International Business English: How to Impress
Updated: Jan 18
By Suraya Roos
What is International Business English?
The English language that international business people speak these days, is a mixture of several types of English, all with regional influences. It is important to remember that languages always change. Since the beginning of time, people have found ways to communicate with each other. When two communities begin to trade with each other, they communicate by adopting elements of each other's languages. This is, in fact, how the original British English language was formed. The different communities in the British Isles (what is now the United Kingdom, or the UK) mixed and mingled, and their separate languages merged into the English language. And this is also how International Business English is forming. Everyone who uses English to do international business is shaping the language, as we speak.
Different Types of English
The United States of America (USA) had a similar experience much like the U.K. After the discovery of the New World, many different immigrants came together, and put their stamp on the English language. And this also happened in other places where English became a common language, such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and so on. We still call these types of English ‘Standard’ English. But now there are so many different types of Standard English, that there is no longer just one type that is the one and only ‘correct’ English. For this blog, we use International Business English, which means that we might either use UK or USA spelling and grammar rules, and they are just as correct.
There are also many non-standard forms of English, that fall into categories like a pidgin, (a simplified form), or a creole (when a pidgin becomes a native language). Good examples are the different forms of English that are used in Nigeria, the Philippines, Singapore, the Caribbean countries and Guyana.
How Did English Become a Global Language?
The British colonial empire took the English language all over the world. English is now a global language because of the rise of the USA as the leading economic power of the twentieth century. English speaking countries were the leaders of the industrial and the digital revolutions, and it was English speakers who created computer operating systems, and of course, the Internet. In the twenty-first century, modern communication and transportation technology has made people more mobile, both physically and electronically. Therefore, every nation can trade and communicate with other nations. The need for a lingua franca, a common language, has made English the language of the world.
Is Native English Better than Non-Native English?
As I said, there is no one ‘correct’ form of English. International Business English serves a clear purpose in communication and trade, and if that succeeds, the language has served its purpose, so how could it be wrong? Remember that the number of native English speakers is much smaller than the number of non-native English speakers.
In this picture by Indian linguist Braj Kachru, the inner circle represents the roughly 320-380 million native Standard English speakers in the world. The middle circle represents the 300-500 million speakers of English in a non-standard form. The outer circle that represents non-native English speakers, is up to one billion people, and expanding!
Five Tips for Using International Business English
So, if you need to use International Business English, chances are that you are speaking with another non-native English speaker, who is just as worried as you about their level of proficiency. Here are five tips to make a great impression.
1. Know Your Business
Make sure you know all the ins and outs of your trade. Prepare some vocabulary and phrases that are common in your industry. That way, you will make a smart impression, even if your language isn’t flawless. So the first step is, know your stuff!
2. Set Expectations
You could start off by mentioning that English is not your first language. Your business partner will lower their expectations and will not be disappointed if they hear an accent or some grammar mistakes. They might even adjust their own level and speed of speaking.
3. Use Technology
There are many technological tools available to help you with most of your written communication, such as auto prediction for your emails. You could also subscribe to Grammarly, an online writing assistant, to help you write better.
4. Ask Questions
When speaking, it is a good business practice to sum up, and check for understanding every now and then. Use this practice to clarify anything that you don’t understand, by saying things like: “so, you are saying that…” and “do I understand correctly that…?” There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking for confirmation or asking someone to explain something. It just shows that you are an active listener and that you want to avoid misunderstandings.
5. Be Confident! How? Keep This in Mind
Think about your goal, and about your business partner’s goal. Are they looking for a business or are they looking for a language professor? Exactly. It’s all about the business, not about the grammar. Even if you make mistakes, don’t draw attention to it, bring the attention back to the business, and your business partner will soon have forgotten. Don’t worry about your accent as long as communication succeeds. There are plenty of non-native English speakers with charming accents who made it into the Forbes’ lists.
One Last Thing You Need to Know
A lot of native English speakers are also quite insecure about their grammar and spelling. Actually, they are probably more embarrassed to make mistakes than you, because they have no excuse. Not many English speakers are able to speak a second language, and they undoubtedly admire you for speaking another language.
Suraya Roos is an intern at M74, and a recent graduate from the Open University of Malaysia, where she received a BA in English Studies. She is also an English teacher. Her passions are languages, cultures and communication.
The views expressed above are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the M74 Group, which remains neutral on all matters. Publishers assume no liability for content.