Going International: The Allure Of English For Entrepreneurs
You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.
The key factors that influence both performance of new ventures and their market success are often considered to be taken from the skills of the individual entrepreneurs in the driving seat, but whatever the list there is always one thing missing in my view- English language skills. It is clear to see in today’s highly technological world of work how the penetration of web innovation into our everyday lives has brought about a feeling of being constantly connected, and this, as a result, has made it more critical than any other time in recent memory to welcome the advantages of new methods of communication, especially in the areas of science, innovation and business. The significance of this is that you need to participate by using the English language.
The data supports this, as notwithstanding the advances of business into the realms of the BRIC countries, where Russian and Chinese are flexing their power muscles over the linguistic scene, in reality, English remains the only language of science and business. David Crystal wrote in his book English as a Global Language that historically, at present, and for the foreseeable future, English will remain as the leading international language. In fact, it is considered with 1500 million speakers internationally, as an absolutely vital skill for anyone who is serious in business in today’s age.
Some may try to convince you otherwise, such as noted in the Guardian back in 2013 that big money (£48bn in the UK in 2013 alone) can be lost if you have a shortfall of multilingual employees, that diversification of the languages you offer as a means of communicating with your business is the only way to go, and claiming that English is no longer the widespread business lingo. I would argue that the reality is, as Forbes states that with as little as 18% of some English language natives actually speaking another tongue, and with economic prosperity driven from primarily-English speaking nations, it’s better for you to ensure you speak English than expect your business partners to speak your native language. The Harvard Business Review supported this when they stated English is used at a general communication level by some 1.75 billion people worldwide- that’s one in every four people. It is also estimated that about 565 million people use English with the internet, so it is absolutely crucial if you want to do global business.
The main insight or the dichotomy
What effect will your English skills have on your chances, with today's social media promotions, blogging, international client lists, conventions, exhibitions, launches and the like? To answer this, you are really working with a double-edged sword. As an online English language teacher and e-learning educational consultant of many years, and having dealt with business professionals from all cultures, nationalities and walks of life, I can honestly say there is a dichotomy between the speaking and the writing. This is not in terms of ability, vocabulary and fluency, but in sellability! Yes, where it helps you sell- your idea, your product, your service, your business. The real problem lies with the difference between face-to-face and written communication.
Speaking- accent and pronunciation
For speaking, you might think that you need to be 100% perfect with lovely received pronunciation (RP) but I would argue no. You do need to have a good command of the language, enough to be able to convey your message effectively, with persuasion, be able to negotiate, and navigate key contacts and opportunities. However, this is where the added cultural element of a soft accent, a blending of the occasional native phrase, the slightly off-beat pronunciation, can be alluring to your business prey. There is also an element of trust. If someone stands before a native speaker and shows not a jot of their own cultural or language heritage, then the native audience could, in fact, believe you less, pay less interest in what you say, or even at worst case scenario, trust you less.
That is NOT good for potential business or funding, for sure. So, I would say, when you are speaking, showing a little element of your native tongue and making the odd error is a bonus. Different cultures are attractive, a foreign accent speaking English is exotic, mistakes alluring even, as the person you are speaking to wants to know more. Who are you? Where are you from? What are you telling me?
Whilst a study carried out by Forbes Insights found that around 65% of senior executives believed that accent or language barriers caused some communication problems in their enterprises, from this figure, 24% thought that a ‘lack of respect’ for non-native English speakers was part of the cultural problems that arose. However, where some may say that accents can be a barrier to effective communication, in reality diversity and inclusion tend to lead to more effective and productive working environments. So, while you should actively engage in broadening your English language skills, it is also up to the natives to open themselves to the diverse cultures and people of the business world.
Writing- hardcore grammar and slang
Writing, however, is a different kettle of fish. You have to be absolutely precise, not just with your words and grammar, but tone, directness, rhythm and even down to punctuation. Native speakers appreciate colloquialisms, phrasal verbs and idioms, with a dash of collocations to boot. Yet, from my experience in teaching and advising business people from around the world, I’d like to be brave here and to state that I have observed that if you write to a Brit with a whole host of Americanisms, they will hate you. Or, if you write to an American with a smattering of Britishisms, they won’t understand you. Plus, if you write in English as a language of communication to others who speak another first language you must ensure that you eliminate all colloquialisms altogether or you will just alienate your target reader. It is a very fine line to follow. Words matter and grammar matters.
Good writing helps us be understood and builds credibility. Typos and errors can mean the difference between a lost deal or a new opportunity. Plus, with a note on this back to speaking, where slightly wrong spoken grammar endears the heart and brings forth a smile from the listener, good written grammar not only guarantees that your message is delivered intact, but that you are correctly represented, understood and that you engage effectively with your reader.
- Good writing poses vital questions.
- Good writing explains your position with clarity.
- Good writing invokes valuable feedback.
- Good writing helps refine ideas.
In some careers, data has shown that up to 50% of your time may be spent on written communication, be that emails, proposals or presentations. We may currently live in an era of 140 characters, but good writing still matters in the world of business. If you haven’t learned the difference between its and it’s, then, according to Time magazine, a potential employer (or investor) may be led to wonder what other skills you haven’t yet mastered. Another consideration is that bad grammar or spelling mistakes might distract your audience from taking action, such as purchasing your products or services.
Build your team for content creation
The requirements of competitive pressure and globalization of tasks and resources just stress the attention on the importance of being able to communicate with a diverse range of customers, suppliers, and other business partners. In my view, using English is an even more vital skill for entrepreneurs as it can help with the ability to recognize commercial opportunities and the insight, self-esteem, knowledge and skills to act on them. When to speak or write, who to deliver the message to, what to say and how to say it, so that you are adept at opportunity recognition, commercializing concepts, marshalling resources, and initiating new ventures. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, communication can paint a picture with words. There are times when an order or instruction is suffice, and others when a masterpiece of articulation can amaze and impress. Your words present you as much as your appearance.
Take care and pay attention. A wise man once said, ”Write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow.” All of this is not a new idea. Even as far back as 1995, Deborah Tannen, a notable Professor of Linguistics at Georgetown University, wrote in the Harvard Business Review -The Power of Talk: Who Gets Heard and Why- that people in positions of power and authority, such as investors and customers, are more likely to reward those who have similar levels of linguistic ability, while anyone who seems uncomfortable or unconfident with their language skills is also seen as being insecure about their ideas.
Remember that with writing you don’t have to be the one who actually does it. If your written skills are not up to scratch, get someone else in, preferably a native speaker, a professional writer, who can do all the work for you. The written word can be reread, many times, so if you make mistakes they will be visible for a long time too. In the right place, and in the right way, good language can make communication more comfortable and bring down barriers. In the wrong way, it can build impenetrable fortresses, create disagreements, spark argument and resentment. A reader or listener will form an opinion of you, based on both the content and presentation.
Written errors will always form a negative impression of you and your business. Bad grammar and spelling not only makes people think twice about you and your business, it also dilutes your message and makes it seem that you don’t care. First impressions matter and a study by Impact of 1,700 people found that 35% of them thought that good grammar was appealing, while 43% said that bad grammar would create an image of unattractiveness in people.
Let’s put it simply, if you don’t take your written message seriously, how do you expect your investors, clients and partners to take you seriously?
Three Key Steps to Take
Speak, speak and keep on speaking
Connect your voice to your message to your personality. Reach out with your words and your accent to make contacts. You will find they hold much more value, and respect, than if get someone else to do this for you. If you don’t speak good English now, then take lessons! If you are willing to invest in your idea, then also invest in your language skills to deliver your message personally.
For writing employ a professional
Do NOT presume that a native English speaker is enough. You need someone who can work magic with words, who understands your vision and can maximize the sellability or your message.
Compare the words of your competitors and mentors with your own. Formulate new ideas, refine your direction and hone your message. It is a creative process, whether speaking or writing. Keep collecting ideas, and vocabulary that help you communicate more effectively.