Manager Tips: How to Manage Your English-speaking Clients

by Jacqueline Schaalje

Here are some tips for managers who need to improve their English. They make up an important part of my students. It always amazes me that they haven’t thought of doing something about their English sooner. They really wait until they get stuck in their careers and then they suddenly think: “OMG, I need English lessons.” Not all managers are like that of course, but a lot.

So my first tip is: Don’t wait until your English is an embarrassment for the company you work for and for yourself. Do something!

1 A little bit of English learning is better than nothing.

Everybody understands that you’re a busy man or woman. You’re the boss, are you? You’re not twiddling your thumbs all day. You have a partner and six children at home. Yeah yeah. I’ve hear that before. Start doing something in English for only five minutes a day. Cut down your TV and FB time, unless this is an English programme spoken in English or an English page, and it’s not something that is brainless.

2 Think you can learn English from watching TV?

Might be true, but it depends what kind of show it is. If you need to work on your small talk, talk shows are great. But if you need to learn business conversations, it won’t help you if you watch how giraffes are moved on National Geographic or laugh yourself a bellyache watching a comedy series. Unless the last one is set in an office. If you need to be able to use business terms, watch CNN Money or something similar.

3 Don’t Spend Hours Learning English

You don’t need to spend hours in front of the telly. Five minutes of some YouTube videos about a subject you need to talk about are a lot more effective than TV. I show my students some little video and then I invite them to discuss the issues. They learn very fast.

4 You don’t understand your English-speaking clients, colleagues and managers?

Especially when they’re native? Well, that means you need to work harder. They’re probably using words that you don’t know. Open an English learning book especially for business. There are lots of business books on the website of Englishtips.org that you can download for free. Look up a chapter with words that you need in your profession, and start learning those. Better yet: learn whole phrases. There are even books for nurses, marketing personnel and lawyers. The books about economics and general business are suitable for managers in any professional field.

5 Your English-speaking clients, managers and colleagues have a funny accent?

Don’t worry, they’ll also have trouble understanding your accent. Usually after you’ve spoken to each other for a couple of minutes, you’ll get used to each other’s accents. Just ask them to slow down, repeat what they’ve just said, and/or check back that what you think they said is really what they said.

Throw in sentences like these:

A Sorry, could you slow down a little bit?

B Sorry, could you repeat what you’ve just said?

C Sorry, did you just say …?

D So if I’ve understood you correctly, you mean that …?

Then say thank you when they’ve repeated themselves or clarified again.

6 Practise English skills before you need them.

If you need to negotiate in English, sign a contract or go on a visit to a plant, practise this in advance.

You can practise a role play with an English teacher, but also with another English speaker (if you know one) or with a friend or family member. The important thing is to prepare your conversation in advance. This will give you an idea of any important words you still need to learn or any sentences and questions you need to have ready for when the conversation gets stuck.

7 Be professional. Don’t be lazy.

I hope these tips will give you some ideas of how you can be a more professional manager in English.

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