Learn Business English - The Definitive Guide
Learning business English, like any language, is a process that involves dedication and many different strategies. You need to approach learning business English in a long-term, holistic, dynamic, and authentic way to become a better English speaker and writer.
Strengthen your grammar
You must have strong English grammar for business writing. People simply won’t take you seriously if your writing is full of grammatical and punctuation mistakes.
Strengthening your current level of grammar can seem frustrating and never-ending, but there are several small, daily actions you can take:
- Use Grammarly - Grammarly is a free online tool you can use through Google Chrome. It checks any and everything you write online, and you are able to upload documents to the site as well. There is a paid version as well, but for non-native writers I find the free version to be better because it focuses on basic and common grammar issues (the paid version identifies more sophisticated issues that aren’t applicable to all types of writing). Grammarly will help you identify and correct your mistakes. Once you know what your mistakes are, you can study up on those areas on English Page (grammar only) and Online Writing Lab (grammar and punctuation).
- Improve your use of prepositions. This blog post and video explain a technique that can help you. Use this same technique for all sorts of grammar.
- Read our blog! There are lots of posts about different grammar topics. Browse through or search by topic. Subscribe to the blog by entering your email in the field on the right-hand side of the screen.
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Read, read, and read some more
Reading is the best way to improve your business English vocabulary and business English skills for writing. Reading anything and everything is good, but to really build effective business communication in English (and add to your English vocabulary list), you need to read business texts. Here are some good options:
- The Harvard Business Review: Sign up for a free account and access up to 15 articles per month (without an account, you can only access five articles per month). There are hundreds of articles written at a high level of business English on all sorts of business-related topics.
- The Wall Street Journal: There is lots of good content here, though you may need a subscription or at least an account.
- The Economist: Again, there is good content, but you can only access a certain number of articles each month without an account.
- Forbes: You'll find lots of shorter articles that are easy to read, as well as longer, more in-depth stories.
- Paul Krugman’s blog in the New York Times: This is a blog, so you will notice some differences between this and a standard newspaper article (Use of “I," a more casual and conversational tone, etc.) You can read up to ten free articles per month at nytimes.com. After that, you need a subscription. Paul Krugman is an excellent author, and as an economist, he addresses finance and other technical topics.
- Fortune Magazine: This publication is most famous for its “Fortune 500,” the list of the 500 most powerful companies around the world.
- Bloomberg Businessweek: Another trove of well-written business news.
- Entrepreneur: This is geared towards entrepreneurs, as you might expect from the title, and has many well-written articles that will help your business skills as well as model good English writing.
- Fast Company: This publication focuses on innovative and creative ideas, so it’s useful to non-native readers from companies where time-tested approaches are valued more than innovation. It will stretch your business approach as well as provide a good model of business English.
The key is to consistently read business texts from a variety of sources daily. Set a realistic goal and aim to read good business English for at least 15 minutes per day. Enjoy it with your morning coffee or tea!
Write more often
Reading alone won’t strengthen your writing. Like any skill, business writing takes practice. So, to improve your business English writing skills, you need to write, and write often! Here are some ideas for how to get started:
- Take some of the topics that you usually write about in your field and write these in English.
- Google “business letter topics”, “business email topics”, or “business report topics." You’ll find lots of great ideas to get started writing.
- Once you have written a practice letter/email/report, upload it to Grammarly (can you tell we like this tool?) for grammar feedback. This will help you identify your most common grammatical errors for different styles of writing.
As with reading, you’ll need to write a variety of texts consistently to build and maintain your business English writing skills and incorporate them into daily communication.
Practice listening to business English
Whatever your English level, you sometimes need to give your eyes and fingers a break from all that reading and writing. You can still strengthen your business English skills even when you are not reading and writing! Apply your listening skills and listen to a business podcast on your way to work or while exercising. Here are some good options:
Remember that podcasts are spoken English, and they tend to be conversational. The language used will often be less formal than most business English writing needs to be.
But, podcasts are a great way to expand your vocabulary and knowledge base about a variety of business topics. Plus, they are a nice break from other types of practice and help you hear common key phrases in business.
Like everything else, you’ll get the most benefit from listening daily!
Pro Tip: Listening to conversational business English will help you to learn idioms and phrasal verbs.
Take a business English course
The methods above are great for independent work. However, to truly improve your business English communication skills, especially writing, you need to take an English course for writing that provides you with individualized feedback.
You need a person, not just a computer program, to tell you exactly where you are shining and where you need to focus your energy. You may find that your grammar is strong, but you need to work on tone, directness, or more appropriate vocabulary. A good course will teach you strategies and an effective process, not just quick business writing tips and tricks.
Take your English language skills to the next level with a face-to-face course or an online class. Instructional Solutions offers a wide variety of online business writing courses for non-native speakers of English and for native speakers. We focus on context-specific writing practice with individualized feedback in key areas, including grammar, punctuation, tone, and organization.
Combining independent practice with a business writing course that includes instructor support (hint: our instructors are professional writers) is the best way to improve your overall business communication skills in English as a business professional. Our course learning experience is tailored to help you follow a specific writing process, avoid business jargon, write different types of content, and more.
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