If you want to succeed in the corporate world, business English is an indispensable skill. Many companies operate in an international environment: they have offices in several locations around the world, work with international clients and partner with other global companies. This means that business meetings, sales presentations and negotiations often happen in English. In multicultural offices, coworkers will also often use English as their lingua franca.
But what if your English isn’t quite as polished as you’d like it to be? Even if you don’t have time to take an intensive business English course, you can still improve your skills at home. There’s no need for boring textbooks, neverending lessons or expensive learning materials.
Here are 5 fun ways to learn Business English on your own time.
1. Read business books
Reading is an excellent way to enrich your vocabulary and practise your comprehension skills. But if you want to focus on improving your business English, don’t just take the first book you see off the shelf.
To get the most out of your reading time, pick a business book or an autobiography written by someone in your industry. These types of books are filled with useful technical English vocabulary. If they relate to your line of work, they may also give you the chance to learn something new about your industry.
For example, if you’re interested in making the most of your time and cutting out all the unnecessary tasks, read the 4 Hour Work week – a New York Times bestseller by Tim Ferris. It’s easy to read, but has a lot of useful language and advice that you can apply to your everyday work life.
If you see yourself as a future CEO, The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz is an eye-opening, yet practical look at life at the top of an organisation. With advice and plenty of gripping anecdotes about building a company in challenging conditions, you will get a lot of language and ideas from this best-selling book.
And, if you’re in the mood for some self-help advice interspersed with some useful business jargon, go for The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It’s a light read with highly actionable tips on how to boost your productivity.
2. Listen to podcasts
In multicultural offices where English is the shared language among team members, making professional small talk is a very important business skill.
What would office life be without coworkers standing by the coffee machine, discussing what’s new and exciting in the business world? If you want to be able to chip into these conversations, it’s important to stay on top of current events – and learn the vocabulary you need to talk about them.
And, what better way to do that than listening to a podcast. Tune into the BBC’s Business Daily Podcast to hear journalists and reporters analyse business stories from around the world. Check out NPR’s Planet Money for fun explanations of what’s going on with the economy.
For startup stories, listen to How I Built This, a great podcast about entrepreneurs and how they brought their innovative projects to life. And, if you’re ready to dive deep into the world of stock market investment tune in to CNBC’s The Exchange. This one will help you to learn some serious financial jargon!
3. Take free online courses
Language courses are not the only online courses that can help you reach your technical English goals. Webinars, MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) and other types of web-based degrees can also be great practice grounds. Pick a topic that interests you and relates to your professional field. This will help you to gain specialised listening, reading, comprehension – and depending on the course, perhaps even writing and speaking – skills related to your industry.
For example, EdX offers online courses from Harvard, MIT and other prestigious universities in an endless variety of topics. Udemy and Coursera also have hundreds of thousands of online courses, some of which you can do for free. Who knows, you might even pick up a new interest along the way!
Pro tip: check out this list of free online courses, offered by 600 universities around the world. We also highly recommend Business English for Non-Native Speakers Specialization on Coursera.
4. Watch movies and documentaries
Movies and TV series are also great resources for improving comprehension and business-level English vocabulary. Plus, they’re an excellent way to stay entertained while learning!
Some of the best, fast-paced movies that tell business stories are Jerry Maguire, The Social Network, and The Big Short. Each one is set amidst a crisis that could make or break the characters’ business.
Netflix also has a number of fantastic documentaries that focus on the business world. The Great Hack is a widely acclaimed documentary that takes viewers behind the scenes of the Cambridge Analytica-Facebook data privacy scandal. And last but not least, Generation Startup recounts the struggles of six college graduates trying to launch their own companies in Detroit.
There are a number of things you can do to improve you language proficiency as you watch. For example, you can:
- Watch these movies with English subtitles and take note of new words and phrases you can use in your workplace.
- Use your new words and phrases by writing sentences, your own dialogues and then in your own real work context.
- Try shadowing – that is speaking along with the characters on screen. This helps to improve your speed, fluency and pronunciation.
- Paraphrase what you hear the characters say. This helps to consolidate your understanding, build your vocabulary and assimilate the language. You can always pause and play back sections of the movie and use the subtitles to help you if you find it difficult.
5. Watch Youtube videos
From TED Talks to vlogs and corporate content, Youtube is full of videos that can help you learn business English.
You can search specifically for language-learning videos, but also try to find videos that can help you learn how to navigate real-life work situations.
For example, you can type “how to negotiate”, “how to facilitate a workshop” or “how to be a great manager” into the YouTube search bar. The world’s second biggest search engine will find you some amazing content that you can use to expand your knowledge – and your business English skills.
It’s important that you not only watch these videos, but also take notes on them and revise the new phrases you learned the next day.
You can often use the video transcript (see the screenshot below), to note new vocabulary and phrases. You can also use it to read along to improve your pronunciation, find synonyms and make your own written summary of the video.
We hope these tips will help you improve your business English in your own time. Whether you choose to read business books, listen to podcasts, take online courses, watch movies or YouTube videos, you’ll be on the right track to perfecting your business English skills.
At York Associates, our goal is to help you improve their cross-cultural communication through the use of professional English. Get in touch with us to find out how we can help you.