‘They speak English so I’ll be okay.’ Not so fast

The English language on business assignment: Follies and foibles
By Rensia Melles
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 10/10/2002

How many Canadians put food on the barbie? Then again, Australians don’t sit on the chesterfield. In the United Kingdom, people wear jumpers, a rare occurrence in other parts of the world.

It’s a mistake to expect English vocabulary to have the same connotations and values internationally. And, English-speaking countries are certainly culturally diverse, ranging from Canada and the United States to the U.K., Australia and Malaysia, to name a few. With this in mind, it is easy to see why miscommunications occur so frequently among expatriates, business travellers and host nationals.

Often, the expectation for English-speaking individuals working and living in English-speaking countries is that the cultural transition will be relatively easy. Most of the time, this is simply not the case. In fact, many expats and short-term assignees experience long periods of cultural adjustment that lead to misunderstandings in business, personal anxiety and depression, and challenges to the family unit.