English as a Lingua Franca – what does this mean for me when learning Business English? - Part III
Is English simply a tool to communicate with global partners?
If yes, take a pragmatic, multi-norm, multi-method approach that tolerates inaccuracies for the sake of communication. It is therefore important to understand how other cultures communicate.
Do your partners like a direct approach as in Germany (low context), or do they require a more indirect, high context approach where the language is used non-confrontationally and conflict hidden behind polite phrases? Does your main argument come at the end or is it repeated in different ways throughout the discussion?
Business English as a lingua franca accepts and indeed integrates different linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Learners focus on pragmatic communication. They develop strong listening skills and can react to complex or confusing contextual cues as well as understand the communication conventions and cultures of partners.
As a learner, if you see English simply as a communication tool then:
- Be pragmatic: ignore small mistakes caused by unusual word order, a wrong preposition or a foreign term that sounds similar - these kinds of mistakes do not always hinder understanding. You might not be grammatically accurate, but you can still communicate. In fact, speakers of second languages tolerate and instinctively compensate for such errors. Code switching is part of the shared group experience; therefore consistency of use is important for understanding.
- World Standard English (WSE) accepts common grammar practices and lexis, but doesn’t insist that one form is better than another. Integrate a wide range of authentic material from diverse sources into your learning process.
- Get to know the cultural norms, beliefs and values of your partners. It’s equally important to understand your own cultural profile in order to adapt and understand communication patterns and behaviours when building trust in an intercultural context. Compare the cultural dimensions of key countries and consider how different the discussions might be: https://www.hofstede-insights.com/product/compare-countries/
- A native-like accent is not essential, rather intelligibility and ease of listening is needed. You can find many non-native speakers using a wide range of English at https://www.ted.com/ where you can also listen and read the transcripts of the presenters on a wide range of topics.
- Communication is a two-way process - so widening your perspective by having a flexible attitude, seeing a situation through your conversation partner’s eyes and asking questions when negotiating become very important strategic approaches. Adjusting to partners might mean simplifying sentences and sending back-up emails, or developing a close personal relationship first before doing business. Develop a supportive network with others working in a multi-cultural, international business environment and share your experiences.
Getting the job done in a second language requires you to understand more than English grammar and vocabulary; you also need to develop an awareness of cross-cultural values, behaviours, patterns and business communication practices when working internationally.
But, if it is any compensation, English is rapidly changing due to some 990 million non-native speakers using it. They well and truly outnumber the 440 million native speakers, who may speak perfect English, but are not necessarily better communicators ;-)
Choose from one of the many different language training courses to widen your learning experience: