Expanding to the USA? Here’s How to Overcoming the Language Barrier

Are you expanding your business overseas? Well, if so, you’ll already have contended with a lot: new rules on taxation, new regulations to comply with, unknown markets to investigate and a whole host of documentation and paperwork to complete. But, there may be one crucial factor you’ve overlooked – the language barrier.

Business talk in a meeting

Even in the USA, an English-speaking country, you may find that you come up against a ‘language barrier’ of sorts from time to time. In fact, George Bernard Shaw once said “England and America are two countries separated by the same language”. So, whether you’re dealing directly with American customer, or are hiring US employees, here’s what you need to know about communication so that your business doesn’t flounder stateside.

Office jargon

In the UK, you may have heard your colleagues talking about ‘blue sky thinking’, ‘brainstorms’ or ‘joined up thinking’. And that’s confusing enough, isn’t it? Now imagine how confusing it can get stateside: ‘sanity checks’, ‘deep dives’ and ‘pain checks’ are all commonplace, and don’t be surprised if an US employee tells you they’re ‘running it up the flagpole’ or ‘boiling the ocean’. You’ll need to learn the lingo or work with a company that helps to hire and oversee US employees on your behalf, such as Foothold America for example.

Customer service expectations

Another ‘language barrier’ to overcome is the kind of communication and level of service your customers are going to expect. British customers require little more than good-manners on the other end of the phone.

But in the US? Well, your employees need to be bouncing with energy, demonstrate a can-do attitude and drip with sincerity. According to the Global Customer Service Barometer Report by American Express, being thanked for being a customer is more important in the US than it is in the UK, and American consumers will only hold for 11 minutes before hanging up (according to this infographic by New Voice Media) while it’s not unheard of for British customers to wait more than 40 minutes.

Business conversation


The UK is home to a nation of people who down-play their feelings and keep a ‘stiff upper lip’. For instance, ask a British employee how business is going and they might tell you that “things aren’t bad”, even if they’ve actually just smashed their sales target or secured a lucrative contract. But an American employee? They’re going to be effusive, enthusiastic and energetic!

While it might not be a ‘language barrier’ in the traditional sense, there’s an undeniable difference in the way in which you can expect your UK-based and USA-based employees to communicate. Expect your American employees to seem comparatively ‘electric’, and do take them seriously if things are only ‘fine’ or ‘not bad’. Those two responses mean something very different in the States.


So, if you’re expanding your business to the USA, be mindful of the differences in communication. While Brits and Americans speak the same language, the way we say things – and what we really mean – are very, very different.