English as the Global Communication Language
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