By Kimberly Wiefling
The former CEO of ABB, Percy Barnevik, stated that the official language of the company was “bad English”. I almost agree, but I reject the negative connotations of “bad English” in favor of “Global English”. And a CEO of a Korean company advised his people that it’s more important to speak bad English than good Korean. Here I totally agree. Communication is key to business success, and sharing a common language, however imperfect, is crucial.
Although I’m sure that most people assume that they are perfectly understandable to others when they speak English (especially my American colleagues!) in my experience they all might as well be speaking entirely different languages. The solution is not to speak English. The solution is for ALL of us to STOP speaking English and START speaking GLOBAL English.
I’m not a linguist, but here’s a few things I’ve learned about effective communications among global teams:
Do your L.A.P.S.s.s.s!
• Loud – Speak loudly so people can at least receive the soundwaves.
• Attention – Make sure you visually make contact with the person you’re talking with before starting to speak to them. Eye contact varies greatly across cultures, and can be uncomfortable, but is critical to beginning a conversation.
• Pause – Many non-native English speakers are “translating in their head”. Although not ideal, it’s a reality that they will need a few seconds to grock (sorry!) what you said.
• Slow – Speak slowly . . . painfully slowly. Imagine you are speaking in molasses, then slow down even more.
• Simple – Use simple words. Native English speakers use over 5000 different works, but non-native speakers use something like 500 – 1500. Don’t go showing off your vocabulary if you want to be understood.
• Short – Short sentences. No long-winded phraseology, with obscure references to previous clauses.
• Smile – If they can’t understand you, at least they’ll like you!
Oh, and a couple more no-nos:
– No idioms, slang, obscure references.
– Don’t never use no double negatives!
There are a lot of cool tools to help you learn to speak Global English. Here are a few and how to use them:
1. Many people only use 500 words in their typical daily speech. Here’s a list of the 500 most common English words. If you’re NOT a native speaker – learn them! If you ARE a native speaker – stick to them as much as possible!
2. Smart people prefer complicated solutions, but here’s a simple one – The Simple English Wikipedia. This not a place to show how smart you are, but rather a place to make concepts easily understood. The fact that this even exists gives me hope that someday we will all be able to communicate.
3. The Pimmsleur Method – Actually this method is useful for learning any language, and I have personally experienced learning Japanese this way. You learn the same way you learned your original language, by listening and speaking, not by studying grammar and boring drills. Although my Japanese vocabulary is small, when I do speak I am told my accent is perfect, and when I listen I can pick out words and meaning, even though I can’t understand everything being said.
In my experience, it’s not just non-native English speakers who need to change how they communicate. EVERYONE needs to adopt Global English in order to assure that 21st century global company teams can understand each other.
STOP speaking English! If you are a so-called “native” English speaker, DEFINITELY stop speaking English! START speaking GLOBAL ENGLISH. It’s better for you, it’s better for your colleagues, it’s better for your company, and it’s better for your business profitability.
If we truly are going to realize the dream of a global economy where we collaborate across time zones and cultural boundaries for mutual benefit, we ALL need to change the way we communicate. Let’s not wait for “other people” to change so that it’s easier for us to communicate. Let’s all share the responsibility for improving communication and moving toward a truly global economy.
It’s in ALL of our best interests to make the pie bigger instead of arguing over who gets the crumbs. That win-win scenario begins with speaking a common language, and it’s not as easy as just saying “English”. It’s GLOBAL English. Give it a shot (sorry again!).
About the Author: Kimberly Wiefling, Founder and President, Wiefling Consulting, LLC, Author, Scrappy Project Management, and Scrappy Women in Business
This article first appeared in the Fall Issue of WE Magazine for Women. You can read the PDF version here:http://www.staging.wemagazineforwomen.com/pdfs/WEMagFall2010.pdf or the FLIP version here:http://rsszine.com/samples/WEMagFall2010/
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