If you learned English at school in Germany, you probably feel pretty comfortable with the “standard” British English or American English accents. But what happens when you have native-speaking colleagues in a city like New York, Dublin or Bangalore, or need to communicate regularly with non-native speakers in a country like Spain, Poland or China?

Many German businesspeople tell me that they sometimes have to communicate with colleagues in the UK, but never completely understand them because of their strong accent. Another common story is that a German company has an office in a country where English is not an official language, but it’s the only language that is mutually understood (meaning that Germans and Russians are communicating in English, for example).

Apart from linguistic factors like pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary, communication problems can also occur due to cultural differences. So what can you do to communicate more effectively?

Here are three simple tips:

Watch English-language films or TV shows with characters who have the same accent as your colleague
If you need to communicate with Indians, try watching Slumdog Millionaire or paying special attention to Raj Koothrappali in the US TV comedy The Big Bang Theory. Listening to an accent often can help you to ‘tune in’, allowing you to recognise speech patterns.

Try to learn a little bit of your colleague’s native language through English
Learning the basics of a language like Spanish won’t mean you’ll be able to do business meetings in that language, but it will help you to see things from your colleague’s perspective. A language coursebook for beginners in English should identify the main differences between the two languages and the typical problems and misunderstandings that will occur.

Read about your colleague’s culture in English
There are lots of guidebooks for tourists and expats that explain the history and culture of a country, allowing you to get an idea of the national mentality. These guides also usually point out things you should or shouldn’t do in that country, which will help you to understand what could offend someone in your daily business.

Remember that English may be the common language in the world of international business, but it’s still important to understand the regional differences which influence the ways that people speak and understand it. Making a little bit of extra effort can help you to create not only successful working relationships, but maybe even lifelong friendships, too.

If you would like to discuss how you or your staff can learn to communicate more effectively with international colleagues or clients from a particular region, please feel free to contact me at philmarlowenglish@gmail.com