Knowledge of English is not the holy grail of international business communication….

I am of the opinion that knowledge of the English language is not the "holy grail" of business communication for the global manager.

I believe that knowledge of English as the business language of the global manager has relevance in the developed world. It will be important for the global manager to conduct his business in the United States or Western Europe. And then it may not be useful in Latin America.

English may also be important to the global manager in the emerging markets of Asia and Africa; but there is a clear distinction in these economies, where English is important and where it ceases to be relevant.

I am of the opinion that in the emerging economies, the B2B businesses are largely conducted by managers who understand and use English and therefore in this segment, English continues to be relevant. I quote from my experience in Nigeria. As the head of a flexible packaging solutions company, I was engaging with the leading producers of consumer products in the country and the language of choice was English. Irrespective of the ethnicity of the Nigerian customer, our conversations were always in English.

On the other hand, in the same market in the B2C segment, the customers spoke very little English and were comfortable speaking their local dialects of Youruba, Igbo or Hausa. These are the languages of the 3 major ethnic groups that dominate the Nigerian demographics. When I conducted business with my distributors with diverse backgrounds, their lack of knowledge of the English language or my lack of knowledge of their language did not come in the way of our conducting business. An bi lingual interpreter did help in the conduct of business, but it was often my skill as non-verbal communication skills, my ability to pick up non verbal cues during the course of a conversation between the interpreter and my client, that was important for me to comprehend which direction the conversation was going. Thus my knowledge of English was rendered irrelevant in this scenario but my skills as picking up non – verbal communication cues became very important in our communication engagement.

Because of my experiences in Nigeria and West Africa, I am convinced that the art of listening , along with the art of observing play an important part in honing your non verbal communication skills and ensure that you are not handicapped in a market where your customers dont speak a word of English.

English may definitely have its markets and its relevance, but in the large untapped markets at the Bottom of the Pyramid , English has little or no relevance today, which requires completely unique communication skills sets in global managers.