How to confidently share your expertise in English
“I’m afraid they won’t understand me”
Translation: “I’m afraid they won’t see beyond my ‘bad’ English to discover my expertise and experience in my field. I’m afraid I’ll make a bad first impression”.
You showcase your expertise and experience in your first language by being articulate, using sophisticated language and complex sentence structures to share your ideas. That’s what your first language ‘commands’ and you are proud of your way with words.
But when it comes to English, you feel like a simpleton. You scramble around trying desperately to amass enough vocabulary to feel good but it’s a neverending battle.
You desperately want to emulate your eloquence in your first language to English. Otherwise, you fear you won’t be taken seriously.
I totally understand this feeling.
I, too, feel totally inadequate when I try and speak Business Italian or at least, formal Italian.
Whenever I listen to how Italian professionals speak or write I am scared to respond with my fluent but most definitely not ‘up to that standard’ Italian.
I simply don’t have the flowery language and complex, long sentence structures that are expected in professional communication. Plus I haven’t mastered the complex grammar structures.
I feel so frustrated.
❏ Why can’t they speak/write in a less formal way?
❏ Why can’t they communicate as I do?
❏ Why can’t they speak a ‘language’ (an Italian) I understand?
Because you see, English is different.
International Business English is far easier than Italian, French, Spanish, German…(fill in the blanks).
It doesn’t have complex noun phrases, it uses shorter sentences, it’s more direct. The grammar is much simpler. Admittedly, there are fewer rules which can be infuriating if you’re used to strict grammar structures.
It is much more flexible.
Don’t believe me? Consider this.
International Business English is spoken by 2 billion people around the world who’ve adopted and adapted the language to suit their needs. Who have different levels, make mistakes but somehow understand each other.
Think about those meetings you have with your international colleagues. Are you all fluent speakers? Or are you practical speakers? Meaning you use your ‘mistake-prone’ English to get the job done.
❏ You use simple, direct words.
❏ You use easy to understand words.
❏ You use familiar words.
❏ You adapt words so that everyone can understand
❏ You invent words.
And that’s totally ok because English gives you permission to invent words.
How cool is that?
And yet, it’s not good enough.
You still want to speak English like you do your first language. Because that’s the only way you think you’ll demonstrate your expertise.
But what if your interlocutor doesn’t speak in the same way? What if they struggle to understand your flowery language and complex noun phrases?
You’ll both feel frustrated with each other. You’ll waste a lot of time trying to understand each other. Trying to unpick the language and reformulating it.
More importantly, you won’t be communicating because you’re too focused on how you speak.
For example, how is your German colleague going to understand that complex slide you’ve translated from Italian? How are you going to explain it in your English?
The simple answer is with difficulty. You’ll find yourself desperately trying to simultaneously translate. Nightmare.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
If you want to finally feel confident and showcase your expertise to your international colleagues in English, here’s what you’re going to do.
#1: Stop translating
You’re going to stop translating. You’re going to stop thinking in your first language. You’re going to stop thinking like an Italian, German, French etc.
You’re going to change ‘persona’.
You’re going to start thinking as an international speaker of English.
You’re going to start thinking in your English.
And before you tell me your English isn’t good enough and you don’t know how to change, here’s the second thing you’re going to do.
#2: Observe, Reflect and Mirror
You’re going to observe your international colleagues/clients.
What vocabulary do they use? >> Does the vocabulary change? Or do they keep repeating the same expressions? Make a note of useful vocabulary you’d like to use.
Read through their emails. >>What sentence structures do they use? How concise are they? If you understand the email, ask yourself why? Is it because the content is familiar to you? If so, do you need a more sophisticated language to share the same message? How have they used the language to make it clear to you?
How do they listen? >> Do they ask questions? Do they check their understanding by repeating what the presenter has just said? Do they invite others to contribute and listen to the answers? How do they successfully deal with an unfamiliar accent?
How do they adapt to you and others? >> How do they paraphrase or reformulate what they’ve said? Do they ‘invent’ words? Is that helpful to you?
Now reflect on how you could mirror what they do. Don’t be afraid of stealing! That’s how you learn.
❏ Pick the vocabulary you like and is useful and try using it.
❏ Use some of the sentence structures they use in your emails.
❏ Ask checking questions that don’t include apologising for your English.
❏ Try reformulating what you’ve said if you see someone is struggling to follow you.
Don’t seek to speak as you do in your first language.
Don’t seek sophisticated English vocabulary that no one understands
Seek meaningful communication.
That means putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and reflecting on how they need to ‘hear’ you so that they can do what you need/want them to do.
That means creating empathy which says “ you and I are the same when it comes to communicating in English. Let’s help each other out.”