Intercultural Communicative Competence in China-based Corporations: An Analysis of Chinese Professionals’ Perceived Communicative Needs, Challenges, and Strategies


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Award date29 Jul 2019


China’s expanding collaboration with the rest of the world entails an urgent need for numerous talents with excellent intercultural communication skills. Cultural sensitivity and a proficiency in foreign languages are recognized as vital and essential abilities for a successful international business career. However, little research has been conducted to investigate what aspects relate to foreign languages and culture influence regarding intercultural business communication at work in Mainland China. To bridge the gap, four research questions (RQ) were put forward to guide this current study: (1) What are the communicative needs related to BELF use faced by Chinese business professionals in intercultural business communication? (2) What are the communicative challenges related to BELF use identified by Chinese business professionals in intercultural business communication? (3) What are the communicative competences related to BELF use perceived as necessary by Chinese business professionals to achieve successful intercultural business communication? (4) How do Chinese business professionals deal with the challenges they encounter related to BELF use in intercultural business communication?

Drawing on prior studies in the areas of Applied Linguistics, Communication, and Business and Management, the study proposes a theoretical framework and generates ten sets of hypotheses. H1 – H4 were proposed to answer RQ1 by investigating the differences in BLEF use at work between professionals from companies of different ownership, companies of different size, and of different job ranks. H5 – H6 were aimed to answer RQ 2 by looking into the relationship between the possibility that Chinese business professionals find challenging to use English in intercultural business communication, and their English language proficiency and working experiences. H7 – H10 were put forward to answer RQ3 by exploring what factors of communicative competence are positively associated with professionals’ performance in intercultural business communication.

Adopting a triangulated approach for the the research methodology, the data of the present study consists of both quantitative and qualitative data so as to offer a multifaceted, while complementary outlook on issues examined in the study. The quantitative data, derived from 227 online questionnaires finished by Chinese business professionals, focuses on answering RQ1 – 3, and the qualitative semi-structured interview data were gathered from 11 interviewees selected from questionnaire participants, answering RQ 1 - 4. The quantitative data were analysed with ANOVA, MANOVA, t-test, correlation analysis, factor analysis, and regression analysis. The qualitative data were analyzed with NVivo to confirm, explain, and supplement the quantitative findings.

The findings show that English has played an increasingly important role in workplace communication in Mainland China, especially in multinational companies. Using English has become a business convention/culture in multinational companies, although the extent of its use differs depending on various contextual factors, primary among which are a professional’s duties and foreign language competency. It is found that linguistically, there are four main reasons behind the communicative challenges: a lack of field-specific vocabulary, colloquial expression from native speakers of English, strong accents from non-native English speakers, and the incompetence in using English with appropriate formats, styles, and tones. Culturally, three challenges were found to be distinct in communication between professionals coming from different cultures: differences in working styles, a lack of culture knowledge, and various language expressions influenced by cultural diversity. In order to meet the communicative needs and cope with the communicative challenges at work, a toolkit of intercultural business communicative competence (IBCC) was proposed, in which there are six factors of competence: metacognitive CQ, cognitive CQ, motivational CQ, behavioral CQ, pragmatic competence, and strategic competence. Meanwhile, 17 communicative strategies were found to be frequently used and regarded as effective by Chinese business professionals to make up for communicative breakdown or facilitate communicative efficiency.

In addition to the aforementioned findings, the study also discussed the implications in terms of theory, methodology, and practice. It is hoped that the study will contribute to the research on intercultural business communication, and will have practical implications for business English teaching in Mainland China and in other educational settings with similar cultural and social backgrounds. The potential limitations of the study and recommendations for future research are also presented.