english-for-logistics-vocabulary

English for Logistics: Essential Vocabulary to Get the Job Done Right

The first time I was on a logistics team, I was pretty bad at it.

I was in school and we’d organized a debate contest.

We ran out of paper and didn’t have enough refreshments for our participants.

Then our event was delayed because we didn’t pick up our chief guest on time.

At first, I didn’t get it. I’d always been good with planning, organizing and numbers.

So why did I mess up?

Then I realized that no matter how well you plan something, things can always go haywire.

To succeed in logistics, you must be a good planner, yes—but you also need to think on your feet. You need to improvise and come up with good solutions at a moment’s notice.

And to do that, you need to be able to quickly, clearly communicate your ideas. That means having the right vocabulary for every little stage in the logistics process.

The next time I volunteered to handle an event’s logistics, it went wonderfully. Of course there were things that went wrong, but instead of panicking, we improvised and discussed to find solutions.

If you’re afraid that your business English skills aren’t up to scratch for this type of work, you’ve stumbled to the right place!

In this post, I’ll cover all the relevant vocabulary and jargon that’s used in the field of logistics today.

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What Does a Job in Logistics Mean for You?

Well, you’d be responsible for efficiently managing all the supplies required in a program or business. You’d basically be in charge of the movement of goods, services or information from one point to another, as per your client’s needs.

For instance, if you were working on logistics for a debate competition, your job would involve getting the stationery and refreshments for all participants, contacting and coordinating between suppliers and venue representatives and ensuring that everything arrived on time and where it needed to be.

As you can imagine, clear communication is essential to doing this type of work successfully. To make a good impression in the workplace, you need to know the right words and concepts and be able to apply them as required.

Before we give you those words and concepts, let’s take a look at some awesome online lessons and practice materials you can use to master them.

Online Resources to Improve Your Logistics Vocabulary

To supplement your learning, you can check out these resources to further improve your business English skills and make an impression at the workplace. To make the most of it, try to practice regularly and don’t forget to review what you learn.

  • FluentU: This is the best tool to learn how to use the vocabulary below like a native speaker would. FluentU takes real-world videos—like business dialogues, inspiring speeches, news and more—and turns them into personalized English lessons.FluentU has a huge collection of English videos that people in the English-speaking world actually watch.

    Learn business English with FluentU

    More to the point, FluentU has an entire business category filled with authentic business-related videos covering six language levels.

    To show the variety of videos even inside this single category, real-world business videos on FluentU include “Introducing Business Colleagues,” “Business Buzzwords,” “Control Your Inbox!” and “What Warren Buffet Thinks About Cash.”

    An added bonus is that if you want to work on other topics later, simply use the same, familiar FluentU platform to learn with videos from other categories, such as “Science and Tech,” “Politics and Society” or mix it up with “Arts and Entertainment” or “Health and Lifestyle.”

    Every spoken word is subtitled, complete with an in-context definition, image and multiple example sentences.

    Learn business English with FluentU

    All you have to do is tap or click on one of the words in those subtitles to get more information. For example, if you tap on the word “brought,” you will see this:

    Learn business English with FluentU

    Plus, these great videos are all accompanied by interactive features and active learning tools, like multimedia flashcards and fun games like “fill in the blank.”

    Learn business English with FluentU

    If you are interested in watching fun, relevant videos and practicing language actively in the process, be sure to create a FluentU account and try it out on your computer, iOS or Android device!

  • Investopedia: Whenever you come across an unfamiliar turn of phrase in logistics, head over to this site to learn more about it. For instance this page gives you a short background on logistics with examples and detailed explanations of what a logistician actually does. If you have any queries, chances are that this site will answer most of them.
  • Effective Business English for Logistics on Udemy: If you’re serious and dedicated to your learning, consider investing in a course devoted to teaching English for those working in logistics. This online course promises to be really useful and worth the money. You’ll be able to communicate effectively, manage the staff and administer logistics processes in the right way. Whether in administration, warehousing or management, this is an all-in-all course for you.

If you enjoy this resource, you can find many more engaging and effective courses on Udemy. Udemy is an online education platform with hundreds of courses covering a range of both business topics and English language topics. And they’ve almost always got big discounts running on their courses!

English for Logistics: Essential Vocabulary to Get the Job Done Right

Below is a list of commonly used terms and abbreviations used in logistics. Carefully studying a vocabulary list like this will give you a thorough grounding in the basics, from where you can further build your knowledge base.

For continued, in-depth vocabulary studies, check out this glossary from Inbound Logistics. As indicated above, you can also find many useful definitions by searching on Investopedia.

I’ve also provided an example sentence to give you an idea of the context in which the word/phrase usually appears, so you can use them in your everyday conversations with your coworkers and clients.

Advanced Shipment Notice (ASN):

This is a document that tells your customer all the information they need to know about a pending delivery—including the type, nature and number of goods, packaging information and other relevant shipment details. It’s sent in advance to the customer so that they have an idea of what to expect and when.

You better tell Sheila to send the ASN to the customer soon, so that he knows when the products are coming.

Air Taxi:

This is a small commercial aircraft that usually flies short distances on demand. There are restrictions on the amount of cargo and passengers allowed in the aircraft.

It’s like hailing a cab when you’re in a hurry, except the cab is a plane!

The traffic on the highway is going to be pretty bad, so we booked an air taxi for our VIP guests so that they can reach the venue on time, without any hassles.

Backorder:

To put it simply, a backorder is when a retailer orders something that’s currently out of stock. The client trusts the company long enough to wait for the order to be shipped at a later date.

Jack has finally dealt with all the pending backorders for our customers, and our inventory is up-to-date.

Business-to-Business (B2B):

This is an approach where a business targets other businesses to access and sell their products and services. In short, the commercial transaction occurs not with the customer but with another business.

For her new jewelry start-up, Maya recently bought a huge set of charms and beads directly from a wholesale supplier that specializes in B2B.

Business-to-Consumer (B2C):

This is the opposite of B2B and the one we’re more familiar with, where the transaction takes place between the business and a customer. However the strategies used here differ significantly from those used in B2B marketing.

Typically, B2C strategies focus on emotionally engaging the customer to buy a product, whereas a B2B approach focuses more on value and utility.

Blanket Purchase Order:

Also referred to as a blanket order or a standing order, this is a type of purchase order where a client receives regular, ongoing deliveries for large quantities of goods, thereby taking advantage of discount pricing.

Jane uses a blanket purchase order to get her goods. This keeps her business steady and she gets what she needs at cheaper rates.

Bilateral Contract:

This is a reciprocal arrangement between two parties, where you promise to do something in exchange for something in return. Both of you are bound to keep your ends of the bargain.

If you agree to provide a service for a company and they agree to pay you for it, you’re entering into a basic bilateral contract.

Consignor and Consignee:

The consignor is the person (or firm) that sells or ships the goods to the recipient, or “consignee.” The consignor is usually the “seller” and retains ownership of the goods until the consignee pays for them.

As per the transportation document, Aditya is the consignor and you must make the necessary payments to him when he delivers the goods.

Customs Officer:

The customs officer is the law enforcement official who acts on behalf of the government and ensures that people and goods enter or exit a country legally.

The customs officer at the docks caught him trying to smuggle some banned substances and promptly confiscated them.

Distribution Network:

This term refers to the interconnected group of storage facilities and transportation systems that ensure goods are smoothly delivered from the manufacturer to the customer.

The distribution network is part of the “supply chain” (more on that later).

Creating and managing a strong distribution network is one of the key skills required to succeed in logistics.

Freight:

This refers to the goods that are carried in bulk by land, sea or air. It can also mean the fees paid for the transportation of these goods.

Joe worked for a few months as a truck driver carrying freight across the highway from one city to another at night.

Inbound Logistics and Outbound Logistics:

Goods either “come into” or “leave” a business. Inbound Logistics is applied for the transport, storage and delivery of goods that “come into” a business from a manufacturer.

The opposite is of course Outbound Logistics, which involves goods that “leave” the business to the client.

Amrita is the head of the inbound logistics team, so address all queries regarding the manufacturer to her and she’ll deal with it.

Inventory:

This refers to all the goods or a list of all the goods that are held by a business to be sold.

Keeping the company’s inventory up-to-date is very important so that it’s easy to see if any goods have gone missing or been stolen.

Lading:

This term typically refers to the load of cargo or goods onto a transportation vehicle. However, it also sometimes refers to the cargo itself.

The lading process was long and strenuous, but we did it carefully and now the ship’s set sail with the cargo. 

Logistics Service Provider (LSP):

As the term suggests, LSPs are third parties that provide companies and clients with logistics services.

We advised Michael to research an LSP’s credentials and track record, before approaching one to distribute his goods and take care of the transportation for his business.

North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA):

This is a free trade agreement between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico and covers several issues such as those relating to customs, intellectual property rights, government procedures and so on. NAFTA was implemented on January 1, 1994.

I work in logistics for a North American importer and exporter, so I need to be very familiar with the provisions in NAFTA.

Order Picking:

Order Picking is the process of assembling the goods before they’re shipped off to the customer. It’s one of the basic warehousing processes.

Sayan recently got a job collecting articles before shipment and the company is so pleased with his efficient order picking he may soon get a promotion.

Order Processing:

This refers to all the different activities related to the filling of a customer’s orders until they’re completed. It usually includes the picking, sorting, packing and delivery of goods to the shipping carrier.

Swift order processing is the hallmark of any wholesale retail company. 

Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM):

An OEM is usually a company that manufactures goods that are then used as components in another company’s goods.

However, the term has evolved over the years and now sometimes refers to the second company (i.e. the one receiving and using the goods).

Company A makes equipment that’s incorporated into Company B’s product, so traditionally Company A is called an OEM.

Owner’s Risk Rate:

This term is commonly used with reference to railway shipment. It refers to a reduced tariff, compared to the rate that one ordinarily pays. The reason for the discount is that the goods are carried at the owner’s risk and the railway administration isn’t responsible for any damages incurred.

I prefer to ship my goods at the owner’s risk rate, because it’s cheaper and I usually get lucky—but I’ve incurred some losses over the years.

Packaging:

No, it’s not just safely wrapping up a product before it’s shipped. Packaging involves all the processes and materials that are used to contain, transport and protect a product until it’s delivered.

It also can refer to the design and production of packages.

Sarita works as a packaging engineer for a small business and she’s responsible for the optimum use of paper and cardboard resources.

Pareto:

This refers to the Pareto principle, or the 80/20 rule that 80% of profits come from 20% of your work/effort. In order to improve productivity, you identify the “20%” areas and capitalize on those.

The Pareto principle is applicable in all walks of life, so know your “20%” well and spend more time and resources in improving it.

Pooling:

This is a common term in shipping lingo, where multiple shipments from different carriers are combined in one truckload to reduce shipping charges.

Pooling your delivery goods is an efficient way to make the most of your company budget and is also more environmentally friendly.

Preferential Rate:

This is a term related to customs payments. It’s a special, reduced rate for products from certain “preferred”countries.

Luckily for you, you can pay per your country’s preferential rate for exporting these items. 

Request for Information (RFI):

An RFI is a document to collect written information about a vendor, product, supplier or service.

Jackie filed several RFIs when choosing the most reliable supplier for his goods.

Supply Chain:

The entire interconnected network of organizations, people, activities and resources that are responsible for the movement of the product from the supplier to the customer.

Efficient supply chain management is one of the chief aims of any logistics operation, so every minute detail must be overseen by the person who leads the operation. 

Transportation:

This is a key aspect of any logistics operation and refers to the movement of goods via land/sea/air, as well as the procedures involved to make it go smoothly and efficiently.

I was in charge of transportation, which meant I had to coordinate with truck drivers for the delivery of our goods to the warehouse.

Unit Loads:

The combining of individual items in shipping containers into single units.

I need to find out the exact number of unit loads that’ll fit into this warehouse.

Warehousing:

The act of storing goods that are to be distributed and sold at a later date. The commercial building where goods are stored is called a warehouse.

Tanya scaled down her plans for the start-up because the warehousing costs were too expensive. 

 

To draw an analogy, working in logistics is like being a stage magician’s assistant, backstage help and manager—all at the same time. The audience claps at the magician’s clever tricks, but it’s everyone working behind the scenes, tirelessly and invisibly, who ensures the success of the performance.

Our job in this field is to coordinate everything with everyone else, in a timely manner. It requires tremendous skill and quick thinking—so if you want a job that’s challenging and fulfilling at the same time, this might be the right career for you.

And in order to succeed, you also need to know the right “lingo” that’s currently in vogue, so take your time with this list. Bookmark this post, learn and review the definitions and research topics or concepts that are unfamiliar to you.

You can even ask a friend or coworker to quiz you on this list or you can make it a point to use a few terms from this list in your daily life, every day.

Make learning a habit, set yourself small goals, don’t ever lose hope and you’ll succeed in your field by leaps and bounds.


Archita Mittra is a freelance writer, artist, educator and a self-taught Italian speaker. Feel free to check out her website or contact her for freelancing inquiries.

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