Why is learning Business English so important?

Here is a transcript of a meeting I had with an HR manager at a startup company in Israel. Her intention was to eventually create an internal memo that will be based on the interview:

Why is learning English, and especially learning business English, so important?

The world is becoming smaller-we all experience it.

You buy a GPS device in Thailand that was assembled in China. You purchase extra maps for it online, use it in Italy, and you actually live in Israel.

You outsource your product development for an America customer to an Italian vendor, who’s actually using Indian contractors.

Globalization is everywhere, and the language of globalization is English–business English.

Is English really that prevalent around the world? Why learn English and not Chinese?

Chinese is not a bad choice either, but English is still the dominant language, particularly for doing business. English is still the most widespread language in the world and is more widely spoken and written than any other language. To throw some statistics at you:

  • Three-quarters of the world’s mail, telexes and cables are in English.
  • More than half of the world’s technical and scientific periodicals are in English
  • English is the medium for 80% of the information stored in the world’s computers
  • English is the language of navigation, aviation and of Christianity
  • Five of the largest broadcasting companies in the world (CBS, NBC, ABC, BBC and CBC) transmit in English, reaching millions and millions of people all over the world

That’s amazing. Not surprising, but amazing. It gives the English language a lot of economic power.

It’s true. In fact, the easiest way to calculate the economic influence of a language may be to add up the gross domestic products (GDP) of all the nations where it is spoken. People who count English as their mother tongue make up less than 10% of the world’s population, but possess over 30% of the world’s economic power. Therefore, in terms of the quantity of transmitted information, English is the leader by far.

Ok, I’m convinced. So what’s the difference between learning ‘regular’ English and learning business English.

Good question. Much of the difference lies in the fact that teaching or training business English is answering a more immediate need. I’ll give you an example: a recent client of mine, a senior executive at a governmental agency in the geophysics field, needed to prepare a presentation in English for a sales meeting in South Africa that was going to take place a week from the day he contacted us. He didn’t really have the time to sit with me for six months and study basic rules of English Grammar and other syntaxes. He had a very specific business need with a very particular deadline.

Would you say then that you operate more like a coach that usually deals with specific ‘obstacles’ in a short time frame as opposed to a psychologist?

Well, I’m going to be careful with generalizing what different coaches do because different coaches come from different backgrounds and different methods of coaching. That being said, it’s not a bad analogy. In general, coaching deals more with immediate needs and attempts to frame the processes in a smaller time period, while a psychologist is more likely to investigate your past and what caused the ‘obstacles’. Again, that’s a gross generalization because there are several methods for coaching and several ones for psycho-analysis. But the analogy does help to understand what I do.

I like how you’re very careful with how you use the language. You choose each word carefully.

Yes. We have a say in Hebrew, ‘life and death is in the hands of the tongue.’ And that’s also part of what I try to convey to my clients-that language is a powerful tool. And if you use the tool wisely, you will reap the benefits.

Can you give me an example?

Sure. One of my clients complained that he’s not getting the response he was looking for from his website. After a quick glance, I had a good theory why-his website contained quite a few mistakes in English. People some times don’t realize how important these little things are. Your website is your business card-it is how the world sees you and how you market yourself. If you leave even the slightest mistakes on the website, you’re taking a huge risk of turning potential clients off. Just try to remember how annoying it is for you to hear someone make a mistake in your native language. Imagine if you saw a few mistakes in a book you’re reading or the morning newspaper. I don’t know about you, but in cases where that happens to me I feel cheated–As though the person that wrote it didn’t feel I’m important enough to invest the time to make the message clear and correct. I see a lot of these mistakes on websites, brochures, and other marketing materials, and I’m certain that it turns people off. And that’s money these people are losing.

Sounds right to me. Any other difference between ‘regular’ English and Business English.

Sure. When we consult or train in the area of business English, we deal with issues that are more relevant to the business world: Creating effective presentations, writing an effective CV / Resume, preparing for a job interview, editing and correcting business emails, websites, marketing materials, and even preparing a marketing or training video for a company. You won’t find these things in your typical English course. We’re not preparing students to be able to order a sandwich on their next trip to New York. Well, the client will be able to do that also, but that’s not the focus. The focus is to prepare people to deal with the business world in the best possible way. The goal is to make people whose English is not their native tongue competitive, marketable, and global.

We need to conclude the interview. Any last advice?

My best advice is to tell you that you should not be afraid of English just because you’re not a native speaker. Practice makes perfect. Do not be afraid to invest in yourself.

Miron Abramson is the founder and senior consultant of Add-Vantage, a company that supports people and organizations with their business interactions with international partners overseas. You can visit them on the web at http://addvantage.co.il, or contact Mr. Abramson at miron@addvantage.co.il.