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Better Business English - A Proposal

In my years of teaching Business English courses I am often surprised by one fact: Multinationals invest a surprising amount to teach basic English skills to a wide variety of employees. These learners vary in level from beginner to advanced. They are working in entry-level to management positions. They all strive to improve their command of English, and are usually successful in their efforts. Unfortunately, after attaining a certain degree of fluency they invariably run into the same problem: Communicating with a native speaker! WHAT! What good is all this teaching if they have problems communicating with the people whose language they are supposedly learning?!

There are two interesting points to this observation:

Students often don't have problems communicating with other non-native speakers.

This is often the case, as other non-native speakers tend to not use idiomatic language and use a limited range of vocabulary. Their grammatical use is often more "bookish". Students who study English as a second or foreign language tend to communicate their ideas with few cultural references. You certainly wouldn't expect German and Japanese businessmen to use sporting idioms from US culture to communicate their ideas about a sales campaign. Another important point is that non-native speakers of are usually more patient with each other when it comes to variations in pronunciation. All of these factors work together to help non-native speakers have a relatively easy time when communicating with amongst themselves.

Native speakers seem to speak English differently.

Native speakers' use of the language often reflects their own cultural bias. They bring standard idioms into play that, in their own environment, seem perfectly natural. They often prefer a highly idiomatic use of the language. Phrasal verbs and slang creep into their expressions. Take for example the issue of connected speech: "I've got to go to the bank" easily becomes "I gotta go to the bank.". These minor issues quickly become overwhelming to non-native speakers who are used to standard forms. This, of course, does not mean that native speakers use English incorrectly and speak in dialects. It does however mean that native speakers tend to economize and use English which, especially in today's hyper-speed world, is constantly evolving in terms of vocabulary, collocation and idiomatic usage.

Better Business English: A Proposal continued...

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