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Business correspondence: problems and perspectives

Communication is more than just a matter of speaking and hearing, especially within a business setting. Good communication, on the other hand, means that your message will be sent and that the people or organizations understand the message in its entirety. Ineffective communication is a major obstacle in business. Management needs to encourage effective communication but can only effectively do so by example. To communicate in the best interest of the organization, all parties have to understand each other. You also need to get the attention of the person that you are attempting to communicate with. It is necessary to introduce business writing in the program at schools, universities.

Effective communicators have many tools at their disposal when they want to get across a message. Whether writing or speaking, they know how to put together the words that will convey their meaning. We transmit the message in spoken or written form, hoping that someone will hear or read what we have to say. Business people devote much time to various types of verbal communication. They use speaking and writing to send messages; they use listening and reading to receive them. When it comes to sending business messages, speaking is more common than writing. Giving instructions, conducting interviews, working in small groups, attending meetings, and making speeches are all important activities. Even though writing may be less common, it is important too. When people want to send a complex message of lasting significance, they will probably want to put it in writing.

Language Barriers to Business Communication

Even for American people business communication is a difficult field to study and to deal with. For our people it is much more difficult and that is why takes more time to grasp business communication skills. We may encounter a few unusual terms or accents in the 29 countries in which English is an official language, but our problems will be relatively minor. Language barriers will also be relatively minor when we are dealing with people who use English as a second language (and some 650 million people fall into this category). Some of these millions are extremely fluent; others have only an elementary command of English. Although you may miss a few subtleties in dealing with those who are less fluent in English, we’ll still be able to communicate. The pitfall to watch for is assuming that the other person understands everything we say, even slang, local idioms, and accents. One group of English-speaking Japanese who moved to the United States as employees of Toyota had to enrol in a special course to learn that "Jeat yet?" means "Did you eat yet?" and that "Cannahepya?" means "Can I help you?"(David, 1992).

One survey of 100 companies engaged in international business revealed that between 95 and 99 percent of their business letters to other countries are written in English. Moreover, 59 percent of the respondents reported that the foreign letters they receive are usually written in English, although they also receive letters written in Spanish and French. Other languages are rare in international business correspondence (Goodin, 1987).

Because many international business letters are written in English, North American firms do not always have to worry about translating their correspondence. However, even when both parties write in English, minor interpretation problems do exist because of different usage of technical terms. These problems do not usually pose a major barrier to communication, especially if correspondence between the two parties continues and each gradually learns the terminology of the other.

More significant problems arise in other forms of written communication that require translation. Advertisements, for example, are almost always translated into the language of the country in which the products are being sold. Documents such as warranties repair and maintenance manuals and product labels also require translation. In addition, some multinational companies must translate policy and procedure manuals and benefit plans for use in overseas offices. Reports from foreign subsidiaries to the home office may also be written in one language and then translated into another.

Sometimes the translations are not very good. For example, the well-known slogan "Come alive with Pepsi" was translated literally for Asian markets as "Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave," with unfortunate results. Part of the message is almost inevitably lost during any translation process, sometimes with major consequences (Bennett, 1986). Sometimes we can find out barriers to oral communication in the language.

Oral communication usually presents more problems than written communication. If we have ever studied a foreign language, we know from personal experience that it's easier to write in a foreign language than to conduct a conversation. Even if the other person is speaking English, we are likely to have a hard time understanding the pronunciation, if the person is not proficient in English.

Idiomatic expressions are another source of confusion. If the person tells a foreigner that a certain product "doesn't cut the mustard," chances are that this person will fail to communicate. Even when the words make sense, their meanings may differ according to the situation. For example, suppose that we are dining with a German woman who speaks English quite well. We inquire, "More bread?" She says, "Thank you," so we pass the bread. She looks confused, then takes the breadbasket and sets it down without taking any. In German, «thank you (danke)» can also be used as a polite refusal. If the woman had wanted more bread, she would have used the word «please» (bitte in German).

Simple Socializing

Small talk can take place between people who know each other or at first-time meetings. Obviously, when meeting someone for the first time, we are limited in what we may say and what we may not say. We do not want to be rude by asking personal questions or saying anything negative.

Americans, in particular, engage in so much talk that they are often seen as superficial or boring. Foreigners may not have the opportunity to see them in a more serious mode and assume they continue to talk about the weather and sports long after they have gone home. Of course, some people do; however, for the most part, small talk is a restrictive and unnatural type of communication, not typical of private discourse.

In the business world, there is small talk until a relationship is established, after which one may talk specifically about business or personal concerns. After business hours, when socializing with colleagues or associates, it is necessary to know the acceptable topics of conversation: weather, sports, and good news, and travel, positive comments about host country, movies, entertainment, food, or the challenges of learning a foreign language. If asked, we may discuss work, where we live, or where we are staying. After work hours, when people want to relax, discussions about work or anything too serious are usually not welcomed.

Finally, we should be careful about jokes. Humor varies from culture to culture, and we may offend without realizing it; there are few things more awkward than an unfunny joke, or one that is in bad taste. People have very specific ideas about good and bad taste; we may be walking on dangerous ground when we attempt a joke and we may never realize how our joke was received because people may laugh out of politeness – or perhaps sympathy.

Small talk may last from a few minutes to over an hour, depending upon circumstances. As its best, it results in a nice impression being made, a common interest being explored, or a rapport created that could be the basis of a future meeting or more serious relationship.

Small talk, although it may not seem important, is actually quite important in society. It plays a role in Peoples’ getting to know one another, it establishes a polite and friendly tone and it is a time for quiet observations. We form impressions from how people look, dress, speak, and express attitudes by nonverbal means such as gestures, eye movements or posture. Skipping the formality of small talk would be in bad taste in business as elsewhere; minimizing its importance would be a mistake

The importance and necessity of inculcating the business correspondence course into their curriculum is explained by the following assumptions: firstly, nowadays business writing skills is not an option, it is a must for those who want to participate in different international programs and be competitive, as it is not enough to be able to write well in English, it is necessary to be able to write according to the universal standards, secondly, to be second to none in business writing, learn to synthesize, organize the ideas, analyze the selected material and present it in a wellstructured way, thirdly, to be able to write a good letter of recommendation or a curriculum vitae even just to apply for a job in an international company. Unfortunately, we haven’t paid much attention to this subject so far. We should keep up with the world-wide standards to enable our students and ourselves to be competitive on the world market.

Electronic mail (e-mail) is becoming a very fashionable form of business correspondence. Because of its speed and informality, email is ideal for routine communication between coworkers. For instance, an e-mail message is usually the best means of announcing a new policy, introducing a recent hire, informing colleagues of a meeting time, and reminding an employee of an approaching deadline. E-mail messages are useful for day-to-day or extremely timely exchanges with people outside the company. Because of their low cost, they are often preferred for communicating with overseas contacts. When using e-mail, people should keep in mind certain unique considerations and drawbacks.

One major difference between a piece of e-mail and a memo on standard stationery is that the reader will normally look at our message, which is about 60% smaller than a sheet of paper. Readers do not like to scroll through several screens to find out what we have to say, so we should keep our message succinct and to the point. Each piece of e-mail should focus on only one subject. If possible, it should be kept to one screen, but do not intimidate the reader by filling the screen with an unbroken wall of words. Think of the screen as a page of text comprising a block of information. To enhance readability, it should be separated into several paragraphs no longer than three or four lines on a screen, written in short sentences, and framed by margins.

On the other hand, in an attempt to be concise, people should not turn their e-mail into telegrams. Their sentences should not be short, clipped commands (e.g., «Fax report ASAP») or phrases in telegraphic style, omitting articles, pronouns, conjunctions and other transitional expressions (e.g., then, too, as a result). A telegraphic message may save space and it may save time, but it may sound discourteous and it may make the reader work harder to decipher it or it may even be misunderstood.

Memos and reports sent overseas fall into two general categories: those written to and from subsidiaries, branches, or joint venture partners and those written to clients or other outsiders. When the memo or report has an internal audience, the style may differ only slightly from that of a memo or report written for internal use in North America. Because sender and recipient have a working relationship and share a common frame of reference, many of the language and cultural barriers that lead to misunderstandings have already been overcome. However, if the reader's native language is not English, you should take extra care to ensure clarity. Use concrete and explicit words, simple and direct sentences, short paragraphs, headings, and many transitional devices.

The writer’s fundamental considerations of audience and purpose still theoretically apply to this form of writing. E-mail seems to be «democratizing» the channels of communication in hierarchical organizations, allowing junior employees to send messages directly to senior administrators. If a message is intended for readers «above» the writer, attention to correctness, clarity, level of detail, organization, layout and tone is still advised.

Another pitfall of e-mail is assuming that a message sent is a message received. A writer sending a message should not assume that it has been received, read, understood and acted upon. Studies show that many people now dread logging on to their computers because they know a pile of work awaits them. Data collected from interviews and questionnaires indicate that some users feel overwhelmed with as few as 20 messages per day and some felt they could not keep up with the barrage of e-mail. To deal with the prolifera-

tion of messages, some recipients read their email as soon as it arrives, treating it like an interrupting phone call, but other users set aside only one or two times a day to check their messages. They quickly scan through the waiting messages, deleting many, responding to a few, and perhaps filing a few others.

Although e-mail has been widely used for several years, we are still just learning how to use it. We have the tools for sending and receiving messages, but there remain the basic problems of workload, time management, organization and archival storage. In addition, this new communication mode has created new kinds of documents with new

Although e-mail messages are now used instead of memos for most intercompany communication, memos are still suitable for notes sent to people higher in the company hierarchy, especially in conservative companies.

The memo is also appropriate for lengthy, formal communications to coworkers that may eventually be circulated to supervisors or to contacts in other companies.

Business communication, certainly, is not the same as casual conversation, it bears only the same power of thoughts, reflections, and observations as in conversational talk, but the form may be quite different.



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  3. Colin, P.H. (1996). American Business Dictionary. Middlesex: Peter Collin Publishing.
  4. Grice, L. (1975). Communicate in writing. London: Longman.
  5. Hallman, H.Mambetkaziyev, E.A. (1999). Doing business in Kazakhstan. UstKamenogorsk: the Kazak-American College of Business and Humanities.
  6. Horner, D. (1996). Words at work. Vocabulary development for business English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  7. Scheraga, M. (1994). Practical English writing skills. Illinois USA: National Textbook Company.
  8. Smith, M. (1995). Teaching college writing. Needham Heights, Massachusetts: Allyn and Bacon.
  9. White, S. (1988). Second language acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press

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