Business English in international business is a complex area, and throws up a number of questions, depending on what business you are in, where you do business and with whom. In this, the first article in a series on learning business English and improving communications skills, I will set out these questions and their relevance to learners of English as a second or foreign language (ESL/EFL). The following articles will attempt to answer the questions, especially insofar as they relate to doing business in English around the world.
I have included a few glossary links to aid (speed of) understanding for non-native readers – I may well add more links, so feedback much appreciated! Just mouse over the highlighted words to see their definition (and pronunciation). [Update: sorry, this functionality is not working at the moment while I update the website.]
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When studying Business English it is usually necessary to have knowledge of international business, both the dominant “Anglo-Saxon” model and the various different national models. My experience both in international business and teaching business English, as well as an author on Corporate Governance, gives me a rare perspective on the subject. This is the first in a series of articles exploring the two inexorably linked themes and how to maximise communication effectiveness when learning and using English in international business.
First I will start by asking a couple of fundamental questions about how and why you need to use English to better direct your thinking:
- Where (in which countries) do you do business or need to communicate in English?
- Do you communicate mainly with native English speakers or non-natives?
These two questions are key in defining your language requirements for business English, which can broadly be broken down into the following groups:
- Sector/Specialism (vocabulary, especially technical terms)
- Register (style/level of formality)
- Skills (use of English, eg emails, presentations, etc)
The questions above fundamentally influence these requirements – it is clearly not the same communicating in English with a native as with a non-native, whether for business or pleasure. Dialogue between non-natives inevitably focuses on understanding rather than accuracy and range in either grammar or semantics – after all, the purpose of language is not language itself, but communication.
This is sometimes a hard concept to accept for natives, especially linguists,who have a love of language and therefore try continuously to improve accuracy and range. This is even more true of philologists, whose raison d’être is often not communication at all but indeed the language itself. Of course improving accuracy and range should be a goal of all language learners and especially learners of business English if you have to deal with native speakers. But the end goal has to remain communication, particularly in international business.
In the remaining articles I will ask, and offer answers to, questions related to communicating in business English, the main differences between the various corporate models and how international business is evolving. Last, but certainly not least, such a series would not be complete without talking about international networking, the internet, social media and marketing and other phenomena of 21st Century cross-cultural communication. This first article on English in international business is just a taster, and I will be adding new articles regularly, so check back soon or subscribe to the RSS feed! Among the questions I shall be addressing, here is a selection:
- How can I improve communications skills in English?
- How does business English vary between natives and non-natives?
- What are the main differences between the Anglo-Saxon model and international models?
- What is the protocol for writing emails in international business English?
- How should a presentation be made in international business English?
- How has technology changed communication in international business in the 21st Century?