If you are native English speaker you’ve probably never given it much thought. You’ve been able to conduct your business negotiations without the additional burden of trying to figure out idioms and usage. For those who speak English as a second language, it’s probably much more difficult.

More and more, English is the universal language of business. For instance, deals between Japan and the United States are conducted in English. But does that put the Japanese at a disadvantage?

Language is more than just knowing the words. To be fully conversant in another language, you have to understand idioms, expressions, nuance, and alternative uses for words. For instance, in English we often say sarcastically, “yeah, right!” If you just listen to the words and don’t understand the sarcasm, this could mean that everything is OK.

In business negotiations, everything that is said at the negotiating table matters. Everyone must understand what is going on and what is being said. It is essential to master the language that is being spoken. That does not mean that you cannot participate if English is not your primary language, but perhaps it will depend more on your skill level.

For people who are learning English as a second language, specifically for business, there are many resources out there. We found this website that gives an overview of useful business expressions: http://www.eslgold.com/business/useful_expressions.html

Native English speakers also have to be aware of their language during a negotiation. In this case, it is not simply about understanding the words, but understanding the other side. For instance, are you dealing with people whose culture is more polite? Then you would do well to be more polite in your language. Are you using too much jargon? Are you being grammatically correct? In short, are you making yourself understood? Here’s a helpful guide on “How to Use Appropriate Business Language.” http://www.ehow.com/how_17589_appropriate-business-language.html

Have you encountered a negotiation where language was a barrier? How did you manage to overcome the situation?

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