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In an increasingly international world, your workplace is no longer limited to the four walls of your office or even the borders of your country.
This means an increase in the use of English in business. Many fear the consequences of being a non-native English speaker in the modern business environment and could act against them in advancing in their career. Although this is not necessarily the case, we have to be realistic. The bottom line is that, in many industries, the higher your level of English, the more employable you are. But if you’re reading this then you must be doing OK!
Remember, there are more non-native speakers than native, so you’re not alone. Check out our blog about who speaks English as a second language best. Is your country on the list?
To give you a little advice and encouragement, here are some tips on how to make your English an asset at work rather than a hindrance:
...especially when it comes to opening lines, slogans, or website homepages. This, of course, means CVs cover letters, emails (especially to new people). A first impression is a powerful thing, and a messy opening line could taint the rest of the text. Start right, and any later errors will be more easily forgiven. An essential piece of advice here would be to find a native speaker to read over your work – especially a CV! If you don’t know anyone personally then there are many websites with freelance proofreaders who will read over documents for a fee.
This is especially important in spelling. Vocabulary should be consistent, but with the influence of television and varied sources of learning English, it can be forgiven if you’re writing in British English and you say ‘highway’ instead of ‘motorway’. However, spelling is a bit more important and noticeable, so don’t go mixing ‘colours’ and ‘colors’, or ‘analysing’ and ‘analyzing’. It comes across as unsure and unchecked. If you’re unsure, a very quick internet search will iron out any doubts.
Don’t second guess yourself; make sure you know the appropriate vocabulary, of course, but don’t act hesitant or resort to questioning intonation (‘this is our new... campaign?’) when you feel unsure. They will lose confidence in your skills just as much as you do. Don’t ask for permission to make mistakes; just make them with confidence, correct them if necessary, and move on so swiftly that in seconds it is forgotten.
You will have to become a great listener to succeed in business English. Never waste a second of your time in meetings, emails or presentations. Every interaction in English is a learning curve and an opportunity to improve. Always take a notebook and use it to remember vocabulary or nicely formed sentence structures to use in the future. Take note of the way other people speak, as well as business-specific phrases and vocabulary they use. If you see bad examples, learn from those too.
It will also teach you to be conscious of your own English by gauging the reactions of others when you speak; context is everything and absorbing cultural awareness will help you to connect with clients and partners.
There is a linguistic glass ceiling when it comes to business, and whether we like it or not, the choices are: give up or get on with it. In terms of improving and using English, to give up could be professional suicide in certain industries. Remember it’s never too late to start learning and anyone (even natives) have to room from improvement.
Make it a part of your routine to improve your level, but that doesn’t have to be a chore. How about listening to the radio in English on the way to work? Or watching your favourite TV shows in the original version – assuming the original version is in English. In the workplace you are likely to form relationships with native speakers, so why not interact with them as much as possible and maybe even organise a language exchange.
Even so, your native language will always be a huge strength, so make sure you know how to use it to your advantage as well.
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