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The Glass Ceiling: Not Just for Women

Language difficulties, cultural barriers, and the pure time cost that it takes many non-native speakers to compose an email in English are getting in the way of opportunities for too many people and companies around the world.

Whether you’re a non-native speaker living and working in an English-speaking country, or a person who works in a company that deals with international clients, or anyone else who has to deal with English correspondence on a regular basis, you may have noticed that the English used in business settings – and especially in emails – is a bit different from simple conversational English that you might hear while you’re out and about.

As email depends so heavily on the reader’s perception, business emails tend to err on the side of politeness in order to avoid any miscommunication that could impact the business. Professional language is employed and a tone of respect is conveyed. While this makes perfect sense from a professional perspective, it can complicate matters for people who may speak English but may not always have a firm grasp on the nuances and cultural differences. Add into the mix that more and more non-native speakers are expected to send English emails regularly, and you have a clear sign that people who don’t want to hit a glass ceiling professionally, have to invest in their English writing.

Recent research by Mimecast shows that email consumes up to 50% of the average working day, and that 39% of users regularly check and send emails outside of working hours. With 70% of business correspondence taking place outside of the English-speaking world, and with a good chunk of that communication still being done in English, the need for fluent and correct emails in the business world is greater than ever. Moreover, for non-native English speakers, the amount of time spent composing and understanding emails in English can get in the way of productivity. This shows definitively that business and English can end up becoming a major part of your life, even if you don’t live in an English-speaking country. The fact of the matter is that writing in professional English is simply integral to business, both on the individual and the corporate level.

Even native speakers might run into problems of making sure that their emails are well-written and culturally appropriate for their target audience. For instance, there are nearly a billion native speakers in countries that were once colonized by Britain, but these countries have a very different business culture than North America, for instance, and certainly from other economic centers that are still entering the English-speaking market, such as Korea and China. On the same side of the coin, more and more internationally-based companies are switching their internal language of communication to English regardless of location, including Samsung, Rakuten and Air France.

A recent Economist Intelligence Unit study showed that out of 572 surveyed executives at multinational companies, nearly half admitted that a basic misunderstanding had prevented them from closing international business deals, resulting in major financial losses for their companies. 64% of these executives also admitted that communication difficulties made it difficult to enter new foreign markets. What’s most striking however is that almost 90% of those surveyed said that if international communication improved then profits, revenue, and market share would increase “significantly”.

Language difficulties, cultural barriers, and the pure time cost that it takes many non-native speakers to compose an email in English are getting in the way of opportunities for too many people and companies around the world. Helping businesses and their employees better communicate in order to facilitate successful international interactions is part of Rephraser’s core mission. By helping to level the playing field for ambitious individuals and companies around the world, we hope that we can make business a bit easier and much more fruitful.

By Ronit Zimmer, first published on May 11, 2016 on www.mailfixer.com