Do we really NEED Business English

Business EnglishWhat really matters

In addition to my work as editor-in-chief, I give English seminars. A few years ago one of my students entered the room and I greeted her with “Hi Maria, how are you?” What followed was a classic example of how not to do it. Your answer was “Not very well. I spent the whole night on the toilet. ”I would have a banal“ Fine, thanks. And you?" expected, from me also in the typical German order “Thanks. Fine. And you? “- but not that! This story symbolizes that intercultural differences make the music: German directness is simply too much for us British.

In addition, the dialogue disproves three English myths:

  1. Grammatical correctness is no guarantee of adequate communication.
  2. A German accent doesn't necessarily make communication difficult: Maria, for example, pronounced the infamous “th” as “z”, but I still understood her without any problems.
  3. Correct vocabulary is not enough: cultural differences can have a stronger impact on communication than the words used themselves.

Over 1,000 readers were available to answer questions

Over the past seven years, our Business Spotlight magazine has shed light on many linguistic and cultural aspects of English. We also conducted surveys among our readers to find out how English is actually used in the workplace and where problems arise.

Over 1,000 readers from a wide variety of industries, departments and positions took part in our current study. On the one hand, the high number of cases is remarkable, which gives the study a high level of informative value and representativeness. On the other hand, not HR managers were interviewed, but directly those who have to constantly use English at work - so the results give insights into practice without embellishments.

What activities do you need English for at work?

English is required particularly often when reading (72 percent) and writing (67 percent) e-mails. The claim that faxes or phone calls would be shelved does not support our survey, on the contrary: reading and writing faxes are still conspicuously represented with 39 percent and 37 percent respectively, and in the age of mobile phones and Skype telephoning ranks 55 percent third place for activities done in English. Telephone conferences have increased sharply over the past few years: almost every third respondent takes part in them regularly.

Problems are there to be solved

We come to the delicate question in which job situations the English language becomes a hurdle. The front runner here is telephoning. Of course, facial expressions and gestures are missing here. It is even worse if the connection abroad is bad: Then you don't just have to concentrate on the correct use of the foreign language, but also mustn't be disturbed by crackling or hissing on the line. Small talk follows in second place. In my experience, however, it is a prejudice that Germans in particular have difficulties with this. It is important, however, that small talk is not only introduced on the international stage in front of the business, but also during it! Demanding tasks such as negotiations and presentations cause further difficulties, while travel bookings are not a problem - in the Internet age, personal communication click by click is no longer necessary.

Internal versus external communication

Another false assumption is that English business communication is primarily needed within the company. Although this is the case for almost half of those surveyed, external communication with customers or business partners plays a far greater role at 60 percent.

The crux with the Americans and the British

Perhaps you know the (scientifically not proven, but often quoted) thesis that around 80 percent of communication takes place between two non-native speakers, e.g. between a German and his Italian trading partner. Our studies do not support this statement: Communication with other non-native speakers is becoming increasingly important, which may in part also be due to the rise of China and the Eastern European countries as trading partners. Even so, 57 percent of our readers speak equally to non-native speakers and native speakers in English. Hardly surprising, given that the USA and Great Britain are Germany's most important export partners after France. In practice, this means that you should at least passively understand colloquial English and expressions. A well-founded repertoire of sentences with which one can ask business partners to repeat or specify what has been said is also indispensable.

When a Ukrainian negotiates with the Chinese in English

A Ukrainian management consultant once said to me: “I take conference calls with Americans very lightly. But when I talk to Chinese on the phone, for example, they don't understand me and it takes us forever to get to the point. ”So in a further investigation, we asked Business Spotlight readers to identify the problems with other non-native speakers in more detail. The greatest difficulties are unclear pronunciation (61 percent), a heavy accent (58 percent) and grammatical errors (53 percent). What does that tell us? Pay attention to these points when you speak to your colleagues and partners who were also not born with English!