Published: Dec 27, 2022 | By: Lucas Weaver
Business English is a term that refers to the type of English that you use when speaking in a professional setting. This includes the common business terminology you would learn when getting a Business degree in university.
The difference between a business English course and general english course is primarily in the course content and new vocabulary you will learn.
Think of the types of words in your language that you would only use in the workplace and rarely use at home.
For example, at home, you might ask your spouse, "how much is it going to cost?" but in a professional firm, you might ask a colleague, "What's the projected required initial investment?"
Business meetings are one of the most common places you will use Business English. The reason is that meetings in English-speaking countries are generally more formal than just talking to someone one-on-one.
English-speaking countries aren't very hierarchical when it comes to everyday life. You don't have to address people with a different, more formal version of the word "you" like you would in German or Dutch. You don't have to use a totally different form of words if someone is older than you, like in Korean.
But when it comes to business, people in English-speaking countries tend to be a bit more rank, title, and authority driven. This requires people to use more formal language when speaking to bosses or colleagues from a higher position in different departments.
This is quite different from other countries, such as The Netherlands, where it's common for even the lowest-ranking employees to call the CEO of a large company by their first name.
Using proper business English terms also shows respect to people from other companies. It shows that you're taking a specific situation seriously.
If you're telling another company you don't want to buy their product, you usually won't simply tell them, "I don't think your product is worth the money you're charging for it." You would typically tell them in an indirect way, "We're not quite ready to commit to an investment of that level yet, but we'll give you a call once we're closer to that point."
This might seem unnecessary or a waste of time for many non-native English speakers. Still, it's a part of the culture of the international business environment that you'll have to learn if you want to be successful.
How you say things is just as important as what you say in a business setting, so when learning business English, make sure that you pay attention to learning the cultural norms as well as things like grammar structures and business vocabulary.
Writing better emails is one of the most common reasons people take business English courses. The ability to clearly communicate exactly what you want to a potential prospect or supplier can save millions of dollars in the most crucial business scenarios.
I once heard a story of a man losing his job after he lost his company over $3 million because he miscommunicated in which port a ship modification should be performed.
Business writing is essential for several activities, but if you're frequently emailing potential suppliers or customers, it's critical to conduct mistake-free communication to eliminate confusion.
Reports, presentations, proposals, contracts, grant applications; the list goes on.
If you can use professional English to a level where you can effectively craft the documents I just listed above, you're setting yourself up for some significant income-earning potential at an international company.
Most of the people you encounter who are good enough in professional English to create these types of documents with ease probably went to a school in their home country that was taught primarily in English by native speakers. This gives them a significant advantage over their future colleagues.
Writing reports and contracts may be out of the realm of possibility for many English learners. Still, nothing is stopping you from improving your English language skills to the required point to create mistake-free presentations, emails, or sales pitches.
The most significant challenge when learning business English is the sheer variety of subcategories within "business English." Depending upon your specific field or industry, you might need an entirely separate set of vocabulary words than someone in a different department.
Using business English for financial purposes is highly specific. Financial terms are some of the most highly specialized and specific business words in the business world. Filled with acronyms, ratios, and abbreviations, sometimes it might feel like you should just go back and get another degree in finance taught in English rather than just taking a business English course.
Probably the most challenging form of business English, rather than a focus on spoken English, legal English dives deeply into the written portion of the language. Lawyers are paid for their ability to use and manipulate language. Therefore it makes sense that they would require the most from the English language.
In fact, many people who get law degrees in the U.S. end up getting either an English minor or a second bachelor's in English just because getting a law degree requires so many courses in English.
I'm not recommending you go that far, but it shows you how much English is required in law specifically. If you want to work in International Law, you'll need to at least brush up on your legal English. Taking a standard business English course alone may not be enough.
Marketing is another language-heavy industry. Whether it's content writing or copywriting, if you're going to be a marketer in English, your English skills will need to be up to par.
Writing ad copy in English with grammar errors is a quick way to lose money. And people who read English quickly pick out when things sound unnatural.
Improving your business English is a must if you're going to be in a work environment that requires you to write any content that will be read directly by consumers.
Focus on writing clearly in an easy-to-understand way, that way at least your customers will know what you're offering them.
If you work in the industrial or manufacturing fields, you're likely to face business settings with a broad range of possible topics.
Whether dealing with product specifications, safety protocols, prevention, international trade requirements, engineering, or supply chain management, there's a lot to get lost in.
Instead of worrying about complex grammar or high-level writing, your focus will likely be on the business vocabulary words specific to your field and needs.
Business English courses work well for engineers or people working in the industrial field because they generally cover an extensive range of topics within the given time.
If your job is in Customer Service, you'll likely focus on speaking English and business Emails with customers. You'll need to focus on speaking with customers, helping identify their issues and, helping them solve them, answering their questions.
You'll also need to know how to respond to incredibly annoying people in a pleasant and friendly way ;)
Without the need to learn how to write reports or proposals or super-technical terms, people studying business English for customer service can benefit greatly in a short amount of time.
While technical writing might sound difficult due to the word "technical," in my opinion, it's one of the most easily transferable skills to another language.
The reason is that technical terms tend to be highly translatable. Once you know the vocabulary terms required for your field, whether instruction manuals to build IKEA furniture or a customer guide for an online tool, you can usually translate them easily into English.
Combine that with a basic knowledge of English grammar, and you can be proficient as a technical writer without too much effort.
If you're asking the question, "What is business English?" you're probably exploring the skills you'll need to improve your professional opportunities.
Make no mistake, if you want to succeed in an international workplace in 2023 and beyond, you will need business English. And this fact is only going to become more accurate in the future.
The world is getting smaller every day. As I write this post from a Starbucks in Seoul, you'd be amazed at the global opportunities for people who can communicate in English effectively, especially in a business context.
And after all, it's not rocket science, it's just language. So don't be intimidated, and start improving your business English skills today.
Whether you need help with business writing, getting a new job, giving a presentation, or writing emails for customer service, check out our online business English course and start your journey to English fluency so that you can perform confidently in an international workplace.
In our online English courses, you get the chance to speak English in a real-life setting, learn to give mistake-free presentations, communicate your ideas freely, and speak to clients with ease.
You can improve your skill set and prepare yourself to pursue new opportunities you didn't think were possible.
Lucas Weaver founded The Weaver School in 2016. He's passionate about using the latest learnings in neuroscience and education to create the best language learning experience possible for our students, so they can quickly build effective language learning habits that will last for years. Lucas is a graduate of Texas A&M University and after 7 years of living in the Netherlands, he is currently traveling through Southeast Asia while learning their languages along the way.