Understanding Business English and Etiquette

One of the most often cited reasons for learning to speak English is career advancement. Much of the world’s business is conducted in English, so knowing the language can be a huge advantage if you plan to relocate to an English-speaking country or if you just want to advance in your organization. However, many of the English language learning resources that exist focus primarily on everyday usage of the language. While this is helpful to know, you’ll need to do some additional study on business English if you plan to utilize the language at work.

Of course, before you begin to study business English, you’ll want to have a background understanding of everyday English. For this reason, it’s a good idea to start off with a in-person course or home-study guide that teaches you the basics of English grammar and sentence construction. If you don’t know simple vocabulary words and verb tenses, you won’t be able to formulate the more complex sentences required in a business setting. If you’re able to, invest in several sessions with a one-on-one tutor – this will help you to pick up the basics of the language more quickly than you will working by yourself at home.

Once you feel comfortable reading, writing and speaking basic English throughout your day, you can begin to study the business English required by your field. If there is an English language school or study program in your area, check to see if they offer business English classes that will give you the chance to expand your understanding of the language while practicing with other students who are in the same situation. Having a teacher who can critique your use of English and offer feedback is an invaluable tool in the process of learning this new language.

If you aren’t able to find a class that’s specifically tailored to business English, try to find a mentor in your field who can help you with your English. This person could be located within your company, or it could be someone from another similar business who already speaks English fluently. Once you’ve identified a likely candidate, ask politely if they’d be willing to meet with you once a week to help you with the English translations for business terms in your field. Just be sure that you’re working with someone who’s either in your field or familiar with it – an English-speaking lawyer won’t be much help if you’re in the financial field!

In addition to studying the language used in business situations, it’s also a good idea to get a feel for the business etiquette that’s standard in English speaking cultures. Of course, the exact protocol will depend on whether you’ll be working in North America or European countries, but there are a few generalities that you should observe. Typical greetings are exchanged with a shake of the right hands, which should be firm and authoritative. You should defer to the person with the most seniority or the highest title in most situations, although it’s customary to offer to pay for any meals you eat together. Ask your mentor about any other etiquette scenarios you might encounter in your specific field so that you’ll feel comfortable no matter what comes up.

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