React constructively to nuances
Communicating in English often requires a polite approach and an awareness of nuance so that priorities and requirements aren’t misinterpreted. If you understand some expressions literally, then tasks won’t be finished on time or business partners might feel snubbed. For example, “You might want to consider” sounds like a polite suggestion to a German-speaker. But in English, this often introduces a clear instruction that you really should follow. If you hear this difference, you can react professionally.
Conversely, German expressions translated literally into English can sound rather dominant. When German-speaking employees “will do” something, it quickly comes across as brusk in English, where “would do” is preferred. That’s why tasks in a meeting should be introduced with “I’d like to” instead of “I will”, to give everyone a chance to provide input. Business English also promotes an open and innovative communication culture where ideas are welcome.
Knowing who’s meant in English
Especially for teams that work together in an agile approach, a foundation in Business English can help prevent misunderstandings about areas of responsibility. German-speakers often distribute tasks early, clearly stating “I’ll do X, you do Y.” English-speakers, on the other hand, can see this as dominant and prefer speaking from a team perspective before making it specific. This is why they use an indirect “we” instead of “you” in giving instructions. Even if you have a clear division of roles, team cohesion should be emphasized.
When areas of responsibility are discussed, “you” is often used in the general sense, making it less clear than it might sound to a German-speaker. And then there are the gender-inclusive expressions with “they” and “them,” which are used even if just one person is meant. Being aware of these expressions in a business context lets you know when to ask to clarify responsibilities so that no time is wasted due to misunderstanding and the working atmosphere remains productive.
Avoiding mistakes and building trust with Business English
Especially in international supply chains, delays, or production mistakes due to language misunderstandings can incur high costs. In the fashion sector, for example, communication problems can lead to hundreds of jeans being produced with the wrong pocket shape, which you then can’t sell because the original prototype has already been advertised.
Clumsy expressions and incorrectly used vocabulary can result in lost trust and keep deals from closing. Classic mistakes are the so-called false friends, words that sound or look similar in two languages but mean different things. When you’re talking about a “probe” in English, a German-speaker might not understand it as an investigation or test instrument, but as a sample or rehearsal (Probe). And with “eventually,” they might understand it as “potentially” (eventuell) instead of “sometime.” And if a German-speaker says they’re “irritated,” they might just mean they’re “confused” (irritiert). With a strong foundation in Business English, employees can clarify these situations effectively with follow-up questions or paraphrasing.
Every team benefits from Business English
Good Business English is important for more than just upper management. It’s important for all teams that have international team members or contact with international customers. Employees who avoid conversations in English run the risk of falling short of their potential. When it’s always the same person in a team who writes e-mails to colleagues abroad, their time isn’t being used efficiently. Especially in areas such as customer service or direct sales, it’s important to be able to react well in English, even spontaneously.
Specialist terms, polite expressions, and typical dialogues for direct contact with customers, correspondence, or phone calls can be practiced in a focused way. Digital language learning solutions are particularly well-suited, and in a study with Sodexo in the US, researchers showed the value that online English courses from Babbel can offer companies. Many Spanish-speakers at Sodexo at the outset of the study weren’t able to freely communicate with English-speaking customers and coworkers. But after a short time learning with Babbel, these employees were able to improve not only their customer service but also live up to their potential in the team and even improve their own quality of life personally.
Learn Business English digitally and on the go
Besides quick wins in learning, the main advantage of digital language learning solutions is that they are inexpensive and flexible enough for every employee to use them. They can learn when it works best in their daily routine and choose specific lessons for meetings, teleconferences, business trips, or customer communication. Learning options for Business English provide not only job-related vocabulary, but also nuances to help avoid cultural faux pas. The Business English offering from Babbel for Business currently includes specialist terms and dialogues for 12 professional fields and is continually being extended.
Many learners see it as an advantage to practice their pronunciation with the voice recognition feature in the app until they can confidently interact with team members or people outside the company. Quick learning progress can be extended in a fun way, for example with regular English Fridays or language lunches in another language. These regular opportunities to practice make the experience in the group more motivating and can even be organized online or remotely, if necessary.
Find out how good Business English skills can improve the communication and business opportunities in your company. Download our free booklet on Business English in the DACH region.