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Want To Get A Promotion? Choose The Right Words!

Congratulations! You are part of an international company. How exciting! It’s going to be an easy and smooth journey for you, right?


Being part of an international business is as every bit of challenging as it is exciting. In addition to dealing with the day to day responsibilities, you are also dealing with complex international obstacles. Perhaps, the most challenging thing  is the communication barriers due to cultural differences. English is the single international language used within international businesses. However, just because everyone is expected to communicate in English does not mean we all do it in the same way. Understanding the culture and expressing your ideas just like in your native language is a lot of effort, but is it really worth it?


While it is important to understand the benefits of a global workplace, it is also important to understand the challenges associated with it. If you are not proficient in English, watch out for these pitfalls: direct translation from your native language, false friends, and idioms.

1. Why Are They Not Understanding Me?

Often times, non-native English speakers tend to translate literally their native language into English. That can be problematic when it comes to working in an international organization because not every country has the same way of speaking. For example, a simple sentence in English follows a subject-verb-object pattern, but in Japanese, the language structure is subject-object-verb. Direct translation of a language that does not follow the same structure as English can create a lot  of confusion.

Sentence structure - Talaera

There can also be a challenge with grammar tenses because different languages have different uses for different tenses. Speaking in an incorrect tense can be confusing, especially when you are giving a presentation that deals with timelines. Let’s take the present perfect tense for instance. In English, we use the present perfect to discuss events which started at some point in the past and continue until today. For example, you would say: “I have been learning English for five years”.  Meaning, you started learning English five years ago, and you are still learning it today. In languages such as Hebrew, the present perfect tense does not even exist! So a direct translation for the same sentence could be something like: “I learn English for five years”. If you raised an eyebrow and tilted your head to the side, that is the correct reaction! Direct translations can sound unfamiliar and confusing.

Word choice is another challenge when it comes to direct translation. For example, in English, you would say: “I go on vacation”, but in a language such as German, a direct translation of that sentence would be “I make a vacation”. This is a habit that can be hard to get rid of, especially if you are just starting to learn English, but with effective training you will be able to eventually switch your thoughts from your native language to English! Once you get used to thinking in English, eventually you will end up having English dreams. How fascinating would that be?

2. Call It False Friends, Call It The Enemy

  • What a Spanish speaker says: “I saw a crazy manifestation this morning!
  • What an English speaker understands: “He’s saying that he either saw a ghost or God this morning. Ahem...

Did the Spanish speaker see a ghost in the morning? Probably not. Considering that in Spanish manifestación means demonstration, he probably meant that there were lots of people on the street complaining and protesting.

False Friends  - get a promotion Talaera

False friends are a big contributor to the word choices as well. False friends are words that look or sound similar in two languages, but have an entirely different meaning. For example, the word embarazada in Spanish sounds a lot like the word embarrassed in English; however, embarazada means pregnant. My personal favorite is the word bekommen in German. It sounds a lot like the English word become, but the meaning is not the same! Bekommen means to receive, so when my German student said: “My daughter became a bicycle for her birthday”, I pictured a little girl turning into a bicycle, and tried my best not to chuckle until after I had explained what the student had said vs. what he had meant.

Can you think of any false friends in your native language?


Sounds Like…


Sounds Like…

Actual (current)


Also (thus)


Asistir (attend)


Bald (soon)


Codo (elbow)


Fabrik (factory)


Colegio (school)


Konfession (religion)


Disgusto (worry, upset)


Stock (floor)


Sopa (soup)


Tag (day)


Ropa (clothes)


Wand (wall)


Introducir (insert)


Rat (advice)


Estimado (dear)


Objective (lens)


Recordar (remember)


Spenden (donate)



3. Do You Have Long Teeth? And Other Hilarious Idioms

Other challenges associated with direct translation include use of local idioms, phrases, and sarcasm. A lot of times, cultural idioms, phrases, and sarcasm do not translate well into English and other cultures may find it irrelevant. For example, in German, there is an expression that says “die Kirche im Dorf lassen” which means “leave the church in the town". What in the world does that mean? Well, turns out, it means avoid making a fuss about something. Of course, there are expressions that are similarly used in multiple cultures and languages; however, it’s too much of a risk to assume that is the case, so it’s better to not translate expressions at all to stay on the safe side.

Misunderstanding - Talaera tips get a promotion

Can you think of idioms or expressions in your culture that wouldn’t really make sense when translated to English?




Avoir les dent longues (French)

To have long teeth

To be ambitious

Eine Extrawurst verlangen (German)

To ask for an extra sausage

To ask for special treatment

Ser un rata (Spanish)

To be a rat

To be stingy

Non avere peli sulla lingua (Italian)

Without hair on his tongue

To be brutally honest

Mieć muchy w nosie (Polish)

They have flies up their nose

They are angry

Sof Haderech (Hebrew)

End of the road

When something is incredible

S dovolením! (Czech)

Mind your back!

Excuse me!

落汤鸡 (luò tāng jī)


Drop soup chicken

Getting caught in the rain

芋を洗うよう (imo wo arau yō)(Japanese)

Like washing potatoes

It’s very crowded

Naach Na Jaane, Aangan Tedha (Indian)

Doesn’t know how to dance, but says the courtyard is crooked

Making an excuse for shortcomings


Oh, No, What Should I Do?

The problem with misunderstandings is that it can lead to misinterpretations, mistrust and an unsupportive relationship. To overcome these communication and cultural barriers, learn about the other country’s culture, stay professional, and double check that what you are saying is what you mean. And more importantly -check that what you mean is what others are understanding.  

It is normal to not know everything about every country from the get-go. It is a learning process as you work together to accomplish common goals. The best way to approach international challenges is to assume the most standard ways of professional communication, which requires a substantial knowledge of basic professional English. It is essential to not let misunderstandings pass by without pursuing an explanation. Too many misunderstandings can be problematic and interrupt the workflow.

Strong Communication Skills Will Get You A Promotion

good news - promotion Talaera tips

There is no doubt, though, that strong communication skills are key to the success of an international organization, and as an individual, your chances of getting promoted increase exponentially.

Cultural challenges can be resolved through learning how to communicate effectively. Although cultural differences are inevitable, there are professional standards that every country can agree upon. Learning how to speak effectively can be challenging even in your native language, let alone in a different language! However, learning the basics and the standardized way of business communication can have tremendous results.

An effective way to learn business English is through Talaera. Our professional and personable teachers help professionals like you overcome communication barriers on a daily basis, whether it’s  learning the basics of English, building up confidence, how to run a meeting, how to write an email, how to give a presentation, or even how to take your business English to a close-to-native level.

International businesses are becoming more and more common. Are you ready to take on the communicational and cultural challenges associated with a global business?


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