When it comes to business English, you may still be a beginner.
That is okay!
Everybody has to start somewhere.
Your coworkers who are fluent in English today have not been fluent their whole lives. Even the native English speakers had to study English for many years in school!
You may not even be sure about the difference between business English and “regular” English.
It is simple, really.
Business English focuses on vocabulary, phrases, grammar patterns and conversation topics you will likely hear at work or in business meetings.
To be a pro at using English at work, you will still have to continue to learn regular English. Studying business English will just help you learn business-specific things.
You can improve your workplace English by playing games online, watching the business news channel on television and other fun stuff. However, you need to make a game plan if you want to take your study of business English seriously. These tips can help you do that.
4 Easy Ways for Beginners to Start Learning Business English
1. Get Some Basic Conversation Skills
Being good at English is about more than just talking. You have to be able to listen and comprehend what people are saying as well.
In the workplace, this means talking with colleagues, clients and vendors.
Here are some basic conversation skills that will help you improve your business English when speaking with people at work:
- Listen before you respond. A lot of people start thinking about their responses before another person is finished speaking. This is distracting, particularly when you are a beginner. You might stop paying attention to the person who is speaking, because you are too busy thinking about what to say! So, do not start stressing about what you will say until you hear everything that the other person has to say. Doing this will allow you to focus on what is being said and, hopefully, this will help you learn from the vocabulary and grammar they use. Try to understand their message completely. By understanding completely, it will be easier to think of an answer.
- Go slow. Now that it is your turn to talk, do not feel in a rush to speak. Think through what you are going to say, and try to include any newly learned vocabulary words and phrases for good practice.
- Ask for help. Most likely, the person you are speaking with is aware that you are not a native English speaker. Politely ask for help when you need it. Ask a colleague to clarify things you do not understand. Clarify means to explain something so it is clearly understood. You can also ask the person to help correct you when you make a mistake.
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2. Practice at Home
If you want to improve your business English, you are going to have to spend time outside of your office hours doing so. This usually means practicing at home in your free time. There are many ways to do this:
- Listen to business conversations. You do not have to be around your colleagues to hear business talk. You can listen to great podcasts or watch the business channel. As far as TV goes, “The Profit” and “Shark Tank” are good choices for beginners.
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.
- Review potential speaking topics. Study words and phrases unique for specific situations. For example, if you know that you are going to have a meeting about a product launch, then you will want to study relevant words. You will want to learn things like:
Positioning: How you want to present a product in the market.
Launch Date: The day that the product will be in the market.
Building Buzz: Getting people to talk about the product, usually before the launch.
- Practice in front of the mirror. Once you have learned some phrases, you need to practice them. If you do not have someone to practice with, you can stand in front of the mirror and talk to yourself! This way you can see how you come across when you are speaking English. How you come across is the way people see you and/or how they feel about you when you speak. Do you come across as nervous, shy or insecure? Try to change your posture and facial expressions so you look more confident!
3. Practice Reading and Writing
Business English is not all about speaking and listening during conversations.
Written English is likely to be more formal and perhaps include more difficult words. The only way to improve your English reading and writing for business situations is to do it more often. Luckily, you can practice reading and writing at your own pace, and take the time to learn all kinds of new words you read.
- Read and Write Emails. Ask a tutor to proofread emails for you and to point out your mistakes. You can do this before you send important emails. When you read emails sent by others, look up, write down and practice your writing using any unfamiliar words. This will help you build your vocabulary.
- Read Business Reports. Your company is likely to produce multiple reports throughout the year. Practice reading reports by reading those. You can also find reports produced by other companies on the Internet. Most companies make annual reports public in a PDF format.
Tip: If you find the reports too difficult, even reading information found on various company websites will help you learn basic information and vocabulary words.
If writing in English is a very important skill for your work, then you should consider taking a course specifically about writing in English. Inklyo is one top-quality resource for students of English, especially those who need to write for professional purposes. They offer both courses and books that are dedicated to writing topics, like sentence structure, grammar, punctuation and business writing.
4. Learn Common Business Phrases and Vocabulary Words
Make a list of around 15-30 words and phrases you have heard or read each week and focus on mastering them. If you try to learn more than that, you are more likely to forget what you have learned.
To jump-start your business English learning for this week, we have compiled some important words and phrases for you to learn:
- Cut-throat: Very competitive and/or ruthless. In other words, only one or some will survive.
The recruitment process is very cut-throat. I don’t know if I’ll make it through round one.
- Hand-in-hand: Two things that go together well.
Our sales figures and marketing efforts go hand-in-hand. If we stop marketing, our sales are likely to drop.
- ASAP: This is an acronym for “As Soon As Possible.” Read either as Ay-sap or Ay-Es-Ay-Pee.
I need you to send me the sample pieces ASAP, so please don’t delay it any further.
- At stake: Something that is at risk or faces danger.
If this deal falls through then my reputation as the best salesman in the district is at stake.
- Raise the bar: Increase the standards.
His high performance will raise the bar for all of us.
- Profit: The amount of money earned after subtracting spending such as operational costs.
Now that we sell more products, we are seeing higher profits.
- Loss: If a business does not earn back how much it spent, then it is a loss.
We had a big loss because we ordered 3000 books but we only sold 200.
- Competition: A business who is doing the same or similar kind of business as you.
That company sells the same kind of clothes as we do so they are our biggest competition in the area.
- Debt: Money you borrow and owe someone or a bank.
We will not take a loan bigger than $100,000 because I don’t want to have too much debt to pay off.
- Invoice: A bill that lists goods or services bought.
The invoice the graphic designer sent us for last month’s work totaled at around $2500.
- Promotion: Getting placed in a higher position at work.
I was a sales representative, but I got a promotion so now I’m the sales manager.
- Promotion: A discount or sale.
I got 30% off because there was a special summer promotion going on.
- Vendor: Someone who offers an item or service for sale.
We still have to pay the cement vendor who we used for the construction site on 5th avenue.
- Contract: A legal agreement.
We made a contract with the vendor to use his services from now until July.
- Salary: The amount of money an employee is paid by a company.
I won’t accept a salary that’s below $70,000 unless there are great benefits.
- Budget: The amount of income in a certain period of time, used to pay off expenses.
We have kept a good budget and never spend more than we make, so we aren’t in debt.
- Occupation: What a person does for a job.
I asked him his occupation and he said he was a lawyer at a big company.
By following these simple tips, you can start improving your business English today.
Make a plan and stick to it.
Soon, you will be a professional at using English at work.
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