But behind this trend toward using English in business (regardless of citizenship or native language) are millions of individuals devoting time and patience to becoming fluent and able to compete in such a market.
Yet businesspeople who are learning English face many obstacles. According to a 2013 study by KnowledgeAdvisors about the use of English in business, these obstacles could be thwarting the attempts of many businesspeople to learn the language.
According to the GlobalEnglish white paper in which this study’s results were published, despite the need to be able to interact in English, “companies around the world find themselves ill-prepared. Only 7% of global workers feel their English is good enough to do their jobs, and only 13% of university graduates in emerging countries are hirable in multinational companies due to their poor English skills.”
So what’s holding non–English-speaking businesspeople back from gaining these coveted skills? Certainly, learning a new language is no small task, but the rewards for adapting to the demands of the business world are many. The GlobalEnglish white paper says that “one in four CEOs say they are missing market opportunities because of talent challenges.” If you can expand your skill set to fill this need, your value as an employee is almost certain to increase.
The following are five obstacles businesspeople face when learning English. Don’t allow these obstacles to hold you back.
1. Lack of time
Let’s start with the most obvious hurdle to learning any language: not having enough time. Businesspeople in particular always seem to be on the go, juggling work responsibilities and project ideas, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, caring for families, and keeping up with friendships.
How on earth can anyone find the time to learn a whole new language on top of all that?
The key here is prioritization and consistency. Let’s face it: certain things, such as family, just have to be more important than learning a language.
To overcome this obstacle, you’ll need a combination of willpower and cunning. If you’re serious about learning English, you must commit to practicing the language consistently. Then, even if you can’t spend as much time learning the rules as you’d like, try supplementing this by finding a buddy to practice with during downtime, such as on your lunch break.
This brings us to our next obstacle . . .
No one—or very few people—can learn in isolation. We need teachers, peers, and learning tools to support us in the learning process. This is particularly true when learning a language; language is all about communication, which requires the involvement of more than one person.
Instead of burying yourself under a pile of dictionaries and language books, try seeking out people to have conversations with in English or courses that offer engaging language training with clearly defined learning outcomes, such as GrammarCamp by Scribendi.com.
The Internet can be a great place to practice interacting in English, and finding coworkers who are also seeking to learn is a great way to supplement this because you can encourage one another throughout the learning process. Whichever route you take, be intentional about finding support and accountability.
3. Simply not enjoying or liking the language
Finding time to learn something you’re interested in is enough of a struggle—this obstacle can become insurmountable when coupled with a genuine abhorrence of the material you’re learning.
Perhaps you don’t enjoy learning any language, or perhaps you just can’t take to the sounds and rules of English in particular. Whatever the case, the key will be using methods of learning that you do enjoy. Try reading online English articles about a topic that does interest you or watching some of your favorite television shows in English or with English subtitles.
Hopefully, these methods will help get you to a place in the learning process where you can begin to enjoy the language itself; if not, at least they get the job done.
4. Fear of losing cultural identity
Despite the pressure to learn English in business, some people are hesitant to get on the bandwagon for fear that it will weaken their own cultural identities.
Because language and culture are so closely related to each other, one can see why such fears are legitimate. The solution to this obstacle is less straightforward than the solutions to previous obstacles. As a native English speaker, I am certainly not in a position to pronounce such fears as unfounded. However, in the interest of helping people overcome obstacles to learning English, I do present the humble suggestion that learning English could actually strengthen cultural identity, allowing people to discuss their own values, backgrounds, and cultures with a greater number of individuals from differing circumstances.
Also, even though practicing a language as much as possible while learning it is beneficial, if the loss of cultural identity is a fear of yours, try to keep your use of the English language specific to your situation. For instance, use English when speaking to international clients and colleagues, and use your native language at home and with friends.
Embarrassment and discouragement when learning English are bound to affect the learning process. According to Tsedal Neely in an article in Forbes, “Incredibly competent employees who are experts in their various areas of work . . . say they feel ‘childlike’ when they have to switch to the working language.”
In the professional world, people are judged by the quality of their ideas, and because language is the medium through which these ideas are communicated, not being able to communicate effectively is particularly frustrating.
Overcoming this obstacle must be a joint effort between native (or fluent) English speakers and learners of the language. Those who are already proficient in English should be patient and respectful of English learners, and they should also alter the way they speak by using shorter and more widely known words.
Not only is this a kind thing to do, but it will also allow for more productive communication. To overcome discouragement, English learners need to be patient with themselves and remember that learning a language is a difficult task that takes time—years, even—to accomplish.
It seems trite to say, but remember that no matter your level of proficiency, you are working to accomplish a very difficult task that requires tremendous effort.
Try to avoid becoming too disheartened; if you can persevere, you will eventually get to a place where you’re confident in your English-language ability.
Apparently, the global use of English in business is here to stay, at least for a while. Although this means that businesspeople who do not speak English must now learn the language, the stability of English in the business world also means that those who expend the time and effort in learning the language—be it through practice with peers, an online training course, or a combination of both—will surely reap the rewards.
If businesspeople who are learning English can overcome the obstacles to the learning process, they can be the ones to fill the talent gap that is affecting so many companies.
Don’t give up!
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