Research Questions

IR-MultiLing Research Questions

The modern workplace in Europe’s major industrial regions or cities is increasingly likely to be a multilingual environment at shop floor, office or management levels or at all three. By 2013 the numbers of Third Country-origin migrant workers in Europe had risen to 15.1 million, in addition to which there were 6.8 million intra-EU migrant workers. Migrant workers now make up 15% of the total 211 million European workforce and in nearly all cases these workers who were born in another country have a different mother tongue than the majority population of the country they now work in. Employees of more than one language of origin work alongside each other, or cooperate with others as a part of management. While the relations between these workers are structured by the national industrial relations systems, many common issues and tensions emerge.

For managers the questions of access to training and promotion, and whether selection occurs through the prism of language of origin and ability with English or the parent company language are very real problems. But there are also issues related to the limits on direct communication when managers do not speak the same language as most of their employees.

When it turns to employees, it is important to recall that language remains a means of exercising power over others19 and that company multilingual coping strategies also have significant consequences for the daily lives of migrant workers. How far linguistic (and national or ethnic) minorities are represented at local, company and national levels makes a difference to the sense of occupational or collective identity these minorities have. Often they are left out of their local workplace employee representation systems with their lack of language skill in the dominant language rendering them ‘silent’.

IR MultiLing will address the following research questions:

  • What have been the recent histories of language policy, coping strategies and preferences exercised by employers and trade unions?
  • How far have workplaces and companies become more multilingual, more bi-lingual or more monolingual?
  • What have been the experiences of users of minority languages in the workplace?
  • To what extent is workplace multilingualism a mechanism for cohesion and inclusion or for segmentation and exclusion?
  • Does mono-lingualism and/or the adoption of a universal working language improve or hamper internal communication?
  • How far does the acquisition and predominant use of English (or a nationally-dominant language) at work involve the dispossession (or distortion) of one or more other languages?
  • To what extent is language an instrument of power?
  • What policy recommendations for trade unions and employers arise out of the research?


IR-MultiLing is fundedeclogo by the European Union’s Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion directorate-general.