Most business in the world is conducted in English, but most people don’t speak as of their native language. Consequently one of the biggest advantages to your career is being confident and capable of interacting with foreigners in English.
The following list is a summary of the English mistakes we’ve witnessed over the last decade of teaching English at Live-English.net. These mistakes are typical of situations in which non-native speakers interact with native speakers, but also, in an equally likely scenario, in Europe particularly, when non-native English speakers are doing business in English.
English Mistake # 1 | English Grammar obsession
“I can’t speak perfectly”. “I make too many mistakes, therefore I’m not going to speak at all”. To be sure there is a tipping point where if you’re not up to a certain decent level of English proficiency you’re probably right, shut up! From our experience, though, there are way more people who have the required level to have productive, meaningful discussions in English but unnecessarily avoid them and therefore doom themselves to a self-fulfilling spiral of not speaking. They’re not confident enough to speak, so they do not improve because they’re not speaking enough. For sure it takes some determination to break this cycle but being aware of the obstacle is a good first step.
English Mistake # 2 | Lack of cultural knowledge
Language affects culture and culture affects language. Know who you’re talking to and understand as much about their culture as possible. It will help you make the personal connection you’re looking for and whitewash some of the technical language issues that might be causing you problems – real or imagined.
Be prepared to do homework and preparation, understanding the cultural circumstances of the place the person you are dealing with is from. American, British and other native-English speakers from the Commonwealth share the same language (more or less) but they have a very different culture. At the very least this might fill your head with thoughts other than obsessing over the technical side of speaking.
English Mistake # 3 | Worrying too much about imperfect English
So, I know if someone tells you not to be nervous it’s not very helpful. The truth is there are obviously more things to be nervous about if you infrequently have to do business in a non-native tongue. Apart from the language difficulty, you’ll probably have some cultural issues you’re not used to thinking about, all of which can unexpectedly derail your interaction, or at least make it seem way bumpier than your usual business dealings.
But hey, what can you do? Apart from preparing more thoroughly than normal, mentally rehearsing for as many likely questions as you can; you just have to accept that the chance of random, slightly awkward situations are more likely and roll with it! Truth is, the native speaker, despite having the advantage of speaking in their native tongue will also be a little nervous and anxious to make you feel comfortable – the English speakers are as a whole a pretty considerate and polite bunch, so be brave a take advantage of the situation.
English Mistake # 4 | Fearing your spoken English is not as good ad your writing
Most people needing to work in English feel much more confident relying on written communication. With email and text/WhatsApp style interactions the ability to control and check what is being communicated allows for a lot of work to be done in an accurate, efficient and documented way. That’s all fine and dandy but it doesn’t make you stand out; it doesn’t help you develop a special, personal relationship; to do that you have to pick up the phone or have a face to face meeting.
Find a good excuse to phone or even meet the business partner you’d like to have a better relationship with as even brief interactions can have lasting effects. This is where you being a non-native English speaker can be to your advantage. You have a certain exotic out of the ordinary appeal that even if the conversation is not as smooth as you may like the goal has been achieved – a face and/or voice has been put to the name. That’s a personal connection that could be really worth something.
English Mistake # 5 | Not preparing for the interaction in English
Know your subject. In your own language and culture, you probably have a 1001 different verbal and non-verbal ways to shift focus away from areas of discussion you feel less sure about or from answers you don’t know. You may even pat yourself on the back at how cleverly you can navigate around topics or negotiation and technical points.
In a foreign language/culture, it’s not always as clear how you perform these circus tricks. Truth be told if you invested more time understanding how processes in your company work and prepared more thoroughly for each meeting you have with clients you could give more accurate answers to most questions asked and your local business operations would improve.
One of the best ways to avoid all these mistakes is to have a professional native-English teacher who has your back before and after your meetings, presentations and negotiations.
At Live-English.net we have developed several learning tracks to help busy professionals who understand the importance of improving their English – Business English courses.
The solution our students appreciate most is the PREMIUM formula that allows them to work on specific work-related materials, presentations, documents and speeches and arrive prepared and confident to every meeting or interaction in English.