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!

Methodology for Learning New Vocabulary

04 Mar 2018

Here we suggest some methods you can use to learn new vocabulary.

When you see a new vocabulary item (new word), always ask these questions:

Is it positive, neutral or negative?

Beautiful is a positive word

Ugly is a negative word

Negotiate is not positive or negative, so it's neutral

Is it formal or informal (casual)?

Cool is a casual word

Negotiate is a formal word

Is it a vocabulary item or an Idiom?

What did you do? (uses vocabulary)

What did you get up to? (uses an idiom / idiomatic phrase)

Does the word have a prefix or suffix that you know? (may give you a hint)

Prefix: Unhappy, unfriendly ('un' often a negative prefix)

Suffix: Careless, thoughtless ('less' often a negative suffix)

If you see a new vocabulary item, such as 'undisciplined', you can take a guess that it may be a negative word from looking at the negative prefix, even if you do not know what the word means.

Is it a noun, adjective, verb or adverb?

Can the word be used only as a noun?

Can the word be used as both a verb and an adjective?

Can the word by used as an adverb?

Which context / situation should the word be used in?

'Negotiate' is a strong verb for formal business situations, such as negotiating a contract with a client.

'Negotiate' should not be used in social situations like two friends arguing over paying for drinks at KTV.

Create your own example, preferably about your life, to demonstrate (show) understanding of the new word; this makes it easier to remember

I negotiated my salary package with the HR Manager.

I negotiate the delivery date and price with our clients.

 

Job Interview Tips - Part 1

25 Feb 2018

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 tips to help you succeed at the interview.

1. Use polite phrases.

Remember that if someone asks you "How do you do?" the correct response is "How do you do?"

When you meet someone for the first time, you can say "Pleased to meet you." If someone says this to you first, you can reply "Pleased to meet you, too" or "It's a pleasure to meet you, too."

If you didn't hear someone's name, you can say "I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name."

Pleased to meet you.
Pleased to meet you, too.
It's a pleasure to meet you, too.
I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name.

2. Ask questions which you have already prepared.

You should have the opportunity to ask questions at the end of the interview. You can prepare some before the interview. This will help you research the vocabulary you need and it will make you look interested in the company and the job.

There are different types of questions. "Direct" questions use words like "who", "when" or "what" or have an auxiliary at the beginning of the question.

Who is the manager of the department?
When would the job start?
Do you have a company pension?
Can I also work from home?

 
You can also ask "indirect" questions to make what you say sound less demanding. Indirect questions start with an introduction:
 

I'd like to know if you offer private health care.
Could you tell me if you offer options?

 

3. Try to predict the questions and plan the answers.

Can you tell us more about your experience with ...
Oh yes. When I ...
What qualities can you bring to this post?
Well, I'm an organised person and I ..

 

4. Show you are listening.

As well as maintaining eye contact, you can use phrase such as "Mmm", "I see" or "OK" to show the other person you are paying attention.

5. Don't be afraid to ask for explanations if you don't understand something.

I'm not sure I understand completely the relationship between these two departments. Could you explain a little further, please?
I'm afraid I don't really understand the difference between these two contracts. Could you go over it again, please?
I'm sorry, but I didn't understand what you just said. Could you repeat it please?

 

Three Common Punctuation Problems

18 Feb 2018

Punctuation is important because those little marks are like signs along a roadway, helping your reader navigate your document. When you put punctuation in the wrong place, it can change the intended meaning of your sentence and send your reader in the wrong direction.

Here are three common punctuation problems.

1) Putting a Comma Before 'and' in a Series (or Omitting the Comma)

The company makes pocket calculators, electronic keypads, and pocket translators.
or
The company makes pocket calculators, electronic keypads and pocket translators.
 

Which is correct? Both are. Whether you use the serial comma is entirely up to you. The key is to be consistent. Make a decision and stick to it throughout your document. Inconsistency is the grammar mistake.

2) Using Two Spaces after a Period or Colon

The two-space rule is a hold-over from the days when printing presses and typewriters used letters that were all the same width. Today, computers compensate for the varying widths of letters and only one space after end punctuation is the preference.

3) Putting a Comma Between the Subject and the Verb

incorrect I suggest that Billy, Pete and Mary, attend the conference.
 
In this sentence, a comma splits the clause's subject Billy, Peter and Mary, from the verb attend.
 
tick1 I suggest that Billy, Peter and Mary attend the conference.
 
A comma after Peter would also be OK in the above sentence.
 

How to Give a Speech in English

11 Feb 2018

Every speech or presentation has two main aspects:

  • WHAT you say (content)

  • HOW you say it (delivery)

You obviously have a lot of control over the content, because you can plan out exactly what you want to say. But you can also do a lot to make sure your delivery is effective too. The advice that follows will help you deliver a powerful speech:
  • Remember that a listener usually only has one chance to understand what you are saying. So you must do everything you can to make it easy for him or her to follow your ideas.
  • The best way to do this is to "signpost" your speech. At the beginning, say how your speech will be divided up. During the speech, make it clear when one part has finished and the next part has started. (For example, "Now that I have explained some of the causes of air pollution, I want to tell you what we can do to reduce the problem.") At the end of your speech, make it clear that you are finished (e.g. by simply saying "Thank you!").
  • The most important parts of a speech are the beginning and the end. Think about a strong first sentence that will capture the attention of the listener. Be calm and confident; give the impression that you are well-prepared and have something interesting to say. End with a strong sentence: make people laugh or give them something provocative to think about.
  • Practise your speech before the big day. In particular it is useful to think about how and where you will stand/sit, and where you will put your materials before and after you have used them. Practise using your speech cards.
  • Speak loudly and clearly. Remember that your voice (your intonation) must do the job that punctuation does in your writing. Try not to speak too fast. Never just read full sentence notes - it is boring and makes your speech very difficult to follow.
  • Make sure you can be seen as well as heard. Don't hide behind your sheets or the overhead projector. It is important that every listener feels you are talking to him or her personally. Therefore look round the room and try to make eye contact with everyone in the audience at least once during your speech.
  • Be careful not to distract your listeners by swinging on a chair, tapping your feet etc.
  • It is useful to include visual material with your speech. For example, if you are talking about places, show a map. If you are using numbers, write them for all to see. (It's very difficult for listeners to keep large or many numbers in their head.)
  • If you are going to have audience participation be very clear exactly what you want from them. If you ask a question, be ready for strange answers, and expect to have to answer it yourself.
 

A Little" vs "Little" vs "A Few" vs "Few

04 Feb 2018


A Little

Use a little with uncountable nouns, e.g. a little help, a little progress, a little information, a little advice, etc.

A Few

Use a few with plural countable nouns, e.g. a few days, a few meetings, a few employees, a few sales, etc.

Little and Few

Little and few tend to be rather negative because they mean not much or not many, while a little and a few are more positive and mean some. For example:

incorrect We have few clients. (sounds negative)
tick1 We have a few clients (sounds more positive)

incorrect There is little time to complete this. (sounds negative)
tick1 We have a little time to complete this. (sounds more positive)

 

When you are speaking to someone, it is better to use not much/not many or only a little/few instead of little and fewLittle and few tend to sound more formal and are better used in writing. For example:

We haven't had many enquiries about our new product. (not many/informal/spoken)
We have had few enquiries about our new product.
(few/formal/written)

We haven't sold many properties in the past month. (not many/informal/spoken)
We have sold few properties in the past month.
(few/formal/written)

 

Telephone Answering Tips

28 Jan 2018

Telephone answering skills are very important for businesses. The telephone is still the main point of contact with customers for most companies. And the way you answer your company's phone will form your customer's first impression of your business. These telephone answering tips will ensure that callers know they're dealing with a professional business:

Answer all incoming phone calls before the third ring.

When you answer the phone, be warm and enthusiastic. Your voice at the end of the telephone line is sometimes the only impression of your company a caller will get.

When answering the phone, welcome callers politely and identify yourself and your organization. Say, for instance:

Good morning. Cypress Technologies. Susan speaking. How may I help you?

No one should ever have to ask if they've reached such and such a business.

Enunciate clearly, keep your voice volume moderate, and speak slowly and clearly when answering the phone, so your caller can understand you easily.

Control your language when answering the phone. Don't use slang or jargon. Instead of saying, "OK", or "No problem", for instance, say "Certainly", "Very well", or "All right". If you're a person who uses fillers when you speak, such as "uh huh", "um", or phrases such as "like" or "you know", train yourself carefully not to use these when you speak on the phone.

Train your voice and vocabulary to be positive when phone answering, even on a "down" day. For example, rather than saying, "I don't know", say:

Let me find out about that for you.

Take telephone messages completely and accurately. If there's something you don't understand or can't spell, such as a person's surname, ask the caller to repeat it or spell it for you. Then make sure the message gets to the intended recipient.

Answer all your messages within one business day.

Always ask the caller if it's all right to put him/her on hold before doing so, and don't leave the caller on hold for very long. Provide callers on hold with progress reports every 30 to 45 seconds. Offer them choices if possible, such as:

That line is still busy. Will you continue to hold or should I have xxx call you back?

 

General Grammar and Writing Tips

21 Jan 2018

Subject Headings and Titles

Regarding titles and subject headings for business documents, remember that the first and last words are always capitalized, as are all nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs.

Prepositions of four or more letters (or five, depending on the style guide you use) are also capitalized.

"A," "an," and "the" are not capitalized unless they are the first word or follow a colon.

The coordinating conjunctions: "and," "or," "nor," "but," "for," "so," and "yet" are not capitalized unless they are the first word or follow a colon, but other "little" words, like "it," "be," and "is," are capitalized.

Comparative Adjectives

To make the comparative forms of one-syllable adjectives, add "-er" and "-est" rather than using the words "more" and "most." Examples: "purer" and "purest," not "more pure" and "most pure."

Phrases Starting with 'Including'

A phrase beginning with "including," which usually appears at the end of a sentence, is almost always set off from the rest of the sentence by a comma. Example: "Provide a detailed explanation, including projected costs and schedule."

Whether....or Not

Most of the time, the words "or not" are useless after the word "whether," as in the sentence "I can't tell whether or not the coast is clear." The sentence is perfectly clear without "or not." However, in the following sentence, "or not" is grammatically necessary: "The goal is to ensure that all participants benefit from the workshop— whether or not they attend all sessions."

A Lot

"A lot" is always written as two words. Many people write it as one word, perhaps because of words like "among," "about," and "along." As a subject, "a lot" is plural when it refers to a plural word ("A lot of people are waiting in line"), but it is singular when it refers to a singular word ("A lot of information was lost when the computer crashed").

Only

The word "only" should be placed immediately before the word it modifies. In speech, we rarely pay attention to this rule. In writing, we should. Example: "The chairman was given only one week to come up with a plan" (not "The chairman was only given one week to come up with a plan"). "Only" clearly emphasizes "one week."

 

Punctuation – The Dash (-) and Brackets ()

07 Jan 2018

The Dash (-)

Use a dash to indicate a change of thought, or to highlight and give greater importance to additional information inserted in a sentence

All the officers - Jane, Susie, Brent, and Michael - will be attending the meeting.
All the officers will be attending the meeting - Jane, Suzie, Brent, and Michael.
Mary - who was busy dealing with a client - did not attend the sales seminar.

A dash can also be used to set off information at the end of a sentence.

We all signed the contract - finally.

Brackets (.....)

Use brackets ("parentheses" in US English) to lessen the impact of related information that is added to a sentence. The added information should not be as important as the information in the sentence.

Mary (she only joined the company last week) decided not to go to the company barbecue.

Note: Use commas instead of brackets to set apart information that is about as important as the information in the sentence itself.

Brackets are also used if you give a lengthy name of a company or document, and then give the abbreviation, for example, Employees Assistance Program (EAP). The brackets should enclose the abbreviated form when it first appears. You can then refer to the abbreviated form only, without brackets, throughout the rest of the letter. This is one way you can use abbreviations in your letter and be certain your reader knows their meaning.

 

Participating in Business Meetings

31 Dec 2017

In a business meeting, there are two situations in which people often run into difficulties. These are when you want to interrupt someone who is speaking, for whatever reason, and when you are asked to comment on something you don't want to comment on (either because you don't have enough information to give your opinion, or because you
don't wish to speak for your own reasons).

If you need to interrupt, here are some phrases you may find helpful (and remember to consider your timing when using them, too!):

 
Do you mind if I interrupt? I must just say that...
Just a minute...
May I add something here?
May I interrupt here?
May I just say something on that point?
Or use that wonderful word, "sorry":
 
Sorry, I must just point out that...
Sorry, could I interrupt a moment?
Sorry, but I must say that...
Sorry, could I just say something?
"Sorry" makes an interruption of a meeting a little more polite.

But to avoid making a comment on an issue, "I'm afraid" works better:

I'm afraid I can't comment at the moment... (then give a reason why: ...as I need to check on the latest information / ...as I'd like a little more clarification on this issue from Ms. Leung, etc.)
I'm afraid I'm not able to say. (+ reason)
I'm afraid I'd rather not go into detail here, if you don't mind.
Using "I'm afraid" is better here than "I'm sorry", as "I'm sorry" puts the blame on you and indicates that it is your fault, while "I'm afraid" just indicates that you may feel some regret, but it is not necessarily your fault.

Other options include:

 
Do you mind if we talk about that later?
Can we put it off until later?
I don't think there's any point in going into detail at this stage.
That information isn't available yet, but we could talk about it... (give date or time)
I'd rather not say. (simple and direct, but honest)
 

Should vs Ought to vs Must vs Have to

24 Dec 2017

The modal verbs should, ought to, have to and must are all used to show obligation. The tone and strength of the obligation can vary based upon which modal is being used.

Should vs Ought to (for mild obligation / strong advice)

Look at the following sentences:

You should go to hospital with that wound.
You ought to go to hospital with that wound.

In these two sentences the function of should and ought to are interchangeable. Both focus on a strong advisability, or in other words a mild obligation. You are obligated to care of yourself. Nowadays, the use of ought to has lessened and should is commonly used in its place.

Have to vs Must (for strong obligation / necessity)

Here are the same sentences using the modal verbs have to and must:

You have to go to hospital with that wound.
You must go to hospital with that wound.

Have to and must are considered stronger than should and ought to. Both modals carry the function of necessity, obligation or even advice, but mustHave to, is normally reserved for expressions related to the law. For example: If you own a car, you have to pay an annual road tax. On the other hand, must is normally reserved for giving orders that people are obligated to follow. Here are some further examples of more typical usage of have to and must: is considered the strongest modal.

You have to pay income tax.
You have to pass your driving test before you can drive alone.
You have to show your passport when you pass through immigration.

You must get to work by 9am.
You must get this report finished by 30 June.
You must attend the meeting.

 

Tips for Effective Negotiations

17 Dec 2017

Rapport

Try to establish a good rapport with your opposite number from the moment your first meet, whether or not you already know each other. Some general 'social talk' is a good ice-breaker in this respect.

Simplicity

Keep your language simple and clear. Take your time and use short words and sentences that you are comfortable with - there's no point in complicating a difficult task with difficult language.

Clarity

Don't be afraid to ask questions if there is anything you don't understand. It is vital to avoid any misunderstandings that might jeopardise the success of your negotiation.

Listening and Response

Listening attentively at every stage of your negotiation will help avoid misunderstanding and create a spirit of cooperation. Also respond to what your opposite is saying with words or phrases such as "I see what you mean" or "You have a point".

Review

Summarise and review your progress at regular intervals during the negotiation. This will give both parties a chance to check understanding and if necessary clarify and rectify any misunderstandings.

 

Include One Idea per Sentence

10 Dec 2017

Have you ever received a letter or email where the sentences go on and on, one after the other in a stream, with only commas to separate them? These sentences often contain a number of points, some of which might be related. This makes them difficult to read and understand. Here's an example of an email we received from one of our subscribers:

I am working as a manager in Dubai, the communication with our customers is in English, therefore I have to send email, letters, etc., you know, but the problem is I want to learn more how to write, I feel that I am very bad in writing, so I need your help in this, how can I develop myself, I learn from your site but I need more if possible, thanks in advance for your help, I look forward to hearing from you.

With one idea in each clear, concise sentence, the message might read like this:

I work as an manager in Dubai. The communication with our customers "" email, letters, etc. "" is in English. The problem is that I am very bad in writing. I want to learn how to write better, and I need your help in this. Although I learn from your site, I need more if possible. How can I develop myself?

I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for your help.

We did include more than one idea in two sentences so the message would not sound choppy. But they were closely related ideas.

So, the message here is: include only one idea in each sentence. Sometimes, it's acceptable to include two ideas in a sentence but only if they are closely related.

 

Explaining Procedures – Sequence Words and Phrases

03 Dec 2017

To help you with explaining procedures, you can use certain words to show a sequence of events.

To explain the order in which certain things are done

First ...
First of all ...
Initially...
Next ...
The next thing you have to do is...
Then ...
After that...
After you (have done that / do that) ...
Finally ...
...And then finally...
Lastly...
Afterwards...

To add a further point

Make sure you (don't forget to)...
Oh, and by the way, don't forget to...
Oh, and be careful not to ...
Make sure you.../ Make sure you don't...

To check that the other person is following you, or has understood

OK, so is that clear?
Does that make sense?
So there we are / that's it. Do you have any questions?

 

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.
 

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!

 
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