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.

Vocabulary

  • 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.

Sayings

  • 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

  • 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.

Abbreviations

  • 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?

Silence

  • 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.

Non-native speakers

  • 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 keith@globalbusinessculture.com

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