What is 'Business English'?
There are generally four main motivations for those who want to improve their English:
1. Work (either current work or career development)
2. Study Abroad
4. Interest in English
I will focus on the first one today, particularly a branch of English called ‘Business English’. I'm writing this article to clarify some confusion many English learners seem to have about the meaning of this particular branch of English.
I want to explain what most students seem to think business English is, then I’ll explain why this idea is incorrect.
The general belief is that there are two kinds of English, which are somehow separate; ‘Business’ and ‘Normal’ English, as though you could learn the first without learning the second. Students may think this because of the nature of the English education market.
So, what’s wrong with it? To explain the problem, I should explain what 'Business English' really is, if there is such a thing.
Every field uses particular words and expressions related to their field which other people who are NOT in that field probably don’t know. These words and phrases are called jargon. An example of jargon would be words like ‘strangeness’ or ‘quantum uncertainty’ used in particle physics. If you’re not a physicist, you don’t need to know the jargon.
‘Business English’ is, if anything, norms, common practices, a level of formality (sometimes), and the ability to deal with particular situations—business-ish contexts—like negotiations, formal meetings, handling customers, writing emails, etc. Part of this includes avoiding casual expressions like, ‘You are my dopest client, for realz’.
Another part comes from knowledge of your profession, what is appropriate and what isn’t. In other words, ‘Business English’ is a general idea about how to communicate professionally, not a specific list of phrases and words, nor even a clear set of rules that applies to anyone who ‘does business’. Business English is not separate from 'common English'. Instead, it is built upon it. Business English is just the face of something much larger: real English skill.
The Big Picture
So, why do I think that perhaps there is no such thing as ‘Business English’ in the way most students think of it? The simple reason is this: All spoken English comes down to the same fundamental skills, the ability to use grammar and vocabulary creatively to get your point across clearly (with good pronunciation), changed and adjusted to your particular need. To say that more simply, English is English whether it’s used for business, medicine, science, or talking to babies. If you learn some ‘business words’ but you don’t know how to put a sentence together, nobody will take you seriously. It makes absolutely no sense to try to ‘learn Business English and avoid normal English’. It isn’t like that at all. Everything is normal English. I can’t emphasize it enough: A person trying to throw professional words and phrases into incorrect, basic-level sentences, is likely to be laughed out of the room.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t learn any of that stuff. You should learn the professional bits you need, formal ways of speaking. But, most importantly, you have to master the basics. A master of basic grammar who can speak clearly and creatively will be more respected and more capable in conversation than a person with little skill trying to fake it with a few superficial terms they learned in a glossary of business words, a person who wants to skip the basics.
Keep working on your skills and meanwhile absorb the culture and terms necessary for the work that you do (obviously, there are extreme cases, like medicine, in which you’ve got to study a huge amount of jargon to succeed).
Best of luck to you who keep at it.
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