English is now only second to Mandarin as the most spoken language on the planet. When international business meetings occur, English usually is the default language for presentations and written materials. As non-native English speakers interact in an increasingly international and connected business world, they must grapple with the nuances of the often complex and tricky rules of the English language.
Here are five essential considerations or skills to conquer when learning English as a non-native:
1. Start with a polished resume and social media presence. Spend some time reviewing resumes of your mentors and leaders in your field, comparing skills they highlight, how verbose their descriptions are, and how much personal information they reveal, for example. If you feel you haven’t fully mastered the English language yet, get some help from a professional, who can go through your resume and social media profiles with you to polish them. Many writers and editors specialize in helping non-native speakers and are adept at spotting typical grammar mistakes based on professionals’ first language.
2. Practice English grammar, spelling and punctuation. There are as many exceptions to rules in English grammar, spelling and punctuation as there are rules. The more you can learn, read and practice writing English, the better you can grasp the concepts. Read often and thoroughly, choosing publications and sites that you know have been professionally edited, such as major newspapers and national magazines or established websites. If you spot inconsistencies in other reading, such as in personal blogs, note your questions and ask a reliable friend whose native language is English or clear up your questions with reference materials.
3. Grasp and memorize tricky idioms. Idioms are expressions for which a reader can’t easily predict the meaning by combining the definition of the individual words alone. For example, if prices have gone “through the roof,” it only means they went way higher than expected. If you misuse idioms, never use them, or can’t translate them, it’s a clue in your business writing or speaking that English is not your first or only language, and it can lead to big misunderstandings. Spend some time learning common business idioms so that your writing stands out for the right reasons.
4. For that matter, master writing in general. If you already had trouble with business writing in your native language, take a little extra time and effort to master your English business writing skills. For example, if you tend to write too academically and adding unnecessary words, correct that problem in any language! Practice or get additional training in how to write with clarity, how to compose your thoughts and how to streamline the process you use when writing.
5. Perfect pronunciation nuances. Learning to write English is essential, as we’ve mentioned. But refining pronunciation helps non-native English speakers better handle personal and work social situations, formal presentations, and simply gain confidence. No matter how bright you are, you sound more intelligent when you pronounce words in your non-native language correctly. It shows you’ve done your homework!