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Twenty five years of Business English Communication in Asia: From faking it to making it

Posted on: June 22, 2021

Neil Elias, co-author of ‘Developing Global Business Communication in Asia - A Business Simulated Case Study Approach’, looks at how business people in Asia have earned recognition in multinational management and the expanded range of business English skills they now need.

It was in 1997, almost 25 years ago, that Pramod Bhasin set up the first Asian call centre in Gurgaon, near Delhi in India, to provide customer service over the phone to General Electric customers in the United States. Pramod had identified the major cost savings available in India, where a college graduate salary may be less than a quarter of that in America.

However, Pramod did not expect American customers to be comfortable dealing with ‘foreign’ service. The Indian call centre agents were given ‘accent correction training’, to sound American; they had to change their names for their work purposes, so that Chetan became Chuck. The only skill needed – or wanted – from the Asian workforce was English proficiency. One call centre had a big recruitment banner over the entrance: “Speak English? You’re Hired!”.

The early call centres operated on the basis that Americans would react badly if they knew that their service was coming from India or the Philippines, so, as well as changing their names, agents were made to lie about their location; they would claim to be in the United States and their screens would show them local weather and sports results for the American area they pretended to be based so they could reinforce the deception. Eventually, BPA/P, the Philippines’ Business Processing Industry Association, managed to stop this practice, saying that, if we really believe that customers are getting good service from us then we want them to know that it is coming from Asia. Arguably, this was a turning point in recognizing that Asian talent could make a big contribution to globalized business.

The rest, as they say, is history. Western multinationals have largely stopped sending expat managers to run Asian operations, and Asian managers are increasingly taking regional and global roles in senior management of multinationals. Nowadays, if you hear a manager with an Indian accent, she is as likely to be in New York as in New Delhi. This change and the opportunities that have opened up is why my co-author Dr. Jane Lockwood and I have written a course book, Developing Global Business Communication in Asia - A Business Simulated Case Study Approach, covering all the communication realities of business and management from meetings to marketing and diversity to discipline. Jane’s blog on the way the book is structured is here titled ‘Bringing Business Communication Alive and Up To Date’...

Research shows that people make judgements about new colleagues within the first 30 seconds of meeting, and, as the saying goes, ‘you only get one chance to make a first impression.’ The Developing Global Business Communication in Asia - A Business Simulated Case Study Approach course book can build confidence to make a great first impression in business.