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Business English vs General English: What is right for me?

6 years ago
Say you want to improve your overall language skills, but you also work in International business where English is the lingua-franca. It’s super important for you to be able to communicate clearly, understand and be understood when the stakes are high. You might find yourself in the common dilemma of ‘General English or Business English?’  
Which one will best suit your needs? Are general English and business English really so different? I have many students asking me this everyday or requesting to learn "Business English" without mastering General English first, and not realizing that the two are not so different. Here are some of the ways that they are different.

What is General English?
General English, is exactly what it sounds like– English for general purposes. It aims to give language learners a firm foundation in basic grammar and communication. It focuses on developing the core skills of reading, writing, listening and oral skills, through a wide range of topics.

General English is the everyday language used in everyday situations. There are few technical terms, as it is expected to be understood by everyone without the need of expert knowledge.

Here are just a few of the subjects general English covers:

Introducing yourself
Family Life
Likes and dislikes
Future plans

What is Business English?
Business English is the application of English language skills in a business setting, such as international commerce, finance, and a wide variety of business sectors.

**It’s not a different subject but more like an extension of general English**. I like to think that learning a language is like building a house. General English is the firm foundation that you can build upon. Then, business English is the specialist department you build on top of it!

While there will be some overlapping between the two in terms of topics and vocabulary, business English goes much further. Business English takes your existing language skills and develops them in a more focused and direct way.

The aim is to allow you to interact and communicate freely with English-speaking countries and companies. Since English is the Lingua-Franca of the international business market, the ability to speak and communicate in English is a vital skill for anyone interested in conducting global business.

Business English is Specific

Business English is one branch of what is called English for Specific Purposes (ESP). ESP courses are designed to meet the specific needs of learners from particular disciplines or occupations.

For example, you can find ESP classes which focus on the following:
  • Business English
  • Medical English
  • Legal English
  • Engineering English
  • Academic English
  • Aviation English
  • Tourism English
The content is related to the relevant themes and topics, often using authentic materials and documents from the particular field. They will also focus on the cultural elements and etiquette found within the particular environments.

It’s also specialist in the sense that you are likely to learn phrases and industry related terms that even native English speakers won’t know because they don’t work in that field.

What Are Some of Those Specific Topics?

Business English is about expanding your English vocabulary and grammar knowledge through specialized content and topics.
Here are just some of the areas of vocabulary you’re likely to study:
  • Appropriate business greetings
  • Formal business emails
  • Telephone and conference calls
  • Negotiating
  • Client relations
  • Meetings
  • Human Resources

Typical Grammar Structures Studied in Business English

Some grammar points are given more importance in Business English than in general English, such as passives, modals, and reported speech. Also, there are particular phrasal verbs, collocations and idioms which are more commonly used in business settings.

Check a few of these business-specific grammar examples:

Business phrasal verbs

  • Let’s go over the figures later today.
  • We’ll have to make up for the bad performance last month.
  • We’re turned down their offer.

Business collocations

  • Brand recognition
  • Trade secrets
  • Time management

Business idioms

  • Let’s get down to business.
  • What can they bring to the table?

Formal and Informal

Another simple difference between Business English and general English is that the former is mostly formal language while the latter English is mostly informal language.

Differences are shown through a change in words
When you are requesting something….
GE: Please make sure you arrive on time.             BE: Please ensure that your arrival is on time.
GE: Please give him your travel plans.                   BE: Please provide him with your itinerary
Get & Receive
GE: When will I get the package?                                              BE: When will I receive the email?
GE: Will I get the reports back?                                                 BE: would I receive the reports?

I hope this helps those of you that may or may not be sure if you need to learn Business English; but I also hope this further clarifies to many of you the differences between the two.

If you need more help or have further questions, I am always available for a trial lesson. Good luck!