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Business English for Your Career

Richard Cooper
What makes Business English different? If you’re learning for your job and career you want to get more fluent quickly.

What makes Business English different? If you’re learning for your job and career you want to get more fluent quickly.

Business English for Your Career

If you work in an English speaking job or you are looking to develop an English speaking career, there are a number of challenges. Firstly, low-level English can leave you tired. Conferences and meetings are difficult with international clients, and business correspondence takes longer than in your native language. Language courses outside the office are not always possible. On the positive side, you are in an English-speaking environment, so there are good opportunities for practice. So what can we do to structure a plan of study and make the learning process easier?

Getting organised and having a plan for study is important. It can be a very simple thing like buying a specific notebook for writing down vocabulary and expressions that you want to learn. Having good habits for learning is important. So, giving some time every week to study is a good strategy. Do you have one hour to give? Or 10 minutes a day? For some people, there is free time on the train on the way to work, or times in the office when study is possible.

Managing time and planning how you are going to study is as important as ‘what’ you study. When reading texts for work, highlighting vocabulary and expressions you want to learn can help you focus your time. You don’t have to do much; smaller amounts of time can be very effective: just looking over notes for 10 minutes can be very effective if done every day.

When learning vocabulary and expressions it is good to learn words in ‘chunks’. A chunk is simply 2 or 3 or more words together. For example, it is better to learn the expression ‘strategy meeting’ or ‘team meeting’ than the single word ‘meeting’. Even better is to learn a sentence ‘we’ll discuss this at the upcoming strategy meeting later in the week.’ It helps to look at your notes at the end of the day and read through the new vocabulary and expressions. As you continue with this kind of study, you can add other words under specific headings.

During the work day there are many opportunities to read and make notes about different topics. Many people are working on the computer for most of the day, which gives people the chance to study at the same time as working. Making a few notes through the day will help increase energy levels and make you feel more in control of the learning process.

Some essential business topics at the current time include the following:

  • Social Media Marketing
  • SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)
  • Human Resources
  • Consulting and Consultancy Companies
  • Leadership Skills
  • Soft Skills and Communication Skills
  • Change Management
  • Startups

Knowing more vocabulary about specific business areas helps you become more fluent and confident.

Some people say that grammar is not so important in Business English as in general English. I would disagree. Learning good grammar increases your interest and ‘feeling’ for the language. The more you recognise and note correct English, the more you develop a feeling for what is right, and what sounds good. The same learning process can be used as with vocabulary: sentences that you want to focus on can be noted in a notebook to be re-read later in the day.

Outside of work, there are many hours that we spend watching films and reading. Reading in English for enjoyment is important here. After watching a film or reading a book for 30 mins, writing down some notes is a great practice. But we can also listen more carefully to the language our colleagues use in meetings. If we give ourselves goals for the language we want to use, a weekly team meeting is a great time to study English and practice the language we have noted.

In my experience a 1:1 teacher who can correct you and give you feedback on your level of English is very important for reaching higher levels. When you are already fluent, you still need help and correction to reach higher levels. I am in the same situation with German. At B2 level there is still a long way to go: Conferences and longer meetings in German are a challenge; Social events can be difficult. At level C1 you can speak fluently and understand native speakers, but you will still get tired and feel lost.

So to sum up, beyond Reading, Speaking, Grammar, and Writing in my view there are 4 deeper areas to focus on:

  • Getting organised and making notes
  • Practising the language you want to focus on
  • Reading for work and for pleasure
  • Getting specific feedback on mistakes

There is also a hidden benefit of learning English for your work. Soft skills are increasingly important in the modern world. Through the focus on high-level English in the workplace, learners have the possibility of becoming just as good communicators as native speakers: language challenges can therefore open up opportunities for personal and professional growth.

Written by Richard Cooper for EnglishClub February 2020
Originally from the UK, Richard has been teaching Business English in Switzerland since 2003. In 2018, he set up rjcfraser – Business English Colloquium.

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