Tired of textbooks? Bored with memorizing idioms you never use?
A picture is worth a thousand words.
I don’t remember what textbooks I read in school—not even the titles. I do however remember everything about the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. What I thought was a fun comic strip (I bought all the books too) was actually educating me on culture, politics, the environment, etc.
Luckily, business is catching up and there is an entire collection of business comics and graphic novels. Comics are a great way to learn vocabulary because they are short and sweet, and most are written daily or weekly. You’ve probably seen business comics in English newspapers or even work presentations. Graphic novels are for those visual learners and bookworms (book lovers) that want to take learning-by-comics a step further. After all, if a picture is worth a thousand words, why read entire textbooks when a few pictures will do?
How to Learn with Comics and Graphic Novels
- Start small: Start with a weekly comic (updated on Sundays), then move to a daily comic, then to a graphic novel. This way, you won’t overwhelm yourself and you get just enough new English terms to learn and practice before reading further.
- Keep your dictionary next to you: Many comic strips use simple English, while allowing you to see them used in a business context. However, every once in a while, comic strips will introduce terms and idioms that you have never heard of. Don’t worry—the definition can usually be found by reading the entire comic. Guess the definition, based on the context (surrounding words and images) and use the dictionary to check your work.
- Read the comments: I know, I know. It’s very dangerous to read web comments. People say things that are either irrelevant (unrelated) or offensive. If you can ignore those comments, there are many helpful commenters that explain and develop the topic within the comic.
- Use the “Seven Times Principle”: Whatever word or phrase you learn, use it seven times before learning a new word! Studies show that seven is the magic number that helps the term stick (you retain and remember it). In addition, using it in a sentence, or explaining it to a friend, helps you understand the context, rather than just memorizing the term.
- Have fun!: Pick the comics and graphic novels that are funny and that interest you. Just as with the business English game apps, you can pick the ones that reference your specific industry or job position.
Business Cartoons by Small Business Trends
These cartoons are used by English-speaking working professionals, usually for business presentations. Each cartoon has an explanation below, as well as “topics” or keywords that match the cartoon. These keywords can act as a hint or guide to help you understand the humor of the image.
Business Computer Cartoons by Randy Glasbergen
This site is effective because each cartoon is separated by categories such as leadership, teamwork, international business, money/ investing, etc.
This site is perfect for beginner students. The author uses simple English terms but teaches you how to use them in a business context. You can view these for free and purchase them for use in your own work.
Dilbert by Scott Adams
Dilbert may be the most well-known business-centered comic strip. The most popular topics covered in this comic strip include office politics (relationships, self-promotion strategies), business ethics, poor management and bureaucracy (administration, policies), etc.
Dilbert is for more advanced students. Whereas the previous two comics focus on simple English and simply introduce you to business environments and relationships, Dilbert adds another layer—satire (sarcasm, irony, wit). It is often said that one of the hardest things to do when learning a language is to understand a joke. Let Dilbert help you practice this higher level of business English!
If you find that you love learning business English through Dilbert, there are several graphic novels that you can practice with.
Business Graphic Novels
Okay, now you’ve got your fill of business comics and are ready to commit to a graphic novel.
What’s the difference between reading a graphic novel and reading a textbook or a regular novel?
At least one study shows that graphic novels lead to better retention (learning), specifically for direct quotes, than non-graphic novels.
Luckily for us, some amazing illustrators (most from the company Smarter Comics) have taken traditional business books and turned them into graphic novels. The traditional books are used as reading material for everything from MBA programs to CEO personal development. These are the books that native-English speakers themselves read to learn business strategy—and now they’re available for you, in a shortened version, to learn business and business English.
Think & Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, illustrated by Joe Flood
Smarter Comics: Kindle $7.99, PDF $9.99, Paperback $14.99
Do you want to be rich? Start thinking money, as the author puts it. This graphic novel will teach you how to make, save and invest money in simple steps.
Financial Intelligence Comic by Karen Berman and Joe Knight, illustrated by Dave Wachter
Smarter Comics: Kindle $7.99, PDF $9.99, Paperback $14.99
Are you looking for a position in the accounting or finance department? Read this graphic novel to truly understand the difference between assets and liabilities as well as all of the parts of the most commonly used financial statements.
How to Master the Art of Selling by Tom Hopkins, illustrated by Bob Byrne
Smarter Comics: Kindle $7.99, Paperback $14.99
This book is necessary for any person in sales or marketing. The author takes you through all the steps of a sale, from effectively prospecting (locating) to closing the deal (successfully completely the sale). As he introduces new terms, he explains what they are and how to do them—giving you business advice and English definitions all in one.
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Manga Edition: An Illustrated Leadership Fable by Patrick M. Lencioni, illustrated by Kensuke Okabayashi
Just as the title suggests, the author reveals the top five struggles that every team—even a successful team—encounters. This graphic novel with teach you important leadership skills and give you actionable steps to building an effective team. Perhaps most significantly, the author gives you strategies on uniting a team that is already in the middle of crisis (ruin, tragedy, disaster).
Atlas Black: Managing to Succeed by Jeremy Short, Tayla Bauer, Dave Ketchen and Len Simon, illustrated by Len Simon
This graphic novel is for any manager or entrepreneur. Even recent college graduates who have entrepreneurial desires will relate to Atlas, a recent college graduate himself, as he struggles with student debt and starting a new business. In addition to entrepreneurship, Atlas learns about the human resources (HR) industry, from team management to organizational behavior (how employees act in an organization).
The Long Tail by Chris Anderson, illustrated by Shane Clester
Most businesses have one or two extremely popular products. The Long Tail is a business term that refers to all of the other products—the large number of products that sell in small quantities. After being coined (identified and named) by Chris Anderson in this book, the Long Tail is now a successful retail strategy describing the sale of many unique items in small quantities. Netflix is a great example of this. As a TV and movie-streaming service, Netflix makes very little off each movie (has anyone streamed Spice World lately?). Instead, it is the collective of ALL of the shows and movies that make Netflix a successful company.
The 80/20 Principle Comic by Richard Koch, illustrated by Chris Moreno
The 80/20 Principle is a common belief in many organizations. The principle states that 80% of results come from only 20% of causes. The business strategy behind this principle is that we can achieve more with less resources (time, money, etc.) as long as we identify and concentrate on the 20% of causes. This is often cited as a principle used by highly effective people and organizations.
The Art of War by Sun Tzu, illustrated by Shane Clester
This is one of the most recognized books—worldwide—on military strategy. The learnings from this book can be adapted to all situations from war to business to politics.
The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need by Daniel H. Pink, illustrated by Rob Ten Pas
Johnny Bunko is bored to tears at work (very bored). One day, he meets an unlikely career advisor who gives him the six essential lessons for thriving in the workplace.
This book is great for beginners. It has easy office vocabulary and will give you terms and idioms you will need for each workplace situation.
The Bigger Picture
The bigger picture refers to the situation as a whole and is commonly used in business situations to remind you of long-term goals.
All of these comics and graphic novels are great—but how can they help you in your general business English studies?
Use these comics and graphic novels to build up your English vocabulary and business understanding so you can use it when you need it. Test out your new vocabulary in your next meeting with your English-speaking colleagues.
Just remember—it’s okay to start small! You can easily begin with a weekly comic strip and move your way up to longer comic strips and graphic novels.
And make sure you’re learning and laughing!
Joyce Fang grew up all over the United States and currently lives in Yokohama, Japan working as a freelance business plan writer and graphic designer. She has earned a Japan-focused MBA and has worked across almost every industry including finance, hospitality, retail and event management. She loves traveling, food, rugby, hot yoga and her dog, Gator.
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