SMEs in historically bilingual regions facing multilingual communication: best practice approaches or unexpected challenges?
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Existing research in multilingual business communication and knowledge management has mainly focused on large international companies or on SMEs facing globalisation. Our research focuses instead on SMEs in historically multilingual regions currently expanding internationally, as we aim to assess whether the long-term habit of communicating in more than one language within the local market gives these SMEs a competitive advantage. The paper is based on a mixed-method study carried out in 2012-2013 in the Italian-German bilingual region of South Tyrol (Alto Adige/Südtirol). The dataset consists of three preliminary interviews with key informants, 23 qualitative interviews with local CEOs and 443 responses to an online questionnaire. We combined quantitative and qualitative research methods to study how South Tyrolean businesses cope with the challenges of multilingualism. In particular, the focus was on issues concerning multilingual communication, documentation, translation and terminology. The results illustrated in this paper paint a general picture of multilingual habits in South Tyrolean companies and identify common weaknesses. They clearly show that local businesses are not yet fully exploiting multilingualism as a competitive advantage.