You wouldn’t talk to your boss the same way you talk to your best friend, right?
You might get fired if you did that.
And, obviously, the text you send your mom would have a completely different tone than the email you send your colleagues at the office. Of course it would!
But does it feel like you have to learn a completely new language for work? You’re not alone. Even native speakers have to learn the difference between the language you use for casual conversation and the language you use in the workplace.
It’s like wearing two completely different styles of shoes. You’re the same person, but the shoes will be strikingly different depending on their intended use.
So fortunately, the English you’d use in a professional context is simply a change in style, not a whole different language you have to learn.
But how is it different? And what does it mean to change the style? It means you would be sure to use less slang, you would polish those emails so that they are amazing and you would always use good manners along with good grammar.
If that sounds like a lot, we’ve got some tips that’ll make navigating those daily office correspondences a breeze!
6 Incredibly Effective Ways to Become Proficient in English for Business
1. Change from casual to formal English
Have you ever gone to the mechanic and been told that you need something you’ve never heard of? Something like a catalytic converter? Have you ever thought that maybe the mechanic was just making up words?
We’ve all been there. We know that sometimes just speaking the same language is not enough. We know every field has its jargon (special words) and not knowing those words can hinder communication. The same principle applies to the business world. In order to be successful, you need to have a strong vocabulary.
For a start, take a look at this list of formal words and phrases that you can begin using immediately in your everyday communication. Continue to build your vocabulary and challenge yourself to use new words on a daily basis.
Let’s take the following (perfectly acceptable) sentence, and show off our vocabulary skills by replacing some of the terms.
Rather than: This graph shows our sales have gone up over the past five years.
You might say: This graph illustrates our sales have increased over the past five years.
Of course, there’s no need to become a walking thesaurus. But using a word in context as much as possible is crucial for learning and makes you sound like an expert in your field in the process!
2. Use diplomatic language to express yourself in business
Whether you’re handling negotiations or motivating your team, it’s important to know that in business a diplomatic tone is best. We want to say things in a way that encourages communication and action. In other words, how we speak has the power to affect how people respond and whether or not we get results.
Your tone is reflected in your choice of words and the way you convey your message. Use your manners! It’s important that you choose words and phrases that make you sound polite and diplomatic in your business dealings.
For instance, if you’re asking someone to do something, simply rephrasing it will help you set the right tone.
Rather than: I need you to write this paper by tomorrow.
You might say: Could you please write this report and submit it to me by tomorrow?
As you can see, by softening your tone you’re more likely to elicit a positive response. The “golden rule” applies in the workplace: Treat others as you want to be treated. You’ll get much better results!
3. Take a business English course
If you’re looking for a more structured approach to learning English for business, you may consider taking a business English course. Here are some courses that are available online (some of which are free):
Maybe you’re like me and you get tired of the same songs on the radio when you’re driving. Business English Pod allows you to take courses on the go whenever you want. It has over 400 podcasts available with topics that range from “Socializing at the Office” to “Macroeconomics.” Along with those podcasts, you’ll find e-books and several lessons just for vocabulary. Available on both iOS devices and Android, they also boast online quizzes and mobile-friendly lesson modules.
Talk English offers a free business English course with 80 lessons, but it’s not necessary to go through every course consecutively. The lessons are divided into categories and subcategories, so you can pick and choose what you need! After you finish up the business course, check out the English grammar lessons. We want the sentences in those emails to be well-written!
We know that travel and business often go hand-in-hand. And with that comes meeting new people, polite small talk and maybe even business dinners. This Alison course covers both business and travel vocabulary at the same time. Some of the things you’ll learn are how to reserve a hotel room, make an office phone call and vocabulary for job interviews. The course is one to two hours and includes quizzes and videos and a certificate upon completion.
On the British Council’s Business And Work section, you’ll find a variety of free business and professional podcasts and articles accompanied by language practice activities.
They allow you ample opportunity to expand your vocabulary with topics like viral marketing, public relations and emotional intelligence. You can also choose from industry-specific topics like biotechnology and medicine.
Coursera offers paid business English courses taught by top instructors from global universities and educational institutions. Here you will have access to recorded video lectures, peer reviews and discussion forums. You’ll also receive an electronic certificate upon completion of your course.
You will need to sign up for a Coursera account to view courses and keep track of your progress.
In the long list of business English offerings, you might find courses like these useful.
- Business English: Basics created by The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
- Improve Your Business English Communication Skills created by Georgia Institute of Technology
- English For Business And Entrepreneurship created by University of Pennsylvania
At Shaw Academy, you can work towards a diploma in English for business with a course that takes you from the fundamentals of business to the core language skills you’ll need to function in a professional setting.
The course has interactive online lessons that teach you everything from business vocabulary to grammar and pronunciation. It combines live webinars with the online course format. There are weekly assignments, but they’re optional and not necessary to complete the course.
With eight different lessons, you can expect the course to last about four weeks, but you can complete it at your own pace.
You’ll receive a certificate at the end of this course, too, and an accredited diploma that will be surely bolster your resumé.
4. Seek in-person assistance
Sometimes you want to be able to ask someone questions in person. Someone who’s an expert in a particular area can offer clarification when you need it. You have options for that!
Working with a private tutor
If you have specific language goals in mind, you might consider working on a one-to-one basis with a private tutor who can then tailor lessons to your needs. You can practice different scenarios with them like introductions or an interview.
Or maybe you have a business presentations, and you’d like to get their opinion. A tutor could really help you sharpen your speaking and presentation skills.
Use Wyzant to help you find a tutor who you can meet with in person for private tutoring sessions. Just enter your location on the website, and you can find someone close to your home who will work with you in whatever subject area you need. You can find a person to help you in English or hire one for a specific area, like writing, grammar or public speaking for business. The site is very user-friendly and it is super easy to find and hire the right private tutor for you.
If you would prefer to work with a private tutor online, you can go to Verbling. Verbling is one of the best websites for finding private tutors online, and you can meet with your tutor on the Verbling website rather than using Skype or another platform. There are hundreds of fantastic, experienced tutors here who are fully prepared to help you with business English!
Attending business talks and seminars
Attending business talks and seminars is a great way to not only expand your vocabulary, but to also increase your knowledge of the subject area. You can learn a lot from observing the speaker and practicing your English by interacting with other business professionals.
5. Read and watch business news
As a busy professional, you may not always have time to attend business talks and seminars. In that case, take advantage of the many resources that allow you to read and watch business news in your free time, on your lunch break or after work.
Some online sites and publications require a subscription. This can be worth paying for, as it often gives you the opportunity to read breaking news from a quality source. For example, a subscription to The New York Times gives you access to a wide range of business news stories you may not find elsewhere (or may not find elsewhere until later).
News magazines (either print or digital) can be a low-stress way of keeping up with business news. Print magazines are easy to carry around or shove into a briefcase, and reading them can feel more like relaxing than doing work. Magazine Line offers a variety of magazine subscriptions at discounted prices. They have Entrepreneur, Forbes, Inc. and even magazines for groups and communities within the business world, like Professional Artist and Professional Woman’s Magazine.
6. Apply what you’ve learned
You’ve done the hard work of taking a business English course, and you’re constantly picking up new vocabulary from all the business sites you’re looking at and seminars you’re attending. Now it’s time to put those skills to good use!
Applying what you’ve learned is just as important as learning itself. From your new vocabulary, select a word of the day to use at meeting or in emails. Grab any opportunity to use a new business phrase when you’re talking to a coworker or writing a report.
Be proactive by inventing scenarios and writing (or thinking about) the conversation you imagine might take place. For example, pretend you have a business dinner with an important client coming up. How would you greet them when they walk up to you? What are some great conversation starters or topics of “small talk”? If you know there are going to be negotiations, what are some terms that will more than likely come up in the discussion? This might sound silly, but working this through beforehand will make those interactions much easier.
Take any opportunity you get to implement what you’ve learned and you’ll notice your progress soon enough!
Remember you are not alone, we all have to bring up the level of our English when we walk into the workplace.
I hope the ideas I’ve listed above will help you progress along your learning curve and become more fluent and proficient.
Remember that to keep improving, you must apply what you’ve learned every chance you get.
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