business English for non-native speakers

Business English for non-native speakers

English is one of the most used languages worldwide with 1.27 billion people counting English as their native language or as a second language in 2019.

With globalization, as of September 2020, 59.9% of content on the internet is in English.  In fact, many international companies have adopted English as their common corporate language even if they were not originally from an English-speaking country.

This article is for non-native English speakers in both English-speaking and countries where English isn’t the first language who are interested in improving their English for business communication.

First, let’s take a look at why English is important for business communication.

Importance of business English skills for non-native speakers in English-speaking countries

You are expected to be fluent in English

If you are in an English-speaking country, employers automatically expect that you can speak fluent English. In the corporate world (and in life), effective communication is so important that if you can’t communicate well in English, you might not be considered for the job at all. Lack of English fluency can also hurt your chances of advancing in your career.

Recommended reading:

Top 10 interview tips for non-native English speakers

How to ace your job interview: The complete guide

Better communication with colleagues

In all workplaces, teamwork and collaboration are now core business strategies. You need to be understood by the people you work with. It’s not enough to only have a basic command of English, you need to be fluent in the language to make your point clearly and avoid miscommunication.

Further reading: 7 Key Interpersonal Communication Skills (with practical tips for improvement)

Delivering your ideas effectively

Even with the help of power point slides, you need to be able to verbally deliver a presentation or speech with impact.

You might have the most brilliant ideas in the world and be extremely skilled at what you do but if you can’t get your point across, you are lost to your audience.


Networking is one of the best ways to develop your career and can lead to job leads and opportunities for advancement in your field. Being able to communicate well to build rapport and mutual understanding is vital for your personal brand.

Attracting and retaining customers

If you are a business owner and need to converse with customers, having poor fluency and proficiency in English can seriously undermine your influence with customers. In an English-speaking country, you are expected to be able to converse in English well with your customers and is key to customer relationship management.

Importance of English in business communication for people in countries where English isn’t their first language

English is the world’s lingua franca. What is lingua franca you ask? Lingua franca is a language that is adopted as a common language between speakers whose native languages are different.

The use of English in business communication has become so prevalent that Business English is now a subject of study.

Competitive business pressure and doing business worldwide

English is a world language that is most widely spoken and likely fastest spreading in the world today. If you want to sell to a larger market, you need to be able to communicate with your potential customers, whether it is through your website, via email or on the phone.

Anyone who wants to do business globally must be proficient in speaking and writing in English –

Globalization of companies

Many companies have branches in different countries and language differences in geographically dispersed employees can cause costly breakdown in communications.

Many global companies are enforcing English as a company standard. For example, Rakuten from Japan and Nestlé from Switzerland.

It is in your best interest to be fluent in English. It is not only important for obtaining work in multi-national companies but communicating in English is the future of all businesses.

Continued professional development

59.9% of websites are in English. This includes industry  blogs, professional development courses. and international forums. A good command of English is essential for interacting with international players in your field.

English opens up your world

If you want to travel for business, or work for an international company, you need to be fluent in English to communicate with the rest of the world.

How can non-native speakers improve our English?

Have the interest to learn

At the heart of learning anything well is the passion to improve –

When you have the interest and passion to learn English, it will open up your mind and help you step out of your comfort zone.

Learn the basics of effective communication

Effective communication is something that even native English speakers often fail at. If you can get these pillars of communication right, it doesn’t matter if your vocabulary is limited or your grammar is not spot-on, you will still shine.

  1. Understand yourself

Why are you talking ? What message are you trying to deliver? How do you tend to communicate?

  1. Understand your listener

What are their goals and challenges? How do they receive messages best?

  1. Active listening

Listening is a lost art. We often say we are listening but we are actually thinking about what to say next and waiting for our turn to speak again.

If you can really listen,, not only will you build rapport and trust, you will gather priceless information about your listener that will help you communicate even more effectively.

  1. Speak simply and clearly

Can you simplify your message further? If you can take a complex issue and simplify it in a way your audience can understand easily, you’ve hit the jackpot.

As non-native speakers, sometimes we fall back on technical jargon and formal sentences but if we can say it in simple English, it is much more likely for others to understand us.

It doesn’t matter if you have an accent if you can speak clearly and pronounce your words in a way that others can catch.

  1. Seek clarification

This works both ways. After you deliver your message, ask the other party for clarification if they understood what you just said.

After listening carefully, repeat what you understood from the conversation so any misunderstanding can be ironed out immediately.

Think in English

When you think in your native language and speak in English, there is a distinct lag time for translation to happen in your brain. This causes awkward pauses when you are speaking and affects your fluency and flow significantly.

Here are some exercises to help train you to think in English.

Take note of the local conversation style

Different communities will have different conversation styles. Take note of the way native English speakers around you talk.

How fast do they talk?

How loudly or softly do they talk?

What are their pitch, intonation and stress patterns?

What is the conversation etiquette? Do they take turns to talk or interrupt whenever they have something to say?

What is their body language when they are speaking?

What are the local cultural norms?

When you’ve heard enough local English conversations, you will start to find common patterns of speech. Remember these nuances when you are practicing your English.

Practice, practice, practice

To be able to communicate in English in the shortest time possible, there is only one way. Practice speaking and writing in English.

No matter how many courses you take or how many books you read, if you don’t practice your language skills, you will get nowhere –

Practice in low-impact situations like when you are shopping, conversing with friends, on online forums and on social media. As you gain confidence, slowly work your way to more high-impact situations like interviews and presentations. Ask for honest feedback whenever you can.

Pre-plan your message

Before you open your mouth to speak, think about your message and how you can deliver it in the simplest, clearest way possible. This is important for everyone but especially for non-native speakers. If you start going off on a tangent or speaking in a convoluted way, your message will get lost.

Ask for clarification

If you are not sure what someone has just said, rather than pretend you did, there is no shame in asking for clarification. Instead of saying “I don’t understand what you are saying”, use phrases like:

“Just to make sure I understood you correctly, did you say ….”

“Did you mean….”

“ So what you are saying is… Is that right?”

After you have delivered your message, look for verbal and non-verbal cues that the other person understood what you just said.

If they look confused or have a frown on their face, there is a good chance they didn’t understand you even if they had not asked for clarification.

If in doubt, ask them to tell you what they understood in their own words.

Reflect and repair

After a conversation, especially if you feel that it didn’t go as well as you would have liked, reflect on how you could have communicated better.

Did you speak too quickly?

Did you mumble or speak too softly?

If you could have the conversation again, how would you have communicated differently?

Enroll in English courses

To improve your English, taking a good Business English course, either online or locally, is your best option for comprehensive guidance.

Other ways to supplement courses is by reading English books, playing word games, listening to English podcasts or watching local news or talk shows.

Have confidence in yourself

Non-native speakers can often feel self-conscious about their accent and feel that native English speakers are looking down on them. This might or might not be true but there will always be people who will judge you, no matter how you speak.

When you lack confidence to converse in English, it becomes a vicious cycle where you will practice less, speak more softly and focus on yourself instead of the conversation. All these will contribute to avoiding speaking in English and therefore being less proficient in the language. This will erode your confidence even further.

I say stop worrying about what other people are thinking and just do it!

How do I practice English if I am not in an English-speaking country?

I admit learning English when you’re not in an English-speaking country is challenging. However, with the internet, this is entirely possible.

Watch this short video on how you can improve your basic English to business English.

Here are some ways you can practice English even if you’re not in an English-speaking country:

  1. Using the internet to learn English
  1. Watch English movies, listen to English podcasts and read English books
  2. Think in English
  3. Join an English-speaking local club to practice English
  4. Practice with a friend
  5. Continuously research English words you don’t understand
  6. Learn English with Alexa

How do I speak English like a native speaker?

Get familiar with the local conversation style

Take note of nuances in the local lingo and imitate their pronunciation. Good pronunciation always makes a good first impression.

Use local slang

Who would have thought in Australia, ‘gnarly’ means awesome and a ‘snag’ is a sausage? Look out for local slang words that you can incorporate into your spoken English to blend in better with the local community.


You can’t get away from it. English speaking practice is the cornerstone of improving your English language skills.

Everyone has an accent, even the native English speaker. Accept that your original accent will always be there. Be proud of your heritage –

Importance of business writing skills for non-native speakers

Business English writing is an important part of communication in the workplace and being able to write proficiently allows you to communicate your message with clarity and ease to a large audience.

Emails, letters, reports and other writings are essential for business communication. Poorly written English is a source of confusion and frustration in the workplace.

Being able to write well in English enables you to broadcast your ideas and showcase your intelligence. It’s also a vital in helping you climb the career ladder.

Further reading: Effective Business Writing Skills: A step-by-step guide to Professional Writing

How can non-native speakers improve our business English writing skills?


Read industry blogs, magazines, reports, emails and other forms of written business communication. This will help you understand the general grammar rules and specific technical terms used.

Writing in simple English

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to prove how broad your English vocabulary is by writing complicated sentences with lots of technical jargon and and buzzwords.

Write in plain English to get your point across –


Yes, you guessed right. Again, the only way to improve your writing skills is to keep on writing. Ask for feedback on how you can improve.

Have a framework

Emails are probably the most common form of business writing you do. Here is a simple framework for emails:

  1. Greeting – Use ‘Dear’, ‘Hi’ or ‘To whom it may concern’
  2. Thank the recipient if responding to an email – for example, ‘thank you for your prompt reply’
  3. State your purpose if starting a new email communication. For example, ‘I am writing to enquire…’
  4. Closing remarks. Close your email politely. For example, ‘Thank you for your help/consideration/cooperation/time and ‘I look forward to hearing from you.’
  5. End your email with phrases like ‘Yours sincerely’, ‘Best Regards’ or ‘Kindly’

Pro tip: Before sending, re-read your email to get a feel for the emotional temperature – is it a warm or cold email? If your email reads abruptly, are there better ways to phrase your words? Can you make your email more concise? Use spell and grammar check.

Over to you

It is obvious that communicating well in English is vital to succeeding in the workplace and in life. More importantly, as a non-native English speaker, you are now armed with the knowledge of how you can improve your spoken and written business English.

Now it is up to you to get out there and … you guessed it… practice, practice, practice!

If you found this article helpful, spread the message by sharing this with your family and friends.

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