The Impact of Language Barrier & Cultural Differences on Restaurant Experiences: A Grounded Theory Approach Ellen Eun Kyoo Kim The School of Hospitality Management The Pennsylvania State University and Anna S. Mattila The School of Hospitality Management The Pennsylvania State University ABSTRACT The issue of language barriers is particularly critical during intercultural service encounters for ESL (English as a Second Language) customers. Customers may struggle to communicate what they want or even get necessary information regarding products or services. Through a qualitative study, based on a grounded theory approach, this study identifies issues that concern ESL customers in intercultural service encounters. The findings suggest that the language barrier generates negative emotional and cognitive responses, and prevents ESL customers from taking certain actions such as seeking necessary information or complaining about service failures. KEY WORDS: grounded theory, language barrier, intercultural service encounter, ESL customers INTRODUCTION “The limits of our language” means the limits of our world. -Wittgenstein, 1922, p. 149Increased globalization is forcing a growing number of business managers and employees to interact across linguistic boundaries (Lauring, 2008). Since language affects almost all aspects of everyday life, there needs more of a focus on communication barriers by researchers and practitioners engaged in international business and management (Henderson, 2005). The issue of language barriers is particularly critical during intercultural service encounters. Intercultural service encounters, where the customer and the service provider are from different cultures, is very common in the service sector, especially in the U.S. (Czinkota & Ronkainen, 2002). Such intercultural service encounters may be influenced not only by cultural differences but also by language barriers. The fact that most service providers in the U.S. only speak English may greatly affect international customers. Customers may find it difficult to communicate or even get necessary information regarding products or services. Despite its importance, the effects of language barriers on ESL (English as a Second Language) customers’ service experiences have been largely neglected in academic research. Language is not only a medium of communication, but also linked to an individual’s identity
(Lauring, 2008) therefore these barriers may influence various aspects of the service experience. Applying this notion to the U.S. restaurant context, this study aims to investigate the impact of language barrier on ESL customers’ dining experiences in the U.S. Through qualitative and exploratory methods, this study will identify issues that concern ESL customers in intercultural service encounters and the results of this study will help restaurant firms to create a better service experience for ESL customers. LITERATURE REVIEW Language is the key to a person’s self-identity. It enables the person to express emotions, share feelings, tell stories, and convey complex messages and knowledge. Language is our greatest mediator that allows us to relate and understand each other (Imberti, 2007). It can be defined as a system of conceptual symbols that allows us to communicate. It also provides us with a significant frame of reference and a relational context that sustains our identities (Imberti, 2007). The social identity theory (Tajfel, 1974; Tajfel & Turner, 1979) focuses on the understanding of psychological processes driving intergroup discrimination. The categorization of in-groups versus out-groups can be generated when customers recognize certain cues, such as language, that delineate cultural differences (Brickson, 2000; Nkomo and Cox, 1996). Not being able to identify with other cultural groups may lead to negative attitudes towards such groups (Bartel, 2001). A sense of ignorance due to such differences can prevent ESL customers from interacting...
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