25 ways to improve your business English for effective communication at work

Learn Business English – 10 Top Tips You Need To Know

If you are a non-native English speaker working in an English environment, Business English is a must to advance in your career. In this article, you will learn valuable tips to improve your English communication skills for the workplace. Yes, even on a busy schedule or without a conversation partner.

You’ve likely heard the term “Business English” several times and each time you’ve probably wondered, what makes Business English different from general English? What do you learn in Business English courses?

On a technical level, Business English is part of a larger category called English for Specific Purposes (or ESP, in short). Other types of English that fall into this category include Simplified Technical English, English for Tourism, or Scientific English. What’s special about these categories is that they have:

Generally speaking, Business English is a type of specialized English that is used within companies, in finance, international trade, banking, and other professional settings. Learning Business English helps you communicate effectively in different business environments, such as meetings, emails, sales presentations, or negotiations.

If you don’t feel comfortable speaking in business contexts, don’t worry. It is a skill you can learn . In fact, native English speakers need to learn Business English, too. It’s not something you grow up learning since there are specialized terms that aren’t used in day-to-day conversation. So don’t be surprised if you see a fluent English speaker in your Business English class.

Why is business English important?

Hiring choices are no longer limited by geography. Project managers set up remote teams filled with global talent. Multicultural teams hold virtual meetings across borders. Effective c ommunication is vital to the success of these international endeavors, and English is now the global language of business. It has clearly become the lingua franca of global communication, innovation, and commerce.

More and more companies around the world are establishing English as the common language for their business, both in internal and external communications. Back in 2012, Harvard Business Review already reported that companies such as Nokia, Renault, and SAP (among others) had already mandated English as their common corporate language. Imagine now!

But would would companies want to make the shift to English-only, despite being based in non-English-speaking countries? It turns out, English is an enabler. By communicating in a single language, all the documentation is accessible to everyone in the company, regardless of the location of the employee and without having to translate it. Managers in India can communicate with colleages in Germany. Distributed teams can collaborate seamlessly. Sales people can access potential customers overseas. English isn’t a nice to have anymore –it’s now becoming a must.

EXPLORE – Seeking out real business situations in which to practise

If you want to improve your business English and communication skills for work, you need to actively seek out opportunities to gain practice. While some language skills can be acquired in isolation, spoken fluency is not one of them and this is especially the case with business communication as it often requires you to employ a certain etiquette and use words or constructions selectively based on situations. This is further complicated when we consider some examples of intercultural communication issues that arise when doing business internationally. There is no substitute for real-world experience when it comes to using English in a business context, so take every available opportunity!

English for business

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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”!

Section 1: How to improve your English language skills

As a foreigner, it is natural to surround yourself with others in similar situations. Many foreigners only have friends who are foreigners. While this is very comforting, it will greatly slow down your ability to learn English and more importantly understand American culture. If you want to accelerate your English language skills, you must strive for 100% English immersion. Here are 3 tips.

Watch American TV and Read Trendy Magazines

While you may think this is a waste of time, it isn’t if you are a foreigner who wants to understand American culture. And you can have sous fun too :-). Watching American TV like sitcoms or drama is a great way to learn English and American culture quickly. Many of the TV shows use common American slangs in their dialogue.

Develop 1 or 2 genuine interests in American Culture

To communicate well at work requires you to understand what others may be interested in outside of work. It is also good to have an interest or two of your own that others can related to. This will make small talk around the office or at the beginning of a 1 on 1 conversation much more pleasant.

Find English speaking friends outside of work

Finding new friends who only can speak English to you will great improve your language skills. See if there are any social groups or clubs that you can join that has predominantly English speakers. These people don’t work with you.

Section 2: How to improve your communication skills to be more effective at work?

There are many communication settings at work – from hallway conversation and 1 on one meeting, to group meetings and presentation. For this article, let’s focus on the group meeting setting as it happens almost every day and can make you nervous. There are two types of common response in meeting settings when you are nervous

Here are four tips on how to improve your communication skills in meetings, when you tend to talk too much

  1. Listen, listen, listen. One of the most important communication skills and the one most often forgotten is listening. If you don’t actively listen to others, you cannot expect others to listen to you in return. Specifically if there is a question on the table for discussion, instead of jumping into to answer, do these three things instead. They will not only help you pause but also buy you time to think through your actual answer.
    • Let the speaker finish talking first. You need to catch yourself and not talk too soon in conversation. Breathe and listen
    • Paraphrase to make sure you fully understood the question or topic of discussion. Paraphrasing using your own words shows to the group you are actively listening. Many people who do not listen well end up answering the wrong question.
    • Ask questions. Many times the discussion is not crystal clear. By asking questions, you not only better understand the discussion at hand, you also help others understand the topic.
  2. Speak your answer in 3 bullets. Many people tends to speak in run on sentences. This may be okay with your friends at a dinner party, but in a meeting it can easily lose people’s attention. It is important to be organized when you speak. Most people can process 2 or 3 concepts at most, so make it easy for them by organizing your oral communication in that fashion. For example, we think there are 3 things going on here, then state the 3 things…
  3. Don’t answer until asked directly. If you tend to speak too much, then try this once in a while. This is very hard for a person who loves to talk or is very passionate with the subject. This is however useful in disciplining yourself and it also give you tius to think through your answer. Sometimes if you just wait 5 or 10 min longer before jumping in, you can be more organized when you do jump in to speak.
  4. Use 8th grade English level. Using many big words will turn many people off. It can cous across like you are showing off or you think you are smarter than others. Great communication skills is actually about conveying complex ideas using simple words. So don’t spend too much tius learning SAT vocabulary words. They are actually rarely used in corporate settings. If you have been learning English since the first grade, you probably already know all the words you need to communicate. Now the art becomes how to use these words so you can be heard.

At the end of the day, practice practice practice. It’s important to find settings outside of work to practice. These below are all safe environment to practice. You can mess up and it will have little consequence to your work reputation.

Lastly, remember improving your communication skills is a journey, so be kind to yourself. You will not improve by leaps and bounds overnight. This is natural and expected. Be patient. If you take baby steps every day to improve, you will get there and see improvement in 3 to 6 months. Start today, pick one tip to work on over this first week and go from there.