After 25 years of teaching Business English to mid- and top executives, it’s hard not to notice patterns among non-native English speakers.
Which students master the language sooner than others?
Interestingly enough, some professionals appear to have a higher level than they actually have. Whereas their colleague who speak better come across as less fluent.
What are the differences? What are their secrets?
We gathered a list of shortcuts for a non-native speaker to be successful in business settings.
How Non-Native English Speakers can appear more fluent
Here are our 23 tips to sound more fluent:
1. Learn business vocabulary
The obvious shortcut! Business English has its own vocabulary, so it’s important to master keywords and phrases that people use in the corporate world.
2. Learn 3 local things for each meeting
Before engaging in business conversations with people from a different culture or country, do some research to find out more about their customs, beliefs, and values. Avoid cultural misunderstandings! Find at least 3 major things or trends happening in their country right now. Because…
3. Small talk is important
And a great way to start an informal conversation is to bring up something local that most outsiders might not know. The more local the better! Learn common phrases used in everyday conversations. This will help you communicate more effectively with native speakers.
4. Learn sports-related terms. But…
The commercial lingo is full of sports references, particularly in sales. To blend in and understand what’s happening, you’d better make sure the ball is in your court, so you can touch base before you drop the ball. Ready to jump the gun? More gibberish here. You might want to avoid sports analogies if you can. 😂
5. No kissing on the cheek!
Different cultures have different non-verbal cues and gestures. Misinterpreting them can lead to misunderstandings. Be aware of your own body language and learn about the non-verbal communication of the other culture. As most of our students are Spanish, we frequently remind executives NOT to give their American colleagues two kisses on the cheeks 🙂
6. Be aware of time differences
When scheduling meetings or calls with people from different cultures, be aware of time differences and be respectful of their time. Americans tend to schedule shorter meetings (30 min) compared to Europeans (1 hour), and Spaniards think Finnish people are joking when they have lunch at 11:00.
7. Ask a local
If you’re unsure how to behave in a particular cultural setting, ask someone who is familiar with that culture. This can help you avoid cultural mistakes and build better relationships with people from other countries.
8. The more you read…
Read business materials in English. Are you into financial reports, corporate news or industry publications? A great way to get familiar with business language and terminology.
9. How am I doing?
Get feedback from native speakers or professional business English teachers. Quickly identify areas for improvement to improve your language skills.
Unless you have a language level where you can get away with it and know the person you have in front of you, avoid using difficult idioms and slang. Many tend to be specific to a particular culture and may not be understood by everyone. Avoid using them in business settings to steer clear of confusion.
11. Set a business English goal for each meeting
Meetings are a common part of business, so it’s important to practice speaking in them. Your goal should be to always say something, even if you’re super nervous. Practice makes perfect for a non-native English speaker!
12. Look the part
Pay attention to your body language. Do you LOOK confident? When you feel confident, you sound more fluent.
13. Too informal?
Depending on where you work (and what you do), it’s important to use formal language. Avoid slang or colloquial expressions and learn to speak in a professional tone.
14. Copy your coworkers’ tone
Practice writing professional emails. Pay attention to grammar, spelling, and tone. Learn from how your colleagues and clients express themselves to adapt to your enterprise’s setting.
15. Attend business events…
such as networking events, conferences, and seminars, to practice your language skills and make connections with other professionals. Start online if that makes you feel more confident.
16. Record yourself speaking
What makes you sound like a non-native speaker? Is it the accent? The speed? Read texts out loud to improve your pronunciation and fluency, and practice how to speak English like a native speaker.
17. Find a rhythm
Try to speak English every day, even if it’s just for a few minutes. A nice goal is to speak with at least one colleague per day.
18. Hi, I’m…
Try to speak with someone you don’t know yet at work! A great way to widen your professional network. It doesn’t matter if they’re non-native English speakers.
19. We tell 20% of students to talk slower. Why?
We tell 20% of our students to slow down. If you have a strong accent and you’re speaking with a colleague who’s not used to listening to foreigners, they’ll most likely miss part of your message (see the video below). Particularly important if you’re pitching as an entrepreneur…!
20. Freaking out in business meetings?
Practice a (very) short joke or an icebreaker to get people to laugh. You’ll feel a lot more relaxed, which will improve your body language and make you less prone to making mistakes.
21. Aim for an Oprah Winfrey accent?
Watch videos like interviews with business leaders, presentations, and news. This way you’ll get familiar with the lingo and communication style used in the corporate world. Copy with pride! Aim for an Oprah Winfrey accent? There are 150 dialects in the world, so take your pick.
22. What can you learn from non-native business leaders?
Some CEOs have a pretty strong accent, yet they’re easy to follow. What techniques can you copy from them?
23. Focus on your WORK
Don’t worry too much about making English mistakes during an international conversation, worry more about making mistakes that affect the business outcome! Focus on communicating your message clearly and effectively. And with intent! That matters way more than a perfect accent.
Learning a language… takes time
Learning a new language can be challenging, so it’s important to stay motivated.
Set small goals for yourself (talk with 2 people outside of meetings this week), track your progress (I spoke with three colleagues!), and celebrate your achievements along the way (Martini it is!).
It’s fine and perfectly normal to have a foreign accent. Remember, it’s a sign of bravery!.
Your main focus should be to make yourself understood.
We always encourage our professional students to ask for help. If you don’t understand something, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. Native speakers will appreciate your effort to learn their language.
As a non-native speaker, did you like our business English tips?
If you feel like you need to improve your Business English, get in touch today to learn more about our classes.
We adapt each course to be as relevant as possible.
- If you’re in finance, we’ll get you up to speed with the most common terms and phrases used in your profession. EBITDA, ARR, anyone?
- If you’re a recruiter, we’ll do mock interviews and speak about HR trends.
- For sales professionals, we’ll focus on how to convince someone in another language, how to negotiate, public speaking skills, etc.
We are all native speakers, and we’ll focus on your industry and use examples of what’s happening right now. If you’re in a hurry, we offer intensive courses online.
Make your voice heard at work
So for a non-native English speaker, what’s the most important shortcut to master business English?
The will to improve.
That’s why, as teachers, we work so hard to make sure we act on your motivation. When you practice small talk in class, it’s easier to succeed in real world situations. And the more you practice phrases for your next meeting, the higher chance of making your voice heard at work.
We’ve helped numerous non-native English speakers improve their level and fluency through classes. Let’s talk?
PS. What is a non-native speaker? For this article, we used the definition from Cambridge Dictionary; Someone who has learned a particular language as a child or adult rather than as a baby.
Author Jim Mc Laughlin
Head of Training & Translations at Nativos Language Consultants.
Jim’s been teaching Business English in Barcelona since 2000 and translates from Spanish, and Catalan. He frequently shares his favourite advice on how to learn English on LinkedIn.