Are you really ready to rumble in foreign markets?

Actualizado: 22 jun 2021

Okay, so you drew up your strategy, you found a local partner that will help you cut through all the red tape, you are all packed and eager to get that plane to Beijing to start doing business and to finally make a killing but... are you really ready to rumble in foreign markets?

Do you master the international language of business?

It is probably no secret that business speaks English, at least for the most part. It is true that Spanish and other local languages may be a plus when trying to do business abroad, but with English you can (almost) never go wrong. And yet business people don't seem to get it.

Let's focus on Spain, the country where I'm based. I have been teaching English in Madrid to executives for about five years now and, unfortunately, the scene has not changed much since 2010. According to a study released by EF in 2014, Spanish business people have, generally speaking, an intermediate level which is not bad to order your fish 'n chips in London but clearly does not suffice if you want to close a 100K deal.

With the recession, many companies want to go international and they have the right strategy and the right product to succeed abroad. Their staffs have the technical expertise and the attitude but they are overconfident with their English skills. They don't realize that language will be a barrier the minute they have a first meeting with a potential customer.

I have seen top executives make a fool of themselves trying to give a presentation in English in front of an international audience. I was in the booth trying to interpret into Spanish and it all sounded Greek to me —and I am used to the accent and to the Spanish-resembling structures—, so just imagine the clueless faces of potential investors in the room. Unless you are Emilio Botín, former Chairman of Banco Santander, I don't think you can afford such poor language skills.

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EF EPI Índice de nivel de inglés

I don't want English to be a barrier for my business, what do I do?

Now you are starting to relate to what you are reading and you are probably nervous about it. 'So what do I do?' you may be wondering. Don't panic. Keep reading.

First of all, take a step back: are you really aware of your needs? Sometimes it is easy to actually believe that what we see in other organizations is true for us too. Depending on the size of your business and the profile of the professionals who will be involved in the internationalization process you may need support in different areas.

At times, you may just need some incoming or outgoing emails translated, or just some assistance for a phone conversation. Occasionally, you may have an interpreter attend a meeting with you to make sure you convey your full message to your customer. You may just need to implement an ongoing English training program in your company, focusing on specific vocabulary and communication situations.

Or maybe you are just fine. Maybe the relevant people in your organization already have an acceptable command of the language for the type of interaction they are having and the rest of the staff do not need English at all. Have you thought about that? Perhaps translating your website into English does not make sense after all if your main target is domestic.

How do I know if my English is good enough?

Sometimes we need somebody outside of our own organization who can analyze our pains in order to implement specific measures. You may be seeing the mote in your brother's eye without noticing the beam in yours.

Try to base your decisions on objective evidence. A level test would be an interesting first step to take. There are several around, the most famous being TOEIC.

However, if you do not know where to start, I would recommend you find a language partner who can guide you through the process. The answers are usually simple if you ask the right questions to the right professional. Don't let English mastery or the lack of it undermine your potential international success. Get ready to rumble in international markets before you cross the pond.

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