Nearshore Americas

English Fluency Expectations from the North American Point of View

The Nearshore process requires high-level cooperation. Both clients and service providers should aim for agility, which means an openness to feedback and innovation. A recent survey conducted by the software company Slack found that regardless of the country or industry, respondents identified ease of communication as the secret to “good collaboration.”

For Latin American companies looking to succeed with U.S. clients, strong communication skills are key. English language fluency is the minimum requirement for an operation that aspires to be agile. Instead, companies should aim to develop articulate communicators and sophisticated writers.

Communication coach Dana Doswell

“English fluency is not just about being able to understand the words that someone is saying,” said Dana Doswell, a Canadian communication coach. “Understanding the cultural nuances is really important to sustainably doing business with North America.”

Doswell coaches Latin Americans to communicate effectively in English-speaking business environments. Her clients include top executives looking to export their services, and Latin Americans already working for U.S. companies.

“Earlier this year I ran a course called ‘The Business of Selling’ which is about how to sell in North America if you are already a successful entrepreneur in Latin America,” Doswell said.

She also recently launched I Level Up, a subscription-based community where she offers monthly communication workshops.

“In North America, we develop business relationships first and personal relationships second,” Doswell said. 

Her cornerstone course, called “The Business of Communication,” covers internal politics within a North American company. It focuses on “asking for promotions, effectively communicating via email and doing sales calls,” she said.

The North American Business Mindset

English levels in Latin America are on the rise in most countries. Twelve of the 19 Latin American nations surveyed by EF’s English Proficiency Index upgraded their English language skills between 2018 and 2019, with many of them improving significantly.

But according to Doswell, communication barriers remain.

“In North America, we develop business relationships first and personal relationships second,” Doswell said. “In Latin America, you really have to develop an extremely high level of trust before money exchanges hands. That makes it very difficult for someone from Latin America who is used to waiting a long time to close the deal … A lot of the time people in Latin America try to build a personal relationship first … and the transaction goes sideways.”

When it comes to written correspondence, Doswell said precision was key.

“I have an email framework called ‘Five Steps for Writing Great Emails in North America’ which is all about understanding … the end action that you want somebody to take. First, create bullet points of the key thoughts you need to communicate. Take each bullet point and create one sentence, no more. That way you’re going to be more concise and natural.”

Doswell stresses the importance of documentation for dispersed teams. The most successful remote workers will be great writers, and accurate communication can drive organizational success.

Artificial intelligence (AI) translation services have a crucial role here. But while Google and Microsoft Bing offer free and instant translation, more sophisticated solutions are typically required in a business setting.

Digital writing assistance tools such as Grammarly, which use AI and natural language processing, are useful for speakers of English as a second language. The tool reduces grammar and spelling errors, simplifies style and promotes conciseness.

Technical business translation requires more sophisticated tools. The machine translation company SYSTRAN is a pioneer in this space. The company offers a range of AI tools capable of learning and applying the unique terminology used within business sectors. It translates documentation, websites and audio files with a greater degree of accuracy than a public cloud system. In a business context, such precision could be essential – impacting productivity, customer satisfaction or even safety standards.

Communication Amid Covid

Last year, Doswell spent time learning Spanish in Argentina and Mexico. A café owner in the Mexican city of Mérida asked her to read over a proposal to expand his business into the United States. “What he had was good, but it wasn’t a natural way of speaking in business English,” Doswell said. “So that is kind of when the light bulb moment happened.”

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Doswell set up her consultancy, Dozzy Inc, in late 2019. The business boomed when the Covid-19 crisis hit, as many Latin American companies experienced a surge in demand. “Money was going from Asia … to Latin America,” Doswell said. Next year, she plans to apply her skill set to a new role as vice president of business development for North America at a Colombian software company.

Doswell said the Covid crisis had triggered a growing awareness of the need to perfect communication skills among Latin American enterprises. Valuable cues that people can pick up naturally during in-person interactions – such as tone of voice and facial expressions – are lost when workers rely on email and messaging services. “Latin culture is so community-oriented, and so doing everything virtually is really difficult,” she said.

Despite these challenges, Doswell is highly optimistic about the Nearshore proposition. By focusing on language skills, Latin American companies can develop highly effective communication and networking strategies.

“The amount of talent that has not been discovered in Latin America is actually mind-blowing,” she said. “In my opinion, it is one of the best undiscovered resources that exists on planet Earth right now … and when people [in Latin America] are given an opportunity, they really go for it.”

What does it take achieve great outcomes in Nearshore services? If you would like to share an exciting case study or news story drop me a note — Steve Woodman, Managing Editor

Stephen Woodman

Stephen Woodman is an independent journalist based in the Mexican city of Guadalajara. He has six years’ experience covering business and culture in Latin America. Stephen has been published in numerous international media outlets, including The Financial Times, BBC News and Reuters. To share story ideas, drop him a note here

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