Have you ever been talking, but felt like no one was listening to you?
Unfortunately, if you don’t know how to speak business English, this can happen a lot!
Maybe you already speak very good English.
But using business English in conversation is a whole new ballgame (completely different).
If you want to be a successful business professional, you have to talk like one.
If you don’t know the right phrases and expressions, you may be left out of the conversation. People may not take you seriously or worse, just ignore you.
But learning to use the right kind of language will get you noticed. It will help you to communicate better and make people pay attention to you.
So, what’s the actual difference between regular English and business English?
How Is Speaking Business English Different?
Listen to your neighbor as he tells you about his last vacation. Compare that to a speech by the President of the United States. There is a distinct difference and it’s not hard to hear it.
Business English is just another way of talking that you have to get used to. When you’re at work, you’ll use different vocabulary than you would when speaking to family or friends. At the same time, you’ll hear popular phrases in business English that are also spoken elsewhere.
Business English uses a lot of common expressions, like “the bottom line,” which means getting to the final point. If you say you’re speaking “off the top of your head,” it means you’re speaking spontaneously (or without any preparation).
Expressions like these are called idioms or slang. Real business people speak like this every day.
It’s important to understand these expressions when they’re used. It’s even more important to speak using them at the right time in a conversation.
It doesn’t matter if you have an accent. But if the phrases you use don’t fit the situation, you’ll sound awkward and out of place.
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How to Start Speaking Business English
Learning to speak business English isn’t complicated. It’s not so different from learning to speak your native language as a child.
Do you remember some of the first things you said as a child? Most people don’t. But if you’ve ever been around little kids in English-speaking countries, you know that the word “no” is really popular at about age two.
Why? Because, by age two, children have heard that word hundreds of times. Children are like little parrots. They hear something and repeat it.
We didn’t learn to speak by studying or reading. We heard. We repeated.
Learning to speak business English is different from learning to read or write. After all, you didn’t know how to read or write when you first learned to speak.
Reading something out loud often sounds unnatural and kind of boring. Natural speech is smoother and more interesting.
Business speech is the same way. Just because you can read business language well doesn’t mean you can speak it. You have to learn business speaking on its own.
Speak and Be Heard: 5 Methods to Get You Talking in English Like a Business Pro
1. Listen, listen, listen
Just like you listened as a child before you started speaking, you have to listen to business English before you can speak it. Even if your main learning style is different, the first key to speaking is listening. Hearing the same phrases over and over again makes a lasting impression on your mind.
One way to hear these phrases is by listening to business and financial news. Even if you don’t have time to really pay attention, leave a news show or video on in the background. Let Bloomberg news or CNNMoney play while you’re doing house chores. You’ll start to pick up phrases and words when you hear them being repeated.
A more fun way to listen might be watching movies that have business themes, like “Inside Job” with Matt Damon or “Barbarians at the Gate” with James Garner.
There are also some business-themed TV shows, like the HBO series “Silicon Valley.” Watching these movies and shows is a great way to combine entertainment and learning.
You can also find lots of great and entertaining videos just for people learning business English at FluentU.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Its interactive subtitles make it easy for you to see the meanings of any phrases or expressions you don’t know.
Remember, you’ll never speak well without listening first. It’s the first and most basic step.
2. Don’t worry about grammar too much
We start speaking years before we learn grammar. Speaking is often not exactly grammatically correct.
The language of business English is spontaneous. It flows and sounds natural. Remembering grammar rules when you’re speaking is like remembering which foot should go next when you’re trying to walk. It takes too much brainpower. It makes you hesitate and breaks up the natural flow of words.
Speaking business English uses a special type of slang that you can see in common expressions. Instead of thinking about grammar or the English you already know, listen to the way other people speak and try to copy them.
For example, telling someone to “talk turkey” might seem strange if you think about it. But anyone in the business world would understand that you want to speak frankly or plainly about something.
You’ll understand this much better once we cover this next point.
3. Build your vocabulary with phrases, not words
As a child, you had to learn to combine words to be understood. So forget sitting down and trying to learn the most common business words, learn business phrases. Words are almost always used with other words. Words by themselves are hard to remember, and they will hardly ever be used alone.
Combinations of words in business English are phrases that have meanings. They are much easier to remember when we understand when and why they are used. For example, telling someone to “play hardball” means getting tough or being harsh. It’s an idiom that means something entirely different than using a hard ball to play with.
Again, trying to understand meanings from single words when you are speaking is just too difficult. Business phrases use common words, but spoken together they often mean something entirely different.
“Getting your foot in the door,” for example, has nothing to do with your foot or a door. But it is an easy phrase to remember if you know that it means finding a way in.
4. Say it out loud
If you don’t say it out loud, it’s only in your mind. By practicing phrases out loud, they become more natural and we get used to hearing ourselves.
If we try to say something for the first time in front of others, it sounds strange to us. It will sound strange to others as well. Saying things out loud might be uncomfortable at first. But the more you do it, the more easily you’ll be able to express yourself.
One easy exercise you can do is to simply stand in front of a mirror and start talking to yourself. This may seem weird, but do it a couple of times and you’ll be amazed at how it changes the way you speak.
You can also record yourself speaking and play it back. Hearing yourself without talking at the same time can really make a difference. We don’t normally listen to ourselves when we are speaking. Understanding what you really sound like can help you improve your speech.
5. Repeat, repeat, repeat
This is a lot like the first point about listening. As obvious and boring as it sounds, repetition stamps a lasting impression on the mind. It makes the connections between information solid.
Learning happens when stuff gets repeated. Just try learning music and not practicing. You might learn theory, but you will never play an instrument well. Even learning to ride a bicycle takes practice.
Luckily, repetition does not have to be boring.
One of the best ways to learn to speak through repetition is by using a personal coach. Personal coaching works because it’s real human interaction. Everyone has had the frustration of listening to a recording when you really need to speak to someone. Speaking to someone real makes a huge difference because it’s what we do naturally.
If you’re an employee at a company and you need to improve your business English, your employer may even be willing to hire a personal coach for you. There are services that work with companies to provide coaching for their workers, like One Coach from Pearson English.
If you don’t have access to a personal coach, you can still make repetition fun with mobile apps and games. Many apps and games for practicing business English or English idioms can be downloaded from iTunes or Google Play. “Speak English Like an American,” for example, is a game designed specifically to help people practice American idiomatic speech.
Speaking like a business professional might be all you need to move into that position you really want.
With all the resources available today, you have everything you need to improve your business English speaking.
All you have to do is practice.
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