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.
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 grammar can seem frustrating and never-ending, but there are several small, daily actions you can take:
- Use Grammarly - Grammarly is a free app 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 here:
• http://www.englishpage.com/ (grammar only)
•https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/purdue_owl.html (grammar and punctuation)
- This blog post and video explain a technique that can help you improve your use of prepositions: http://www.instructionalsolutions.com/blog/business-grammar-strengthening-preposition-use. Use this same technique for all sorts of grammar.
- Read our blog! http://www.instructionalsolutions.com/blog
There are lots of posts about different grammar topics, such as Pronoun Antecedent Errors here: http://www.instructionalsolutions.com/blog/business-grammar-pronoun-antecedent-errors. 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.
Read, Read, and Read Some More
Reading is the best way to improve your Business English vocabulary and Business English writing skills. Reading anything and everything is good, but to really build effective business communication in English, you need to read business texts. Here are some good options:
- The Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/. 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: https://www.wsj.com/. There is lots of good content here, though you may need a subscription or at least an account.
- The Economist: http://www.economist.com/. Again, there is good content, but you can only access a certain number of articles each month without an account.
- Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/. 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: https://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/. 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: http://fortune.com/. This publication is most famous for its “Fortune 500,” the list of the 500 most powerful companies around the world.
- Bloomberg Businessweek: https://www.bloomberg.com/businessweek. Another trove of well-written business news.
- Entrepreneur: https://www.entrepreneur.com. 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 modeling good English writing.
- Fast Company: https://www.fastcompany.com. 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 providing a good model of business English.
The key is to consistently read business texts from a variety of sources daily to strengthen your business English vocabulary, reading comprehension, and ultimately writing skills. Aim to set 15 minutes aside each day to read good business English. 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.
Here are some good report topics:
Use these topics to practice writing letters, emails, and reports.
- 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.
Practice Listening to Business English
Sometimes, you 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! Try listening to a business podcast on your way to work or while exercising. Here are some good options:
- “5 Business Podcasts to Start Listening to in 2016” from Entrepreneur https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/270070
- “The 8 Best Podcasts for Business Savvy Listeners” from Fast Company https://www.fastcompany.com/3038746/the-8-best-podcasts-for-business-savvy-listeners
- “9 Great Business Podcasts You Should Know” from Fortune
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.
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 a course that provides you 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.
You can take a face-to-face course or an online course. Instructional Solutions offers both onsite and 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 is the best way to improve your overall business communication skills in English.
About the author
Katie Almeida Spencer
Katie is an experienced Business Writing and English as a Second Language instructor, business writing coach, and teacher trainer. She taught Business and Academic Writing at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She holds a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Rhode Island and an M.A. in Applied Linguistics from the University of Massachusetts Boston.