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046 How to improve international business communication

How to improve international business communication


Hi there and welcome back to another episode of The Art of Business English. This is Andrew Ambrosius here for another interesting and useful lesson. Today I really want to share some tips with you on how you can improve your international business communication. 

Are you the type of person who has to attend meetings with lots of people from different countries? Do you have to use English as your common language? Do you often find yourself talking to non-natives in English? If this sounds like you then today, you are going to love my tips. 

Did you know that most conversations in business English situations today occur between non-natives? That’s right, most international groups are using English as the common language, yet most of them are non-native English speakers. 

So, how does this affect me? 

Well, if you’re a non-native speaker and you find yourself talking to other non-native speakers then you should find it easier to communicate. If you are talking to native speakers of English, then you may find it more difficult. 

In this episode we are going to look at what you can do to help make yourself better understood and also give you some tips on how you can make others, especially native people, communicate more clearly. 

In this episode we are going to cover the following: 

  1. How to promote better communication
  2. The importance of good pronunciation
  3. Why speaking fast can be a negative thing
  4. Using synonyms to simplify expressions
  5. Avoiding abbreviations
  6. How you can encourage native people to speak more clearly
  7. Some common vocabulary and expressions from this episode 

So, let’s get started! 

How to promote better communication


So, what are some of the key rules to follow to help promote better communication? Let’s take a look at them, so we are aware. Being aware of these guidelines will help you to be more conscious when you are communicating.


What I often find is that in order for people to sound more native and or intelligent, they try and use fancy words or terms that they think will make them look better. In international business communication situations this can often work against you. It is true that sounding articulate and intelligent is important, it helps you to gain more respect and people will believe in someone who they think knows what they are talking about. However, this does not mean that we should use complex language and idiomatic expressions to demonstrate our intelligence.


The first rule then, is to speak clearly and concisely. You should also moderate the type of language that you use to fit your audience. If you notice within the first 2 to 3 minutes of a meeting or conversation that the people you are talking to are quite good at English, then you can obviously use more advanced language. If you see that the person you are talking to has a low English level, then you should modify your vocabulary to help them better understand.


Naturally, if you’re a non-native speaker of English this will be something that you can sympathise with. This is something that native speakers of English don’t really understand, and they need to be trained in better communication skills in international business. We will discuss this later in the episode, however I would like to point at that this can be an incredibly frustrating part of doing business with native speakers of English. The fact they assume that everyone can speak English beggar’s belief, and that is why I always encourage my students to have the courage to call them out and make sure they modify their language to facilitate communication.


The importance of good pronunciation


Moving on, the second thing that we really need to focus on is using correct pronunciation. It is incredibly important, people don’t appreciate just how important it is. There are a number of reasons why and I am going to share them with you now.


Firstly, when you pronounce words poorly in English, or any language for that matter, this has a negative effect on communication. What actually happens is that the listener has to strain and really concentrate to understand what you are telling them. This can quickly lead to a communication breakdown, especially if the person you are trying to talk to loses patience or can’t be bothered to make the effort to understand you. It can be very difficult to understand someone who has poor pronunciation, especially in English. Why you may ask? Well, put simply, when we pronounce words in Spanish, we generally pronounce all the letters of a word, so for example, q u i e r o, seems quite simple. English on the other hand has different pronunciation depending on the word and the position of letters within a word etc, etc. So, with English, you may think that you are pronouncing a word well, when in fact it sounds nothing like it should.


Now, I am going to demonstrate the importance of pronunciation to you, by poorly pronouncing a number of Spanish words. Take a listen to this list.


  1. Quiero (qu iero)
  2. Iniciar ( ini car)
  3. Trabajar (tra ba jar)


Do you know what the words are? They are quiero, or want, iniciar or initiate and trabajar or work in English. So, here we can see how difficult it is to understand, now imagine these words and the poor pronunciation in whole sentences.


How to use your voice


Right, let’s move on to the next tip. Some people think that if they speak fast they will sound more native. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I can speak Spanish quite well and sometimes I will say something to my friends and they won’t understand me because I am speaking too fast. This is also true for English. I often speak quite fast and even native people can struggle to understand me. Furthermore, when we are nervous we speak faster, and this really shows. If we combine that with nervous hand gestures it can really impact negatively on our confidence and overall communication.


Another thing that happens when we are nervous is that we speak quietly, we don’t feel confident, so we don’t vocalise what we are trying to say. Again, you should be aware of this when you feel nervous, speak slower and try to use intonation to improve clarity.


Finally, we can impact negatively on our overall clarity by putting our hand over or near our mouth or looking down when we are talking. All of these factors will generally work against you when you are trying to communicate effectively.


The golden rule then is that, one, we need to pronounce and vocalise our words well and secondly, we need to speak at a moderate speed. Obviously, we don’t want to speak too slowly, otherwise we may annoy people and sound condescending.


Word choice


OK, now let’s look at the third tip. Word choice. We need to be aware of the type of words that we have used. What I am going to do is demonstrate to you what I mean by actually going back and looking at some of the words that I have used in this episode.


We can often use simple synonyms  of more complex words, these words help make it easier for someone with less English level to better understand. Let’s consider the words from this episode.

More complex wordSimplified form
To take a look atTo look at
In order toTo
To point outTo say
Beggar’s beliefDifficult to understand
To call someone outTo challenge
Incredibly importantVery important
A number ofSome/several
Actually happensHappens
To make the effortTo try
To be aware ofConscious of


So, what you can see here is that there are many phrasal verbs and fixed expressions. These sound great, but in many cases, there is a simpler way of saying the same thing. Remember, our objective is to promote understanding, not to sound more native. We have a duty to make our listener understand what we are trying to communicate to them, not the other way around. Many people fail to remember this. They think people should understand them, when in fact we need to make people understand us.


Avoiding abbreviations


Let’s take a quick look at how we can avoid using abbreviations to improve communication and understanding.


Abbreviations are very popular in business, they help native people save time and include a lot of information or context in a couple of letters. This is all good and well if you are working with a team or in a sector where everyone generally knows these terms. Unfortunately, this does not help with communication and as such should be avoided.


For example, some common abbreviations that people can find confusing are:


COBClose of business
FTEFull time employee
IMOIn my opinion
OOOOut of office
TOSTerms of service
CPACost per action


This is a very short list and obviously there are many more, however the point I am trying to make is that you don’t need to use abbreviations to sound native or fancy. Your objective is to help people understand and make them feel confident and comfortable.


Encourage people to speak more clearly


Now, I would like to give you some tips on how you can encourage someone to speak more clearly. These tips will most probably be useful when working with native people. The name of the game here is to clarify or get an idea repeated to you


Let’s first look at some expressions to show you don’t understand and to ask the speaker to speak a bit slower:


  • I’m sorry but I don’t really understand you, can you speak a bit slower and clearer?
  • I’m afraid I don’t follow you. Would you mind speaking a bit slower?
  • Can I just stop you there? I’m not a native speaker, but I will be able to follow you if you speak a bit simpler.
  • Sorry, do you speak Spanish? Oh, you don’t, no problem. Even though my English is pretty good, I’m having trouble understanding you.


Now let’s look at some expressions for clarifying what we think we hear:


  • I’m sorry, did you say 50 or 15?
  • When you said “on-boarding”, did you mean signing up new members?
  • I think you just said that we need to do more analysis. Am I correct?
  • Am I correct in thinking that what you are trying to say is we need to invest more time in this project?



Expressions and vocabulary from this lesson


OK, now that we have covered all of the interesting parts from this episode, let’s take a look at some of the most interesting vocabulary and expressions from this lesson.


To take a look atEchar un vistazo
In order toPara
To work against youSer contraproducente
To point outRemarcar
Beggar’s belief Absolutamente increíble
To call someone outDesafiar
To strainEsforzarse
Communication breakdownRotura en la comunicación
Couldn’t be further from the truthLejos de la verdad



Final thoughts


Well there you have it my friends, a very detailed and highly useful episode for you today. Remember to keep sending me through your questions and doubts so I can prepare some episodes directed at meeting those needs.


As always make sure you head over to www.theartofbusinessenglish.com to get signed up for your free month of the AOBE premium membership, you get access to the transcripts, quizzes, forum and weekly coaching sessions live with me and my team.


If you enjoyed this episode, then please give me a 5-star review on iTunes and share this episode with your friends and colleagues.


I look forward to having you back again next week for another episode of the Art of Business English. Till then, take care and have a great week. Bye for now.


Confidence in Business Meetings

Do you get embarrassed when you need to attend a meeting in English? Maybe you feel frustrated when you can't express yourself clearly. Do you want to be invisible in a meeting, hoping that you won't need to answer any questions?

If you would like to learn how to confidently participate in meetings that lead to successful outcomes and more business for you and your company, then I've got the answer.

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Andrew is the CEO and founder of the Art of Business English. Besides teaching and coaching native Spanish speakers in Business English, he is also passionate about mountain biking, sailing and healthy living. When He is not working, Andrew loves to spend time with his family and friends.

Andrew Ambrosius

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