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Communicating in the global workplace: What is Business English?

General English and Business English follow similar principles, but being able to communicate effectively in the global workplace relies on a few important skills you won’t find in the General English curriculum. 

In both Business English and General English, you need:

 
  • The same four skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening
  • A good understanding of grammatical structures and syntax
  • The ability to use language in a variety of situations
 

However, there are aspects of Business English that are particularly important for effective communication in an increasingly global workplace that relies on English to get things done.

 

‘Communication’ vs. language ‘knowledge’

 

In the modern workplace, the focus is very often on communication – getting your message across clearly and concisely – rather than demonstrating a wide range of vocabulary or complex grammatical structures. 

Communicating clearly will help you complete tasks efficiently and effectively, as well as build rapport and trust with your colleagues and clients. 

A good example of this is the concept of ‘global comprehensibility’. This means how well you can be understood by people around the world when speaking. 

Global comprehensibility emphasises communication, over using a particular accent or trying to mimic an L1 speaker (or ‘first language’ speaker), which may not actually help improve communication with colleagues and clients.

Of course, there are times when knowing specific vocabulary is important (and expected). Knowing the right vocab can not only help you get your message across but also project a professional image. For example, project management has its own set of terms such as ‘deliverables, ‘blockers’ or ‘critical path’ – being able to use these terms appropriately will make communication that much smoother.

 

The importance of context

 

We commonly think of Business English as quite specific, but it actually covers a range of different language functions and situations. For example, the language used in presentations is very different to that used when making small talk with clients. 

Understanding this context when using any language is crucial. Linguists describe it as ‘socio-linguistic competence’. In the workplace, context takes on extra importance if the stakes are high such as when dealing with customers, or negotiating with other companies. 

So how does context affect the language choices we make? Take a look at these two written texts:

 
   

They’re both taken from a business context, but the language used is very different. We can understand the reasons for those differences by thinking about the who, the what, and the how:

 

The who

 

In the first text, this is clearly two colleagues, who know each other well, so they can use very informal, to-the-point language. In the second text, the job applicant doesn’t seem to know who exactly they’re writing to, so have used much more formal language.

 

The what

 

In the first text, it’s a routine, everyday question about who wants to have lunch. It‘s a very low-stakes request and the emoji reinforces this. In the second text, it’s a request for a job, so the power dynamics are skewed towards the Hiring Manager, and the stakes for the applicant are much higher. 

So the language changes to reflect this. It’s much more formal and follows a standard, expected model for this type of text.

 

The how

 

The first text is a webchat, where typically conversations are informal, to the point and the use of emojis is often encouraged. The second is a letter or email, and so there’s a fairly standard structure and set of conventions when writing this.

While every workplace has a different culture and bahaviour expectations, these two examples are designed to represent the breadth of contexts needed to effectively use Business English, and show the importance of awareness of context when using English in the workplace.

 

The role of authenticity

 

One of the key factors when creating Business English assessments (or any kind of learning materials) is that it is authentic. It should reflect the scenarios and content that test takers and students experience when using English in the workplace. 

This means both the content and the tasks need to be relevant. 

So the topics included in the questions need to be relatable and useful, and what we ask test takers to do with that content is the same or similar to what they do at work. 

For example, we don’t want to ask people to write a 500 word academic essay if they only use webchat to communicate with their colleagues at work. 

If a test is authentic, this increases motivation as there is a clear purpose and relevance for the test taker and gives them a reason to engage with the test and perform well.

 

How to certify English skills for employment

 

Employers will pay a premium for people with English skills in today’s globlalised workplace. 

EnglishScore is the English Test for employment, providing an accessible and user-friendly way to officially certify English proficiency

EnglishScore’s mobile English Test can be taken on a smartphone from anywhere in the world. There’s no upfront cost, no exam centres and no travel – just an accessible and convenient way to test and certify English skills for employment.

Want to see how EnglishScore can help you assess the English level of your students and staff? Click the button below.