What Is Business English? 6 Key Features of This International Language
How does business English differ from the normal English people use every day?
Business English is used in an official or business setting, and it has the aim of clear and efficient communication with your boss, co-workers or other professionals.
Using English at work will likely help you climb the corporate ladder, but it will also help you express yourself in the best way possible.
It will help you become a leader in your own right, and attract the kind of people who will support you in all your endeavors.
In this post, we will look at six key characteristics of business English, how you can benefit from learning it and ways to get started.
- 1. Business English is used internationally.
- 2. There are many types of business English.
- 3. Speaking and writing require different skills.
- 4. Business English is generally short and specific.
- 5. You must speak in a professional, diplomatic manner.
- 6. Business English is really about how well you can communicate.
1. Business English is used internationally.
English has become the language of the international workplace. That means that once you master business English, you can use it to communicate with most other professionals in any part of the world. It connects you to everyone else.
For example, if you are based in the US and your client is from China, your shared knowledge of business English allows you to communicate and negotiate a deal.
However, it is important to be aware that knowing business English is only one part of international business. Whenever you are dealing with foreign clients, it is always advisable to educate yourself on their culture, so that you do not say something that is offensive or rude.
To start learning business English for international communication (or even just within one country), check out Coursera. They offer online courses for many business English subjects, like business English for cross-cultural communication.
Another option is a virtual immersion platform. FluentU, for example, teaches English with a variety of authentic web videos and has sections for both business and everyday English. Each video has interactive captions to help you look up unfamiliar words while watching.
Videos work well for visual- and audio-focused learners, but if you learn better with text, then you might prefer to learn using books about business English.
2. There are many types of business English.
Business English is actually a broad term that covers a variety of language used in workplace communication.
For instance, the business English that you use during a presentation will be very different from the small talk you engage in at a networking event. This means you have to do your research to prepare for formal situations that require business English.
For presentations, you have to be ready to use the right words and get your point across, without stumbling or forgetting.
In networking situations, however, your main aim is to create a pleasant and memorable impression. For this, you may want to think more about your body language and have an “elevator pitch” ready.
Both of these types of business English are “formal,” but the level of formality differs.
Further, even the region of the world matters when it comes to business English. You may have to adjust your accent and vocabulary according to your situation.
For example, American business English differs from British business English. So if you have recently relocated to the US, you will want to focus on learning American business phrases as well as mastering American pronunciation. You’ll also need to learn vocabulary relevant to your field, such as English for logistics or business administration terminology.
3. Speaking and writing require different skills.
While the specific words and phrases you use may be the same, the spoken and written versions of business English each require their own set of skills.
For instance, writing a winning cover letter is an art in itself. You’ll need certain knowledge for writing emails and different knowledge for writing memorandums, papers or even finalizing a resume.
Business writing requires you to learn to critically read and analyze the writing of others. Of course, you’ll also need to learn how to express your own thoughts professionally in writing, too.
Try studying sample cover letters and articles. Memorize the format and pay attention to how paragraphs are structured and which words are used often in the text. When you are practicing your business writing, imitate the common style of the type of document you’re working on.
However, just because you can write beautiful cover letters doesn’t mean you’re a master presenter. You’ll also want to focus on improving your business English speaking skills.
And again, the ability to speak efficiently during a conference call is different than the ability to successfully lead a group meeting. Figure out which speaking skills you need most, then watch and learn from others doing the same thing.
In general, though, to speak business English well, you need to develop confidence. Try practicing in front of a mirror, or get a study partner to practice your English speaking with.
As a student of business English, you will eventually need to learn and master both the written and spoken forms of the language.
For now, focus specifically on the skills you need most. Once you are more confident with those, you can move on to other tasks. In time, you’ll find that you can use business English to speak fluently and write efficiently with equal ease.
4. Business English is generally short and specific.
Everyone in business is busy. Therefore, if you choose to speak to someone, you should make the conversation worth their time.
This means there is no space for ranting or rambling. You have to be quick, specific and very concise (complete and clear, but brief).
If something can be expressed in 20 words, don’t use 30 words to say it. Instead, see if you can express it in 10 words. To make your communication successful, you have to know exactly what you want to say, and then say it in the best possible way.
This often requires you to know specific jargon (words and phrases that are only used in certain situations).
Business English has its own jargon, which is usually just the more formal and polite version of casual English. If you use business jargon in everyday conversation, it might make you sound weird. In professional settings, however, it helps you be articulate (able to express yourself well) and efficient.
Most careers and industries have their own jargon, as well. For example, if you work in project management, you may get better results using the word “authorization” in place of “permission,” “deliverable” instead of “completed product” and so on. If you do work in project management, check out this post, too:
5. You must speak in a professional, diplomatic manner.
No matter what version of business English you are using, it is important to remember that you are trying to build professional relationships with the people you speak to. There are three things to keep in mind here.
First, you should not be too casual. You may find yourself slipping into colloquial (everyday) English occasionally, especially if you are comfortable with the people you’re talking to, but you have to control it in a business setting.
You can be friendly, but slang, expletives (swear words) and colloquial lingo aren’t permitted in an “official” setting. For instance, we may greet a close friend with a “Hey! Wassup?” But with a co-worker, we are usually better off saying, “Hello. How are you?”
Second, business English requires you to maintain a professional front. You must always be polite, considerate and respectful to everyone you speak with.
If you meet an industry professional, for example, your polite manners will help you stand out in a good way. During a job interview, being respectful will show that you deserve to get hired. During office disagreements, you will benefit from remaining diplomatic and mature.
Lastly, you want to avoid coming across as blunt or tactless. For instance, if you are giving feedback to a colleague, you can’t just blurt out every thought that comes into your head.
In this situation, you can use the “Sandwich Rule,” particularly if the feedback you’re giving is negative. Start off by saying something positive, then point out the “negative” aspect and how it can be improved, then finish off with another positive point.
Maintaining a diplomatic manner while using business English will show others that you not only understand the language, but are aware of the professional culture, too.
6. Business English is really about how well you can communicate.
That’s right. It’s not really about how well you know the English language. Using business English well doesn’t mean showing off your knowledge or your fancy vocabulary.
Knowing when and how to apply your English knowledge is (in most cases) far more important.
You may not always know all the right words, but if you can get your point across clearly and briefly, you have a higher chance of being successful.
People are going to be impressed by how smoothly you complete a task, not how much English you know. You have to remain solution-focused and think on your feet (in the moment, as things are happening).
Of course, there are still different levels of communication required for different situations. For example, during a presentation, you still have to focus on your research and vocabulary to appear knowledgeable.
But when you are answering questions from a co-worker or your boss, your main aim is communication. In fact, whenever you are directly asked for an opinion or a solution, it is a good idea to focus on how clearly you can communicate that opinion or solution.
So if you feel your vocabulary or business jargon is lacking (not enough), don’t worry! Communicate as best as you can with the business English you do know now, and keep learning.
You won’t master all this in a day! In order to ace business English, you’ll need to practice many skills.
So find a practice partner, attend networking events or ask for more responsibility at your job to give yourself motivation. Even if you embarrass yourself, simply learn from your mistakes and keep going.
The more you use business English, the more confident, empathetic (considerate of others’ thoughts and feelings) and proactive you will become—and the more successful you will be!