Idle chatter ceases around the board room as the guest speaker loads their powerpoint up onto the projector, clicking on the first slide of the slideshow. The lights dim and the blinds are drawn, the glow from the projector casting the only light around the attendees who are sat, poised, waiting.
The guest speaker takes a sip of water, clears their throat, and begins the presentation. Sounding like this…
Not quite what you were expecting?
Now before anyone gets offended and we submit to the stereotypical jokes about the Sámi language, we are kidding. In the way that only native English speakers can. We have grown up our entire lives thinking that English is the answer to all and that by proxy, business must be conducted in English.
And for the record, we like unusual languages.
Forgive us for such presumption about business English, however. With so many people wanting to learn English either for ‘leisure’ as a foreign language or for work and relocation as a ‘second’ language, it is possibly an assumption that might be overlooked.
Better than English?
There are those among us who would argue that there are other, better languages that could be used internationally for business use, and one of those contenders is Mandarin since it is so widely spoken. Yes, it is lyrical, yes a lot of people use it, and yes, it is an opportunity to practice your finest calligraphy on the written page. However, given the difficulty to master the language for people and also how relatively un-computer-friendly it is compared with languages using the Roman alphabet, that won’t be happening any time soon.
Another argument could be made for binary code if the ease with which a language can be used is determined by how flexible it is with regard to our need for technology, but who ever held a vocalised conversation in binary? So does it even really count as a language?
So, like it or not, English is our international business language of choice.
Back to the boardroom
Now, let’s imagine the meeting at the beginning of this blog was to prepare for an international sales pitch. Suddenly, it’s sales day, and as international colleagues and potential clients join the meeting either in person or via Skype, interpreters don their headsets and participants hook in like they are attaching themselves to lifelines. This is starting to look like a NATO meeting without the peacekeeping efforts. Especially if your little joke to break the tension gets completely waylaid in translation. Goodbye, client.
Obviously, international meetings are less likely to look like this nowadays and this is an extreme and somewhat unprofessional example. English has become a key skill for many and so there are seemingly always colleagues available to speak to native speakers. Business deals are brokered between countries as diverse as Japan and France, conducted in the neutral language of English. English is more than a language now, it is a business tool.
Even for national level companies, the expectation by employers for their staff to have a good, competent level of English is high. In our increasingly online world, the potential for international trade is diminished when behind a beautifully crafted website is a team of employees that don’t understand what a caller is saying.
Like it or not, there’s nowhere to hide from the English, not if you want a professional career. ‘Englishization’ is taking over. An excellent example of this is demonstrated by the forward-thinking CEO of Rakuten, Mikitani. Mikitani took what some viewed as a heavy-handed approach to changing the language of his company from Japanese to English by changing all internal communication into English and giving a deadline of 2 years for employers to become competent in English. Read here for further details.
Leading by example is Yang Yuanqing of Lenovo, who completely immersed himself in English in order to master the language. And if that isn’t enough of an example of the importance of making a good first impression, Mark Zuckerberg gave a speech entirely in Mandarin at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
Interested in finding out what your current English level is? Test yourself with our free level test!
English as a Foreign Language teachers are accessories to the globilisation of English. While it is usual to teach students preparing for exams like the FCE and IELTS to get their jobs in the first place, it is growing more and more common to assist ‘advanced’ level students already in the workplace but needing to keep that step ahead of their colleagues in terms of English proficiency. Dealing with emails and instant messages is one thing since you have time to think, respond, reach for a dictionary if necessary. But for those of you who are or ever have tried to learn a foreign language, you know the frustration of attempting to understand your chosen language when it is spoken over the phone or Skype.
Ball’s in your court
So, the conclusion is simple. If you want to stay relevant, if you want to deal with international clients, you will need to embrace the joy that is English. Native English speakers, rejoice!
However, native English speakers, we are not done with you yet. Not at all. Speaking English is a gift, yes, one that we often take for granted. However, having at least one, perhaps two more languages listed on your CV will do wonders for your job prospects. We can help you with that. Contact us for courses in your area today.