Succeed in America

Overcome Cultural and Linguistic Barriers. Improve Effectiveness 

Whether we like it or not, we are judged by our voices.If you want to come across positively , you should pay special attention to your voice.When you express yourself at a meeting or make a presentation to a group of people it  is important to have an authoritative and appealing voice. Our voice, its quality and how we create sound when we  speak has a great impact on our ability to influence people, sound credible person and persuade others.

However, if you have these bad voice habits along with a thick accent in addition, you probably often hear “say it again please”, “can you repeat that?” How to fix this? Follow these tips on using your voice effectively.

1. First of all make sure you open your mouth enough when you speak. To do this make sure you do not clench your teeth and also drop your jaw slightly. Imagine that you are chewing a big piece of gum. This will ensure that sound travels freely in the mouth cavity and leave your mouth with a better resonance.

2. Make sure that when you speak that you have at least 2.5 centimeters (one inch) of space between your upper and lower teeth. This will help you to enunciate better, make lips more animated and your voice will sound clear.

3.Before a meeting or presentation, make yourself yawn. This will relax and stretch vocal and throat areas. Do it over and over gain until you feel that your face and mouth muscles are relaxed enough.

3. Drink lots of water. You need enough water in your bloodstream for your vocal cords to be properly hydrated.  We need about 1.5 liter of day.

4. It is very important to evaluate yourself! The best way to do that is to record yourself and play it back. Do it over and over again until you are satisfied with results.

5. Join a Toastmasters Club in your area.  Toastmasters  International is an educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills. It is a perfect place to practice your voice and to get a constructive feedback from other members.

6. To take a step further in improving your voice, download the free Your Speaking Voice manual from the Toastmasters online store.

Remember, your speaking voice is a big part of your image.  Don’t neglect it. Improve and perfect it!

One of the most common questions I get from my seminar participants is “How do I begin a conversation at work?” In other words, “How do I start small talk?”  This is a great question because the importance of small talk is huge in business and you need to use it to your advantage.  And if you are a non-native speaker of English, as added benefit, practicing small talk will increase your English language proficiency.

First, what is small talk? Let’s define it. It is non-business related conversation. It is discussing things unrelated to business and work, such as weather, family, hobbies, or weekend plans.

Why making small talk is important? Here is why. You can be the best specialist in the field but,  progress in your career, is highly dependent on your ability to build good working relationships with people at work. Why? Let’s face it — our success depends on people. Small talk is an effective way to connect with people and to build relationships, including relationships at work.

Can you engage in small talk at a business meeting?  Yes, you can, but you need to know when and how.  Here are a few important tips:

1. When. Always make sure you arrive at the meeting a few minutes before start time. You can and should make small talk while you wait for the meeting to start. Dominant word here —“before.”

2. What topics to discuss? You should discuss things unrelated to the meeting (general-interest subjects)  such as weekend plans, weather, family, hobbies, mentioned above, and movies, theater, sports, books, food, travel.

3. What small talk topics to avoid? Generally, avoid any topic that may concern private or personal matters. There are three major topics you should avoid when socializing in the United States: personal finances, politics, and religion.

  • Personal finances: Personal money management in the US is considered to be a private matter. Asking about personal spending or income is considered very rude. Especially, do not discuss salaries or how much another person makes. Matters of general interest, such as prices of gas or groceries would be acceptable. 
  • Discussing politics: Avoid political discussions. Politics is a very complicated and personal topic and is not an acceptable friendly small talk.  
  • Discussing religion: Religion and religious views  are also considered to be a private  and very personal matter and should not be discussed in business environment.

My best piece of advice for polite  small talk  —  always avoid any subject that may be of  an emotional nature.

Here are some more tips and examples:

  1. Look approachable: smile, have eye contact with others, have an upright posture, and open stance.
  2. Don’t be afraid to initiate a conversation. Say: “Hi, John (Eddie, Laura), how are you?”
  3. Keep a positive, light tone, don’t get too emotional, and listen.
  4. Always finalize a conversation graciously. Don’t simply cut it off. Say something like “It’s been great talking with you.”  “I really enjoyed hearing about…” “I’d love to hear about it when we have another chance to talk.”  “It was nice chatting with  you… (catching up with you…) Or just  say: “Nice talking to you” and smile.

Here are two possible scenarios that suggest techniques for small talk.

1. Gloria arrives a few minutes early for an office meeting. Jayesh, a colleague she knows well is already in the room. 

Gloria:   Hi Jayesh, how are you?

Jayesh: Great thanks, and you?

Gloria:  Well, I’m well. And enjoying the golden fall (autumn) in New England.

Jayesh:  Fall is great.  But I am also looking forward to winter. I love skiing and snowboarding.

Gloria:  The meeting is about to begin. I’d love to hear about it when we have another chance to talk.

2. Jayesh arrives early for a departmental meeting. A colleague from another department that he does not know, is already sitting at the table.

Jayesh:   Hi I am Jayesh. Are you here for the meeting on…?

Peter: My name is Peter, nice to meet you. I am from the Los Angeles office.

Jayesh:  Is it OK if I sit here? 

Peter:  Of course.

Jayesh: How do you find Washington this time of year?

Peter: Very hot, it is hotter than LA (Los Angeles).

Jayesh:  Really? Amazing! Listen, I have a pool party today at my house. If you are free, would like to join us? 

Peter: Sure. Thank you.

Jayesh:  The meeting is about to begin. Let’s talk about it after the meeting.

Listed below are sample conversational  phrases and questions that you can use to start and maintain small talk before a meeting starts.

Can I sit here? Is it OK if I sit next to you?  Is this seat vacant?

Did you get to the presentation on…(related to the meeting)? What did you think?

How are things working out with your new manager? (new boss/new colleague)

Have you been involved in this project before? How is it going so far?

Have you travelled far? How do you find our city? our weather? Is it your first visit?

Which department do you work in?

Did you see/watch football (soccer, basketball) last night?

How was your holiday? 

How did you like Florida (New York)? 

Have you been to this part of the country before?  

Have you been here before?

Want to watch the video on this topic? Click here

 You may also like: Three Vital Tips for Building Confidence in Business Meetings 

tn[2] (2)**Dr. Nara Venditti is the owner of Succeed In America specializing in business communication skills for foreign-born professionals and cross-cultural communication in the workplace. She is passionate about helping non-native speakers of English succeed in the American workplace and educates on Business English and communication across language and cultural divides. She is  the author of numerous articles and books on the topics available on SucceedinAmerica  and  on  Amazon amazon-underground-app-us-black.    

[pullquote]If you think that you know the meaning of the word OK, think again![/pullquote]If you think that you know the meaning of the word OK, think again! Everybody knows what OK (also spelled as okay, Okey, Okay, or okey) means.  However, is it always used appropriately?  ok-1186364_640

General usage:

 Often foreigners and non-native English speakers are not aware of the multiple uses of the word “okay,” instead assuming that it always means “yes” or “all right.”

For instance, in a work situation when your supervisor gives you a task, such as “Could  you please make this report available by Friday morning?”, it is not recommended to say  “okay.”  A good answer would be, “Yes, of course.

I will list some common usages of the word below… 

– As illogical as it may seem, in certain situations OK  can mean”so-so” as in “How is your dad after his surgery? He is OK, but needs some therapy to recover.”

– OK can mean agreement as well as permission if there are some additional circumstances to take into consideration. For instance: “I have doctor’s appointment and will be back in two hours or so. OK,  just be sure to be back by the end of the day.”

Other usages:

  1. When you are confirming a meeting or date:  “So, we will meet on Friday at noon at the restaurant.“ “OK, agreed”.
  2. When a speaker is seeking permission: “Is it OK if I bring along kids to the party? Of course, we will be happy to have them.”
  3. OK can show irritation:  “OK, OK, calm down!
  4. “OK?” may be equal to “Did you understand me?
  5. Are you OK?” This phrase is used when somebody slipped and is about to fall.  In other words, when you are checking on a person’s condition, when they had an accident.
  6. If somebody’s coughing badly and almost choking, you might say, “OK, OK” to soothe them.
Further Resource:

Need information on Business English usage? Check out Ameri$peak, a mini-dictionary of the most frequent words and phrases  you need to know to communicate effectively in American business: Ameri$peak   or  Amazon).

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Two Points on Capitalization in Business Emails


Learning any foreign language is a lifelong process. And learning American English is no exception.

When people first begin learning a language they start with the basic grammar and vocabulary. But ultimately, to be able to function effectively in business and in work related situations, you need to master communication skills.

 One of the great ways to start building communication skills is to work with a mentor and/or a buddy. Let’s define the word “mentor”. (I’ll define the word buddy later in this post).

 A mentor is someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced person. It is a trusted counselor or guide (Merriam-Webster).

 Some companies offer mentoring programs. But if it is not the case, ask for a mentor, be assertive.  Speaking with assertiveness means to speak with confidence, it is respecting yourself while respecting others. Make sure you differentiate between assertiveness and aggressiveness.

 Below are some phrases for helping you to find a mentor:


– I need help in improving my communication skills and to learn my way around the company. Can you refer me to a mentor?

– Does the company offer a mentoring program?

– Would you act as my mentor? Can you be my mentor? Can you refer me to a mentor?


You can also ask for a buddy. A buddy  can be a friend, a more experienced employee, a member of the team.


– Can you introduce me to a buddy who can help me to get oriented in the company and to improve my communication skills?
– Will you be my buddy?

Statue of Liberty SpoonIf you use prepositions incorrectly, you will not be understood, or even worse misunderstood, when you communicate in English. This article provides ways to improve your conversational business English by using prepositions correctly.

What are prepositions? These are small, but important words that describe relationships between words in a sentence. They link a word or word group to others. If you misuse them, you will confuse your listeners. Most commonly used prepositions are – of, in, on, at, for, to, from, among, between). Prepositions convey different types of information, such as place (in the room, at work), time (at 7 o’clock, in three hours, on November 7th) or they may give a new meaning to verbs, such as show up, give in, come across.

If you use prepositions incorrectly, you will not be understood, or even worse misunderstood, when you communicate in English.

The challenge in using prepositions correctly comes from the fact that in many cases there is no logic or rules about using prepositions (in other words, in many cases, they have idiomatic or figurative usage).

Here is my position on prepositions – you need to memorize their usage. I repeat, ESL and ELL students and professionals need to memorize which prepositions are used in certain phrases and situations.

Here are three points that will help you to use prepositions correctly in conversational English. 

  1. Be aware of difference of using prepositions in your native language and English and the fact that in many cases they don’t translate directly from one language to another. To make matters worse, in some languages prepositions do not exist at all. Also, there are differences not only in the choice of prepositions, but also in whether a preposition is used at all. Even languages that are relatively not so different from English (e.g., Romance languages, such as French, Italian, German or Rumanian or Slavic languages, such as Polish, Serbian or Russian) may also have challenges with prepositions. And for the same reason – in English prepositions are often used in idiomatic way, rather than governed by grammatical rules or “logics.”
  2. Record preposition usage. Become a “language Sherlock Holmes.” When you read books, newspapers or your co-workers’ e-mails, record preposition usage in a separate file or note-book. Make a list of preposition usage in a sentence. Use a good dictionary to understand their meaning.
  3. Practice. Once you have a list, repeat aloud prepositions in sentences.

So keep these three points in mind, and you will dramatically increase your conversational English. 

One final thought. Keep in mind that sometimes words that look like prepositions, do not function as prepositions. For instance, go over, speak up, get along, or make up. These expressions are called phrasal verbs. Phrasal verbs have idiomatic meaning which means that the meaning of two words together does not correspond to the meaning of component words.

Strong accent can have an enormous impact on how people are perceived. In a University of Chicago study, it was found that people with  non-native accents are perceived as”  less credible” than those with native accents.
Many non-native speakers understand this  and  believe that it is pronouncing sounds correctly that will help to make themselves understood and  to make their point. 
This is true but my  advice to you – don’t focus just on difficulties you have with some sounds.  In many  cases, intonation is much more important.
Take so called tag questions.
Tag Questions, or, questions tags, are short phrases that change a declarative statement into a question .For example, “You are Vanessa Del Monte, aren’t you?”,  “aren’t you?” is the tag question.
Just as in many languages, tag questions are more common in everyday spoken conversational English including its business variety. However, in English, different intonation or music in tag questions, carries different meaning.
Two examples of the same statement “You are moving to New York, aren’t you?”: 
      1)     with falling intonation, “aren’t you?” implies that you are sure of something and looking for confirmation.  (I am sure that you are moving and I want your confirmation)
      2)      with rising intonation, “aren’t you?” expresses uncertainty. (I am not sure you moving and I want an answer) . Although a sentence may be grammatically correct and pronounced correctly, the wrong intonation of a tag question may convey unintended meaning.
Consider the following situation involving an ELL and ESL learner.  While on a date at a restaurant you say, “You like this restaurant, don’t you? With rising intonation, “don’t you?” sounds like you are asking if she likes it. However, with falling intonation don’t you? sounds like you are telling her to like it. What do you think her reaction will be?  Right, you guessed.  This could be your last date with this person.
Consider another situation. You are planning a one day vacation and you ask your colleague to cover your desk for a day. “You will cover my desk, won’t you?”  With rising intonation, it will sound as if you are politely asking for help.  With falling it will sound as an order or assignment which you are not  authorized for anyway.
What will it do to your relationship?  You’re right again.  Nothing good.
To summarize, be careful when using tag questions.  Their intonation may send a wrong message.
World Diversity Ship

World Diversity Ship

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 – IRCA – protects foreign nationals from discrimination based on citizenship and national origin.  However, only US citizens, permanent and temporary residents, conditional permanent residents and asylees and refugees are protected from citizenship discrimination.

Although it is not illegal to ask questions regarding immigration status, hiring managers, recruiters, and human resource professionals should avoid asking questions in such a way that may be perceived as discriminatory and which may lead to discrimination claims with the US Department of Justice.

For this reason it is crucial to phrase questions in a way that will help minimize the risk of filing a discrimination claim with the US Departments of Justice.  Below are examples of two questions that employers commonly ask when interviewing foreign nationals or candidates perceived as foreign nationals.

  • Poorly Phrased Question: What is your visa status for work authorization?  Suggested QuestionWill you now or in the future require sponsorship for employment visa status?
  • Poorly Phrased Question: Are you a US citizen or authorized to work permanently in the US? Suggested Question Are you currently authorized to work in the US on a full-time basis?

Keep in mind that posing the question will not eliminate the risk of a claim to be filed, but it will surely minimize that risk.




It is a fact of life.  English language usage can be confusing. For your information, I am going to list some of confusing groups of words.  Read them through and then download  a useful tool for communicating in Business English,  Succeed in America Guide to Most Commonly Mispronounced, Misspelled and Confused Words in Business English. Download here. 1. Some words sound alike and spelled alike but have different meanings. These words are called homonyms. course – direction (as in  “the ship took course for the island”) course – series (as in “course of lectures”) course – track (as in “golf course”) bow [bau] –  as  in “to bend over at the waiste” bow [bou] – a decorative looped knot waist [weist] — usually the thinnest part of the body between the ribs and the hips waste [weist] — throw away, misuse vast — very big, huge Others sound alike but have different meaning and spelling.  These are called homophones. piece – peace weight – wait plain – plane And then there is another group of words called heteronyms. They have different pronunciation and meaning but the same spelling. polish [‘poulish],  as in nationality – polish [‘palish], as in polish your car live [liv], as I liv in New York  – live [laiv], as in live lobsters tear [tear], as in tear a paper – tear [tiar], as in she was in tears bow [bou], as in  1.  bend over, 2. loped knot – bow [bau], as in tree branch And then there is a fourth group of words that are spelled differently, mean different things but have somewhat similar pronunciation and esy to confuse. alteration – altercation sedative – sedentary – seductive perceive – persist shovel – shuffle vacation [vei‘keishn] – vocation [vou‘keishn] walk – work And finally, there are words which are may mean almost the same thing, but cannot be used interchangeably assure – ensure – insure fewer – less It is almost impossible to avoid mistakes with English usage, but you can avoid many of these mistakes by using  Succeed in America Guide to Most Commonly Mispronounced, Misspelled and Confused Words in Business English. Download here. Any additions? E-mail us or leave a comment below.
   Sound is the basic element of the spoken language. Out of approximately 1100 sounds among the thousands of  different languages spoken in the world, English utilizes of only about 44 of them.      One can imagine the difficulty in articulating the many different  patterns of speech sounds from ones native tongue into English and, conversely the difficulty of English speakers understanding the colorful though confusing   mispronunciations of foreigners. Especially in business, this may have serious consequences.    There are, however, ways to minimize many of the common pronunciation mistakes that are made by the majority of non-native speakers of English.  Here is the list of seven  mistakes that many English language learners regardless of their language background make.
  1. Intonation. Using the intonation of your native language can distort and confuse the meaning of what is being said. When speaking English, be conscious that the rising or falling pitch of your voice should be consistent with American intonation.
  Tip: Learn and change your intonation to American intonation and you will make your speech more dynamic, understandable  and confident. 2. Rate of speech.   There is a mistaken notion among some non-native speakers that the faster one speaks the more authentic and credible they sound. This is a misconception.  Fast, not even accented speech, may be misunderstood even by speakers of the same language. However, many of us speak too fast. Some factors that influence how fast we speak are characteristics of the individual, familiarity with the subject, and emotional state. This is especially true for speakers of Indian languages where rate of speech is much faster than in English. Tip: speak slower to make your speech more understood and … enunciate.  This brings me to my next point. 3. Enunciating. Pronounce words distinctly, in other words, enunciate.  While speaking, concentrate on enunciating each sound. This brings me to another important point. 4.Grammar sounds.  If you mispronounce or drop word endings, your speech will be unclear.  It will sound uneducated, unprofessional, and your listener will be distracted by mistakes you make. Many non-native speakers know grammar well. But when it comes down to pronouncing the forms correctly, that’s when they fail. ELL and ELS speakers of English are often unaware or take lightly the importance of basic English grammar pronunciation and intonation of words and mispronounce and drop word endings primarily in the following cases:
  1. regular past tense verbs such as used, started, changed
  2. 3rd person singular present such as speaks, walks, talks
  3. regular plural count nouns such as friends, cars, sisters,  and
  4. possessive nouns such as Mike’s, Rick’s, Isabella’s
  Tip: Remember, noun and verb endings change the meaning of a sentence. Make sure you practice grammar sounds to improve the clearness and professionalism of your speech.   5. Long and short vowel distinction.  For instance, pronouncing long vowels as short. Here is how it can change the meaning.  “Sheet” – a common word used in business English (as in sheet of paper, spreadsheet).  Don’t pronounce the long /i:/ and you will have the entire room full of people trying to suppress the smile (“shit” is not “sheet”!).  Many Russian speakers make this mistake. Tip: if you find it difficult to pronounce long and short sounds, try to find a synonymous word (for instance, “page” in case of “sheet”), and, whenever appropriate,  use it instead.     6. Mispronouncing diphthongs.  As a rule, ESL speakers pronounce the diphthong as a single vowel missing the second part.  Forinstance, [no] instead of [nou], [ska] instead of [skai].  These can be very confusing to native speakers who do not recognize that  two letters together are pronounced as one single sound.    7.  Substituting one sound for another.  For instance, Spanish speakers may substitute /sh/ for /ch/.  For instance, “cheat” versus “sheet.”  A native speaker might hear cheat  in place of sheetTip: Find out which words you mispronounce more frequently and practice how to pronounce them correctly. I will not exaggerate if I state that if you eradicate or even minimize these seven types of mistakes, your speech clarity will improve by 80 percent;  and you will make  your speech more clear, confident, and credible to the listener.  
This article is about possible pronunciation challenges that Indian speakers may encounter. Recognizing these challenges will help to eliminate them and improve pronunciation. Sanskrit is the Indian mother tongue from which sprang up many other Indo-European languages languages including Hindu, Urdu, Telugu, and Punjabi. Although there is no single Indian language, those who speak these languages may have common pronunciation mistakes.  
  1. Intonation.  The Indian accent tends to exhibit an up and down lilt. This quality is sometimes referred to as a “Bombay Welsh”. This inherent music of Indian languages while pleasant, carries over to English making it somewhat distracting and difficult to understand.
  3. Vowel pronunciation. As inferred by the name Bombay Welsh, both Indian and Welsh speakers tend to pronounce almost all vowels as they written. Both languages seem to lack a “schwa” sound. For instance, the word “compartment” will be pronounced “cOmpartment”.
  5. Stress. Indian speakers tend to give equal emphasis to all vowels. So, to an American ear, Indian speech sometimes sounds very staccato. Also, many Indian speakers tend to always stress next to the last syllable. For instance, “lo’gical” instead of ‘logical.
  7. Adding a vowel before consonant clusters. Because consonant clusters at the beginning of the word are more common in English than in Indian languages, Indian speakers add a vowel  before a consonant at the beginning  or between consonants in the middle of the word.  For instance, “start” versus “istart”, “state” versus “estate”.
  9. Reversing  /v/ and /w/. Indians often reverse /v/ and /w/. For instance, “He vent to school”, “Please close the went”.