Are you currently working within an intercultural business context, using English as a foreign language at an intermediate level or higher? And are you struggling with intercultural communication challenges? By that I mean the difficulties in communicating that we all experience when working in English as a foreign language with people from different cultural backgrounds. Having worked with non-native English speakers within international businesses for the past decade, I can assure you are not alone.
For example, my clients often tell me that something is missing for them when they use English at work. Specifically, they find it difficult to express their opinions in meetings, presentations and written reports. They do not know what to do to feel more competent and confident in these situations. Or they find it difficult to coordinate action with people from other cultures in a harmonious and effortless way. They might also find it difficult to build trust and cooperation. My clients often believe that the solution to these difficulties is to further increase their vocabulary and master more verb tenses. But when they’ve tried this and eventually realized that this approach was not the answer, they became discouraged. They did not know what else to do. They never thought of improving their intercultural communication skills.
Rarely does anyone think of asking themselves two fundamental questions that I help each of my clients answer. First: “How do you communicate?” Second: “How do you need to change how you communicate when you use English as a second language within an intercultural business context?” Asking those questions inevitably leads to observing something that all cultures share but that we all ignore — how we speak and listen.
When using your native language within your own culture, there is no urgent need to be aware of how you speak and listen. Language is like the air you breathe; not only do you not pay any attention to it, you are probably satisfied with how you communicate. It is unlikely that you would think of trying to improve your communication skills. These skills are competences in speaking, writing and listening that you have learned over your lifetime. At any point you can decide to take specialized training to expand your skills. But not many people think of doing that.
So it is not surprising that it would not occur to you to improve your intercultural communication skills. Even if you did think of that, what steps would you take to improve? Finally, how would you measure the degree to which your efforts were successful?
As with many of my clients, you no doubt currently judge your English speaking and listening skills by using a measurement of grammar and vocabulary. In other words, you are using the same measurement that you apply to your native language. But is that an appropriate measurement for a second language?
How many years have you spent mastering your native language? In contrast, how many years have you devoted to mastering English? You use your native language most of the time. Compare that to how often you use English. So does it make sense to measure your competence in both languages the same way?
After all, if perfect grammar and a huge vocabulary were the only requirements for good communication, there would be no miscommunication between people of the same culture and language. I am a Canadian, who before moving to France trained thousands of native Anglophone speakers how to improve their communication skills. I know from this first-hand experience that communicating well is based on criteria other than just fluency in a language.
That is what motivated me to develop a new measure for those using English as a second language within an intercultural business context. And to develop a new method for dealing with the unique communication challenges an intercultural context brings to both speakers and listeners. That is why everything on this site, and all the services I provide, is aimed at building your awareness of the unique challenges posed by communicating interculturally. I also provide a broad range of concrete actions tailored to show you how to solve your specific intercultural communication challenges: audits, seminars and one-on-one intercultural communication training.
The priority cannot be to simply “speak English better.” Rather, it has to be communicating as clearly and concisely as possible, so that we can understand each other better.
Why is that important? I am convinced that without understanding, there can be no trust. Without trust, there can be no cooperation. And without cooperation, there is no future. From my point of view, we build our futures together in the words we exchange today.