An Introduction to Business English for Beginners

Do you need to use your English skills for your job or business soon?

I’m just taking a guess, since you are reading this blog post.

I can also guess that you might be a little worried about using English for business.

Well, I have good news for you. In many ways, doing business in English can be easier than having a casual conversation in English.

Even though having conversations, surfing the internet and doing some casual reading in English can all be fun activities, a lot of different topics can come up. There is a lot of variety in vocabulary and grammar out there. You never know what to expect. Things can get confusing.

When you are speaking business English, you have a goal. You have some specific information to tell someone or to ask about. The person you are talking or writing to wants to reach the same goals as you. They want to solve the same problem that you want to solve. They want to share information with you. In a way, you are both on the same team and working together.

Since you probably have the same goals, you don’t have to worry as much about grammar or little mistakes. You can just focus on communicating well and getting the job done.

The Complete Beginners’ Guide to Business English Communication Without Fear

Before talking about ways to communicate effectively, let me tell you about the places and situations where you can expect to use business English. It can actually be very useful outside the office!

Types of Business English

Even if you do not need to use English for business every day, it can be useful for other reasons. For example, you might use business English when traveling or contacting customer support for a product you purchased. Many companies only offer customer support in English, so good communication skills can really help you get things done.

Business English at Your Job

If you are lucky enough to work for an international company, you may have to speak English to coworkers around the office, or even read and write memos in English so that everyone can understand.

Even if your company is not international, you may have to write emails or faxes to colleagues in other countries. When you travel or attend conferences, speaking good business English will help you make international business connections.

In some companies, you might even have a lot of customers who can only use English. People working in international sales may do what is called “cold calling” in English. That is when you call or contact people that you don’t know to sell them something or ask questions.

When you gain confidence, you can continue working towards becoming a business English rock star by strengthening your skills.

Business English at Home

It may seem strange to think that you can use business English at home, but there are a lot of chances to do this no matter where you live.

If you live in an international community, English can often be the “lingua franca,” or a common language with which everyone can communicate.

Even if you are living in a place where people do not usually use English, there are plenty of companies that only have customer service in English. When you call them for help, you will be able to explain your problem or question. Using a little business English can help you solve a problem, get a refund or get help with something.

As you can see, these days a little business English can be useful for anyone.

6 Simple Tips for Business English Beginners

1. Relax

This is the most important piece of advice I can give to both beginners and advanced learners. You should always be thinking: “no sweat, no stress.” It is perfectly normal to be nervous when using another language, but being calm can help you think clearly and get the job done.

Remember that business English is a little different from the casual English you use with your friends. In fact, in many ways it can be easier. In a professional situation, communicating well is more important than getting every grammar detail right.

It is more important that you can express your ideas clearly and speak with confidence. That means you do not have to worry about details like pronunciation and when to use a comma. In business English you have a goal, a reason and sometimes a problem to work together to solve.

Just relax, breathe, feel good about yourself and keep talking.

2. Be direct

If you asked your friend to lend you a book and she gave you the wrong one, you might write her an email like this to tell her about it:

“Hey. How are you doing today? Lunch last week was great, let’s do it again soon. By the way, I hate to bother you about this, but the book you gave me last week was the wrong one. I already read that one. I hope it’s not too much trouble, but could you give me the other one when I see you at work tomorrow? Thank you!”

As you can see, it took a lot of words to be friendly and tell your friend that you got the wrong book. You were being very friendly and nice. This is great among friends, but it is better (and easier) to be direct in business English. For example, that same message sent to a business should look something like this:

“Good morning. We ordered a book from you last week. We received the wrong book and would like to exchange it. Please contact us as soon as possible.”

It is often said that “time is money.” This is very true with businesses. People working in business do not have time to read long emails with lots of nice words.

Writing direct sentences is a great way to save both time and money. It may not sound too friendly, but a direct message shows people that you respect and value their time. It is easy for a person reading a short, direct email because they can easily know the facts and work on solving the problem.

3. Keep it simple

When you talk to friends, you can joke and change the subject. In business English, it is best to be direct.

Don’t say anything extra. Stick to one topic at a time. Simpler words are usually better. Shorter sentences that have a clear focus are easier for everyone to understand. Luckily, you usually don’t need to use difficult TOEFL words in your business emails.

Also, you usually don’t need to repeat yourself, especially when what you need to say is simple and short. Repeating yourself can actually confuse people sometimes if they think you are saying something new. When you are communicating by email or in writing, they can always re-read what you wrote if they need to—but you want them to understand everything the first time.

If you use simple sentences and simple language, everyone will know exactly what you want. That means they will know exactly how they can help you, and they can start doing it faster.

4. Explain the topic you want to discuss

Life at a company can be very busy. People may not remember everything. It is always be helpful to remind them what you are calling or emailing to talk about!

“I’m calling about the email I sent you last Tuesday.”

“We ordered 25 pens. The order number is #1234-A…”

When you give a little information, everyone can follow the rest of what you say. They will understand the situation even if you get nervous or make a few mistakes. However, imagine getting a fax that just says:

“We need 2 more, you only sent 23.”

The message above is short and direct, but it is very confusing because we do not know what was ordered, when it was ordered or how to find that information easily. I am sure that the problem will be worked out in time, but it will be easier if everyone has all of the important information. This is why you should always start a conversation by clearly providing any important information about the topic of conversation. 

This is especially important when using the phone and making business calls. Using business English on the phone can be the most challenging part of business English. However, if you keep all these hints in mind you will do fine.

4. Ask if you want to know something

Communication has to work both ways. If you don’t understand something, you can ask for more information. For example, let’s say that you get an email that says:

“We are not sure if we received it. Can you give us the POS?”

You might not know what they mean by “POS.” This means “Proof of Shipping” in this case. There is nothing wrong with asking them what it means. For example:

“Thank you for your response. Could you tell me what you mean by “POS”?”

There is no reason to worry about asking questions because everyone has the same goal and wants to solve the problem. Also, the next time someone asks you for a package’s “POS,” you will be ready.

5. Organize what you want to say

There are many ways to do this:

  • When writing use bullet points (like I am doing now!).
  • When speaking, you can use eye contact and even gestures to help people understand and remember what you are saying.
  • If you ask questions, be clear and straight so that you can find out what you need. Ask one question at a time. Do not ask another question until you get the first question’s answer.
  • If the email or conversation is long, you can briefly repeat the important points or questions at the end.

Using bullet points or a list the way I mentioned above is very useful when you have more than one question to ask or answer. It is perfectly fine to list numbers for the questions you need answered:

“I have three questions about our recent order:

1. When was the order sent?

2. What is the tracking number?

3. What is the next step if the item is lost?”

The above questions are very clear and should be very easy for someone to answer. Some people may even use your numbers to answer more clearly:

“The answer to question 2 is…”

6. Keep improving

It is a challenge to use English at work, but you can also improve very quickly. You can make a list of words you use often. You can copy the sentences that other people use and use them the next time. Use dictionaries. Use your best friend, Google, to find sample sentences you can use.

Continue improving your business English vocabulary, and don’t let yourself worry about little mistakes.

It is important to notice how you improve. This will give you even more confidence.

And always be proud of yourself for getting the job done…in English!

Jason Tomes is bilingual in Japanese and English. He has used his language skills to work in several different industries, and has also had the pleasure to teach both English and Japanese to students from multiple linguistic and cultural backgrounds, of ages ranging from 3 to 83.

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