The workplace I chose is an office that belongs to a company called Prostar Capital located in Sydney CBD. I am not an employee of the company but I was hired to teach Chinese lessons to five of their employees once a week in their office. Therefore, I had access to the office space and the opportunity to interview my students.
Before exploring the linguistic diversity, a brief introduction of the workplace is needed. Prostar Capital Ltd. is a private equity firm established in 2012 to invest across the mid-market energy value chain in the Asia-Pacific region. The firm has offices in Sydney, Hong Kong and Greenwich, Connecticut.
As the company extends its investments overseas, most employees have experienced various cultures and languages while working, which makes this exploration of their attitudes and experiences surrounding linguistic diversity interesting. One thing that certainly displays their positive and proactive attitude towards linguistic diversity is the Chinese classes in for employees that travel frequently to China.
I walked around the office but couldn’t find any signage that belongs to their office not even any bathroom signs or conference room signs (except for the ‘Fire Exit’ signs that come with the building). There is only one sign that displays the name of the company outside the office on the wall (which can be seen in the following picture). It is very strange and at the same time interesting as I guess signage in the office is not very necessary since everyone who works here know exactly where to go and the receptionist can show people the way the around the office.
Observations & Interview Summary:
Our group’s first approach to investigate linguistic diversity in a workplace is through oral interviews. I carried out mine in an office in Sydney CBD, using the questions our group came up with together as guidance. Three employees in the office were kind enough to answer my questions and gave their opinions. Two of the interviewees only speak English while one of them also speaks Italian. I went on to ask about the linguistic diversity in their workplace.
Regarding the issue of a monolingual ideology, I asked if they felt uncomfortable when hearing other languages being spoken in the workplace or ever observed someone expressing such discomfort. Although previously they mentioned that the dominant language of the office was English, they themselves don’t feel uncomfortable at all with their colleagues speaking another language. However, one of them did hear someone say ‘Speak English, please’ and ‘Repeat what you just said in English’ in this situation. They explained that the fear of the unknown was likely the cause of such remarks and not being able to understand a language could be frustrating to some. In addition, there are very few chances for them to use another language, said by the interviewee who speaks Italian, because almost everyone in the office is a native English speaker and he himself only uses Italian when swearing. At the end, they concluded that English doesn’t have to be the only language at work because as long as the job gets done, it doesn’t matter what language you use.
To investigate their attitudes towards linguistic diversity and knowledge of foreign languages in the workplace, I asked them to describe work situations or contexts where problems occurred due to lack of knowledge of a specific language. One interviewee talked about business meetings with clients from overseas and how meanings were often lost in translation which caused misunderstandings and inefficiency. Therefore, they think that it would be extremely useful to be competent in a foreign language for business purposes and linguistic diversity should also be encouraged in the workplace so the company can be more international.
In fact, I realised after the interview that our observation technique was not very appropriate in the workplace I chose because I am technically not an employee of the company. Therefore, I couldn’t just hang around after my class in the office and listen to what people are saying. All I was able to do was walk slowly from the reception to the conference room and try to eavesdrop on people’s conversations on my way. Besides that, I was also able to observe my students when they were in the conference room getting ready for my class.
When I first started teaching here, I asked how many of them have learned Chinese before and how many of them speak another language other than English. I found out that to their knowledge, everyone in this Sydney CBD office is a native English speaker and there is no Chinese speakers. One of the most important reasons why they wanted Chinese classes is to show respect for their Chinese business partners and display the appropriate social etiquette while in China. From this I can see this company values cultural and linguistic diversity even though the composition of the company employees are not so linguistically diverse.
When I am in the office, all I hear is English whether it is people talking about job related matters or just chit-chatting. Even though I know some of my students can speak a language other than English, they never use that language in front of me or in the office (although they admit that swearing in a language people around them don’t understand is pretty fun).
I think a workplace’s linguistic diversity and its attitudes towards it are very relevant to the type or location of the workplace. Since this office is in Sydney CBD, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that all the employees are native English speakers. I imagine the office in Hong Kong must have a very different composition of employees with a large number of them being Cantonese speakers. The company specialises in energy infrastructure investments in the Asia-Pacific region so it is also not unexpected that they encourage employees to learn the language of their business partners.