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!

Problems with Prepositions

01 May 2016

 

Rule 1

You may end a sentence with a preposition. Just do not use extra prepositions when the meaning is clear without them.

tick1 That is something I cannot agree with.
tick1 How many of you can I count on?
tick1 Where did he go (to)?
tick1 Where did you get this (at)?
tick1 I will go later (on).
tick1 Take your shoes off (of) the bed.
tick1 You may not look out (of) the window.
tick1 Cut it (up) into small pieces.

Rule 2

Use on with expressions that indicate the time of an occurrence.

He was born on 23 December.
We will arrive on the fourth.

Rule 3

0f
should never be used in place of have.

tick1 I should have done it.
incorrect I should of done it.

Rule 4

Between
refers to two. Among is used for three or more.

Divide the money between the two of you.
Divide the money among the three of you.

Rule 5

Into
implies entrance, in does not.

Sally walked into the office.
Sally was waiting in the office.
Cut the cake into six slices. (The knife enters the cake.)
 

Making Difficult Requests

24 Apr 2016

When making requests, it's necessary to be polite. In most situations, the standard request phrases "Would you...?" or "Could you .....?" are acceptable. For example:


Could you take these cheques to the bank?
Could you please handle my calls while I'm out?
Would you speak to Jane about this, please?
Would you make a copy of this report for me, please?

However, in certain situations, where the request will trouble or inconvenience someone, it is a good idea to use a stronger, more polite request phrase. The most common phrase is "I'd appreciate if you/we could...." Here are some examples:


I'd appreciate it if you could check this document for errors when you have time.
I'd appreciate it if you could show Jim how to use the new auditing software.
I'd appreciate it if you could extend the deadline by a week.

If the request is very difficult, use the phrase "I'd really appreciate if it you/we could..." Listen to these examples:


I'd really appreciate it if you could complete our order by 30 June.
I'd really appreciate it if you could extend our credit by a further 30 days.
I'd really appreciate it if we could postpone our meeting until next week.

Note: we don't say "I'd very appreciate it if you could." Use "really" instead of "very."

The other common phrase for making difficult requests is "I would be grateful if you could..." This phrase is used in the same way as "I'd appreciate it if you could..." Listen to these examples:


I'd be grateful if you could check this document for errors when you have time.
I'd be grateful if you could show Jim how to use the new auditing software.
I'd be grateful if you could extend the deadline by a week.

And if the request is very troublesome for someone, use the phrase "I'd be really/very grateful if you could...." This phrase is used in the same way as "I'd really appreciate if you could..." as in these examples:


I'd be very grateful if you could complete our order by 30 June.
I'd be really grateful if you could extend our credit a further 30 days.
I'd be very grateful if we could postpone our meeting until next week.

Why do we have to be so polite?

This is probably a cultural thing. In Western culture, people expect politeness. If your request sounds more like a command, then you're likely to cause offence, and there's a good chance they'll say "no." If you make a request and indicate your appreciation, your request is much more likely to be granted. Of course, much depends on the context of the conversation you have and the relationship you have with the person you're speaking to.

 

Email Etiquette

17 Apr 2016

Emailing Someone who Doesn't Know You

There are a few important points to consider when writing email, especially when emailing someone who doesn't know you.

  • Include a meaningful subject heading; this helps clarify what your message is about and may also help the recipient prioritize reading your email.
  • Open your email with a greeting like 'Dear Mr Chan' or 'Dear Ms Tam.'
  • Use standard spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. DO NOT USE ALL CAPS. IT'S LIKE SHOUTING!
  • Write clear, short paragraphs and be direct and to the point. Don't write unnecessarily long emails.
  • Be friendly and polite, but don't make jokes or witty remarks.
Continuing Email Conversations

Once you have exchanged emails with a person on a given subject, it is probably OK to leave greetings out of your follow-up emails. Here are some other points to consider about continuing email conversations:

  • Try to respond within a reasonable time frame, though "reasonable" will depend on the recipient's expectations and the subject being discussed.
  • Trim back the old messages: most email clients will keep copying older messages to the bottom of an email. Delete older messages so as to keep your message size from getting too large, and to keep your messages looking clean.
  • If someone asks a lot of questions, it may be OK to embed your answers into the sender's message copied at the bottom of your email. However, if you're going to do this, be sure to say so at the top, and leave plenty of space, for example:
> Do you offer discounts for bulk orders?

Yes. 10% for orders of over 100 units.


> How long does delivery normally take?


Around 10 days from the date of an order.
 

Improving Your Listening Comprehension

10 Apr 2016

Don't Be Afraid of Errors, Guess Meaning, Speak Often

  • Accept your mistakes. Everyone learns language by making errors -- lots of errors. We try out new sounds, new words, new phrases, and new grammar; we see how the language feels and how others react.
  • Guess at meaning when you listen. You'll probably guess correctly most of the time!
  • Speak English as often as possible. Listen to other people; listen to television, the radio, and films.
Study and Practice All Aspects of English
  • Speak with everyone who will talk with you. Your listening comprehension and vocabulary will improve a lot, as will your ability to speak comfortably and quickly.
  • Continual study is necessary, too. Your accurate English grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation help you make English-speaking friends.
  • Study and practice saying useful phrases until you can say them well and say them confidently. Carry around a little notebook and study while you're in a queue, on public transport or just walking around. Rather than focus on isolated words, write down and practice phrases, expressions, common idioms, and parts of useful dialogues that you need in formal and informal situations.
  • Practice pronunciation -- not just individual sounds, but putting sounds and words together.
  • Keep studying grammar. Grammar isn't separate from listening and speaking -- language is grammar.
Find Opportunities to Practice
  • Be brave. Talk to your native-speaker colleagues or customers at work. Talk to your friends in English. Talk to your children in English.
  • Talk to yourself in your room. Create situations in your mind. For example, pretend you're at the library and need help.
  • Read a newspaper article and then, without looking, summarize the article aloud to yourself.
  • Keep a talking diary. Record your thoughts in English each night before you go to sleep.
 

Comparison of Adjectives

03 Apr 2016

When you were at school you were probably drilled in the comparison of adjectives: interesting, more interesting, most interesting; fair, fairer, fairest, etc.

The two examples above are of regular comparative forms. However, a common problem is not knowing when to use -er-, -est- or -more- + adj., -most- + adj.

Actually, there is a very simple rule to help you remember which comparative form to use. Count the number of syllables in an adjective. Syllables are the sounds which make up a word. For example:

big has one sound or syllable,
cle ver
has two syllables,
a rro gant
has three syllables and
in tell i gent
has four syllables.

Adjectives which contain one or two syllables follow the -er-, -est-, form. For example: big, bigger, biggest; and clever, cleverer, cleverest.

Adjectives which contain more than two syllables follow the -more-, -most- form. For example: arrogant, more arrogant, most arrogant; intelligent, more intelligent, most intelligent.

That's an easy rule to remember!

 

Differences Between British and American English

27 Mar 2016

While there are certainly many more varieties of English, American and British English are the two varieties that are taught in most English Foreign Language (EFL) lessons. Generally, it is agreed that no one version is "correct" however, there are certainly preferences in use.

Here are just a couple of differences between the two main varieties of English:

Consistency of Spelling

The most important rule is to try to be consistent in your usage. If you decide that you want to use American English spellings then be consistent in your spelling. For example:

The color of the orange is also its flavour.

Color is American spelling and flavour is British. Here are the sentences with consistent British and American spellings:

The colour of the orange is also its flavour.
The color of the orange is also its flavor.

Use of the Present Perfect

In British English the present perfect is used to express an action that has occurred in the recent past that has an effect on the present moment. For example:

I've lost my key. Can you help me look for it?

In American English the following is also possible:

I lost my key. Can you help me look for it?

In British English the above would be considered incorrect. However, both forms are generally accepted in standard American English. Other differences involving the use of the present perfect in British English and simple past in American English include already, just and yet.

British English:

I've just had lunch.
I've already seen that proposal.
Have you finished that report yet?

American English:

I just had lunch. OR I've just had lunch.
I already saw that proposal. OR I've already seen that proposal.
Did your finish that report yet? OR Have you finished that report yet?
 

Avoid Using Too Many Negatives

20 Mar 2016

If you want to annoy a reader, use negative words. Not only are negative words annoying, but research shows that it takes the brain longer to understand a negative statement than a positive one. They cause confusion!

In writing, negatives include 'un-' words like 'unnecessary' and 'unless'; verbs with negative associations like 'avoid' and 'cease'; as well as the obvious ones like 'not', 'no', 'except', 'less than' and 'not more than'. When readers are faced with a negative, they must first imagine the positive alternative then mentally cancel it out.

A single negative is unlikely to cause problems, though many an election voter has paused confronted with the polling booth challenge:

Vote for not more than one candidate. (unclear)
Vote for one candidate only. (clear)

But when two, three or more negatives are gathered together in the same sentence, meaning may become unclear, as in this note from a lawyer to his client, an underwriter:

Underwriters are, we consider, free to form the view that James Brothers have not yet proved to their satisfaction that the short-landed bags were not discharged from the ship, and were not lost in transit between Hong Kong and Singapore, when they were not covered by this insurance policy.

The above sentence is very confusing due to the number of negative words!

Here are some examples of how to rewrite negative sentences more positively:

We will not help unless you give us a special mention.
We will help if you give us a special mention

The corporation will not pay unless employees also contribute.
The corporation will pay only if employees contribute.

Your credit will not be extended until you pay us what you owe.
We will extend you credit if you pay what you owe.
We would be happy to extend your credit once we receive payment for what you owe.

We are not open on Saturdays or Sundays.
We are open from Monday to Friday.

We were not prepared for your request.
Your request caught us by surprise.

 

Business Presentation Tips

13 Mar 2016

Above all, know your audience and match what you say to their needs. Creating your presentation with your audience in mind, will assure that your audience will follow you. If your presentation doesn't appeal to your audience - no matter how well you have developed your presentation - your presentation will fall on deaf ears.

This leads us to the next rule: Know your material thoroughly. Your material needs to be second nature to you. Practice and rehearse your presentation with friends, in front of a mirror, and with colleagues. If you are speaking in a second language, make sure that you record yourself and listen a number of times before going to practice with a native speaker (if possible).

Remember that you are an actor when presenting. Make sure that not only your physical appearance is appropriate to the occasion, but also the tone you use is well chosen. If your topic is serious, be solemn. However, it's always a good idea to begin your presentation with an ice-breaker.

Don't worry about making friends, rather lead the audience through your materials in a calm and relaxed manner.

Speak slowly and clearly, and remember to address everyone in the audience - even the person the farthest away from you.

To achieve the above goals follow these tips when giving your presentation:

  • Speak with conviction. Believe what you are saying and you will persuade your audience.
  • Do not read from notes. Referring to notes is fine, but do so only briefly.
  • Maintain eye contact with your audience. Making direct eye contact with individuals will help them feel as if they are participating in your presentation.
  • Bring handouts. Don't just use a PowerPoint presentation. Provide audience members with handouts of the most important materials so they can keep your most important take always in mind.
  • Know when to stop. This cannot be underestimated. You need to make your case, but continuing for too long will only ensure that the audience forgets what you have said.
 

Developing Your Vocabulary

06 Mar 2016

Buy a good monolingual dictionary.

Read as much English as you can . Read anything that interests you, in any format available to you. If you find newspapers or literature difficult, try reading 'graded readers', which are simplified books.

Select carefully the words or phrases you look up in a dictionary . It's frustrating to look up every word that you don't understand. Only look up those words that you think are important, such as:

  • Words or phrases that occur often
  • Words or phrases that are essential for understanding a sentence.

You can often get the general meaning of the sentence without having to use a dictionary, so save yourself some work!

From the words or phrases that you look up , decide which ones are vital for you to understand and use. For example, words that you need for your job or study, or words that occur often.

Use your dictionary to get the essential information about these words and phrases (grammar, stress, pronunciation and meaning), then make an effort to practice these words. Write down the new word in a sentence of your own, and try to use the word as often as possible, until you are sure that you remember it.

When you look up a new word, make sure you know which words you can use with it. For example, you do a test, but you make an effort.

When you find a new word, check to see if you can use it in other ways. English is a flexible language - nouns, verbs and adjectives can often be made from each other. For example, to apply for a job, a letter of application, the applicant for the job, and so on.

Keep a vocabulary book with you. You can use it while you are reading, or watching television or a film. You can also refer to it when you have some spare time to help you revise new words and expressions.

 

Improving your Listening

28 Feb 2016

Does this situation seem familiar to you? Your English is progressing well, the grammar is now familiar, the reading comprehension is no problem, you are communicating quite fluently, but: Listening is STILL a problem!

First of all, remember that you are not alone. Listening comprehension is probably the most difficult task for almost all learners of English as a foreign language. The most important thing is to practice listening as often as possible.

The next step is to find listening resources that you are really interested in on the radio, television and the Internet.

Listening strategies

Once you have started to listen to English on a regular basis, you may still feel that your listening is not improving. What should you do? Here is some advice:

  • First, accept the fact that you are not going to understand everything.
  • Don't worry that you can't understand every little word spoken.
  • Don't translate into your own language.
  • Listen for the general idea of the conversations. Don't focus on detail until you have understood the main ideas.

I remember the problems I had in understanding spoken French when I first went to France. At first, when I could hardly understand a word, I tried to translate everything into English. This approach usually resulted in confusion. Then, after the first six months, I discovered two important facts: Firstly, translating creates a barrier between the listener and the speaker; Secondly, most people repeat what they say. By remaining calm and focused, I noticed that I could often understand what the speaker had said.

Translating creates a barrier between yourself and the person who is speaking

While you are listening to another person speaking English, the temptation is to immediately translate into your own language. This becomes stronger when you hear a word or expression you don't understand. However, when you translate into your own language, you are taking the focus of your attention away from the speaker and on to the translation process in your head. This situation leads to less, not more, understanding.

Most people repeat themselves

When people speak in their own language, do they repeat themselves? I don't mean word for word; I mean the general idea. If they are like most people I have met, they probably do. That means that whenever you listen to someone speaking, it is very likely that they will repeat what they have said, giving you a second, third or even fourth chance to understand the main message.

By remaining calm, allowing yourself to not understand, and not translating while listening, your brain is free to concentrate on the most important thing: Understanding English in English.

 

Becoming a Better Language Learner

21 Feb 2016

So, you want to improve your English? At your age and level of language learning, there are some things you can't change. For example, you can't change:

  • the language learning ability that you were born with;
  • your ability to tell the difference between different sounds and your ability to make sounds;
  • your ability to remember words and phrases.

However, there are many things you CAN do, and the first and most important thing is to try to change your attitudes about using and speaking English. For example, you can try:

  • not to be embarrassed about making mistakes;
  • to be more outgoing and make more effort to socialise with other people;;
  • to ask questions when you do not understand something;
  • to greet your English speaking colleagues rather than crossing the room or corridor to avoid them;
  • to get into the habit of asking other bilingual speakers the question, "How do you say __________ in English?" or 'What does ___________ mean?";
  • to make opportunities to practice your English (and not just wait for them to come along or expect others to make them for you);
  • to commend yourself for every extra effort you make to use your English;
  • to have fun with your English instead of just studying and worrying about it;
  • to stop saying either to yourself or others, "Oh dear, my English is poor. It will never improve!" It will improve, but only if you use it!

In your efforts to improve your English, it may be helpful for you to understand what the differences are between the Not-So-Good Language Learner and the Good Language Learner.

The Not-So-Good Language Learner:

  1. Doesn't try to say anything he or she doesn't know how to say;
  2. Avoids making mistakes so as not to appear foolish;
  3. Pays little attention to language form, and fails to note language patterns;
  4. Pays little attention to his or her own speech or the speech of others;
  5. Relies too much on grammar;
  6. Doesn't try to guess at meanings;
  7. Doesn't practice.

The Good Language Learner:

  1. Tries hard to communicate, to get his or her message across;
  2. Is willing to make mistakes, even to appear foolish;
  3. Pays attention to language form and looks for patterns in the language;
  4. Monitors his or her own speech and the speech of others, checking for mistakes and deviations from intended meaning;
  5. Pays attention to meaning, knowing that grammar and the surface forms of speech are not in themselves enough to understand the message;
  6. Is willing to make guesses;
  7. Practices.
 

Using the International Alphabet

14 Feb 2016

When talking on the phone, you may have difficulty with clearly communicating the spelling of your name, or understanding an important word spoken by the person you are calling. In these situations, it is a good idea to use the International Alphabet:

Play the audio file below to listen to the alphabet:

A for  Alpha

B for  Bravo

C for  Charlie

D for  Delta

E for  Echo

F for  Foxtrot

G for  Golf

H for  Hotel

I for  India

J for  Juliet

K for  Kilo

L for  Lima

M for  Mike

N for  November

O for  Oscar

P for  Papa

Q for  Quebec

R for  Romeo

S for  Sierra

T for  Tango

U for  Uniform

V for  Victor

W for  Whisky

X for  X-ray

Y for  Yankee

Z for  Zulu

So if your name is Zhane, you would say:

"My first name is Zhane. That's Z for Zulu; H for Hotel; A for Alpha; N for November; E for Echo - Zhane."

Keep the international alphabet with you when you make a phone call, or better still try to memorise it!

 

Reading Advice

07 Feb 2016

Right now you are reading English. That means that you are using your brain in a very active way. Reading is a very active process. It is true that the writer does a lot of work, but the reader also has to work hard. When you read a text, you have to do some or all of these:

  • imagine a scene in your head
  • understand clearly what the writer is trying to say
  • agree or disagree with the writer

When you learn a language, listening, speaking and writing are important, but reading can also be very helpful. There are many advantages associated with reading, including:

Learning Vocabulary In Context
  • You will usually encounter new words when you read. If there are too many new words for you, then the level is too high and you should read something simpler. But if there are, say, a maximum of five new words per page, you will learn this vocabulary easily. You may not even need to use a dictionary because you can guess the meaning from the rest of the text (from the context). Not only do you learn new words, but you see them being used naturally.
A Model For Writing
  • When you read, it gives you a good example for writing. Texts that you read show you structures and expressions that you can use when you write.
Seeing "Correctly Structured" English
  • When people write, they usually use "correct" English with a proper grammatical structure. This is not always true when people speak. So, by reading you see and learn grammatical English naturally.
Working At Your Own Speed
  • You can read as fast or as slowly as you like. You can read ten pages in 30 minutes, or take one hour to explore just one page. It doesn't matter. The choice is yours. You cannot easily do this when speaking or listening. This is one of the big advantages of reading because different people work at different speeds.
Personal Interest
  • If you choose something to read that you like, it can actually be interesting and enjoyable. For example, if you like to read about football in your own language, why not read about football in English? You will get information about football and improve your English at the same time.
READING TIPS
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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
  • Read what interests YOU. Choose a magazine or book about a subject that you like.
 

Use of Pronouns to Avoid Sexist Writing

31 Jan 2016

Pronouns like he, she, it, we, they, and you stand in for nouns and must therefore match the nouns they are replacing in number (singular or plural) and gender (male or female). If the noun is singular, the pronoun must be too.

incorrect Everyone needs to remove their belongings. (Everyone is singular; their is plural.)
tick1 Everyone needs to remove his or her belongings.

  • Don't use only 'his' to refer to a noun - this is regarded as sexist language!
  • In a short document with a single pronoun reference, we recommend that you use his or her in place of the noun.
  • In a longer document with multiple pronoun references, you could alternate between his and her throughout the document to avoid constant repetition. If that doesn't work for you, simply rewrite the sentence so you don't need to make the choice.

The above sentence could also be rewritten as:

tick1 You need to remove your belongings.
 
Changing the subject to a plural also works:
tick1 Employees need to remove their belongings.
 
 

Job Interview Tips - Part 2

24 Jan 2016

You've written a great CV (resume) and covering letter, and the company has asked you to attend an interview. You need to make sure that you make the right impression to get the job! Here are five more tips to help you succeed at the interview.

1. Check you understand what people say to you.

When you say ..., do you mean ...?
Could I just go over this point again?
Sorry, do you mean ...?

2. Use a range of vocabulary to present your achievements and experience.

I achieved sales growth of ...
I managed sales of ...
I increased sales by ...

3. Try to remember names and titles (or company positions) when you are introduced.

A good way of remembering names is to use them immediately after you hear them. So, if someone introduces you to "Deborah Jones, our Marketing Manager" you can say immediately "Pleased to meet you, Ms Jones."

Pleased to meet you, Ms Jones.

4. Be aware of your gestures and movements during the interview.

Nod your head to show you understand and agree with the other person. Keep eye contact with them and try not to use nervous gestures. Ask your friends to help you rehearse the interview - they can tell you if you appear nervous!

5. Make sure you know what will happen after the interview.

The interviewer could say things like:

So we will contact you in a couple of weeks.
We'll let you know at the beginning of next month.

 
Menu