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!

Giving Presentations - Survival English


26 October 2014

If you get your facts wrong.

I am terribly sorry. What I meant to say was this.
Sorry. What I meant is this.

If you have been going too fast and your audience is having trouble keeping up with you.

Let me just recap on that.
I want to recap briefly on what I have been saying.

If you have forgotten to make a point.

Sorry, I should just mention one other thing.
If I can just go back to the previous point, there is something else that I forgot to mention.

If you have been too complicated and want to simplify what you said.

So, basically, what I am saying is this.
So, basically, the point I am trying to get across is this.

If you realize that what you are saying makes no sense.

Sorry, perhaps I did not make that quite clear.
Let me rephrase that to make it quite clear.

If you cannot remember the term in English.

Sorry, what is the word I am looking for?
Sorry, my mind has gone blank. How do you say 'escargot' in English?

If you are short of time.

So just to give you the main points.
As we are short of time, this is just a quick summary of the main points.
 

Using Prepositions of Place


19 October 2014

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 meaning.

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

About (approximate position)

I have left the file lying about somewhere.

Around

The accounts department is around the corner.

At (place)

He spent Saturday afternoon at work.
He's staying at the Sheraton Hotel.
I'll meet you at the airport.

At (direction)

We have aimed our campaign at young professionals.

By (close to)

The warehouse is by the main post-office.
The new airport is located by the harbour.

From (source)

This car was imported from Japan.
Where did you get this software from?

In (three-dimensional space)

Los Angeles is in California
The money is kept in the safe.

On (two-dimensional line or surface)

The file is on the desk.
The notice is on the wall.
California is on the Pacific coast.

Through (direction between two points in space)

It can take a long time to clear goods through customs.
Once we're through the city, we'll be able to drive faster.

To (movement, destination)

I have to go to Singapore next week.
The taxi will take you to the airport.
I will bring you to the conference tomorrow.
 

Complimenting Someone at Work


12 October 2014

In the key expressions box below, you'll find a number of standard phrases that you might find useful for complimenting someone at work. Click on the audio link to listen to the expressions.



FUNCTIONS

KEY EXPRESSIONS

MEN COMPLIMENTING MEN
(on their clothes)

I really like that shirt.
That's a nice jacket.
I like your shoes.
That tie (really) suits you.
It looks good on you.
It (really) suits you.

WOMEN COMPLIMENTING WOMEN
(on their clothes and accessories)

Your bag is so cute.
Your dress is beautiful.
It looks great on you.
It really suits you.
It's lovely.
I love that bag.
It looks great with your.....
That's a lovely necklace you're wearing.

WOMEN COMPLIMENTING WOMEN
(on their hair, figure, appearance)

You look really fabulous today.
I love your (new) hairstyle.
Have you lost weight?
Are you on a diet?
You've lost loads of weight.
You look so slim.

BOSS COMPLIMENTING SUBORDINATE
(on a job well done or performance)

You did a (really) great job on....
I'm impressed.
I was impressed with....
I'm (really) pleased with...
Your presentation was excellent.
Keep up the good work.

COLLEAGUES COMPLIMENTING COLLEAGUES
(on success)

I just wanted to congratulate you on .....
I'd (personally) like to thank everyone for....
Congratulations!
Congratulations on your promotion.
I (just) wanted to let you know that I liked your.....

RESPONDING TO COMPLIMENTS

Thanks a lot.
Thanks
Well, thanks.
Thank you so much.
Yes, I love it..
Thanks for noticing.
I appreciate that.
Thanks for your comments.
Thanks for letting me know.
Thanks. That means a lot to me.
 

Achieving Emphasis in Business Writing


05 October 2014

Using Emphatic Words

The simplest way to emphasise something is to tell readers directly that what follows is important by using such words and phrases as especially, particularly, crucially, most importantly, and above all.

Repetition of Key Words

Emphasis by repetition of key words can be especially effective in a series, as in the following example:

See your good times come to colour in minutes: pictures protected by an elegant finish, pictures you can take with an instant flash, pictures that can be made into beautiful enlargements.

Breaking the Pattern

When a pattern is established through repetition and then broken, the varied part will be emphasised, as in the following example:

Murtz Rent-a-car is first in reliability, first in service, and last in customer complaints.

Inverting the Normal Sentence Structure

Besides disrupting an expectation set up by the context, you can also emphasise part of a sentence by departing from the basic structural patterns of the language. The inversion of the standard subject-verb-object pattern in the first sentence below into an object-subject-verb pattern in the second places emphasis on the out-of-sequence term, fifty dollars.

I'd make fifty dollars in just two hours on a busy night at the restaurant.
Fifty dollars I'd make in just two hours on a busy night at the restaurant.

Beginning and End Positions

The beginning and end positions of sentences are more emphatic than the middle section. Likewise, the main clause of a complex sentence receives more emphasis than subordinate clauses. Therefore, you should put words that you wish to emphasise near the beginnings and endings of sentences and should never hide important elements in subordinate clauses. Consider the following example:

No one can deny that the computer has had a great effect upon the business world.
Undeniably, the effect of the computer upon the business world has been great.

In the first version of this sentence, "No one can deny" and "on the business world" are in the most emphasised positions. In addition, the writer has embedded the most important ideas in a subordinate clause: "that the computer has had a great effect." The edited version places the most important ideas in the main clause and in the initial and terminal slots of the sentence, creating a more engaging prose style.

 

Making Introductions in a Business Setting


28 September 2014

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!

 

"For" vs. "Since" vs. "Ago"


21 September 2014

FOR

We use for when we are talking about the duration of an action or state, i.e. how long something takes:

I have lived in London for seven years. (This tells us how long I have lived in London.)

For is a preposition here. Although generally used with the present perfect tense, for is also used with other tenses.

SINCE

We use since when we are talking about the time the action or state started:

I have lived in London since 1997. (This tells us when I started living in London.)

Since can be a preposition (since five o'clock) or a conjunction (since I met her). Since is usually used with the present perfect tenses.

AGO

Ago is used to say when past events happened, going back from today to the past:

I came to Japan seven years ago.
I passed my driving test two months ago.

Ago is an adverb and is used with the past tense.

 

Accepting and Refusing Business Invitations


14 September 2014

In the key expressions box below, you'll find a number of standard phrases that you might find useful when accepting and refusing business invitations. Click on the audio link to listen to the expressions.

 

FUNCTIONS

KEY EXPRESSIONS

MAKING INFORMAL INVITATIONS
Would you like to have dinner with us?
How about having a drink with me?
Let's go out for a meal.
Would you like to . . . ?
We're going to . . . . Would you like to come along?
There's a . . . . (tonight). Would you like to go?
I wonder if you'd like to . . .
I was wondering if you'd like to . . .
Why don't you join us for ....?
Perhaps you'd like to come to ....?
 
MAKING FORMAL INVITATIONS
I would like to invite you to our grand opening.
If you have time, I would like to invite you to see our new premises.
Would you like to join us for dinner this evening?
We'd be glad to have you accompany us to the ceremony.
We'd be delighted to have you as our guest at the new Chairman's inauguration.
ACCEPTING INVITATIONS
I'd love to.
I'd be delighted/happy/glad to.
Thank you. That would be great!
Yes, I would. That's a great idea.
REFUSING INVITATIONS
I'm sorry, but I'm going out that evening.
I'm afraid I can't make it. I have a prior appointment.
I'm really sorry but I can't - I've got another engagement.
I think I'm going to have to pass on that. I'm feeling rather tired.
I'd better not. I've got an early start tomorrow.
Thanks for asking, but I'm afraid I can't.
I'd love to but my parents are in town at the moment.
 

Avoid Weak Sentence Starts


07 September 2014

The use of "there is" and "there are" signals weak structure and hides the real verb. Often these words are followed by "who" or "that." which indicates the sentence should be rephrased.

Example: There are not many people who can write well.
Revised: Few people write well.

Example: There is no reason that can justify your behaviour to our client.
Revised: No reason justifies your behaviour to our client.

Example: There are several issues we need to discuss.
Revised: We need to discuss several issues.

Example: There is the self-assessment test, which allows clients to identify what they need.
Revised: The self-assessment test allows clients to identify what they need.
Revised: Clients can identify what they need by completing the self-assessment test.

Example: There is a comprehensive listing of studies and reports related to businesses on the website.
Revised: The website provides a comprehensive listing of studies and reports.

 

Interviewing in English


31 August 2014

Interviewing is an important task that shows your ability to ask relevant questions and identify key skills in prospective employees. Conducting an interview efficiently is a critical task, since hiring the wrong person can cost your company a lot of time and money. Often, there are standard interview styles and formats which can be used to conduct interviews, but you should also remember that conversation is spontaneous and can lead in different directions. It is always better to think ahead and to prepare questions for different scenarios.

Some key points to remember are:

  • Keep each interviewee's details in mind and ask questions that are relevant to their backgrounds and qualifications, and that are built around the job description.
  • Remain friendly and alert at all times.
  • Keep your tone pleasant and interested, but impersonal.
  • Use key words and phrases from the interviewee's responses to lead the conversation forward.
  • Remember that body language and visual cues are often as important as what is said.
  • Examine the interviewee's resume carefully to ensure that you ask relevant questions.
  • Take brief notes on the candidate's responses so that you don't forget anything important that they have said.
  • Don't ask leading questions that give away the answers.

A successful interview is one that combines different types of questions to get comprehensive information from the person being interviewed, and that assesses the job applicant's capabilities effectively.

 

Vertical Lists: Using Bullets or Numbers


24 August 2014

Use numbered lists when working with instructions that are to be carried out in sequence. If the sequence of items is not essential, use bullets.

Example of a Numbered List:

Follow these general steps when you plan a database:

  1. Decide on which categories of information you want to work with, and plan a separate database file for each category.
  2. Analyze your current information management system to determine the tasks to perform.
  3. Decide on the data you want the file to contain, and plan the fields to hold the data.
  4. Determine the relationship between your file and other files containing useful data.

Example of a Bulleted List:

Keep these points in mind:

  • Merge fields by typing the field name with symbols.
  • Use a text field to set data in the browser.
  • Add symbols among merged fields on the layout.
  • Format merged fields with the formatting option.
 

Agreeing to and Declining Requests


17 August 2014

When agreeing to a request, agree to it in a positive manner. Don't just say 'Ok' or 'All right.' Use these positive phrases:


Absolutely.
Sure.
Yes, I'd be happy to.
No problem.
That should be OK.

Sometimes, you may be undecided and unable to give a definite answer at that moment. In such cases, use these phrases to buy yourself a little time:


Can I think about that?
I'll get back to you. Let me have a think.
If you don't mind, can I give you an answer this afternoon?
Give me some time to consider it.

At other times, you may agree to a request but with certain conditions. Then you can use these phrases:


OK. But only with the following conditions:
Yes, that's fine. But only if...
Sure, but I'd prefer it if you...

Declining a request is more difficult. Don't decline a request directly. Use one of tentative the phrases below and follow it up with a good reason:


I'm afraid I can't.
That's really not possible, I'm afraid.
I wish I could but...
I'd really love to help you, but...
I'm not sure if that's a good idea.
I don't know about that. You see...

 

Removing Unnecessary Verb-Noun Combinations


10 August 2014

There is something about writing that makes us express ourselves more formally than we would do in speech. For example, you might chat with a co-worker about how you are going to evaluate a marketing campaign. But when you sit down to write a report about it, for some reason you find yourself writing about "the evaluation of the marketing campaign".

This habit, which we call nominalisation, is very common in all areas of government and the business world. What happens is that instead of using a verb, for example, to evaluate, the writer uses the related noun, evaluation.

You're probably thinking that there's nothing wrong with that, but nominalisations appear all over our writing. They lengthen our sentences and make the writing less lively, less human and more official. They prevent our writing being clear as actions are hidden in the nouns.

Here's an example:

Example: The programmer will be a new addition to our staff's expertise.
Revised:
The programmer will add to our staff's expertise.

Example: On this site you will learn how to find solutions to your writing problems.
Revised:
AdminWriting.com helps you solve your writing problems.

Of the verb-noun problems the "made" trap stands out as the most common:

  • made a suggestion (suggested)
  • made a recommendation (recommended)
  • made a choice (chose)
  • made an agreement (agreed)
  • made a presentation (presented)
  • made a proposition (proposed)
  • made a decision (decided)
  • made a revision (revised)

Other common verb-noun problems include:

  • gave an explanation (explained)
  • submitted a resignation (resigned)
  • expressed opposition (opposed)
  • took under consideration (considered)
  • provided maintenance (maintained)
  • reached a conclusion (concluded)
  • provided information (informed)
  • provided a quotation (quoted)
  • came to a realization (realized)
  • conducted an investigation (investigated)
  • put on a performance (performed)
  • led to a reduction (reduced)
  • had a suspicion (suspected)
  • had an expectation (expected)
  • used exaggeration (exaggerated)
  • gave authorization (authorized)

 

 

Making Polite Requests: Different Requests for Different Situations


03 August 2014

When you are asking someone to do something for you or trying to influence their actions, you can often show that you want to be polite by saying things in an indirect way:

Help me file these documents please. (Very Direct - more demand than request)

Please will you help me file these documents? (Less Direct)

Could you help me file these documents please? (Even Less Direct)

Do you think you could possibly help me file these documents? (Indirect)

I was wondering if you could possibly help me file these documents. (Very Indirect)

Generally speaking, the more indirect the expression you use, the more polite you will seem. If you are too direct you may be considered impolite. However, the more indirect expressions can sound "too polite". When deciding which expressions are suitable for which situations it is useful to ask certain questions.

  1. What is the relationship between the speaker and the listener? More direct expressions are often used between friends or when the speaker is in a position of authority.
  1. How important is the action to the speaker? Usually, the more important the action, the more indirect the expression.
  1. How much inconvenience will the action cause for the listener? If, for example, the listener is being asked to make a lot of effort or do something which they do not usually do, the speaker will probably use a more indirect expression.
 
 

Usage of Commas


27 July 2014

 

1)

to separate independent clauses

The following conjunctions are used in such cases:

and, but, for, nor, or, so & yet¹

The workers demanded extra pay, but the management refused to give it.

 

2)

after introductory

a) sub-clauses

b) phrases
c) words

a) If you don't finish it tonight, you'll be late.
b) As a matter of fact, I'm going on vacation to Singapore next week.
c) Unfortunately, we aren't able to agree to all your demands.

3)

when

a) sub-clauses

b) phrases
c) words

appear in the middle of the sentence.

a) Jill, who was sitting behind her desk, gave Tim a smile.
b) We, as a matter of course, will contact your former employer.
c) We have, however, found a number of errors.

 

4)

to set off three or more words, phrases or main clauses in a series.


She went into the office, sat down at her desk, and started surfing the Net.
He's lived in London, Paris, Hong Kong, Tokyo and New York.

5)

to set off two or more coordinate adjectives if the meaning does not change when the order is altered.

We had to travel over several narrow, winding, dangerous roads.

6)

at the end of a sentence in order to indicate a pause.

He was just ignorant, not stupid.

7)

to set off a nonrestrictive (also non-defining) relative clause².

Unitech, which was established in 1992, employs over 750 workers.

8)

when someone is addressed directly.

Richard, can you do me a big favour?

9)

to show an appositive³.

Chris Patton, former governor of Hong Kong, is still very popular in Hong Kong.

10)

in dates.

Yes, May 11, 20xx, was the date of the last AGM.

11)

in front of tag questions.

You've met this client before, haven't you?

12)

after digits indicating thousands.


10,000
9,999,999

¹ Note that 'but' and 'and' do not take a comma when both clauses are relatively short.
²
restrictive relative clauses = they tell us which person or thing, or which kind of person or thing, is meant;
non-restrictive relative clauses = they tell us more about a person or thing that is already identified.
³
When an appositive is only one word, no comma is needed.

 

General Tips to Improve your English


20 July 2014

Techniques

1) Some people like to learn by studying English grammar and then using it in sentences. Other people like to learn by listening to spoken English and then repeating it the best way they can. Actually, the best way to learn is to use both of these techniques together.

New Words

2) When you learn a new word, write it down in your notebook. Write the definition in English, not in your own language. Below the meaning, write down the sentence or phrase where you found the word.

3) Many verbs, nouns and adjectives are used with certain prepositions. For example: afraid + of or apply + for. Make sure that you learn the words together with their prepositions.

4) Out of the four skills: reading, writing, speaking and listening, the best way to learn new words is through reading.

Reading

5) Read the day's newspaper in your own language and then read one in English. This way, you already know the context and main ideas of the main stories. It will be easier for you to guess the meaning of new words.

6) Read graded readers. These provide excellent reading practice for elementary to advanced level learners.

7) Read something that you are interested in. If you like sports, read about sports. If you like fashion, read about fashion.

Writing

8) Find a penpal, the traditional way, or an epal from the Internet.

9) Try reading and leaving messages on an online message board.

Speaking

10) Speak as much and as often as you can in English. Don't worry too much about your grammar when you speak. It's ok to make mistakes.
 
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