Like it or not, English is the common global language adopted by most international companies. The trouble is that language levels in English vary around the world – even within one organisation. Native speakers often assume that ‘if somebody is working in my company, they have to have really high levels of English.’ This is often a dangerous assumption. Just because people don’t tell you they haven’t understood, doesn’t mean they have understood! People often don’t tell you – it’s a face thing.
So when communicating in English in a global environment, everybody needs to think very carefully about the way they use English.
Be aware of the following at all times:
Control Your Speed
- Keep at the forefront of your mind: slow down, slow down, slow down.
- Speak at the same pace regardless of who you are talking to.
- Don’t speak more slowly to non-native speakers only to speed up when conversing with other native speakers.
- Native speakers use all kinds of vocabulary that non-native speakers simply do not know.
- When working internationally it is a good thing to use the same vocabulary over and over again. It is the message which is important, not the style of the messenger.
- These figures of speech such as ‘cheesed off’ (unhappy), ‘sticky wicket’ (difficult situation) are usually very difficult for non-native speakers because they are often illogical.
- Colloquialisms (sayings) are very confusing when used in an international situation. There is always another way to say the same thing – choose the other way.
- Colloquialisms (‘sayings’) are a good thing to talk about in social situations as people love to learn them. In serious meetings, however, they can cause great confusion.
- Humour is usually at the edge of linguistic difficulty.
- Humour is very often culturally specific. What one country finds funny, people from another culture may find irrelevant or even slightly surreal.
- Very few abbreviations are universally understood and it is best to be very careful about their usage.
- Abbreviations are usually short forms of common phases such as a.s.a.p. (as soon as possible) or abbreviations of Latin phrases such as n.b. (nota bona).
- TLAs (three letter acronyms) – which are often used to describe products or parts of your organization – should be used very carefully. Does everybody understand them?
- When people do not respond quickly to questions, non-native speakers usually answer the question themselves or simply move on and ignore the silence.
- Often, non-native speakers do not respond immediately because they need a little more time to form an answer than they would if they were speaking their own language.
- Give non-native speakers a little more time and space in which to operate.
- Never be afraid to say you don’t understand
- Never worry that people will think badly of you if you ask them to repeat things
- Ask people to slow down if they are speaking too quickly
- Ask people to follow-up in writing if you are worried you might have missed or misunderstood something
You can probably think of other useful hints and tips but these are a good starting point.
At Global Business Culture we run training programmes on global communication all over the world – if you’re interested to find out more please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org