This is a question I often get asked. Typically, I respond, “Your English is already good enough. Don’t worry and just try it. You will learn by doing.” Despite my sincere encouragement, I usually fail to convince them. “Oh, you are just saying that to make me feel better. You don’t understand because your English must be good,” they say.
But I do understand. When I was asked to write this column for The Korea Herald, I had a similar doubt. My first question to the editor was, “Do you think my English is good enough to write for a newspaper? I only know business English.”
Excellent English is a fantastic bonus, but effective communication is what is important in a multinational company or, for that matter, in any company. Effective communication is about expressing yourself clearly and concisely. Your goal should be to communicate effectively, not to speak perfect English.
Kim Sang-joon was a salesperson in a Korean company when the company was acquired by a multinational company. He panicked. The last time he spoke or read English was more than 20 years ago in his high school English class, and now he had a new American CEO. He tried his best to avoid having meetings with foreigners in the office, but one day, he found himself in a big meeting with the CEO and an Indian director joining in to discuss a new retail distribution strategy for Gangwon Province. Everyone spoke in English. Kim remembers using phrases like “no good,” “expensive,” “margin issue” and nothing in a full sentence. To his surprise, however, the CEO later thanked him for his contribution to the meeting. Kim was not eloquent but he communicated in a simple and clear manner. He used a few words. He spoke slowly. He did not speak much, but the entire room paid attention to him when he spoke. His communication was effective.
Cho Sun-ah is the head of research and development at a multinational health care company in Korea. She has a doctorate in science and is passionate about her work, enjoying empowerment and a sense of responsibility. Her concern was her English pronunciation in global meetings. “Everyone understands the French person’s English pronunciation and the Indian person’s English with a heavy accent, but why don’t they understand my English?” she asked. Her solution was to write. She sent an email with her viewpoints to all the participants before the meeting. In her email, she wrote the conclusion first, followed by three short reasons, ending it with an invitation for further discussion. This allowed her to explain her points succinctly at the meeting and the participants appreciated her additional effort. It helped her not only deliver her message accurately but also helped her build good relationships with her colleagues.
Like the two people above, you will eventually find solutions that work best for you and others. So, don’t worry about your English and just go ahead and try if you are interested in joining a multinational company. When in doubt about your communication skills, remember the following:
- Be concise and clear. Long sentences often confuse the audience.
- Conclusion first. Deliver your most important message up front.
- Speak slowly.
- Ask questions whenever something is unclear. The person will appreciate your effort to understand fully.
Above all, keep learning and be patient with yourself. It takes time. As you get to know the business and build relationships with the people you work with, effective communication will follow in no time.
* All names have been changed to protect privacy.
Kim Jooyoun, an independent board member at SK Innovation and a former CEO at P&G, answers questions on careers and multinational companies. Kim can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. -- Ed.