English as a Global Language From Siemens Perspective.


The main aim of writing this research paper was with a view to identifying the use of English as a corporate language at Siemens. In as much as Siemens is touted as a German company, it cannot be denied that with globalization, comes a need to use a universal language that is at best, also a lingua Franca. Still, it can not also be denied that Siemens, as a company with a global reach, is still ‘too German’. From this perspective, would it be in order to say that the company is more inclined towards its German roots, by virtue of its corporate leadership structure, and the nationality of the individuals at the helm? For a company with a global touch like Siemens, it becomes necessary to have a global culture. What better ways to address this issue, than to have a corporate language that would help all stakeholders in the organization identify with?

According to the CEO of Siemens AG Peter Loescher, the international conglomerate is far from living up to its potential, as a result of what he sees as lack of enough diversity. In line with this, the CEO has also revealed that the top 600 managerial posts are dominated by white males of German origin (Feely& Herzing 2003). Perhaps this is also a pointer as to why the company is now more inclined to the use of a global and unifying language, one that will also accord the international conglomerate the diversity that it so much yearns for. In terms of leadership qualities, these are not lacking in the management teams at Siemens, based on the criteria that has been set to determine excellent leadership.

As with language, the aspect of leadership is also tied to the corporate culture, but in more ways than one, the desired results calls for a universal bearing, such as the need for satisfied customers, superior products and processes, financial results that are outstanding and a motivated workforce (Fredriksson et al 2006). In light of this, the leaders at Siemens are measured and evaluated based on these four areas.

Based on the global touch of Siemens, and given the fact that their customers are diverse, there is every need to make use of an international language, one that will comfortably serve them, and in the process ease the mode of communication, while also curtailing the antagonism characterized by the presence of language differences.

At the rate at which competitiveness is increasingly being felt in the corporate world, it is only natural that such a company as Siemens should embrace a global language such as English, in order to have a competitive advantage over its competitors. This way, the company would boost its sales on a global scale, as well as benefit from the influence of their foreign partners in the English speaking nations. Indeed, such a move would help the English language ‘glue together’ the various stakeholders at Siemens, and who despite their diverse cultural and sociological orientation, nevertheless will feel united at Siemens, thanks to the embracing of English as a global language.


The main aim of undertaking this research study was with a view to exploring the use of the English language from a corporate perspective, at Siemens, through the use of the Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA). There was also an attempt at identifying the views of the management at Siemens, in their bid to embrace the use of American English as the mode of corporate communication, while also assessing whether or not this has the bearing of a domination of the American organizations, relative to the German ones. It is also the aim of the study to shed light on the relationship as well as the importance of using a global language as English, for purposes of improving communication on the corporate platform.


  • To evaluate the use of English as a global language at Siemens AG
  • To assess the link between the use of American English at Siemens, and the claims about the economic dominance of American firms over the German ones.
  • To determine whether or not Siemens is too much of a German company, despite its global outlook.
  • To assess the development that led to the use of English as a global language, from a corporate perspective at Siemens

Scope of study

This study is concerned with the use of the English language at Siemens, from the point of view of a corporate culture. In light of this, the study will attempt to explore the opinions held by the management at Siemens as regards the use of English as a global language. At the same time, the historical perspective of English as a global language shall also be assessed, as is the issue of globalization, from the point of view of English as a lingua franca.

The study shall also attempt to illustrate how English is crucial for communication purposes, and especially for affording a company to gain leverage over its competitors, and more so at this point in time, when competitive advantage is the in-thing in business. Finally, the language culture at Siemens shall be evaluated, with a view to exploring the milestone that Siemens has attained, in a quest to using English, as an official corporate language.

Literature review

English as a global language

The issue of globalization has especially been fuelled by intense competition being witnessed in many companies the world over. Consequently, many companies have been forced to enter into partnerships abroad, or even open up their own establishments (Fairclough 1989). Evidently, the issue of communication becomes crucial, if at all they are to tap into the right market, and attain successful operations. This is how English has emerged as a lingua franca, in the global front. As such, many companies, including Siemens have also adopted it as their language of choice, in a bid to ensure a competitive edge in the international market (Clark 1999).

In his book, ‘English as a global language’, David Crystal first poses a question, as to what can be viewed at as a global language, as well as the benefits and limitations of having a language that is global. With the help of three chapters, Crystal is able to trace how English as a language has risen over the years to attain global status. In the first chapter, a history of the spread of English, as well as the origin is given. In the second chapter, Crystal examines how some ideas in the nineteenth century, at the height of the British Empire’s rein, and the industrial revolution, laid a foundation for the success of the English language. The aspects of cultural legacies that underpins the current dominance enjoyed by the English language, is depicted (Crystal 2003).

There are also illustrations of its increased use in such areas as international communication and diplomacy. Another chapter is also dedicated to the future of English as a global language. Here, there is a focus laid regarding its status in the United States. Crystal also offers the possibility of the language being fragmented into regional dialects, in what he calls the coexistence of the world’s standard and spoken English (Kaplan 1966).

In his book ‘language and power’, Norman Fairclough (1989) illustrates how the use of language can work out not only to maintain, but also to change power in any one given contemporary society. He also illustrates how a keen understanding of such processes could aid a people in the resisting and changing of them. Ever since this publication, there has resulted some substantial changes in as far as social life is concerned, thereby changing the equation of unequal power distribution.

In the process, the very agenda for a critical study of a language has also changed. In the later chapter of his second edition, Norman Fairclough is able to clearly bring up to date the issue of globalization with respect to power, and how the development of the internet has had a remarkable relationship with both language and power. Indeed, the book serves as a perfect introduction to discourse analysis, as is practiced today, in a variety of disciplines that includes sociology, linguistics, as well as cultural studies (Ballard & Clanchy 1991).

This author is able to clearly illustrate how by paying attention to the concerns of discourse analysis, this has the potential to help solve problems that comes about as a result of social change. As the world of today turns more into the areas of information, services and the tertiary sector, communication does play a major role in as far as the undertaking of any economic activities is concerned. Language plays a central role in the undertaking of any economic activities, both in terms of production, as well as in the marketing of a product (Fairclough 1989).

However, the use of language in any economically-oriented sector has not been without its shortcomings. As such, there is a debate as to whether or not to treat language as a technical skill. The line of study adopted by Fairclough is what can be referred to as textually oriented discourse analysis. This has been an attempt at distinguishing his line of study from some other forms of enquiries that are philosophical in nature, and which do not in any way involve the application of linguistic methodology. Rather, his approach is more concerned with the mutual effects that are usually witnessed by linguistic textural properties, and formal sociological practices (Bourdieu 1998).

In the minds of many people worldwide, English has emerged as a global language, and is seen also as a guarantee to a better life, owing to enhanced economic and social opportunities. The issue of the English language being a global affair has not always been so (Crystal 2003). In 1950, anyone who would have harbored such a notion was viewed at as one who entertains shadowy, dim and theoretical possibilities. This was especially so, given that there lacked a clear sense and definition of direction. In addition, this was at the height of the cold war, and it would thus have been expected that the inclinations of different nations to either of the two spheres of influences, would have greatly hampered the spread of English as a global language (Fairclough 1995).

In his book, ‘the future of English’, David Graddol (1998), telescopes into the future of the English language. Beginning with the current situation, the author examines the contemporary trends that are will more that n likely have a role, in as far as the growth of this language is concerned. Graddol argues that English is unstoppable, and at the same time lays emphasis on the unpredictability nature of the language (Fairclough 1989).

Use of English in business

The use of English a lingua franca has over the years emerged thanks to the British Empire’s linguistic legacy, and also the indisputable excellence of the United States in a wide range of business areas, notably technological. Consequently, English has slowly emerged as the lingua franca in a lot of industrial and commercial situations. According to Ammon (1994), the issue of linguistics is a major prerequisite for the individuals who are interested in obtaining jobs from the European Union. As such, those offered jobs are often expected to speak English, and this then places a greater need for the knowledge of English to be expected in business (Crystal 2003).

Germany fall under the category of the nations that have embraced the use of English as a second language, and from this perspective, there is no view of English as a competing language to the use of the indigenous and vastly establish German dialect. However, not all nations supports such views, and when hey do, there is always a political angle to it. In fact, there is a link between the use of English as a global language, to politics and the economy, seeing the dominance with which the language has had on these two areas.

For a company such as Siemens, the embracing of English as a corporate culture is crucial based on the nature of the products that the company handles. At the same time, English eases communication. In this regard, it is worth mentioning here that close to 80 percent of all the information that is stored electronically, is done so in English (Crystal 2003).

In the European Union, English may not be the language wit the greatest number of native speakers, but its importance in the realm of corporate communication has been growing steadily, buoyed by the new hype for globalization. Crystal (1997) has characterized a global language as one that achieves a global status genuinely, as a result of it developing a special role, recognizable in each and every country. Crystal has also further mentioned the fields in which the English language has become dominant over the years. These include the media, business, and the teaching of foreign languages among others.

Without doubt, English has over the years managed to acquire the status of a world language, a lingua franca as well as an international language, in a variety of settings (Crystal, 1997; Seidlhofer, 2001, 2003; Brutt-Griffler, 2002; McKay, 2003; Llurda, 2004). There are a number of ways through which English can be viewed at as an international language. According to Widdowson (1998, pp. 399-400), English, as an international language, could as well be viewed at as a composite lingua franca; one that is free from any specific allegations with regard to any of the primary variety of the language.

The term English as an international language has also been interchangeably used with English as a world language, English an intercultural medium of communication, and English as a global language (Seidlhofer, 2003, p.9). To various extents, users of English have also been able to appropriate the language, in a bid to suit their own purposes (Canagarajah, 1999; Hashimoto, 2000; Phan Le Ha, 2004).

In spite of English being seen as a global language, its application in the different forms has been used to create an inferior other. In this regard, English celebrates globalization, while at the same time limiting integration. In addition, English acts as a strengthening power of certain dominant forms of the language (Seidlhofer 2001).

Social, cultural and political aspects of the use of English as a global language

Available evidence suggests that even within the English speaking world, a dichotomy exists, between both the superior self, as well as the inferior other. At the same time, the political aspect of English plays no significant role in this particular dichotomy (Phillipson, 1992; Pennycook, 1998). As such, the arising question is one of power, regarding whose English is standard, and whose norms are to be followed.

However, Widdowson (1998) has challenged this argument, by his clear statement that he would not wish to argue for English as “a kind of composite lingua franca which is free of any specific allegiance to any primary variety of the language” (pp. 399-400). His stand thus far is founded on his understanding of the politics of English, and the ensuing consequences to its users. As such, he opines that other people ought to view English as being politically free. Instead, people should view English as a language that is internationally used across the continents and which acts as a means to global communication.

Many authors have tended to differ with Widdowson on his views, by clearly pointing out that English and politics are intertwined and us such, some kind of politics is always underlying in the use of English as a global language (Auerbach, 1995; Pennycook, 1994, 1998; Pennycook & Coutand-Marin, 2004; Edge, 2003).

Critical Discourse Analysis of the corporate language at Siemens

Carrot – and stick – language policy at Siemens.

At Siemens, the company’s goal is to enable the success of its customers. For this reason, the company ensures that product innovations, trends, and development are targeted to the needs of the customer, in a bid to ensure faultless and compromised products. For a company that has a global operation like Siemens, the use of English in communication is becoming an important undertaking by the minute. In order to achieve this, special demand have been made to its staff, in that they must be able to understand English, as well as the use of news items, information sheets, and also write complex letters and e-mails all tin English (Modiano 2001).

In order to help in a speedy realization of this goal, the management has provided translation aids, such as dictionaries, vocabulary trainers, machine translations, as well as a collection of phrases, and an installation of English-based software. To this end, Siemens has successfully adopted the use of American English in its business operations (Kramsch 1998). As a prerequisite towards the assurance of succeeding in the global market, siemens has also committed itself to ensuring that it succeeds in its business undertaking, through the use of leadership excellence.

This is how then, that the Siemens leadership framework came into being. Through the framework, all the global leaders of this giant conglomerate are bound. In a nut shell, this framework is more of a description as to how the management at siemens handles and measures leadership performance. In addition, each of the employees is also evaluated based on their capabilities, and the results that they are able to deliver, on the basis of the Siemens leadership framework (Talbot et al 2003).

On the face of it, leadership excellence means different things to different cultures. The bottom line however, is that the ensuing results are always related. The manifestation of this is in terms of outstanding financial results, motivated employees, processes that are superior and satisfied customers. To this end, leadership performance at siemens is therefore measured in terms of four categories: customers, financial, processes and employees (Feely & Herzing 2003).

For the achievement of outstanding results, the managers at Siemens are required to possess such capabilities as energy, commanding an edge, ability to energize and execute, and the possession of passion. Such a culture has for a long time now been widely practiced at leading multinational from the united states, with remarkable results, it can thus be seen that Siemens has perfectly been ale to blend its traditional practices such as the provision of quality with reliability, with those borrowed from the American companies (Brutt-Griffler 2002).


Between Profit and Morals?

As statistics will bear, and experience will show, it is only a few companies that are able to grow old, while at the same time also enjoying success for say, more than twenty years. It is equally hard for most companies to switch from being people oriented, to a capital-oriented enterprise, or even successfully undergo a transition from the generation of the original founder, to that of the successors (Talbot et al 2003).

With over 150 years of existence, Siemens counts itself lucky, having prevailed and survived the preceding generations. It is worth noting here that the management at Siemens has always aspired to understand those factors that have this far led to its sustained success. To this end, the management has identified five success parameters: the will to innovate that is without restrictions, a genuine globalization policy that is firmly positioned on the concern of creating values worldwide while also utilising the benefits that results from the various locations

Thirdly, Siemens boasts of bona-fide financial resources whose basis rests on a conservative and transparent management of finances. Fourthly, Siemens believes and has declared its commitment to ensuring corporate social responsibility in all the areas served by its employees. Finally, ties all its corporate operations overriding values that are timeless, and these includes reliability, honesty, diligence, caring and a respect for one another.

The difference between the American principles adopted by Siemens, and those of Europe is that for the latter, the goal is on saving taxes (Brutt-Griffler 2003). On the other hand, the American accounting principles are geared more towards the realization of profits. The move has enabled Siemens to change its business approach, and as of now, the company is judging its business in terms of efficiency over the invested capital per unit (Feely& Herzing 2003). In other words, the business success yardstick at Siemens is now one of economic value added.

At the same time, Siemens has also picked up the American penchant for lobbying. As a pointer to this, its Washington-based office was up until recently primarily concerned with advising the home office on the developments that emanated from the economic and political blowing of wind. However, in June of 2001, the company acquired a lobbyist, Gregg Ward, from the Chicago mercantile exchange (Brutt-Griffler 2003). The culture that the new chief executive is trying to inculcate into the minds of Siemens workers is that of accountability, as well as a commitment to delivering what is promised.

Corporate PR under CDA: special vocabulary, grammar, textual structures

The Siemens English stylebook is amassed with a richness of English words, and the company has over the years strived to replace abstract terms with concrete ones. For instance, previously the Siemens Basic Value Fund’s mission was to seek for an appreciation of capital appreciation and income, through investments such as equities, and which the management saw as being undervalued, but nevertheless represents viable and basic investment values.

Later, the ‘Fund’ was changed to read that the firm was now committed to increasing its share values, and the provision of an income at the very least, by primarily investing in stocks that are undervalued. Clearly, this is a clear sign of a shift to a capitalistic economy, as charaterised by American companies. The deviation does not stop there, and now the company is also using American acronyms such as SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission). The way events unfold at Siemens is also seen from a German text perspective (in this case a German passive voice).

Even a typical paragraph written by a German tends to appear as very passive. Whenever readers are perusing a document, their yearning is for clarity and shortness of sentences, and this is delivered by an active voice that utilizes strong verbs, as evident from the American English.

German texts at Siemens

Annual and quarterly reports from siemens, as well as press release and speeches usually tend to use verbs only. Given that the choice of correct positive or negative nouns, verbs, and adjectives can be a delicate matter, it can also be rightly argued that enormous gradations do indeed exist in the use of such terms. For example, there is quite a remarkable difference in magnitude between say, ‘profits soared’ and, ‘profits edged up’.

The latter could as well be an increase of only about 2%, while ‘soaring’ could have an enormous implication, such as a substantial increase of say, 40%. The translation then, is a matter of feeling. Some of the good news nouns that are provided in the Siemens English stylebook include apex, advancement, gain, improvement, progress, surge, turnaround, upswing and yield (Fredriksson et al 2006).

On the other hand, such good news verbs as accelerate, augment, boost, compensate, make strides, hover, gather steam, peak, sustain and widen, have also been illustrated. Backlash, crunch, cutback, downward spiral and setback are regarded as bad news nouns, such verbs as abate, balk and backtrack being seen as bad news (Fredriksson et al 2006). For example, it could be reported that Siemens’ share price shed 10%, during a market sell-off. In still another developments, Siemens has dropped the term ‘subsidiary’ in reference to those firms that the company has a stake in, with affiliated companies (more than 50% stake), associated (20-50% stake), and related companies (less than 20% stake).

In addition, the term strategic equity investment is also taken to mean a company that siemens enjoys a substantive joint venture with, and in which it has a stake of more than 50%. Examples of these joint ventures are Fujitsu Siemens Computers and Nokia Siemens Networks. At siemens, the terms annual press conference always tends to be capitalized, as an indication of the big end of year press conference, usually held in November. In addition, the semiannual press conference, held every six months is also capitalized (Phillipson 1992).

In keeping with tradition, the Annual Shareholders Meetings also tends to be capitalized, as it serves as a major company event. The Americans, on their part, tend to stick with the term General Meeting. To this end, Siemens has resolved to maintain their traditional; standards, subject to an official change. However, other terms and acronyms have not been so lucky. As of January 1, 2008, corporate human resources (initially referred to as corporate personnel) were reverted to Human resources. At the same time, ZT became CT (Corporate Technology) as from January 2001. In as far as the use of apostrophes is concerned; a common German error is its use in the indication of simple plural forms, such as PC’s network’s, the correct usage being PC’s network (Fredriksson et al 2006).

An iron rule at Siemens is the avoidance of double “s”, as in Siemens’s. In this case, the correct usage of an apostrophe would be Siemens’. For a long time, Siemens’ business areas (these were previously referred to as business segments) were automation and control, transportation, power, information and communications, lighting, and medical. In addition, these business areas were identified by a number of groups, such as automation and control, and consisted of a single group, as in medical solutions (Fredriksson et al 2006). However, Siemens Hausgerate and BSH Bosch were not in a specific group, and neither were Nokia Siemens Networks, and Fujitsu Siemens Computers BV. These were however later to be categorised in the 2008 annual report as strategic equity investments.

According to Siemens’ boiler plate, the company (Siemens AG), is based in Berlin and Munich, and has also been reported as a global powerhouse in the electrical engineering and electronics, healthcare sector and in the operating industry.

With approximately 400,000 employees, Siemens AG is involved in the development and manufacturing of products, the tailoring of a wide range of customer solutions, and in the design and installation of complex projects and systems. the boiler plate also provides that Siemens has been in operation for over 160 years, during which time Siemens has been distinguished for its innovation, reliability, provision of quality, technical achievement and a global outlook.

Some of the general texts, with regard to official titles that have since been changed, include the use of such title as ‘head of’, in place of say, the vice president of a group such as drives and automations. This way, the new titles sound simple and are less confusing. It is also creates the impression that the ‘head of’ learns a given company, division, or a group. In such countries as the United States, a brand su7ch as Osram Sylvania is usually written in caps. Back home in Germany though, caps are dropped (Fredriksson et al 2006).


Without doubt, nothing less than sheer determination and commitment, would result in a global corporation such as siemens to be as competitive and relevant for over 160 years. This has mainly been due to the company’s total commitment to its five prime parameters; the will to innovate, a policy to globalize its activities, sounds financial resources, and an embracing of such timeless values as reliability, diligence, caring and respect for one another (Seidlhofer 2001).

With globalization, comes the need to have a unifying factor that is able to help companies deal with individual customer needs, based on their diversified background. In line with this Siemens, have realized that it is important to embrace the use of English as a global language. First, this will greatly enhance in communication and marketability of its range of products, given that the language is spoken as a first language in many countries in which Siemens has a foot hold.

Secondly, English is a lingua franca, and acts also as a second language to many other countries. In light of this, Siemens has over the years been changing some of its German acronyms and words from their stylebook, with the American English. There are critics who have seen this as an economic dominance of German companies by the American ones, and so regard this as a move to remain competitive. However, Siemens has created its niche in the world market, based on its traditions that values quality, reliability and innovations. The company then can only grow in strengths, following the embracing of English as a corporate language. This will lead to its growth, and the command of a competitive advantage, in a cutthroat business environment.

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