en  fr  de
  1. Home
  2.  > 
  3.  > 
    Programme 2020-2023
  4.  > 
    Crossborder vocational education
  5.  > 
    Languages, disciplines and professions
  6.  > 

One, two or multiple languages?

There is a tendency when we think about globalization and international relationships on the labour market, to favour the monolingual practice of using just one language. The use of English as the only common (or shared) language seems often to be the most effective way to a make a conversation accessible to everybody. As we have seen in the section about How to deal with intercultural diversity at the workplace? language use is also culturally determinated. 

While it is undoubtedly useful to have and use English as a Lingua Franca in business encounters, there exists the need to stress that not only English should be considered a technical linguistic tool. Besides English, plurilingualism and (inter)cultural aspects also play an essential role for successful communication, especially in border regions. Creating a more plurilingual atmosphere can help successful communication by raising awareness for the different linguistic backgrounds of everyone, challenges in communication due to those different backgrounds, different language competencies, etc. For example, English as a second language may not be enough if English is taught without an intercultural communication focus. Workers might then be skilled in English but not in intercultural communication. The exclusive use of English may also cause miscommunication problems that can be very costly for international companies.  

Following these explanations, the sections aim at fostering awareness of the importance of enhancing plurilingualism and pluriculturalism that allows companies to profit in a global market. 

For more information, you can refer to: McCulloch S. (2019), https://familyenterprisefoundation.org/resources/resources/our-insights/articles/2019/july/how-language-barriers-affect-international-business/ 


  • Get to know more differentiated pictures of language use and the management of languages in organizations (in border regions and beyond). 
  • Reflect about language use in language education in cross-border vocational education contexts. 
  • Discuss challenges and potentials of a lingua franca in multilingual groups. 
  • Get an insight into exemplary case studies from border regions and communicative strategies used.

Working in multilingual teams: more than English only?!

What do research studies say about English use? 

Companies nowadays are multilingual. Employees often speak and/or understand at least two or three languages. Hence, language education is of special importance in vocational training. Nevertheless, English as the only common (or shared) language often seems to be the most effective way to communicate. Let's check the two sides of the coin. 

Reasons for English only 

On the one hand, an argument in favour of English as common language can be found, e.g., in the article "A growing number of global firms are using as English their main language – even if they are based in Japan or France" by Borzykowski (2017). He explains the consensus among many companies that are not based in English speaking countries and are run by non-native English speakers that English simplifies life in the companies.  

Read more

English only - in practice only for a minority! 

On the other hand, practice shows that there is not the same need or the same motivation for only one language at all working levels, and that English does not automatically have to be the technical language used. While managers often communicate with each other in English, at the production level different national languages - including migrant languages - are an important tool for understanding and building relationships (cf. Smart case study (hyperlink), Venohr 2016). 

Read more

1. Think about the following sentence/utterance from the very famous Austrian-American psychologist, and communication theorist Paul Watzlawick: 

“Communication has both a content and a relationship level.” 

What does this mean for your own work while teaching a foreign language in the context of vocational training? 

2. The supporters of English as a lingua Franca are using the argument of crossing borders by using only English, especially in professional international settings. 

Here are three statements that you should comment either approving or disagreeing. Does this approach of “English only“ correspond to your (border) region? 

Read more

Multilingualism in cross-border working environments 
As we have seen, even in companies acting worldwide the language choice is not always limited to English as Lingua Franca. Due to another language's repertoire in border regions, language management can be very specific and varied. Let’s have a look at four different examples:

1. English on the rise in Lithuanian border region 

In the Lithuanian context, three languages seem to dominate workplaces: English, Russian, and Lithuanian. However, the use of languages depends highly on the education, age, and ethnic identity. The younger learners use English while the older people use Russian in multilingual companies. The dominance of English is predicted to take over in the future (cf. Ramonienė M. (2011). Kalbų vartojimas darbe didžiuosiuose Lietuvos miestuose). 

View Lithuanian border region page

2. The role of languages and cultures at the automotive manufacturer Smart situated in the German-Luxembourg-French border region – a case study

General information about the case study

The following case study is situated in the automotive sector and was undertaken by the research group GRETI (Groupement de Recherches Transfrontalières Interdisciplinaires, see http://cbs.uni-gr.eu/en/border-studies/working-groups/greti) in the Greater Region, a border region consisting of parts of Germany, France, and Luxembourg (, and Belgium – in brackets because not relevant in this case study, but part of the Greater Region). More information about the Greater Region can be found here.

Read more

click here

Main study finding: Surprising or crystal clear?

Please wait....

3. Insights into languages and cultures at railway companies in the French-German border region - a case study  

The example of „Alleo“ (Deutsche Bahn/DB and SNCF) shows that there is a difference between one corporate language (like English) and a negotiated use of at least two language/s others than English. This leads to the wider understanding of „negotiated culture“, in which both languages are equal, with different functions at the same time or task. Hence, other practices in language management than ‘English only’ are successfully used. 

Read more

4. Cross-border workers/Grenzgänger and their attitudes to multilingual practice

Luxemburg as an officially trilingual country that accounts for the highest percentage of cross-border commuters in the European Union with its living and at the same time also lived multilingual practices at the workplace is a good example for intercultural encounters through languages. The study about cross-border workers and their attitude to multilingual practices at the workplace by Wille et al. (2012) shows that „ [The] presence [of these workers commute daily from France, Belgium and Germany to Luxembourg] in the national labour market results in increasing linguistic and cultural diversity at Luxembourgish workplaces“ (Wille et al. 2012, 73).

Read more

For trainers and learners 

(1) Which could be the role of other „Linguae francae“ than English? Think also about minority languages or dialects that are spoken on both sides of a national border. 

(2) Could you draw a typical vocational biography showing this linguistic cross-border effect? How can e the value of multilingual practices be promoted at the workplace for apprentices in your own lessons? 

(3) What about your experiences with language use in cross-border professional contexts? Which strategies can you observe? Which languages are used? Do you agree with the results from the case studies?  

You can take notes and file them in your portfolio.  

In addition: Exchange with a colleague. Do you share the same experiences and observations? Which similarities and differences exist? 

This task can also easily be used in class: Ask your students to reflect on the questions above. You can also provide the case studies to them. Afterwards, let them exchange and collect their experiences and findings with the group. You can also switch in the (foreign) language of teaching, in this way, your students can also train their communication skills.

For learners

(1) Start to write your CV in your own languages. Think about non-translatable terms related to the specifics of national educational systems. Which feature or data could be difficult to understand? 

Take the Europass CV as an example and have a look at the tutorial how to create your CV: https://europa.eu/europass/en/create-europass-cv 

(2) Make a research on job advertisement at the most important newspaper in Luxemburg Luxemburger Wort that exists in four languages versions (German, English, French, Portuguese). You can choose the language that you are the most familiar with: https://www.luxtimes.lu/, 07.09.2023

Read more

Recommendations for language education in vocational settings taken from this study are:

Key factors for language learning support in general

  • continue to strengthen (in this case: French-German) bilingualism
  • include and foster English without making it essential
  • support every language necessary for further development of the company (in this case esp. German)

Possibilities for successful language learning support

  • prioritize internships 
  • offer possibilities to learn the language via "learning by doing/practicing"
  • establish bilingual tandems
  • value effective language skills as much as certified language skills
  • allow internal developments by promoting staff appraisals (to understand the nuances in communicaion from one language to another)

Further recommendations

  • recruitment of employees from different countries
  • retention of employees at the enterprise, e.g. by extending dual recruitment policy with local and international profiles