Do more exercise. Stop eating junk food. Stop smoking. Learn to play the guitar. Improve your business English.
Those might look like commands or orders, but in this case they’re different. They’re actually New Year’s resolutions.
At the start of every year, many people make New Year’s resolutions, which are promises or goals to improve their lives during the coming year.
Was improving your business English one of your New Year’s resolutions for 2017?
If so, that’s great!
If not, it’s never too late—you can resolve (promise) to improve your life and your English skills any time of the year.
But where do you go from here? How do you actually improve your business English?
If you’re motivated but you don’t know where to start, then you’ve come to the right place!
Before you get down to business and actually start studying, follow these five easy steps.
Business English Basics: 5 Easy Steps to Get You Started
1. Set a goal for yourself
Before starting a project, it’s best to have a clear objective with a reason for doing it.
Do you need to study business English in order to get a promotion? Or maybe you want to get a new job that requires English skills? In these cases, you should:
- Determine what level you need. Find out what level of English proficiency is required for the promotion or new job.
- Determine your current level. Next, you should get a fair understanding of your current level in relation to your target level. Take this online business English test to evaluate your current level. Take note of places where you have difficulties or miss questions on the exam.
- Find out how much time you have to prepare. This will help you plan how much work you need to do every day until you can apply for that job or promotion.
- Set your goal. Goals work best when they’re specific, measurable and have a deadline. Avoid vague goals like “I want improve my English level.” Instead, try for something like “I want to pass [Exam X] with a grade of [X] by [Date].” That’s much clearer, and you’ll know when you’ve completed it.
- Start planning. Write down a schedule of when you’ll study every day of the week, and decide which English topics you need to focus on to improve your proficiency.
If you want to study business English in order to prepare for an exam, be sure to get some sample tests of the specific exam you need to take. They’ll help you understand the level of English that you’ll need to have in order to pass.
If you want to get the Cambridge Business English Certificate, for instance, then make sure the practice test is for the right level because sometimes one exam can have several different versions for different levels. If you’re a beginner, then you may be interested in their Business English Certificate Preliminary exam. You can certainly impress potential future employers with a business English certificate or even get into a better university, if that’s your plan.
Other people simply want to study business English for personal growth. If that’s your case, just be sure that you have a very specific goal ahead of you so that you can keep yourself motivated. You may find it useful to set goals based on how much you want to study every day or every week, or based on the topics you want to master.
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2. Decide whether you want to enroll in a course or study on your own
This is a really important decision to make. There are advantages and disadvantages to each method, and it’s usually ideal to combine them.
Pros of enrolling in a course
- your progress can be followed by a teacher
- you can communicate directly with your colleagues
- you can ask questions whenever you don’t understand something
- you can feel motivated by your colleagues
Cons of enrolling in a course
- you may feel like you don’t get enough time to speak, especially in large groups
- if you’re shy, you may find it difficult to speak and ask questions in class
- you may not get enough personalized feedback from your teacher
- it may be difficult to include the course in your schedule
Pros of individual study
- it helps you make real progress with grammar, vocabulary, reading and listening
- you can choose your own pace
- you can feel motivated by the fact that you’re responsible for your own progress
Cons of individual study
- you don’t get feedback on your work
- individual study by itself often isn’t enough for beginning levels
- you can’t talk to people like you can in an interactive course
Whatever your level, it’s ideal to combine individual work with attending a language class. If you want to make real progress, you can’t just attend a class without also studying a lot outside of class.
You can find language centers or schools that offer intensive courses in most large cities. It may be more convenient to enroll in an online course if you live far from any language school.
There are other ways to learn from home if you do not want to enroll in an actual course. FluentU, for example, is a great way to learn at your own pace without having to follow a strict course schedule.
Unlike traditional language learning sites, FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the English language and culture over time. You’ll learn English as it’s spoken in real life.
FluentU has a variety of engaging content from popular talk shows, nature documentaries and funny commercials, as you can see here:
FluentU makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition and useful examples.
For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you'll see this:
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning and recommends examples and videos to you based on the words you’ve already learned. Every learner has a truly personalized experience, even if they’re learning the same video.
You can start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, by downloading the app from the iTunes or Google Play stores.
No matter how extensive or expensive your language course, you must remember that there’s no one who can do your work except you. The amount of progress you make is up to you, but you still need to work for it.
3. Aim to improve your vocabulary
Depending on the goals you have already set, decide how fast you want to make progress in terms of vocabulary. But before you answer “really fast progress,” remember that it’s extremely important to set realistic objectives.
If your goal is to learn 10 new words a day, that may not seem like much at first, but it would mean around 300 words a month! Instead, how about aiming for just 3 words a day, but then really reinforcing them so you feel more confident that you’ve actually learned them?
It’s often better to set lower targets that you can reach instead of setting high, unrealistic targets, which might make you feel discouraged and give up.
Think about the specific area of business English that you’re going to need. If you’re an accountant, it makes sense to start with financial terms. If you’re also a manager, then have a look at management-related vocabulary. If you attend a lot of trade fairs, make sure you cover that area first. If you’re planning to get a job or a promotion in sales, then have a look at some important words in that field.
Whatever area you start with, don’t immediately try to memorize the new words. Instead, make sure you understand the definition, then read some example sentences and try to make your own examples. Every day, look back at the words you learned in the past and try to use them as much as you can.
4. Don’t forget about grammar
Grammar is essential because it helps you connect the words you’re learning. Whether you’re a beginner or at a more advanced level, keep reviewing grammar rules and keep doing exercises so that you can use those rules in real life.
Like with new vocabulary, when learning a new grammar rule, make sure you understand the rule first. Then read some examples and try to make your own example sentences. Try to use the new grammar rules whenever you can. Also, to recognize when the rules are used, pay close attention when you listen to native speakers or when you read in English.
5. Mix and match language skills
After you get started with grammar and vocabulary, it’s important to constantly use them in real life. You can do that by using the new words and grammar rules when reading, speaking, listening and writing.
You can use your new skills for reading and listening in the first stages, when the vocabulary and grammar are still new and fresh to you. It’s easier to recognize them in texts and when listening to other speakers. That’s why most people who start learning a language say that they can understand everything, but they can’t necessarily speak.
After you become more confident through reading and listening, you can practice using the new words and rules in your writing and speaking. Writing may feel a bit easier because you have time to think about and plan the language you’re going to use. Make sure you don’t forget about correct spelling and that you choose the right way to communicate in writing.
After you go through these steps, you’ll be ready to get down to business!
The best part about studying business English like this is that you’re always in charge.
It’s up to you how much you learn, and at the end you can say: “I did it my way!”
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