Business English Tip of the Week

business-english-tipsEvery week we publish a business English tip concerning different aspects of business English. Topic areas include writing, speaking, listening, grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, exams as well as general English. To receive 'Business English Tip of the Week' by email, just subscribe to our newsletter. You can choose whether to receive the newsletter weekly or monthly. Simply click on the link on the right to subscribe. It's free!

Speaking English on the Telephone

19 Nov 2017

If you have to talk on the phone in English, don't be afraid! The fear of talking on the phone in a second language will disappear if you practice often. The most difficult part about using the phone in a language that is not your own is the fact that you cannot see the other person's eyes, mouth, and body language. Although you might not be aware of it, in face-to-face conversation you lip-read and watch for smiles, frowns, and moving hands, all of which can help in understanding meaning.

In addition, it is true that telephone interaction is perhaps not taught enough in ESL classrooms, nor is textbook treatment of telephone conversation adequate. These deficiencies pose a serious problem for ESL learners, given how much everyone relies on the telephone in everyday life. Telephone talk appears to be one area in which ESL learners are particularly sensitive, since they frequently state that it is difficult to talk on the telephone and they either avoid or limit such interactions.

Here are a few tips for speaking English on the telephone:

Speak Slowly and Clearly

Listening to someone speaking in a second language over the telephone can be very challenging because you cannot see the person you are trying to hear. However, it may be even more difficult for the person you are talking with to understand you. You may not realize that your pronunciation isn't clear because your teacher and fellow students know and understand you. Pay special attention to your weak areas (such as "r's" and "l's" or "b's" and "v's") when you are on the phone. If you are nervous about using the phone in English, you may notice yourself speaking very quickly. Practice or write down what you are going to say and take a few deep breaths before you make a phone call.

Make Sure you Understand the Other Speaker

Don't pretend to understand everything you hear over the telephone. Even native speakers ask each other to repeat and confirm information from time to time. This is especially important if you are taking a message for someone else. Learn the appropriate expressions that English speakers use when they don't hear something properly. Don't be afraid to remind the person to slow down more than once. Keep your telephone in an area that is away from other noise distractions such as a radio or television.

Ask another student to practice talking on the phone with you. You might choose one night a week and take turns phoning each other at a certain time. Try to talk for at least fifteen minutes. You can talk socially, or role play different scenarios in a business environment. If you don't have access to a telephone, you can practice by setting two chairs up back to back. The most important thing about practicing telephone English is that you aren't able to see each other's mouths. It is amazing how much people lip-read without realizing.

Use Businesses and Recordings

There are many ways to get free telephone English practice. After business hours, you can call and listen to recorded messages. Write down what you hear the first time, and then call back and check to see if your notes are accurate. Use the phone in your everyday life. Call for a pizza delivery instead of going out to eat. Call a salon to book a hair appointment. You can even phone the movie theatre to ask for the listings instead of using the newspaper. Some large cities have free recordings you can call for information such as your daily horoscope or the weather (make sure that you aren't going to get charged for these numbers first). Some products have free phone numbers on the packaging that you can call for information. Think of a question you might want to ask and call the free number! For example, call the number on the back of the cereal box and ask for coupons. You will have to give your name and address. Make sure you have a pen handy so that you can repeat the information and check your comprehension.

Learn Telephone Etiquette (manners)

The way that you speak to your best friend on the phone is very different to the way you should speak to someone in a business setting. Many ESL speakers make the mistake of being too direct on the telephone. It is possible that the person on the other line will think that you are being rude on purpose if you don't use formal language in certain situations. Sometimes just one word such as "could" or "may" is necessary in order to sound polite. You should use the same modal verbs you would use in a formal "face-to-face" situation. Take the time to learn how to answer the phone and say goodbye in a polite manner, as well as all the various ways one can start and end a conversation casually.

Practice Dates and Numbers

You should practice saying dates and numbers aloud. You and a friend can write out a list of dates and numbers and take turns reading them over the phone to each other. Record what you hear. Exchange notes the next day and check your answers.

 

Using Prepositions with Times and Dates

12 Nov 2017

Prepositions are used to relate things or people to various ways of time, place, direction and distance. It is difficult to use prepositions correctly as most of them have a variety of uses and meanings.

Reading through the examples below will help you to become more familiar with the uses and meanings of prepositions of time and dates.

Use at + a particular time

at ten o'clock
at half-past eleven
at 2.30 p.m.
at the time of his resignation at that moment

(But not in the following: 'What time is it?' 'It's eight fifteen.')

Periods of the day

No preposition with this ... or tonight

I'm busy this morning / this afternoon / this evening / tonight.

No preposition with yesterday ... or last/next ...

She spoke to me yesterday afternoon.
I had a call from him last week.
The meeting has been rescheduled for next Tuesday.

But notice: at night

The power supply is switched off at night.

Use on + a particular day/date

I sent the information on Monday morning.
Our new office opens on the 15th.
Deborah works late on Wednesdays and Fridays.
We close the office early on Christmas Eve.

On time, in time, by the time; at the end of, by the end of, in the end

These phrases seem similar but have different meanings. Look at the examples below:

My plane to Beijing arrived on time. (It came at the scheduled time.)
I was in time for my meeting. (I arrived before the meeting started.)
The report was finished by the time the clients arrived in Hong Kong. (Finished before something else happened.)
Gerald is leaving at the end of May. (Around 30 or 31 May.)
Gerald is leaving by the end of May. (Any date before 31 May.)

In the end means 'finally/as a final result'

There were a lot of problems with the contract, so in the end we didn't sign it.
 
 

Improving your Intonation in English

05 Nov 2017

In past tips we have looked at the pronunciation of individual sounds and at word and sentence stress. The most noticeable feature of a foreign language, however, is often intonation and rhythm. Some languages are described as sounding "like music", other languages as being "flat" and without "melody". If the pronunciation of individual sounds can be compared with the individual notes in a piece of music, the intonation can be compared with the melody or tune.

All languages have their own intonation patterns. Why is intonation important? Intonation conveys both meaning and attitude, so when a non-native speaker gets the intonation wrong, s/he can be misunderstood or sometimes misinterpreted as sounding rude or demanding when this is not intended.

If a non-native speaker is almost fluent in the English language, intonation is often the only way in which one can tell that s/he is foreign. Moreover, if a foreign speaker is advanced in terms of grammar, vocabulary, etc., native speakers will make fewer allowances for intonation problems than they would with speakers who are obviously at a more elementary level.

For example, if an advanced level speaker unintentionally sounds rude or demanding, the listeners will assume that s/he means it.

What can we do to improve intonation?

Listen to as much spoken English as possible (on CD if you are unable to listen to native speakers) and be aware of where the voice rises and falls. When you listen, try to consider the attitude and feelings being conveyed. One word, for example, can be said in several different ways, depending on the meaning you wish to convey.

Are there any rules?

Yes, there are some. For example, most open questions (those beginning with "when", "where", "who", "which", what", "why" and "how" end with a falling tone and most closed questions (those requiring a "yes" or "no" answer) end with a rising tone.

 

Increasing Specific Vocabulary

29 Oct 2017

Improving vocabulary skills requires constant attention. Here, we'll give you a few tips for increasing vocabulary in specific subject areas through the use of a vocabulary tree.

  1. Choose a subject area that interests you.

  2. Write a short introduction to the subject trying to use as many vocabulary words concerning the subject as possible.

  3. Using your introduction, arrange the principle ideas concerning the subject into a vocabulary tree.

  4. To create a vocabulary tree, put the subject at the centre of a piece of paper.

  5. Around the central subject, put the principle areas relating to the subject. For example - verbs, nouns, descriptive adjectives, etc.

  6. In each of these categories, write the appropriate vocabulary. If you need to, add sub-categories.

  7. Create the same vocabulary tree in your native language.

  8. Your native language tree will be much more detailed. Use this native language tree as a reference point to look up new words and fill in your English tree.

  9. Rewrite your introduction concerning the subject taking advantage of the new vocabulary learned.

  10. To make this vocabulary active, practice reading your introduction aloud until you can present it by memory.

  11. Ask a friend or colleague to listen to your presentation and ask you questions about the subject.
 

Telephone Courtesy

22 Oct 2017

When you answer the telephone in a business, you are interacting with a customer. Every telephone call you make at work gives you an opportunity to strengthen a customer relationship.

You also use the telephone in a business for other reasons too. After all, you may use the telephone to talk to customers at work, but you also talk to colleagues and co-workers on the phone, and they're not customers.

There are really two kinds of customers - external and internal. External ones are the people who call your company to buy products and services. The external customer's call demands your best telephone manners.

When you work with other people or you coordinate with other departments or divisions, you are interacting with internal customers. If a colleague calls needing data from you to prepare a report, that person is really your internal customer. Internal telephone calls deserve the same level of courtesy you'd normally use with real customers.

Telephone courtesy should become a habit. Whether you're interacting with external or internal customers, courtesy is always your best telephone strategy.

FOCUS ON TELEPHONE COURTESY

Draw on your telephone experiences - both as a customer and as a businessperson - to answer the questions below. Then consider each of the related telephone tips.

1. When you place a call, how many rings do you allow before you assume the party is not going to answer?

TIP
You should allow from 4 to 6 rings before you assume the person you are calling is not going to answer.

2. When the telephone rings, how quickly do you answer?

TIP
When you receive a call, answer on the first or second ring. In business, the ring of the telephone is not simply an interruption. Answering the telephone is an integral part of your job.

3. Have you ever been lost when someone tried to transfer your call?

TIP
Call transfers are very common. Be sure you know the proper process on your system. Customers who are lost in transfer may become lost business as well.

4. When making a business call, do you like being put on hold? When you're on hold, have you ever felt abandoned or left hanging?

TIP
Most people don't like being on hold. Be sure you ask the party if he/she wants to hold. Then check back every 30 seconds to confirm that hold or offer to take a message. Never leave a caller on hold.

5. Have you ever been on the telephone when the other party dropped the receiver or accidentally banged it on the desktop?

TIP
It is an unpleasant surprise. Be especially careful in handling the receiver. Your telephone partner will appreciate it.

6. How do you feel when talking on the telephone to someone who is eating or drinking during the conversation?

TIP
Don't eat, drink or chew gum during a conversation. Such sounds are not always pleasant.

7. What impression do you get when the other person fumbles around looking for a pad or pencil?

TIP
You probably imagined the person was not organized or was not very businesslike. Since you always want to make a positive telephone impression, be ready for action.

8. When someone says he/she will call back at a specific time - but doesn't, how do you feel?

TIP
Telephone tag means two parties try to get in touch by leaving phone messages and attempting callbacks. It's become an annoying fact of business life. If you promise to call back at a certain time, make that call. Likewise, if you've promised to be available at a certain time to receive a call, be there.

9. Suppose you receive a call and are disconnected. Who takes the initiative to resume the call?

TIP
The person who made the original call makes the second call to resume an interrupted conversation. The person who received the original call should hang up immediately when the call is disrupted to enable the other party to call back.
 

Using Tag Questions

15 Oct 2017

Tag questions are small questions added to the end of a statement, for example:

That is a dog, isn't it?

The Structure of Tags

Here are a range of tag questions:

..., won't you?
..., can't you?
..., shouldn't you?
..., don't they?
..., isn't it?
..., won't it?

Note the structural elements:

  • The first element contains a verb, often 'to be' or 'to do', and is often a repetition of the verb used in the statement.
  • The verb is made negative, in the short form.
  • The second element is a pronoun.

Using Tag Questions

Use tag questions to emphasize and encourage the other person to agree with you. They turn a strong statement into a question that is difficult to disagree with.

Gaining Agreement

Make a strong statement and add a tag question:

They will finish, won't they?
I am the best person for the job, aren't I?
This is the best way to do it, isn't it?
She's the best person for the job, isn't she?
There aren't enough seats for the meeting, are there?
We should buy this equipment as soon as possible, shouldn't we?

Gaining Compliance

Start with what you want the other person to do, and then end with a tag such as 'won't you' or 'can't you'.

You won't let me know, will you?
You will come to the dance, won't you?
You can do this today, can't you?
You can't force him to do it, can you?
 

Leaving Telephone Messages

08 Oct 2017

Projecting a professional image over the phone is important for building a good working relationship with colleagues, clients or customers.

Here, we present you with a number of useful language structures for leaving a message over the telephone.

The language required for leaving messages can be categorized into the following sections:

Asking for someone

Can/Could/May I speak to...?
I'd like to speak to....
Could you put me through to...¦?
Could I have extension 211, please?
May I speak to someone in the Accounts Department, please?

 

Asking when someone is back

When do you expect him back?  
Do you know when he'll be back in the office?   
What time will she be back?

Asking to leave a message

May/Can/Could I leave a message?
Could you take a message, please?

Explaining the reason for calling

I'm calling about...
The reason I'm calling is to + infinitive
It's about + noun phrase/gerund

Leaving a message containing information only

Could you tell her that...?

 

Leaving a message requesting action

Could you ask him to...?

Other useful expressions

I would appreciate it if you could inform him as soon as possible. It is rather urgent.
I'll be out the rest of the day. Could you ask him to call me tomorrow?
Actually, is there anyone else I can speak to regarding this matter?

 

 

Business Presentations: Signposting Language

24 Sep 2017

A good way to make your presentations effective, interesting and easy to follow is to use signposting language. 'Signposting language' is the words and phrases that people use to tell the listener what has just happened, and what is going to happen next.

In other words, signposting language guides the listener through the presentation. A good presenter will usually use a lot of signposting language, so it is a good idea to learn a few of the common phrases, even if you spend more time listening to presentations than giving them! Signposting language is usually fairly informal, so it is quite easy to understand.

Here's some useful language:

Introducing the Subject

I'd like to start by...

Let's begin by...

First of all, I'll...

Starting with...

I'll begin by...

Finishing One Subject

Well, I've told you about...

That's all I have to say about...

We've looked at...

So much for...

Starting Another Subject

Now we'll move on to...

Let me turn now to...

Next...

Turning to...

I'd like now to discuss...

Let's look now at...

Analysing a Point and Giving Recommendations

Where does that lead us?

Let's consider this in more detail...

What does this mean for ABC?

Translated into real terms...

Giving an Example

For example,...

A good example of this is...

As an illustration,...

To give you an example,...

To illustrate this point...

Dealing with Questions

We'll be examining this point in more detail later...

I'd like to deal with this question later, if I may...

I'll come back to this question later in my talk...

Perhaps you'd like to raise this point at the end...

I won't comment on this now...

Summarising and Concluding

In conclusion,...

Right, let's sum up, shall we?

I'd like now to recap...

Let's summarise briefly what we've looked at...

Finally, let me remind you of some of the issues we've covered...

If I can just sum up the main points...

Ordering / Sequencing

Firstly...secondly...thirdly...lastly...

First of all...then...next...after that...finally...

To start with...later...to finish up...

 

Making Introductions in a Business Setting

17 Sep 2017

There are two kinds of introductions: self-introductions and three-party introductions.

When do you introduce yourself? When you recognize someone and he or she doesn't recognize you, whenever you're seated next to someone you don't know, when the introducer doesn't remember your name and when you're the friend of a friend. Extend your hand, offer your first and last names and share something about yourself or the event you're attending.

Tip: In a self-introduction, never give yourself a title such as Mr., Ms., Dr., etc.

In a three-person introduction, your role is to introduce two people to each other. In a business or business/social situation, one must consider the rank of the people involved in order to show respect. Simply say first the name of the person who should be shown the greatest respect. And remember, gender (whether someone is male or female) doesn't count in the business world; protocol is based upon rank. Senior employees outrank junior employees, and customers or clients outrank every employee (even the CEO).

Begin with the superior's name, add the introduction phrase, say the other person's name and add some information about the second person. Then reverse the introduction by saying the second's name, followed by the introduction phrase and the superior's name and information. When a three-party introduction is done correctly, the two people being introduced should be able to start some small talk based upon what you shared about each of them. Introductions should match, so if you know the first and last names of both people, say both. If you know only the first name of one person, say only the first names of both.

Examples:

"Mr. Brown, I'd like to introduce Ms. Ann Smith, who started yesterday in the Accounts Department. Ann, this is Douglas Brown, our CEO."

(Ann would be wise to call the CEO “Mr. Brown” right away and not assume she may call him by his first name. Always use the last names of superiors and clients until you are invited to do otherwise.)

"Pete, I'd like to introduce to you Doug Brown, our CEO. Doug, I'd like you to meet Pete Johnson, who's considering our firm for his ad campaign."

Tip: Don't say "I'd like to introduce you to...", but rather "I'd like to introduce to you...."

Tip: Always stand for an introduction.

To succeed in business, you need good social skills. Knowing how to shake hands and handle introductions can give you an advantage over your competition!

 

General Advice to Improve Your Writing

10 Sep 2017

In this week's tip, we'll give you some useful advice on how to improve your writing.

  • Time spent on planning your communications will pay dividends. Make a rough draft of what you want to write or say, so that you can experiment with various versions. Remember that language is important because the words you choose convey your attitudes as well as information. The impression you want to convey is one of helpfulness and efficiency.
  • Get to the point from the beginning. Cut the small talk and make a good impression by being crisp and business like. Make it clear from the start exactly what you want to discuss. Letters that do not do this waste the readers’ time and may end up in the waste bin. Presentations that do not grip their audience by focusing their attention quickly risk losing that attention.
  • Use straightforward language rather than jargon. People prefer to be treated as human beings, not computers! Technical language has its place, but it is impersonal and should be used only when necessary. Remember that business is promoted by personal warmth as much as profit.
  • Use sentences that are short and to the point, not sentences that ramble on and cannot quite decide what they want to say or how to say it - like this one!
  • Steer clear of the passive voice, since it is an indirect way of speaking and creates distance between you and your audience or reader. For example, if you say, “We will attend to your order promptly,” that promotes more confidence than if you say, “Your order will be attended to soonest.” This lacks the personal touch and may give the impression that you do not want to accept responsibility at work.
  • It is very important that you think about the audience you are writing or speaking to and make a real effort to communicate with them. If you are speaking to people, you need to be flexible and aware of their reaction, so that you can change the way you are speaking if they are not responding to you positively. If you are writing to a business associate and you have a mental picture of him or her, you will write more clearly and directly. Your letter will reach out to them and engage their attention.
  • Incorrect spelling makes a poor impression. If you are unsure about the spelling of any words you have used it is worth the trouble of running a spell check on your computer. However, computer dictionaries are often limited and therefore many technical terms may still need to be checked manually. A more serious shortcoming is that the computer accepts any word it knows regardless of whether it has the meaning you intended. If you write, “Make a tough draft,” but meant “rough”, your computer will not pick this up. This is one reason why it is better to have your documents checked by professionals.
  • Correct grammar is as important as spelling. Some word processors now have grammar checkers that operate in the same way as spell checkers. These can be used as a last resort, but they are still very basic (stupid!) and miss many mistakes. Moreover, they query many constructions that are perfectly in order. This wastes your time and it would be better to have someone with good grammar have a look at your work.
  • Finally, always read carefully through a talk or business document to check for typographical and other errors. Are the facts and dates accurate? Reading aloud is a good idea, because you can hear how the communication sounds: the ear provides a crosscheck for what the eye may have missed.
 

Telephoning: General Advice

03 Sep 2017

You have few problems reading the language or understanding others. But telephoning in English? That's when you start to panic. This is understandable. You can't see the other person, and voices are often more difficult to understand on the phone. All is not lost, however. There are some simple steps you can take to improve your telephoning skills.

  • Don't Panic
This is easier said than done, but really is the key to success. You must lose your fear of the phone. Make at least one call a day in English to a friend just to practice.
  • Learn Key Words and Standard Phrases
Key words and standard phrases come up again and again on the phone. Learn them and use them! Don't try to be too clever on the phone; stick to the standard phrases.
  • Start and Finish Well
A confident opening is important. Say clearly, and not too quickly, who you are and why you are calling: "This is Helen Chan from IBF Ltd. I'm calling about your order for ..." Try to avoid saying "My name is ..."; this sounds less professional. At the end of the call, thank the other person: "Thanks for your help." If they thank you, answer with "You're welcome".
  • Learn to Control the Call
Native speakers of English often speak too quickly and not clearly enough. Make sure you know how to stop them or slow them down. Phrases such as: "I'm sorry, I didn't catch that" and "I'm sorry, could you speak a little more slowly" will help you to control the situation. Don't be embarrassed to stop the caller.
  • Listen Carefully
Listen to the vocabulary and phrases that the caller uses. Often you will be able to say the same things later in the same conversation. Your partner might not notice what you are doing, but you will feel good that you have activated your passive vocabulary.
  • Soften your Language
Chinese speakers often sound impolite in English because they are too direct. 'Would' and 'could' are the two key words. "I'd like to speak to Jane Brown, please" is much better than "I want to speak to...".
  • Create a Positive Atmosphere
Smile when you are on the phone. It really does make a difference to the way you sound. And the impression you create can make a big difference to your chances of business success. If you are unsure how you sound on the phone, record yourself during a conversation. You may be surprised by the result.
  • Learn to Spell
Do you know the telephone alphabet in English? If not, learn it. It is important not only to know how to say the individual letters, but also to be able to check them: "Was that I for India or E for Echo?" (Don't say "E like Echo".)
 

Reading Tips

27 Aug 2017

Tip 1

Try to read at the right level. Read something that you can (more or less) understand. If you need to stop every three words to look in a dictionary, it is not interesting for you and you will soon be discouraged.

Tip 2

Make a note of new vocabulary. If there are four or five new words on a page, write them in your vocabulary book. But you don't have to write them while you read. Instead, try to guess their meaning as you read; mark them with a pen; then come back when you have finished reading to check in a dictionary and add them to your vocabulary book.

Tip 3

Try to read regularly. For example, read for a short time once a day. Fifteen minutes every day is better than two hours every Sunday. Fix a time to read and keep to it. For example, you could read for fifteen minutes when you go to bed, or when you get up, or at lunchtime.

Tip 4

Be organised. Have everything ready:

  • something to read
  • a marker to highlight difficult words
  • a dictionary
  • your vocabulary book
  • a pen to write down the new words

Tip 5

Read what interests YOU. Choose a magazine or book about a subject that you like.

THINGS TO READ

Newspapers

You can find English-language newspapers in all large cities around the world. Newspapers are interesting because they are about real life and the news. BUT they are not easy to read. Try reading newspapers if your level is intermediate or above.

Magazines

Some magazines are published weekly, some monthly. You can find English language magazines in many large cities around the world. If you cannot find the magazine you want in your town, you may be able to order it for delivery. Many magazines have pictures which can help your understanding. You will need an intermediate level for most magazines, but a pre-intermediate level may be ok for some magazines.

There are magazines on every subject:

  • Politics
  • Sport
  • Homes
  • Cars
  • Music
  • Romance
  • Travel
  • Language

Books

Books are divided mainly into:

  • Non-fiction (history, biography, travel, cooking etc)
  • Fiction (stories and novels)

Some books are easier to read than others. It often depends on the author. Agatha Christie, for example, wrote in an easier style and with simpler vocabulary than Stephen King. You can buy books in specialised English-language bookshops in large cities around the world. You may also be able to find some English-language books in libraries.

Short Stories

Short stories can be a good choice when learning a language because they are...short. It's like reading a whole book in a few pages. You have all the excitement of a story in a book, but you only have to read 5,000 or 10,000 words. So you can quite quickly finish the story and feel that you have achieved something. Short stories are published in magazines, in books of short stories, and on the Internet.

Graded Readers

Readers are books that are specially published to be easy to read. They are short and with simple vocabulary. They are usually available at different levels, so you should be able to find the right level for you. Many readers are stories by famous authors in simple form. This is an excellent way for you to start practising reading.

Cornflakes Packets

By "Cornflakes Packets", we mean any product you can buy that has English writing on or with it. If you buy a box of chocolates, or a new camera, why not read the description or instructions in English? There are many such examples, and they all give you an opportunity to read real English:

  • airline tickets
  • cans or packets of food
  • bottles of drink
  • CD and DVDs
  • user guides for videos, computers...

Good luck with your reading. It will help you make a lot of Progress!

 

What you can do to improve your spoken English!

20 Aug 2017
  • Listen to the radio. You could get up five minutes earlier and listen to the news in English.
  • Watch television programmes in English to improve your listening skills. Try watching the news in English instead of your own language. If you watch a movie and it has subtitles, try taping a paper over them. Listening to others talk is a good preparation for talking yourself.
  • Invite your English colleague to lunch! Find a friend who also wants to improve his or her English and have lunch or dinner together - speaking English of course.

  • Check out books, CDs, and other materials in English from your local library. Look especially for books which have lots of dialogue in them. Read plays. When you go to see English films, try not to read the subtitles.
  • Learn the words to some popular songs.
  • Find books-on-CD in your local library. Listen while you are relaxing at home or while commuting if you have a walkman.

  • Exchange taped messages with a colleague. Record a few minutes and then ask your colleague to respond later on the same tape.

  • Choose a famous person whose accent you admire, and if you can get recordings of him or her, imitate the way he or she speaks.

  • Practice situations when you are alone, perhaps in front of a mirror. Imagine introducing yourself, disagreeing with someone's ideas, being interviewed or asking for information. If you can get someone to help, assign parts and do role - playing.

  • Find a friend or two and agree to speak English at certain regular times.

  • Practice reading aloud - get someone to check your pronunciation and intonation, or record yourself and analyse your own speech. Set goals of specific things you can work on improving - for example, differences between words that contain "l" and "n" or "w" and "v". (e.g. There is no light at night at Wheatley University".) Keep notes of words you often mispronounce and practice them.

  • If you have a chance to travel, take advantage of the opportunities to use English - airlines and immigration personnel, hotel and restaurant staff, fellow travellers and passengers.

  • Sign up to Skype internet telephony. It's free. You can search for people in "Skype Me" mode who want to chat!
 

Getting Native Speakers to Speak More Slowly on the Phone!

13 Aug 2017
One of the biggest problems is speed. Native speakers, especially business people, tend to speak very quickly on the telephone. As a non-native speaker, you need to develop techniques which will allow you to take control of the call. Here are some practical tips:
 
  • Immediately ask the person to speak slowly

Could you speak more slowly, please?
Would you mind speaking more slowly, please?
Would you slow down a little, please?

  • When taking note of a name or important information, repeat each piece of information as the person speaks.

So, you say you can give us a discount of 10%?
OK, you are willing to extend the warranty to 30 days, right?
Your telephone number is 2718 3892 and your email address is.....
Let me just confirm that. Your name is Andy Hogg and your company is called ‘Gtech Ltd’.
Let me just repeat what you have said.
I’d just like to confirm what you’ve just told me.

This is an especially effective tool. By repeating each important piece of information, or each number or letter, you automatically slow the speaker down.
  • Do not say you have understood if you have not. Ask the person to repeat until you have understood.

I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you’re saying.
I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean.
I sorry, but I don’t follow you.
Would you mind going over that again for me?
Could you say that again, please?
Could you repeat that, please?
Could you explain what you mean?

Remember that the other person needs to make himself/herself understood and it is in his/her interest to make sure that you have understood. If you ask a person to explain more than twice they will usually slow down.
  • If the person does not slow down begin speaking your own language!
A sentence or two of another language spoken quickly will remind the person that they are fortunate because THEY do not need to speak a different language to communicate. Used carefully, this exercise in humbling the other speaker can be very effective. Just be sure to use it with colleagues and not with a boss!

 

 

Tips for Editing your Business Documents

06 Aug 2017

Read through your writing to check that the ideas are logically structured, and that they flow naturally for the reader. Then check again for spelling and grammar mistakes.

A Word of Warning

Many people use spell checkers on their word processors. Although these can help, they also have limitations. For example, some English words have more than one correct spelling. For example, 'there' and 'their' are both correct, but you need to check that you have the right spelling.

Another problem with spell checkers is that they are set by default to either British or American English spelling. It doesn't matter which spelling system you choose, as long as you are consistent in your choice. For example, if your spell checker is set to an American English spelling system and you type the word "organisation", the word is shown as a spelling error. British English speakers normally (but not always) spell "organisation" with an 's'. If you are writing in British English, change the default setting so that your checker allows words such as "organisation".

Editing Tips

Read your writing out aloud. This will help you to see what you have written through the eyes of your reader. Is there enough punctuation in your sentences? If you get breathless when you read one of your sentences, then you'll know you haven't put in enough commas.

Get a friend or a colleague to read through your writing for you - they might find something that you didn't see.

If you have enough time, leave your writing for a couple of days. When you come back to it, you might want to change some things.

Be aware of your own problems when you write English. For example, if you know you have difficulty with articles or verb tenses, actively look for these sort of errors when you check your writing.

Check for style and tone. Is your writing polite? There are many standard phrases we use in business correspondence to sound polite. Politeness goes a long way in Western business and sounding too direct or impolite is a cultural mistake. English speakers may not take into consideration the fact that English is not your first language.

Editing Checklist

  • Is it clear?
  • Does the reader know what to do next?
  • Is it concise and to the point?
  • Is it organised?
  • Are the ideas, sentences and paragraphs linked?
  • Is it simple enough?
  • Is it polite enough?
  • Is the layout easy to read?
  • Are the standard expressions correct?
  • Is the punctuation correct?
  • Is the grammar correct? Check your articles, verb tenses, subject and verb agreement, referencing and spelling.
 
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