HCNs)
- Parent country nationals (PCNs)
- Third country nationals (TCNs)

Hence, ‘expatriates and their new groups play a critical role in the strategy development and implementation of the firms’ plans to engage in oversees ventures’ (Ramsey, 2005: 378).

With regard to first-year costs of international assignments, besides the critical groups executing these tasks abroad, Shaffer, Harrison and Gilley (1999: 558) estimate that there is three times higher initial spending in comparison to the former domestic base salary. Not only the lost revenue spent by companies on inefficient employees, but also early returning expatriates, along with the essence of a certain convergence of corporate cultures in multinational companies, have drawn attention to the adjustment process of individuals since the nineteen seventies (Black, Mendenhall and Oddou, 1991: 291).

Technical abilities and past performance, spouse- and family issues, environmental adaptability and motivational desire to undertake a foreign assignment were identified as critical selection criteria to contribute to expatriate manager success and indirectly to the success of the concerned multinationals firm. Furthermore, literature suggests that interpersonal skills are more vital, if significant contact to host country nationals has to be established by the expatriate. Technical abilities, on the contrary, mainly support the efficient know-how transfer (Gordon and Teagarden, 1995: 20; Harvey, 1996: 103; Tung, 1987: 118).

Owing to a firms’ success in the international arena mostly depending on the expertise of expatriate managers on international assignments, expatriate management research thrives to find an accurate algorithm for their cultural adjustment and social integration. The person’s most suitable prerequisites for cultural adjustment, such as communication skills or personal characteristics in general are vital for the selection process (Puck, Kittler and Wright, 2008: 1294).

The survey result, conducted within this thesis, might eventually contribute to the recruiting- and selection process or the pre-departure preparation of employees for international assignments, in order to avoid their early returning or inability to adjust.


Most of the initial work in the expatriate adjustment research field was introduced by Black et al (1988) and supported by contemporary input from Caligiuri et al (in Ramsey, 2005: 378).

The model of Black, Mendenhall and Oddou (1991: 295), whose development and improvement will be examined in the literature review, does not contain qualities such as language proficiency or willingness to communicate as an individual or relational skill so far. Within the research on personal characteristics towards the adjustment dimensions, Black (1990: 124-130) for the first time pointed out the importance of the willingness to communicate and found that significantly related to all the adjustment dimensions. Consecutive research done by Takeuchi, Yun and Russell (2002: 1237) did not share that opinion of Black.

The scholars (Selmer, 2006; Shaffer, 1999; Takeuchi, 2002; Tung, 1982) about the particular importance of language proficiency enhancing the adjustment progress are also rather unanimous. Language proficiency has long been considered as the main barrier to cross-cultural communication, but was placed very low on the list of desirable attributes to require of expatriates. However, it is evident that language proficiency is equipping managers on international assignments with a more effective communication approach, improved perceptual skills and a better rapport with co-workers, customers and other members of the local community (Andreason, 2003: 55; Tung, 1987: 123).

The recent ‘Global Expatriation Survey’ (2009: 12) by Berlitz Consulting shows that language is the most significant challenge abroad. That is why 44 per cent of the interviewed expatriates between 20 and 30 years old, who already had previous expatriation experience, ranked this specific challenge as their highest hurdle to overcome.

According to these facts, it is assumed that the communication component (both language proficiency and willingness to communicate) is a highly valued attribute for the adjustment process, although not guaranteeing effective performance abroad, and thus will be newly investigated by this survey in relation to the three adjustment dimensions. A dynamic model that questions the adjustment in the beginning of the international assignment, as well as at the current state of expatriation, builds the framework for this thesis. Due to the comparison of only two points in time, the time spent in the host country so far will obtain a controlling function in the developed adjustment model. Findings are limited to a certain trend in adjustment degree, whereas the adjustment pattern (e.g., U-urve theory) is left open due to the lack of longitudinal data and thus remains unconfirmed (Church, 1982: 542; Black and Mendenhall, 1991: 228).

Although the two independent variables language proficiency and willingness to communicate also will be examined separately, a strong correlation between them is anticipated. Throughout the evaluation of the empirical part, it might be determined that both factors will be either best used collectively, due to their strong interdependency, or that one factor will outweigh the other in terms of adjustment.

In a further step, the moderating effects of the expatriates’ hierarchical level within a company, and assignment vector (determined by the direction from home country to host country) will be investigated in order to identify any supporting or inhibiting influences on the relationships between the independent variables and the adjustment dimensions (Shaffer, Harrison and Gilley, 1999: 574).

The impact of the assignment-direction conflicts with the original prerequisite of the international adjustment model (Black, Mendenhall and Oddou, 1991), that it applies equally well to all expatriates. Selmer, Chiu and Shenkar (2007: 152) state that the different cultural context is contingent on the direction of the assignment and thus they propose that adjustment is asymmetric on reciprocal transfers.

Tung (1982: 63) argued, that expatriates who obtain a higher hierarchy level within a company (top-, middle-management, first line-supervisor, non-supervisory personnel) are better adjusted to the host country environment than others. They have more subordinates with local experience who absorb cultural complications for them. ‘In jobs, which require more extensive contacts with the local community (CEO and functional head), communication was more frequently identified as being very important, compared to technically oriented jobs’.

However, other opinions describe that language adjustment at lower hierarchical levels in an organization is more likely due to having higher local contact to people without English knowledge, i.e., construction industry or manufacturers. Shaffer, Harrison and Gilley (1999: 571) found in their study that language skills are highly contributable to the technical expatriates’ interaction adjustment.

In this case, operative jobs could benefit in terms of international communication adjustment, in comparison to the expatriates employed in management levels. On the other hand, communication skills such as the willingness to communicate, rather than specific language skills, are more important to upper management positions (Andreason, 2003: 48-55; Stahl and Caligiuri, 2005: 606; Martin, 1956: 250).

The results of this thesis might eventually support the fact that established intercultural communication alleviates the international adjustment in certain hierarchical positions. As a consequence the individual- and positional factors will expand the original model by Black, Mendenhall and Oddou (1991), accordingly (Shaffer, Harrison and Gilley, 1999).


In order to test the four developed hypotheses empirically, an already mentioned quantitative survey with 69 questions in six different sections was conducted (see Appendix A). First of all, the recipients were mainly asked open questions to provide general information about their parent country and host country, family status, industry, as well as the company they are working for during the international assignment. Following that, information on their personal language proficiency in the host country language and their willingness to communicate (Takeuchi, Yun and Russell, 2002: 1233), as well as their adjustment level (Black and Stephens, 1989: 542), were to be indicated on a seven-point Likert scale (from strongly disagree to strongly agree) at the beginning and the current state of the expatriation. The expatriates’ preparation for the international assignment (Baker, 1975: 259; Puck, Kittler and Wright, 2008: 2187) and previous international experience (Takeuchi et al, 2005: 87) was determined by partly open- and yes/no-questions. Finally, additional demographic information on gender, age and contact data had to be provided voluntarily. On average, it took every person about 13 minutes to complete the questionnaire.

The online survey was published in the beginning of June and was closed at the end of September 2010. Within that period, a number of 117 expatriates - almost two thirds of Austrians - working in foreign trade offices under the Austria Federal Economic Chamber, or in subsidiaries of globally operating Austrian companies such as e.g., DCM DECOmetal GmbH, Fronius International GmbH, Lenzing AG, Linz Textil AG, RHI AG, Siemens VAI Metals Technologies GmbH & Co., completed the survey questionnaire.

The data is analyzed and processed with the help of SPSS Statistics 18.0 package for Mac OS X. The results of the evaluation are presented in the concluding chapters after the ensuing literature review and the hypothesis building with the explanation of the most important variables for the research model. Ultimately, the limitations of this thesis and implications for future research are illustrated.

2. Literature Review


2.1.1 International Assignments

Expatriations are usually long-term, that last between two to five years, and are based on international assignments. Literature suggests three major reasons for international assignments. First of all local, ‘skill shortages’ and ‘know-how gaps’ (organizational development) have to be compensated by people sent abroad from the headquarters. There are several purposes for international assignments: on the one hand they establish a certain ‘personalized control mechanism’ (position filling) , and on the other hand they support the assignees’ personnel development (management development) e.g., skill-wise, relational competencies (Dowling and Welch, 2005: 66; Erten et al, 2006: 42).

Because of the evident difficulties emerging with traditional international assignments - like financial costs, personal lives, recruitment and selection as well as repatriation - substitutes to expatriations are rising. Improved public transportation and communication technology makes an assignment partly dispensable. Short-term assignments, international commuting and frequent flyers are the additional forms international workers can be assigned to (Sparrow, Brewster and Harris, 2004: 138).

Horsch (1995: 134) found, that there is a certain discrepancy between the motivation and expectations of a firm and its expatriates. In his study based on German expatriate managers, the most important aspect for a company is the transfer of know-how, followed by its human resources development, control of its subsidiaries and at lastly, local staff availability. On the contrary, the main reason for the expatriate to leave his home country is for the pursuit of personnel improved career prospects and for an interest in taking on greater responsibility. What is more, salary increase places only as an average incentive for the employees.

2.1.2 Expatriates

The successful assessment of expatriation has an increasing relevance in international human resource management due to matters of general internationalization of business (Puck, Holtbrügge and Rausch, 2008: 10).

Expatriation might be best described as the ‘transfer of people’, who accept a certain change of location and thus living address for the time-period needed to finish an international assignment. It often involves the spouses or even whole families to follow the selected expatriate, requiring the adjustment of all family members to new living conditions (De Cieri and Dowling, 1997: 28).

In short, ‘an expatriate (or international assignee) is an employee who is working and temporarily residing in a foreign country’ . Besides PCNs, TCNs are also expatriates by definition, as their home and host country differs as well. The term ‘inpatriate’ recently occurred in IHRM literature and needs clarification. It defines the transfer of subsidiary staff into the parent country operations (e.g., a HCN becomes an inpatriate as soon as he is transferred to the parent country headquarters) (Dowling and Welch, 2005: 6; Sparrow, Brewster and Harris, 2004: 138).

As the underlying research model supports a universal approach, the information of inpatriates will be equally examined. Among others, the term ‘expatriates’ originally includes business people, diplomats, Peace Corps volunteers, employees of international NPOs’, military and technical assistance personnel, as well as missionaries, whereas in this survey, the focus merely lies on the initially mentioned group (Church, 1982: 545; Osland, 2008: 20).

An expatriates’ role during an assignment can either entail network building, or gathering information that bridges internal and external organizational contexts as a so- called ‘boundary spanner’ . Furthermore, expatriates are agents of direct control of bureaucratic mechanisms and subsidiary compliance with a certain devotion to the transfer of competence and knowledge, by implementing certain ‘best practices’ , as already mentioned in 2.1.1. Literature also mentions for this thesis the most relevant aspects of expatriates advancing to ‘language nodes’, by studying the host country language. Upon repatriation, they can be of more value to the parent country headquarters in terms of higher communicational linkage to the former host country (Dowling and Welch, 2005: 71).

2.1.3 Culture

In the context of cross-cultural adjustment, the term culture requires definition as well as explanation. The anthropology research subject reaches back to the nineteen thirties, whereas focus for this thesis lies in the findings of Hofstede (2001).

According to Hofstede (2001: 4-14), mental programming appears on an individual, collective and universal level. Individuals hold values to help them determine their preferences. Subsequently, values lead to a certain culturally manifested behavior. As nations are influenced by a certain ‘habitus, as a system of permanent and transferable tendencies’, they build up a ‘national character’ eventually resulting in prejudice, bias and stereotypes. The empirical value of the above mentioned national character has not been proven though, and thus remains a psychological stereotype.

In contrast, modern research comes up with a more sophisticated explanation of culture related to the social learning theory. ‘A person is not born with a given culture: rather, she or he acquires it through a socialization process that begins at birth: an American is not born with a liking for hot dogs, or a German with a natural preference for beer: there behavioral attributes are culturally transmitted’ (Dowling and Welch, 2005: 13).

Culture is defined as ‘the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another’. Culture exists among societies and constitutes ‘a human collectivity, what personality is to an individual’ (Hofstede, 2001: 10).


2.2.1 Definition of a Multi-Dimensional Adjustment Concept

‘Adjustment is a construct of the individual’s affective psychological response to the new environment and variables such as job performance and turnover should not be thought of as objective measures of adjustment but as outcome variables that degree of adjustment might influence’ (Black, 1990: 122; Mendenhall and Oddou, 1985: 42).

The adjustment as the ‘degree of psychological comfort and familiarity’ an individual encounters in a new environment, is the concept to follow as the focus within that thesis lies on the subjective perception of surveyed expatriates, rather than objective measures of success, e.g., turnover, and other performance indicators (Black, 1988: 127; Puck, Holtbrügge and Rausch, 2008: 10).

Black (1988: 279) brought up different ‘facets of adjustment’ for the first time, when he pointed out that there have to be at least two dimensions: work- and general adjustment. This clearly opposes the opinion of other scholars categorizing adjustment as a unitary phenomenon.

The relevance of adjustment does not simply derive from change of location, but from the change of different kinds of environment and personal, as well as professional challenges, an expatriate has to cope with. In addition, expatriates initially do not know how to behave according to the new countries customs. Therefore the host culture causes a certain barrier or uncertainty for individuals that definitely need to go through several learning processes to overcome or avoid cultural frictions (Black and Mendenhall, 1990: 125).

Socio-cultural adjustment is usually investigated by the 14-item list introduced by Black and Stephens (1989: 542).

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Figure 1 Facets of Expatriate Adjustment (Black and Stephens, 1989)

There might be differences in the adjustment degree of individuals to each of the three dimensions respectively, within this multi-faceted approach. Expatriates, for example, could be better adjusted to the work dimension, while not being adjusted to the general dimension at all (Shaffer, Harrison and Gilley, 1999: 560; Puck, Holtbrügge and Rausch, 2008: 11).

2.2.2 The Model of International Adjustment

Former research on international adjustment and effectiveness has been mainly conducted with Peace Corps or foreign exchange students (see 2.1.2). The research on cross-cultural adjustment emerged in the nineteen seventies and was driven by the findings of Black, Mendenhall and Oddou. Research on individuals adapting to a professional organizational set-up, in the state of initial firm-entry, was already progressed at that time: non-work factors nevertheless were not taken into consideration. The term ‘international adjustment’ not only involves a change in corporate culture or responsibility changes, in fact the influences deriving from different daily customs, political systems, climate, nutrition and living standards as well as communication, are also challenging upon expatriation (Black, Mendenhall and Oddou, 1991: 292; Church, 1982: 544).

Distinct approaches towards the adjustment topic supported the development of different research models to measure expatriate adjustment. While some of them are ‘theoretical hybrids’ or hard to categorize, four special directions in model development emerged:

- Learning models
- Stress-coping models
- Developmental models
- Personality-based models

The focus in this elaboration will lie on the last one, thus the personality-based approach towards adjustment is to be discussed subsequently. Its research relevancy derives from the ‘categorization of successful expatriates via their personality characteristics (attitudes, traits, skills)’, which would alleviate the selection process of expatriates remarkably (Mendenhall et al, 2002: 156-164).

Besides the above-mentioned concepts, literature suggests several components, vital for the cross-cultural adjustment process, before expatriates leave their home country:

- Pre-departure training
- Previous oversea experience
- Organizational selection mechanism

Certain Individual skills and non-work factors will foster adjustment as post arrival variables in the host country (Black, Mendenhall and Oddou, 1991: 293).

During literature review, difficulties concerning the categorization or distinction between personal characteristics and individual skills, or experience-related factors occurred. Given circumstance of complexity-reduction ought be clarified by the following table, in which both factors and their authors are listed. Puck, Holtbrügge and Rausch (2008: 13) already distinguished between personality-related factors and experience-related factors.

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Table 1 Individual Prerequisite

In the further elaboration, personal-related factors (personal characteristics) can be subordinated in the category of individual factors which are subsequently divided in skill-, experience-related and personal characteristics, as indicated above.

During their research on expatriate acculturation, Mendenhall and Oddou (1985) found three dimensions to categorize individual factors. The ‘self-orientated dimension’ involves an expatriates’ self-esteem, self-confidence and mental hygiene, whereas the ‘others orientated dimension’ entails in the expatriates’ ability to interact with host country nationals effectively (relational skills). The ‘perceptual dimension’ allows the assignees to correctly perceive and evaluate the unfamiliar cultural environment and costumes (Black, 1990: 124; Black, Mendenhall and Oddou, 1991: 294; Mendenhall and Oddou, 1985: 41).

The relevance for this thesis lays on the ‘others oriented dimension’ , precisely the relational skills willingness to communicate (personal characteristics) and the skill- related language proficiency. Originally, the model includes the variable willingness to communicate, unlike language proficiency at that state of the framework building in 1991. Thus, language proficiency expands the model accordingly. The two individual research variables will be explained and described in point 2.4 of the theoretical part.

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Figure 2 Model of International Adjustment (adapted from Black et al, 1991)

Condon (in Adler and Graham, 1989: 519) was fostering research on cross-cultural negotiation processes and was encountering that discrepancies in language and language behavior cause the most communicational problems. Linguistic challenges also seem more obvious than deeper lying nonverbal behavior, values and patterns of thought, as they can be immediately addressed and corrected. Stening (1979: 274) writes about an immediate feedback that is responded in face-to-face communication, which can be disturbed by other verbal or non-verbal communication problems. Language can be observed, described and taught, whereas patterns of thought are not investigable due to being a combination of language- and value differences. To sum up, ‘in cross-cultural negotiations, we might expect problems of communication caused not only by what is said, but also by how what is said is interpreted’. Additionally, cross-cultural misunderstandings are frequently rooted in the parties’ stereotypes, prejudice and ethnocentric perspective (Adler, 1989; Condon, 1974: 6).

Black and Mendenhall (1990: 120) originally hypothesized, due to guarded support in concerning literature, that ‘cross-cultural training’ has a positive impact on crosscultural skill development, performance and adjustment, as individuals are more alert to behavior patterns and misunderstandings and thus reduce socio-cultural frictions. However, literature review turned out to lack of significantly supportive results on cross-cultural training. In a recent study, Puck, Kittler and Wright (2008: 2188) did not find participation-, length- or comprehensiveness of pre-departure training to be significantly related to all adjustment dimensions.

Former assumptions of Church (1982: 519) described that ‘previous cross-cultural experience with other cultures or prior exposure to the host culture should facilitate adjustment’. To narrow the outcome and avoid other influences he suggested studying previous cross-cultural experience within national groups. Black (1988: 288) found previous knowledge facilitating for work adjustment at least.

Domestic adjustment, similar to international adjustment, also requests the individual to adjust to an unfamiliar setting. That is what both research fields have in common. Socialization and work role adjustment are rather focusing on the mode of adjustment, whereas relocation and sense making literature focus on the degree of adjustment. Work role transitions, for example, are dependent on the characteristics of people undergoing transitions towards different modes of adjustment (Black, Mendenhall and Oddou, 1991: 301):

- Replication
- Absorption
- Determination
- Exploration

Domestic adjustment consists of four research directions. The main outcome of this research field was that individuals make so-called ‘anticipatory adjustments’ and have ‘accurate expectations’ before they are confronted with the new situations, in order to facilitate their adjustment. Furthermore, scholars of both adjustment theories regard ‘uncertainty reduction’ of individuals as a prerequisite for anticipatory adjustments, e.g., the change of behavior patterns (Nicholson, 1984: 171).

However, in this specific thesis, international adjustment weighs higher due to greater cultural frictions and a higher magnitude of uncertainty. For the creation of the comprehensive model of international adjustment, Black, Mendenhall and Oddou (1991) merged the two scholars of domestic and international adjustment, having training and previous experience build up ‘accurate expectations’ of the individual together with the organizations selections mechanisms. These factors combined are causing ‘anticipatory adjustment’ which in post-entry state effects the expatriates’ in- country adjustment. Most research in domestic adjustment happened in work adjustment, although the general and interaction facets of international adjustment are also valid for the descriptive model.


2.3.1 Mutual Dependencies

Confidence in using the host country language is usually rising with the proficiency level that is why within this thesis the hypothesis can be drawn that a mutual dependency between language proficiency and willingness to communicate exists. Therefore it is assumed that the personality-related factor ‘willingness to communicate’ has a positive influence on the skill-related factor ‘language proficiency’, and following that alleviates adjustment to the three suggested dimensions (Black, 1990: 124).

‘Language skills are a means to create and foster interpersonal relationships and understanding of the dynamics of the new culture’. It might be easier to gather information depending on a high proficiency level of the host language. However, in order to obtain this information willingness to communicate encourages and facilitates this process (Mendenhall and Oddou, 1985: 42; Takeuchi, Yun and Russell, 2002: 1226). Consequently, a correlation hypothesis between these two individual factors is set up.

H1: Language proficiency and a person ’ s willingness to communicate show a mutual dependency at the beginning as well as at the current state of the international assignment.

2.3.2 Language Proficiency

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (in Selmer, 2006: 353) suggests, ‘It is our culture that determines our language, which in turn determines the way that we categorize our thoughts about the world and our experiences in it’. Furthermore, language seems the most easily and clearly recognizable part of culture. It seems, the more proficient the level of host country language, the easier it may be to obtain necessary daily life information. Despite language is not a neutral vehicle - as our thoughts and assumptions are mainly controlled by the available words in our vocabulary - a higher level of host country language supports to establish interpersonal relationships more easily. Language awareness makes you feel comfortable in interactions with host country nationals (with the help of learning communication norms, rules and roles) (Hofstede, 2001: 21).

Nevertheless, Takeuchi, Yun and Russell (2002: 1235) neither found a positive relation between language proficiency and general adjustment, nor between language proficiency and interaction adjustment. A lack of host country language proficiency is likely to put the expatriate in an outsider position and not opening up vital opportunities or communication channels he would have obtained otherwise. As a result, Takeuchi (2002) found language proficiency to be significantly related to work adjustment, but not to the other two dimensions of adjustment.

Selmer (2006: 358) found that language ability of Western expatriates in China was positively related to all adjustment dimensions, especially to interaction adjustment and, in contrast to Takeuchi, weakest to work adjustment.

Shaffer (1999: 570) investigated the fluency in host country language to facilitate the interaction adjustment of expatriates. Significance to the other two dimensions has not been found.

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Table 2 Literature Review on Language Adjustment

Due to different ethnical homogenous samples of expatriates and host countries in previous research, literature does not suggest a unanimous opinion concerning language proficiency and the adjustment dimensions. Eventually, following second hypothesis can be derived:

H2: Language proficiency will be positively related to all facets of adjustment. The language proficiency level at the current state of the international assignment will be higher in comparison to the adjustment level in the beginning of expatriation.

2.3.3 Willingness to Communicate

Former research on the relationship between willingness to communicate (WTC) and general adjustment built on language proficiency, previous knowledge of the host culture and willingness to communicate (Takeuchi, Yun and Russell, 2002: 1225). Hence, it is necessary to obtain simple information or being able to communicate effectively. As language proficiency is not the only part of intercultural communication, emphasis is likewise ought to put on the willingness to communicate. Takeuchi (2002) found no significant positive relation of WTC to general adjustment. However, this outcome should be questioned as only Japanese expatriates in the US where examined in underlying study and Asian ethnical prerequisites (e.g., introversion, conversational habits) eventually could be misleading.

Willingness to communicate is necessary to learn certain complications and idioms of a language, whereas simply studying the language is not suitable for that kind of achievement. As a consequence the relationship between WTC and interaction adjustment was also part of former surveys and turned out to be positively related in the studies of the Authors Black (1990: 125) and Takeuchi (2002: 1237). With the help of the willingness to communicate, culture shock is supposed to be reduced and the adaption process to be supported by reaching higher levels of communication and thus better understanding of the culture.

Concerning the relationship between WTC and work adjustment, Takeuchi (2002) found no positive relation, whereas Black (1990) on the other hand found a significant positive relation to all the three adjustment dimensions.

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Table 3 Literature Review on Willingness to Communicate Adjustment

As literature revised above, does not suggest a consistently supportive outcome concerning WTC on the adjustment dimensions, hypothesis three can be formulated as follows:

H3: Willingness to communicate will be positively related to all facets of adjustment. The willingness to communicate adjustment level at the current state of the international assignment will be higher in comparison to the adjustment level in the beginning of expatriation.

2.3.4 Influence of Moderators

‘Moderators affect the nature of the relationship between two other variables, without necessarily being correlated with either of them’. Terminology distinguishes between moderating effects that enhance the relationship between the two basic variables and the ones that neutralize or interrupt the predictive relationship between two variables (Howell, Dorfman and Kerr, 1986: 89).

The exhibit below (adapted from Harvey, 1996: 110) origins in the expatriate selection literature and is still useful to categorize levels of management potential, as well as national affiliation. Although the research model is described to be universal, differences in categories of work and stress at varying hierarchical levels should influence the degree people adapt to the international assignment. Maybe first-line- or non-supervisory personnel are more denoted to talk to locals in the host country language then top- or middle managers who either have interpreters or more likely reach a consensus with English language (hierarchy level). Furthermore, firms have to be cautious about the best nationality portfolio in expatriation, as parent country nationals facilitate communication between subsidiary and headquarter, whereas third country nationals tend to be more sensitive to cultural and political issues (assignment vector) (Shaffer, Harrison, Gilley, 1999: 563).

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Table 4 Labor Positions and National Origins

Among others, fluency in the host country language was suggested to have a moderating effect on individual antecedents and the dimensions of adjustment. In the specific case of this thesis with already two communicational independent variables the moderating effect of language proficiency does not deliver distinctive informative value. The results of an important study at least found a moderating effect of the assignment vector on the relationship from individual to adjustment factors. Functional area was the weakest moderator in literature. No further attention is paid to that aspect, as this underlying survey was not merely addressed to expatriates of the technical industry (Shaffer, Harrison and Gilley, 1999: 575).

In order to find out about the change in significance, in comparison to the status quo, by implementing the variables hierarchy level and assignment vector in the regression analyses, following fourth and last hypothesis can be set up:

H4: The influence of communication factors on expatriate adjustment will vary depending on the assignee ’ s hierarchical level and assignment vector. The moderating effect at the current state of the international assignment will be higher in comparison to the adjustment level in the beginning of expatriation.

2.3.5 Dynamic Approach of two Points-in-Time

‘Because the work as well as the non-work contexts usually change during an international adjustment, not only are unique variables involved, but it also seems possible that different relationship among the variables may also exist’ (Black, Mendenhall and Oddou, 1991: 292).

As language proficiency and willingness to communicate at a certain level of expatriation lack important information, the development and dynamic progress in adjustment of regarded people within a period of time shall be put under scrutiny. Thus, the perceived adjustment level at the beginning of their international assignment in the host country is requested, besides their assumption of the adjustment level at the current state. The dynamic approach also supports control for the answers given in the survey, as the adjustment most likely does not decrease with the increment of time. In general, expatriates have the ability and sometimes even urge of studying the host country language in order to learn more about their host country as well as its culture and customs. Basically, social integration is the outcome of knowledge of the host country, which is based on a learning process depending on the tenure of the international assignment (Stahl and Caligiuri, 2005: 606).

Furthermore, the improvement of individuals in adapting to a certain environment or circumstance, shall be proven. Takeuchi, Yun and Russell (2002) found in their study that language proficiency is more relating to the work dimension, whereas willingness to communicate is rather attached to the individuals’ interaction with host country nationals outside of work.

It is vital to state that neither of the two main independent variables load on the general adjustment dimension, hence it is uncertain, if that fact changes, or is influenced somehow within the period of expatriation.

In order to learn from the dynamic process the hypotheses were supplemented with questions on the adjustment progress. It enables the comparison with the initial outcomes at the beginning of expatriation, and derives information of the importance of language proficiency and willingness to communicate in a more progressed point in time of the international assignment.


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A Dynamic Approach to the Language Adjustment of Expatriates and the Interaction of their Hierarchy Level and Assignment Vector
An Empirical Analysis
Vienna University of Economics and Business  (BWL des Außenhandels)
SBWL des Außenhandels
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adjustment, language proficiency, willingness to communicate, hierarchy level, assignment vector, expatriates, cross-cultural adjustment
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Michael Eichinger (Author), 2010, A Dynamic Approach to the Language Adjustment of Expatriates and the Interaction of their Hierarchy Level and Assignment Vector, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/184597


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