learn business english with the office

How to Watch “The Office” and Learn Useful Business English Phrases

Want to laugh, learn business English and then laugh some more?

You’re in luck.

Thanks to British comedian, actor and writer Ricky Gervais, business English has never been so entertaining.

In 2001, the BBC released a television show about an office in England that looked so similar to a real office environment that many viewers thought it was a genuine documentary. Later, people discovered it was actually a mockumentary, which is a fake documentary that mocks (makes fun of) its subject.

“The Office” was such a hit that it has been remade in many other countries, including America—which is absolutely perfect for English learners. Use the British version if you want to learn British English, and use the American version if you want to learn American English.

“The Office” brilliantly shows how the office can be the most rewarding, frustrating, humorless, hilarious and paradoxical environments in which you’ll ever have the great pleasure or displeasure of working. You might even recognize it as a place similar to where you once worked.
 


 
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Why Learn Business English with “The Office”?

So how does this resource help you, the business English learner?

It’s Great for British English and American English

Because “The Office” was a major hit in both the UK and US there are two different English dialects to choose from. The advanced learner might be able to watch both shows and notice the differences in vocabulary, pronunciation and idioms.

So whether you are traveling to New York or London to work or participate in a conference, “The Office” will have you covered.

It’s Relevant to Business Situations

“The Office” also allows you to see business English language used in an office environment. In many cases you’ll see typical interactions in common office scenarios between coworkers.

Often you’ll see one person acting appropriately (professionally) in the office while another person is acting inappropriately (unprofessionally).

In most cases it’s the boss, Michael Scott (US version) or David Brent (UK version), who is oblivious to office etiquette. They say many silly, awkward and offensive things. This will help you learn what is not appropriate or professional to say in the office. You can also pay attention to the other characters to learn what is not appropriate in the workplace and how to respond to unprofessional coworkers!

It’s Full of Cultural References

Working in an English-speaking workplace requires a variety of language and cultural understanding. You’ll work with people from many different backgrounds and experiences.

You’ll meet parents, singles, normal people, weird people, serious people, the jokester (who loves to joke around), the consummate professional and the hopeless screw-up. “The Office” includes characters from the frighteningly crazy to the boringly normal.

All these characters often converse about modern-day cultural topics, from what they watched on T.V. last night to their favorite songs. This will help you learn what people like to talk about casually in offices as well.

Watch “The Office” to Learn Useful Business English Phrases for 6 Office Situations

1. Business English Phrases for Interviews

Let’s start with your first interaction in an office: the interview. This is your chance to make a good impression and learn about your future employer. It is probably the most formal interaction you will ever have with your future employers and coworkers.

In this clip from “The Office” from the UK, manager David Brent ask lots of typical interview questions and prompts (for example, “tell me about yourself”).

However, he conducts the interview unprofessionally by being too flirty with the candidate he is interviewing. While some questions are often heard in a formal interview, Brent uses unusual body language and is clearly trying to impress the woman he is interviewing.

Words, Phrases and Cultural References

Cut back To reduce or decrease the amount of something. In this case, Brent says that management wants him to “cut back” and “lose staff” by firing people, not hiring people.

The way forward — The future plan from this point.

Curriculum vitae — This is the document you make for any potential employer to describe your qualifications. This is also known as a “C.V.” In the United States, this document is more commonly referred to as a “resume.”

Desiree  A 1990s British pop music star. This is funny because Brent wants to appear cool, but Desiree is not very cool anymore.

Took a year out — She means that she took a year away from work. In American English, people say “took a year off.”

You’ve charmed me — He means that she has impressed him. The motion he makes with his hand is supposed to look like a cobra (a type of snake), implying that she is a snake charmer.

Work out your notice — If you are working something out, then you are figuring out. He is telling her to make sure she puts in her 2-week notice with her current employer letting them know that she is leaving her job.

Drinks will be on me — He will buy the drinks.

2. Key Phrases for Performance Review or Appraisal

So now you have a job.

After a few months, you are going to sit down with the boss and discuss your performance, goals and expectations in the workplace. You are sure to hear what you have done well during your employment and what you should improve. You might even be asked to give feedback to your manager about your job and what you hope to accomplish in the coming months.

Here David Brent is conducting an appraisal with Big Keith. In a rare moment, Brent is the serious character in this scene. Big Keith’s silence and lack of understanding is meant to make you laugh.

Watch the whole episode here.

Words, Phrases and Cultural References

Strengths/weaknesses — This is almost always talked about in an interview or performance review. What are you good at in your job? These are your strengths. What skills or behaviors could you improve? These are your weaknesses.

Accounts — This office sells paper. In this context, Keith is in charge of the company’s clients’ money. Basically, he does the accounting and invoices for those companies that buy paper from his company. He manages the accounts.

Skills within your job — David Brent wants to find out what Keith is good at in his job. Keith doesn’t understand. For strengths, Big Keith wrote his job responsibility: “Accounts.” This was the most basic and obvious answer, and it does not show that he has strong skills. A better answer might be: “organizing accounts,” “meeting deadlines” or “being very detail oriented.” For weaknesses, Keith wrote “eczema,” which is a chronic skin condition.

Q and A — Short for Questions and Answers.

Perform your job effectively — Do your job well.

What would you tick?  In what box would you put a check mark (√)? When you fill a little box in a document like this, you are “ticking” or “checking” the box.

The flexibility to decide how best to accomplish your goals  Sometimes your boss gives you many direct orders, and you cannot do things the way you want to. Brent wants to know if Keith feels that he has the freedom to do his job well and accomplish the things he wants to accomplish.

3. Key Phrases for Discussing Strengths and Weaknesses

Talking about your strengths and weaknesses seems to never end in the office environment.

You might discuss them during your first interview, a performance review or, in the following case with Michael Scott, an interview for a promotion within the company.

Michael, being the lovable idiot that he is, lists things are not really weaknesses. You will see that he is not very clever about how he answers this question. He is trying to compliment himself instead of being honest. It is actually okay to talk about your real weaknesses in interviews like this—mangers want to know how you are going to improve yourself and become a better employee.

Words, Phrases and Cultural References

Right off the bat This essentially means “at the very start or beginning.”

I work too hard and I care too much  Remember that to do something “too hard” or “too much” is meant negatively. To work “too hard” means that the result is not necessarily a good one.

Too invested in my job  To be invested in something means that you care a great deal about it. It means that you feel personal responsibility for the outcome of your work. You are paying close attention and doing your best with tasks. Again, the “too” in front of the phrase makes it sound like there is something negative about this.

4. Key Phrases for Conference Calls and Promotions

In a similar scenario taken from the “The Office” from the US, you might find yourself on a conference call with a boss. Hopefully, the call will be to promote you to a higher-paying position in your company. Much to Dwight’s chagrin, Jim gets a promotion in the following clip.

Words, Phrases and Cultural References

Want him on this — He means he wants Jim “on this” conference call with them.

Everyone’s on board — To be “on board” means that you agree and support the decision or idea. The boss wants to make sure that Michael and Jim support the decision to be co-managers.

Day-to-day — Jim will be in charge of the daily issues that arise in the office, making sure the office is running smoothly and without problems.

Big picture stuff — Michael can focus more on the goals of the office and less of the daily office problems or issues.

A lot of moving pieces — This means that things are a little complicated. There are a lot of components to manage. The boss means that lots of changes are being made and Jim’s promotion is one of those changes. This might remind you of a machine where lots of moving parts make the machine work.

5. Key Phrases for Healthcare Benefits

While you hopefully won’t experience some of the absurdities (crazy problems) that the people in these fictional offices endure (suffer through), the overall language and cultural education you can get from this show could be very valuable.

Take, for example, the following clip. Dwight is in charge of the deciding what healthcare plan the office will offer its employees. Since Jim loves to get Dwight worked up (upset), he took this as an opportunity to play a joke on Dwight.

In this scene, nobody is following the office code of professionalism. It is all pretty inappropriate. You even get a chance to hear Jim and Pam make small talk about their weekend plans, which is typically what casual office conversations sound like.

Words, Phrases and Cultural References

Forged — Fake, false. Dwight thinks that his coworkers have provided false information on the documents (and he’s right).

Slashed benefits to the bone — Slashing (cutting) something to the bone means that you made a significant cut or reduction to something. In this case, Dwight made many cuts to the amount of healthcare coverage the employees are provided from the company. Dwight is proud that he has saved the company money.

Healthcare coverage — This is the financial help the company provides its employees with regard to medical treatments and visits to the doctor’s office.

Count Choculitis — Count Chocula was a famous cereal cartoon character that was the spokesman for Count Chocula cereal. Jim was making a joke on his health form saying that he was suffering from this disease.

Can you hold on one second, I’m getting a beep. — This simply means “wait, someone is calling me.” If you are on the phone and someone calls you, you might hear a beep to notify you of the call.

Acting manager — Michael is away so he put Dwight in charge. He would then be the “acting” manager for the day, but not the real manager.

6. Key Phrases for Leveraging an Offer

Dwight likes to think of himself as a shrewd businessman, but in this scene he shows he is not as smart as he thinks. This is an episode filmed during Halloween, hence the costumes. Michael has to fire someone by the end of the day.

Words, Phrases and Cultural References

Leveraging an offer — To leverage means “to use something to obtain a desired result.” Dwight is using a job offer from another company to get a promotion at his current company. It is ill-timed because Michael needs to fire someone by the end of the day and doesn’t have the nerve to do it. He wants Dwight take the other job so he does not have to fire anyone.

Offered a job — A company has agreed to hire you after an interview, but you might not have accepted it yet.

Turned it down — You’ve been offered a job, but you don’t accept the offer.

Remember that “The Office” is full of absurdity. While you will learn lots of useful English for business and everyday situations, you shouldn’t model yourself after anyone on this show.

This show will teach you a lot about how people might interact in the office. If you pay very close attention, you might even become fluent in body language and social cues.

Though there is plenty of dialogue to learn business English from in this show, there are also a lot of things left unsaid. Learning how people express things without words (using facial expressions, body language and actions) in different cultures can be very valuable.

Regardless of what you learn from “The Office,” your increased understanding will be useful and the process will surely make you laugh.

Enjoy!

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