Communication: Is Language Enough?


Did you know that English is the official or dominant language for two billion people in at least 75 countries?  According to the British Council, around 375 million people speak English as a first language, while 375 million more speak it as a second language, and another 1 billion are currently learning English. It is the most common language to communicate scientific, technological, academic and trade information.

But is knowing English alone sufficient for today’s needs? Business requirements such as managing conflict or motivating one’s team are challenging enough in one’s native language and country. But when executing these business requirements as or with a non-native speaker, the impact on one’s career can be significant.

Effective communication is absolutely essential to any business endeavor, so imagine the stumbling blocks that lack of communication creates.

There are several guidelines that can help reduce gaps and increase effective communication across languages and cultures.

First of all, in order to be able to communicate well with people from other cultures, you need to understand your own cultural preferences. The best way to accomplish this is by taking your Cultural Orientations Indicator (COI) assessment to learn about your Interaction Style, Thinking Style and Sense of Self preferences and how they influence the way you communicate. Next, learn about your colleagues’ cultures and communication preferences.

If your colleague has a different mother tongue than you, speak at a comfortable pace, but don’t raise your voice. Break information into small components and present them one at a time. Avoid colloquialisms, jargon and slang. Also avoid making jokes, as they often do not translate across cultures, and you may accidentally cause offense.

Respect the appropriate level of formality in your colleague’s culture. Learn whether or not your colleague prefers to be addressed by their title, whether they rely on non-verbal and indirect communication, how close they prefer to stand to their interlocutors while speaking, and what kind of greetings they use. Patiently search for what is really being communicated.

If a message gets misconstrued, try to be patient and understanding, and above all, recover from mistakes gracefully.

By following the pointers above you can bridge communication gaps that may arise when working with people who have a different mother tongue than you, leading to effective collaboration.