Fluency in Business English: 3 simple examples that unveil that fluency is not enough (and how to avoid them)

A lot of my students hope to become fluent in Business English so that they can communicate as competently as in their native language at work. Sure it is an important aim because who wants to struggle in a conversation in business?


But today I would like to have a look at this topic from a different angle. Because to become a good communicator in Business English means more than fluency. Just aiming for fluency will leave you short of your goals and awkward and ineffective in your communication.


Today, I’ll be talking about the three biggest mistakes I frequently see my clients make so that you can improve your communication right now. 


Mistake #1: You forget to adjust your Business English to your international contacts


Do you sometimes need to discuss business matters with clients from cultures who are not as fluent in English as yourself? How do you react then? Do you simply continue talking at the same pace?


Sometimes students ask me for solutions to situations like that. There is no one way to handle that. When I work with my clients each situation has it’s own specific considerations and nuances.


However - one shift to help you with these conversations:


Take your audience into account. Slow down when presenting, you’ll make quick and effective progress towards being more confident and efficient in all your business situations.


Mistake #2: You use “orders” due to your direct way of speaking in your native language.


In one of the companies where I used to work I had a successor who had a very high level of English. She was a German native speaker with an almost native-speaker level of English. When she wanted somebody to open a window for her she would simply say: “Open the window”. 


It was completely unacceptable for my former colleagues and bosses. They couldn’t believe what they heard and were truly stressed. It even felt like physical pain for them.


This comes across like a military command in English and is completely unacceptable. In this case it would be a good idea to say: “May I ask you to open the window”.


How does that sound to you?


Mistake #3: You translate your business relationships into English and end up offending people.


I also often hear in my Business English coachings sentences like “Yes, of course.”; “As I have already told you” to highlight that things have been said before or “Once again”.


Usually the speakers translate the expressions directly from German into English because they think they can use them in exactly the same way. English-speakers will


hear this and think you are trying to show superiority. They will probably be annoyed and disinclined to help you. 


Whatever it is, it is nothing that makes you a polite and comfortable conversation partner. I would assume that this might be an attractive goal you can create win-win situations with.


What should you consider when fluency is not enough?


There are 3 important points you should consider when you speak in an international environment.


 1. Speak clearly


Make sure you speak the language clearly so that people can understand you. As soon as you speak rather fast other people might have problems following you. 


It also doesn‘t help much to speak with slang.


Clear pronunciation of the words helps a lot to be understood by international business partners and especially to avoid misunderstandings.


2. Speak slowly 


As I mentioned before it is sometimes necessary to speak slowly to make sure people understand you.


When you notice people have problems understanding you, make sure you slow down in the pace you speak. This can require real training but it will be rewarding. If you speak slowly, pause occasionally and watch your conversation partner’s reaction, make sure you grab his or her attention, then you will have successful conversations.


It is also a very good method when you need to speak to someone who has a lower level of English. Instead of running the person over and making them feel small, you create a win-win situation for both of you. It will also be less stressful for your conversation partner and you can enjoy a relaxed conversation.


3. Active listening


You should basically use active listening in every conversation with an international business partner. What does it mean? This is a larger topic where you can benefit from practice, but you can start right now by trying these first steps: 


  • It means to occasionally repeat some of the things that have been said because it really shows that you understood your partner.
  • It is also important to say “Yes” or other words that acknowledge your understanding and show that you follow the conversation. Make sure that you let the other person finish their sentence and don‘t  interrupt them. In some cultures, this can seem impolite and can also cause stress.
  • When your conversation partner is stuck you shouldn‘t finish the sentence for them. Maybe her or she wanted to say something completely different. So the conversation would go in the wrong way.


How to implement the criteria for fruitful international conversations?


 One exercise is to talk about a topic of your choice in your own way and record yourself. I also recommend this exercise to my clients and it works well for them. Then you analyze the recording and work on one new habit at a time like speaking slowly, speaking clearly etc.


Active listening might be a topic you want to practice with a partner or with a coach.


It is important to get immediate feedback and to role play a lot of situations.


Repeat the exercise as often as needed until you are happy with the outcome.


If you’ve realized you’ve made as much progress as you can on your own and want more interactive practice and feedback, feel free to get in touch.


A coach can tell you if you’re including all the criteria - speak clearly, speak slowly and active listening.


Or if you’re struggling with this exercise and need ideas how to proceed please feel free to get in touch with me.


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