Email essentials for intercultural business

Most of us today spend more time than we want to writing and responding to emails, often in more than one language. Did you know that the average office worker gets 121 emails per day, and that 2.4 million emails are sent per second? Incredible!

As emails are possibly the most important communication tool we have today, they’re also a key topic of current research into Business English as a Lingua Franca. Even small companies need to develop excellent email skills in English to deal with foreign business partners. I spoke at the BESIG conference in Malta this year on just this topic. I presented 2 pieces of research that show us that there are specific skills which we should include on our syllabus when teaching emailing skills, not just the standard phrases which are presented in course books.

  1. Adapting and accommodating – the skills we need to make English easier for business partners. This includes choosing simpler language, producing shorter sentences, and focusing on only one or two key words to describe something, rather than using a wide variety of words for the same concept. Here’s an example:

Screen Shot 2017-11-15 at 09.39.42

  1. Politeness and face-saving – avoiding conflict and showing respect to our partners so that communicating difficult messages is as harmonious as possible. This is summarised here:

Screen Shot 2017-11-15 at 09.40.38

Apart from language accuracy, I believe we need to focus on helping our learners develop 3 key skills:

  1. Be more analytical – think about their partners and their language use
  2. Don’t stick to one style, because that reflects who you are – be flexible because you need to also recognise who the other people are
  3. Pay close attention to the emails you receive – try and mirror the style of the people you write to and see how they react.

We all teach email skills, but make sure that what you teach is up to date and reflects what learners really need, even if the don’t yet know it themselves! I’ve prepared a lesson plan on email essentials for intercultural business which you can use to practice these skills in your classroom. Specifically it focuses on simplifying language and using politeness strategies. If you have any feedback or comments I’d be happy to hear from you. Happy teaching!



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