More than 1.75 billion people speak English at some level – the equivalent of nearly one-quarter of the world population. The levels of English proficiency, however, vary greatly. And for many people who speak English even to a high degree, mastering business English can be a challenge.
English is undoubtedly the preferred language of the business world. In fact, one survey shows that 95% of employers in countries where English is not an official language believe that English language skills are essential for workers.
But learning business English often requires understanding more formal contexts, possessing technical language, and being confident in presenting complex themes. In many ways, becoming fluent in business English is one of the highest milestones in language learning.
Fortunately, there are a number of insights and tools to support professionals with their English.
Below, we explain why communication is so nuanced in business English, common misunderstandings in English in the work setting, and how to minimize errors and elevate your English, whatever the scenario.
Communication and the psychology of confidence
There’s a strong link between confidence and effective communication. The more confident professionals are in English, the better they can convey ideas and read and mirror how other people engage with them.
Confidence, therefore, hugely matters in business environments where they want to make a good impression with clients, collaborate with colleagues, and showcase their expertise in the role.
Still, they can’t passively build confidence in another language – it’s something that grows with a routine and positive affirmation. They may have high test scores in English, but if they can’t apply the knowledge in context, they’ll struggle to establish confidence.
Confidence relates to how much they trust their ability to speak, read, write, and listen in English, and it stems from regular practice and immediate feedback.
Feedback, in particular, is important to shape confidence, as it highlights where they’re succeeding (and should continue) and where they need to make changes to be better understood. Not to mention, feedback given in real-time, and in a constructive manner, encourages them to make autonomous connections between grammar rules and patterns in pronunciation.
Common business miscommunications in English
English, like any language, has some tricky moments, and if professionals aren’t native speakers, they may find themselves lost in the communication or unintentionally being rude. These instances tend to be funny stories down the line, but they can affect the impression individuals make with people.
One common miscommunication is accidentally saying something as a statement when you mean it as a question. For example, “we need to speak to the supplier” sounds like an instruction, versus “we need to speak to the supplier?” which prompts an opinion from other people. Native English speakers drop their intonation at the end of a sentence to indicate that they’re asking a question, and not doing so results in people waiting for professionals to finish what they’re saying, instead of replying with an answer.
Too or very?
Another mishap occurs when people mistake “too” for “very.” As a result, they end up saying “this project is difficult, too difficult,” which suggests that the project cannot be completed. In reality though, you might mean “this project is difficult, very difficult,” which doesn’t have the same negative connotations.
Then there’s the classic double negative. In English, two negative concords in a sentence cancel one another and make a positive portrayal. For instance, “we didn’t do nothing” means that the group of people did actually do something. Non-native speakers subsequently have to be careful not to use multiple negatives in order to make it clear what the sentiment is.
Elsewhere, personal pronouns are difficult for people, regardless of how long they’ve been speaking English as a second language. He/his and she/hers aren’t always specified in other languages, so people may default to using the male pronoun (as is the case in other languages) when referring to a woman. In business, these mistakes can make it hard for others to know who you’re talking to or about, and may be interpreted as offensive.
ELSA and better business communication
ELSA helps accelerate English business communication for professionals. Speech Analyzer puts English in the context of work and gives professionals a space to practice without fear of judgment, but still with in-depth, personalized feedback. And, because Speech Analyzer was developed using voice data from English speakers with a variety of accents, it can detect speech patterns among non-native professionals and give more transformative measures to improve how professionals communicate.
With Speech Analyzer, professionals choose from a range of conversation topics and submit recordings of them answering prompts. They then get reports around their performance focusing on:
They can also grow their vocabulary with advanced synonym recommendations, which can develop their control of corporate English. Meanwhile, suggestions around pacing, pausing, and hesitations establish a stronger flow in their business English.
The tool additionally reduces miscommunications in English by showing professionals their most common errors. For example, if they repeatedly mispronounce a word or letter combination. The platform then provides tutorials that break down how to make those sounds and prevent any misunderstandings.
Pronunciation feedback with Speech Analyzer
Similarly, professionals can review a graph of their pace score and pitch variation when they speak English. With this information, they’re encouraged to make certain words more prominent, and lessen the emphasis they place on other words. Likewise, they are empowered to organize their thoughts and ideas to be received and processed by listeners. The result is that they sound more fluent, natural, and get their point across in English more easily.
Professionals can equally flex their language muscles by describing a series of images in English, in their own words. By converting images into a narrative in English, they’re better prepared to communicate non-text materials at work. They will also feel more confident verbalizing their concepts and ideas off the cuff.
Being a great communicator in business English is closer than most professionals may think. Resources like the ELSA Speak app or Speech Analyzer tool – combined with daily practice and being perceptive of how people interact – can fuel individuals’ English communication training and ensure that they reach their milestone sooner than expected.
Enjoyed this article? Check out Tech Layoffs in 2022: Six Skills To Future-Proof Your Career for more business English advice.