Is your English holding you back at work? Do you want to improve your business English for more effective communication? It is easier than you think! In this article, we walk you through 15 simple methods that you can use each day to enhance your professional English.
“Business English” is a general term for the formal variety of English used in professional working environments. However, the English you use at work may also fall under the category of “ESP” – or English for Specific Purposes – if it relates to a professional niche with a precise set of terminology. For example, if you are a Financial Analyst, you may be required to use some general business English in your daily communications, but you may also need to be familiar with a highly specific set of jargon related to markets, statistics and other areas of your work. It is often the case that one type of English does not cover all of the bases. Consider the following tips:
1. It all starts with a list!
If you want to improve your professional English, start by making a list of situations in which you use the language at work. Do you require general business English or ESP? In most cases, the answer will be: a bit of both. Try to be as specific as possible when writing your list as this will help to pinpoint where improvements need to be made.
2. Set some clear goals
Think of fluent English as an important “stepping stone” in the advancement of your career. Set clear targets with your business English as you would with your other projects at work. This will help you stay motivated in the long-run and will yield better results.
3. Be realistic about your time and progress
Business people are often “busy-ness” people! Time is always the enemy, especially if you have family as well as work commitments. Therefore, it is important that you set yourself realistic targets in terms of the time you are willing to devote to your English and the results you can then expect to receive.
4. Schedule in some English
Reserve x3 “mini breaks” each day to take a timeout for your English. For example, 15 minutes during breakfast to watch the latest business news via the internet, 10 minutes over lunch to review your latest vocabulary list, 30 minutes in the car on your way home from work to listen to an audiobook about a topic that really interests you.
5. Travel on business
One of the best ways to improve your business English is to remove the option of communicating in your native language. In other words, to place yourself in situations in which you are forced to use English – like it or not. Travelling abroad for work is a great example of this. In addition to speaking practice, business trips can provide you with a valuable understanding of how your overseas colleagues interact at work and in their down time.
6. Prepare for a conference
Today there are conferences, conventions, trade shows and training events for all types of professional activities. These offer you the opportunity to learn new things, but also to network in English with other colleagues and potential business partners. Why not kill two birds with one stone and develop your professional skills while also practising your business English? If your company has a stand, volunteer to help run it!
7. Do a presentation in English
Presenting well in public can be tough, but how about doing it in a foreign language? For many learners, this is their worst nightmare! However, the only way to gain confidence with your spoken English is to confront your fears and overcome any psychological barriers to communication. Start with an audience of one – write and check your presentation, then read it in front of the mirror at home when no one else is around. Try it again with a couple of relatives and get their feedback. Now ask a few colleagues in your department to be your audience. Improve your content and delivery using this method. By the time you come to do your presentation at a conference or in front of a larger audience, you will be “a natural”!
8. Search for English websites that are really worth reading
When choosing content to read in English, it is important that it is interesting and relevant to YOU. Try searching for websites related to your professional activities, companies you would like to know more about, or successful business people you admire. Perhaps also explore any associated forums or social media pages to participate via comments. Write down new vocabulary and translate it. You will find that a lot of modern business terminology has been “borrowed” into other languages from English, but pay close attention to any differences in usage and pronunciation.
9. Read work-specific literature or documentation
This may not always be the most interesting material available in the English language, but reading professional or technical documents, books, manuals, regulations, etc. is a good way to improve your understanding of work-related jargon and its practical usage.
10. Learn some phrasal verbs and idioms commonly used in business
It is worth making the effort to learn some work-related idioms and phrasal verbs as these are often used by naive speakers in business situations. While these expressions can make your English sound more natural, they also have the potential to cause embarrassment if used incorrectly or in the wrong context. Therefore, the best advice is to learn them in context and with 2-3 real examples of correct usage.
11. Record your mistakes so you can learn from them
Everyone makes mistakes when using a foreign language. What distinguishes a fluent business English speaker from the crowd is a willingness to learn and move on from these mistakes. Keep an ongoing written record of your common errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar. Note which mistakes you repeat on a regular basis and then take action to rectify them.
12. Improve your professional emails
Whenever you receive an email from a colleague in English, try noting down any new phrases that you might be able to use yourself next time. Keep a file on your computer for quick access to these set phrases. If you find it difficult to structure your correspondence, perhaps try an internet search for “business email templates” to see how natives pen their emails.
13. Join an English internet forum in your professional niche
Many internet forums are still very much alive and kicking, despite the format being somewhat outdated these days. Try a Google search for “name of your profession + online forum” to find some suitable websites. Sign up as a free member and browser some of the discussion threads until you find something of interest. Help others by sharing your professional expertise, note down new expressions from other users and gain valuable English practice in the process.
14. Watch TV series, documentaries and films related to your profession
Even if you do not have English TV channels at home, you can still watch a wide variety of programmes free of charge via the internet. TV series, films and documentaries can give you access to real situational English as it is used today by native speakers at work. For example, if you are a legal professional, try watching series like Silk (UK), Suits (USA) or other “courtroom dramas” on this list. A quick Google search for “your profession + series” will help you to find relevant lists of programmes. For information on films and documentaries related to your business, try searching on IMDB.com and then look for items of interest on Youtube or via a Google search for “title + watch free online”. Where possible, you may wish to use English subtitles, but do not turn on subtitles in your native language. Watching TV regularly is one of the best ways to build your vocabulary and listening skills.
15. Switch on the news every morning!
Why not start each day by catching up on the latest business and global news over breakfast? This could be done on your iPad, laptop or TV. Channels like BBC News 24, Sky News, CNN, and RT all have daily business reports that can be accessed online. If you do not have cable TV, try a Google search for “watch business news free online” and navigate to your channel of choice. Watching the news improves the speed at which you process information in English and helps you remain up to date on the latest events in the world.