Sometimes people speak literally, and other times you have to read between the lines to find the deeper meaning in someone’s communication – even when you speak their native tongue. The “Americanized” English dialect with its slang and hidden connotations in words can be tricky for someone who speaks English as a second language. You have to remember your international business partner is translating your words from their language of origin, so there could be some bumps in communication. The more you understand that, the better off you’ll be in conversation.

For example, here are a couple examples out of Japan:

Don’t take maybe as yes.

In Japan, people try to be polite - too polite even - so they may not want to offend you by saying no straight to your face. Instead, they may say, “We will consider it and get back with you,” or “Maybe, but we would need an internal assessment first.” Even if it feels like it could be a yes, don’t assume it is.

The easy English mistakes.

In English, if you ask, “Isn’t this true?” the answer you’ll get if it’s not true is, “No, it isn’t true.” But a Japanese person would instead answer, “Yes, it isn’t true.” They are accustomed to saying yes or no to the statement itself, implying that “yes” means “correct.” So in their mind, your statement about “it is not true” is correct, and they will respond, “Yes, it isn’t true.”

If you’re not sure you’re understanding your business partner’s English correctly, politely restate it back to them for clarification, or put it in writing to confirm. Communicating in English can be challenging, so let’s work on making things easy for those who speak English as their second language.