How to Avoid Expensive Misunderstandings with Business English Skills

In international companies, both the employees and customers tend to speak different languages. Adopting Business English as a cross cultural communication standard is usually a necessity — but it doesn’t automatically fix things. Miscommunication can still take place: speaking the same language doesn’t always mean being on the same page.

Unfortunately, miscommunications can lead to internal and external issues and compound losses the longer they remain unsolved. To foster better team collaboration, increased productivity as well as more successful negotiations with partners and customers, it is critical that forward-looking companies invest in English communication skills.

Here are some tips for companies looking to improve their Business English communication skills:

Understand cross cultural communication nuances

In Business English, native speakers tend to be polite and somewhat indirect when expressing directives or project needs. Of course, this can lead to miscommunications with non-native speakers expecting more direct and literal guidance.

To a German speaker, for example, an expression like “You might want to consider” may sound like a polite suggestion if taken literally. To a native English speaker, however, this would be taken as a direct instruction if it came from a superior.

Conversely, German expressions translated literally into English can sound quite dominant. When German-speaking employees say they “will do” something, it may sound brusque in English, where a “would do” is preferred. As a register that promotes a culture of open and innovative communication, Business English has employees in a meeting say they would “like to do” a task to claim responsibility for it rather than “I will do.”

These subtle nuances in cross cultural communication make all the difference. Those who understand them will have smoother interactions up and down the chain of command; those who don’t run the risk of causing confusion or even accidental offense.

Assign responsibilities clearly to avoid miscommunication

Especially for teams using an agile approach to project management, a foundation in Business English can help prevent misunderstandings about who is responsible for what tasks. German speakers often distribute tasks early, clearly stating “I’ll do X, you do Y.” English speakers, on the other hand, prefer to use an indirect “we” instead of “you” to speak from a team perspective before getting more specific.

In Business English, responsibility is often discussed using a general “you” or with gender-inclusive singular expressions like “they” and “them,” all of which can sound ambiguous to a native German speaker. Still, while one language and culture may prefer directness and clarity while another prefers politeness and inclusion, neither of these is right or wrong – the important thing is to be able to bridge the gaps in cross cultural communication.

Balancing competing communicational needs can ensure that all team members are on the same page and avoid miscommunication. With strong Business English communication skills, it’s possible to have both a clear division of roles and a sense of inclusion and team cohesion.

Weak Business English communication skills can damage trust

Delays and production mistakes as a result of cross cultural miscommunications can incur high costs, especially across international supply chains. In the fashion sector, for example, it could lead to sewing the wrong pocket shapes onto hundreds of pairs of jeans, resulting in a product that can’t be sold.

Situations like these show that weak English communication skills can cause a loss of trust between business partners — and lost business deals as well.

One thing to be aware of is so-called “false friends,” words that sound or look similar in two languages but mean different things. If an English speaker wants to “probe” an issue, for example, German speakers may think this means doing a sample or rehearsal (Probe) rather than an investigation or test. Similarly, if something will get done “eventually,” they might understand it as “potentially” (eventuell). Though it seems slight, the difference in understanding here could mean the difference between something definitely getting done at some point and something possibly not getting done at all!

As these examples show, a strong foundation in Business English can be important for cross cultural communication of all kinds. While employees can clarify these situations with follow-up questions or paraphrasing, effective leaders can also anticipate these issues and prepare for them.

Effective business english skills can prevent expensive misunderstanding in companiesFocus on context-specific Business English for better overall results

Having strong Business English communication skills aren’t just nice to have; often, they can mean the difference between international teams that feel comfortable collaborating with one another and those that don’t. When team members can’t communicate fluidly with one another, they become afraid of miscommunication and of being judged. As a result, they begin to feel alienated and insecure in their work environment, and productivity and morale can suffer.

Employees who avoid conversations in English this way run the risk of falling short of their potential, particularly customer service specialists who need to be spontaneous and fluid in their responses to clients. To help ease these situations, focus on practicing specialized terms, polite expressions, and typical dialogues for direct contact with customers, correspondence, and phone calls.

Digital language learning solutions like Babbel for Business are particularly well-suited to solving this problem, as researchers have shown. In the outset of a study with Sodexo done in the US, many Spanish speakers weren’t able to freely communicate with their English-speaking customers and coworkers. After a short time learning with Babbel, however, these employees were able to improve their English communication skills resulting in better customer service (and improving their own personal quality of life, as well).

English communication skills can improved digitally and on the go

Though team leads often understand the need to improve their teams’ English communication skills, they hesitate to do so because they fear it will be expensive or ineffective. Although cross cultural communication can be endlessly complex, the good news is that overcoming hurdles to communication is made simple by digital language learning solutions like Babbel for Business.

Besides offering quick wins in learning, digital language learning solutions are inexpensive and flexible, allowing team members to learn whenever it fits in their daily schedule. Specific lessons in Business English are available for meetings, teleconferences, business trips, and customer communication in 12 different professional fields, with guidance on job-related vocabulary and nuances to avoid any cultural faux pas. Finally, Babbel’s voice recognition feature helps speakers practice their pronunciation until they can confidently interact inside and outside their company.

Miscommunication costs companies time and money, and should be avoided. Fortunately, new digital language learning solutions like Babbel for Business give leaders the tools they need to improve cross cultural communication for the business world of the future.

Download Booklet on Business English for Companies

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.

Reset Password


We’ll send you an email to reset your password.

Ready to see how Babbel will help your team learn in real life?

Schedule a demo with one of our consultants below!