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What is Business English?

4 years ago
Several prospective students have asked me whether I teach 'business English'. To be honest, this has led me to ask myself 'what is this business English?'. This phrase is often asked as if another language is used when conducting business. I have to admit my business experience is limited to several short periods of employment in call centres... BUT I did call other businesses to sell them products and I spoke regular (polite) English. Also, the much more extensive experience of teaching senior business people English has taught me that they mainly want simple straight forward ways of communicating and if there is any specialist vocabulary they will generally have a good knowledge of it already. So then business English is just normal polite English? Well not quite... Obviously, there is more to it than that but it's not a whole different language. Business people are short of time so everything needs to be to the point and for a reason. Therefore If you can write 5 words instead of ten write five words!


Let's look at a couple of examples of imaginary business emails: Hi Alan,I hope you had a lovely weekend. We went to watch Cats, amazing! Please, could you do me a favour if you have time? Could you call the current office supply company and cancel our order with them? Then please could you call the new office supply company and set up an order with them? Thanks a million!Best,Jerry Actually, this email isn't terrible. It's polite and it has some information which can be turned into a request for action. The only problem is it's a little bit too long. Hi Alan,I hope you are well. Please, can you call the current office supply company and cancel our order with them and then set up a new order with the new office supply company. Best,Jerry This is much better. It is polite but not too long or overly personal. It has a request for some type of action to be taken and it has appropriate introductions and salutations. Ok, there are more formal emails to pitch products or to external organisations but the general idea is the same. The tone can change to be more persuasive or the beginning might be 'Dear' instead of 'Hi' but mostly the important thing is to communicate an idea in simple clear English with correct spelling and punctuation.


Here the English used can be very much like a different language. If the report is technical or scientific then really this is going to be full of words which only people who work in that industry know. But apart from any jargon (specialized vocabulary) reports aren't too complex. They need to be objective and impersonal and should not use the first person except for making recommendations. Example report: From: Mr. XTo: Ms. YSubject: Cost of Overheads AimThis report will evaluate the ways in which the company can reduce its overheads especially its electricity bill. RecommendationsAfter having interviewed staff members and toured the premises I would make several recommendations:
  • install a system to turn the lights off at the close of business hours
  • invest in eco-computers
  • set a printing limit per employee
Well, a real report would be longer but the idea is that the key information can be very easily accessed. The way to do that is by using bullet points and subtitles.

Resumes , CV's, Curriculum Vitaes etc.

This is really something that is a science all of its own. It very much depends on the country, industry, level of experience etc. Some industries want creativity and shun overly traditional formats (one writer made a mock-up of the magazine he was applying to and pasted his resume inside it in the form of articles about himself). OR in the UK it is highly unusual to include a photo on a CV but is normal in the US. However, mostly a CV should be one page long with only information that is relevant to the job being applied for. Name: Mr. XAddress: X townEmail: [email protected]: 0x ProfilePositive adjectives about your self i.e. Friendly, reliable and hard working. Work Experience1999 - 2020 Verbling - Online TutorIn this role ....... (brief outline of your main achievements and responsibilities). Education1995 - 1999 PhD English Cambridge University A brief outline of the course I hope that helps a little and please leave any comments or ideas below.