1 Communicating in English in the management context
Although many organisations use the main language of the country in which they are based to carry out their work, others may use another language that is spoken by the majority of those involved. In many cases this is English, since it is now widely spoken in the business community around the world.
The aim of this course is to enhance your ability to communicate with other people in English, both as a manager in your own organisation and as a student. The course will help you develop the ability to read and understand complex documents in English, and to create documents of your own that are appropriate for the global business environment. It will also help you develop the ability to participate comfortably in business situations where English is spoken, understanding other people’s contributions and making contributions of your own. You will therefore be asked to undertake a number of activities involving reading, writing, listening and speaking. The first activity involves reading and writing. The text is taken from the Financial Times, a daily newspaper that is read worldwide by managers and other people who work in business.
Purpose: to read a text about views on the use of English in five companies based in Germany, and to think about the use of different languages in the workplace.
Before reading the text, make a note of your own thoughts on the use of English as a means of communication in the workplace. For example, do you think using English is:
- important for the work that your company does
- not necessary but useful
- something that everybody should be able to do
- useful for a few individuals only
- essential for reading documents, communicating with clients and getting on with colleagues?
English is often said to be a global language. This means that most of the interactions in English taking place in the world today are between people whose first language is not English. It also means that some large transnational companies have a policy of using English in their internal communications.
Read Text 1, ‘English is not always music to the ears’. As you read the text, make a note of any words that are new to you.
English is not always music to the ears
Paolo Carignani knows a lot about the use of different languages to convey ideas. As the Italian music director of the Frankfurt Opera and a guest conductor with orchestras worldwide, Mr Carignani speaks English a lot – but he knows that people of different nationalities in his orchestras do not always understand the language fully.
Even in a setting where most people say they can understand English, he says, it is sometimes better to slip into another language to convey an accurate message. In the musical world that language is Italian.
‘Every musician will understand what fermata, crescendo, forte, ripresa means,’ he says.
Similar thoughts about the imperfections of relying on English occur to Bodo Holz, chief executive of Management Engineers, a Düsseldorf-based management consultancy which, in spite of its name, operates predominantly in Germany. Mr Holz thinks that, even allowing for the extent to which English dominates the global business community, German companies have gone too blindly down the road of operating in the language.
‘In working with our clients, we observe considerable apprehension against “consultantese”, a language dotted with English terms and phrases. And when you come to smaller owner-managed enterprises, you are asked outright: “Can’t you speak German any more?”,’ says Mr Holz.
He is scathing about what he reckons is the over-use of English terms in the German corporate world.
‘English phrases in consulting often are meant to signal “Look. I am an internationally experienced guru.” In reality, they are a smoke screen that inexperienced consultants try to hide behind.’
Gary Elliott, a Canadian who is head of the lift and escalator business of ThyssenKrupp, the German industrial group, is one of a few native English speakers who have risen to prominence in a large German company. He communicates as much as he can in German.
‘In our headquarters everybody does speak English as they have to communicate with our colleagues around the world. However, our meetings in Germany are conducted in German unless there are participants from abroad who do not speak German.
‘This is my wish, after all: living in Germany I must speak the language and with nearly all international communication done in English and so much international travel, the office is the only chance I have to speak German.’
The joint chief executives of Vaillant, a leading German maker of domestic central heating boilers, provide an interesting perspective on the issue. Unusually for a German corporation, Claes Göransson, one of the two top people, is Swedish, while Michel Brosset is French.
Mr Göransson thinks that English is a much easier language to use than German and that people can express themselves more positively using it. One reason for this, he says, is the sheer ubiquity of the language. ‘English is the language of economics, management, business, trade and finance.’
He adds that English is structurally much simpler. ‘English leads with the verb, whereas German leaves it until the end. And English is shorter and more direct.’
Mr Brosset is more ambiguous on the subject. He says that speaking English in meetings where there are different nationalities ‘eases things’.
In the past few years, Vaillant has made some headway in insisting that most internal documents are in English to assist a free flow of information. But Mr Brosset advocates extreme care in switching to English – or any other language with which speakers are not completely comfortable – for no good reason.
‘When everyone around the table speaks German the meeting will be held in German. The same applies for situations where everyone around the table is a French native speaker or has a very good command of the French language.’
He says that managers must be extremely careful before they start foisting languages on people. The greater opportunity for misunderstandings to take place can bring big commercial and personal repercussions.
(Text source: Marsh, 2005)
Throughout this course, you will be coming across new vocabulary and you may be asked to match words with definitions or find definitions for them yourself. We strongly suggest, therefore, that you keep a notebook, either in your Learning Journal or on paper, in which to jot down any new words or expressions that you come across.
In the quiz below, drag and drop the appropriate definition into the appropriate slot. You may need to use a dictionary to find out which definition fits.
Using the following two lists, match each numbered item with the correct letter.
a.a wise person
b.imposing, making people do or use something
f.the language used by consultants
g.something used to hide something
- 1 = f
- 2 = d
- 3 = a
- 4 = g
- 5 = e
- 6 = c
- 7 = b
If any of the words or expressions in the quiz were new to you, make a note of them. If there were other words in the text that you did not know, look them up in the dictionary and make a note of their meanings.
Which languages were used by each of the people mentioned in Text 1, and why? Go back and reread Text 1, and then answer the following questions by entering your comments into the text boxes below.
1 Paolo Carignani
c) written or spoken
2 Bodo Holtz
c) written or spoken
3 Gary Elliott
c) written or spoken
4 Claes Göransson
c) written or spoken
5 Michel Brosset
c) written or spoken
d) reason for using
Below you’ll find a table of languages used by each person in Text 1. Language is an important tool in the manager’s toolbox. As a strategic manager, you need to be able to communicate with people inside and outside your organisation, and to understand exactly what people are saying in the texts that they send to you.
In this course, you will learn about the different language tools that you can use to improve your understanding of texts written in English and your ability to communicate in English. Grammar is one of these tools – a tool for analysing how language is used to construct texts.
Summary of languages spoken in Text 1
|Name of person||Home language||Languages used||Written or spoken||Reason for using|
|Paolo Carignani||Italian||Italian and English||Spoken|
English, a world language
Italian is the language of music
|Bodo Holtz||German||German||Both||English ‘consultantese’ can obscure meaning|
|Gary Elliott||English||German and English||Both|
English, to communicate with colleagues around the world
German, to communicate with colleagues in Germany
|Claes Göransson||Swedish||English and German||Both||English is structurally much simpler and easier to use|
|Michel Brosset||French||German, French and English||Both||Whichever language people are most comfortable with|