A system to help write in English for a local or global business audience

Wherever we are and whatever we do, we need to communicate. Communicate well and it can make you, communicate poorly and it can break you.  Even in the common language of English, one size is never going to fit all, so below are a few steps to follow when using business English in writing, for both home and global markets.

Step 1

Be correct for purpose

  • Know what you want to achieve each time you write
  • Align this with your personal and organizational values – and reader expectations
  • Check quality and remove mistakes before you send

Written messages can be judged when we’re not there to explain them!   Business readers largely expect written communication to appear professional.  If spelling, punctuation and grammar are wrong and if messages are muddled, this often leads to reader complaints.

Getting business messages across can be tricky enough without entering linguistic debates, interesting and worthwhile as they are.  In my workplace emails I definitely avoid starting a sentence with “but” or “and” – knowing it will irritate some readers’ sensitivities.

Step 2

Be clear

  • Use accessible English and express facts simply, wherever possible
  • Edit well so that your key messages are both seen and easy to understand
  • Use a good layout so your writing looks good

Step 3

Be smart and make the right impact

  • Use the right words, content and style to get “brand you” and organizational brand noticed for the right reasons
  • Understand which variety of English to use – and when to “use a splash of local color” or “colour”! (either your own or your target audience’s, if different)
  • If you want to use idiom or slang, think carefully first. What might work for a local market might be misunderstood globally.  It might even cause offense. Should you run that risk?

Sometimes we feel we have mastered a language when we know how to use its idiom.  It might, however, be a really unhelpful barrier to understanding for others for whom that language is their second or third one.

Step 4

Focus on your readers

  • Be valuable to your valued readers and use words that are relevant to them
  • Be aware of differing personalities’ and cultural expectations
  • Write from your readers’ perspectives as well as your own

When we talk about understanding cultures, we are often referring to a set of customs, traditions, values and conventions that are specific to a particular group. Naturally, where there are humans, there are differences in the way any one culture is practiced, expressed and reflected. It’s the same with business organizations.

So, for example, you might seriously embarrass someone from China or Japan by putting them in a position where you ask them to answer yes or no on behalf of their organization.  The concept of empowerment is not global.  It sits well with many cultures but not all.

The common usage of English doesn’t mean automatic understanding or tolerance of individual foibles! In fact, whether you speak English as a first, second or even third language, the new global and digital economy means “getting it right” for your readers, has never been more important for you – “brand you,” we could say – and your organizational brand.  Native English speakers can no longer think the language “belongs to them.”  Alongside ESL speakers, they actually face challenges too when using global business English. In the digital age, nobody “owns” English outright. It belongs to us all!

Fiona Talbot runs TQI Word Power Skills, a Business Writing Skills consulting company. She delivers training/remote coaching at all levels in all sizes of business. She is the co-author of Improve Your Global Business English as well as the Better Business English series, both published by Kogan Page.

Role Plays and Simulations


There is a difference between simulations (where students act out real-life situations, for example the student checks in at “the airport”, but students do play themselves) and role plays where students take on different characters. In a role play, for example, one student may be asked to take on the role of “an angry landowner” in a role play which is concerned with discussing the possible construction of a new road. Another may be asked to play the role of the “road company representative”. Role plays will thus require more “imagination” on the part of the student to be able to get “into” the role.

Some students will find being asked to play a different person in a role play quite liberating. Some students who are normally quite shy can open up considerably in a role play lesson. The teacher, though, must attempt to maintain the “pretend” part of the simulations and role plays: i.e. the students ARE in an airport and not the classroom. Teachers can aid this process by use of realia and other props. Students who don’t enter into the ‘fantasy world’ can ruin it for everyone else.
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Difference Between Learning and Acquisition in ESL

Stephen Krashen draws a big distinction between learnt and acquired language, a distinction that has caused controversy in itself, quite apart from his ideas for promoting this acquisition. According to Krashen, students who are taught in a formal, form-focussed way will “learn” the language but never fully acquire it. Acquisition, which is the basis for all L1 knowledge, consists of rules and principles that are not available to conscious attention. By contrast, learnt language can only be used as a “monitor” (a check, as it were) to what we say in L2. Krashen argues this is the only use of learnt language and further goes on to say that learnt knowledge can never become acquired knowledge. Krashen’s model has thus been termed a “dual competence” model.

We now we move onto ways in which Krashen states that this acquisition can be promoted in the un-naturalistic setting of the classroom. The crux of Krashen’s theories is that students acquire (as opposed to learn) when they are able to understand something (primarily through context) that is a little above their current level of understanding. Continue reading

A Language And Its Culture

S4C LogoA language cannot be separated from the culture in which it is embedded. Is this true? What implications does this have for the English language teacher?

There are strong links between the culture of a country and its language. Language is worn as a badge of ethnicity, a badge of cultural independence worldwide. The Welsh who were forced to wear “Welsh not” around their necks earlier last century for speaking Welsh in class were having not only their language suppressed but also the culture that came with it in the form of music, art, poetry and literature. The revised attitudes towards minority languages like Welsh have now improved and the introduction of S4C, the Welsh language television channel, is part of a wider process thanks to which the Welsh have the right to be more optimistic about their culture’s protection than they had any right to be a mere half century ago.
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Prescriptive Teaching in the ESL Classroom

Being prescriptivist means not only describing the system of language to the students but also insisting that the students conform to using only what the teacher uses or what is presented in a course book. Students would then have errors corrected which are not necessarily ungrammatical but may be considered “non-standard” by certain speakers even though a large number of native speakers may use the very same forms themselves.

The world of TEFL has changed a lot over the years. In days when English was taught as a fixed body of Latin-based rules (e.g. “never split the infinitive!”), there existed a prescriptivist attitude. The position of form-focussed teaching has changed as has, with equal importance, the position of English as a world language. It is not correct or even practical, with a constantly changing, living language, to draw a line in the sand and state “here and no further.”
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Benefits of Computer Aided Language Learning

Old computerThe use of computer technology allows a lot of self-access work for students. For example, a lot of the repetitive drilling at lower levels in the class can be replaced by having students working alone on computers. There are many stimulus/response type programs on the market which can help students with basic structures in a lively and interesting context.

There are several programs designed to help students with their skills. Skimming or scanning reading skills will by aided by the use of time limits or by the setting of a particular type of question. The ‘storyboard’ programs are very useful at getting students to guess unknown words from context – another skill needed by successful readers. Word processor programs can help students in their organisation of letters, for example and the spell checker, imaginatively used, can be employed to give students an incentive for checking their own work.
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How To Do Listening in the ESL Classroom

Baby listeningWhat can be done at different stages of a listening activity to help our students?
It is helpful to divide a listening activity into three distinct stages: the pre-listening, the while-listening and the after-listening.

The pre-listening stage is vitally important if we want our students to get as much as possible out of the listening. Choice of listening is the first thing. We ourselves would not sit down and listen to a radio documentary on a subject we had no interest in and we should not expect our students to be any different. Teachers thus shouldn’t inflict on their students listenings they believe will be of little or no interest to their class as students are less likely to gain anything useful from it.

Once we have decided on a listening to use with our class, the next stage is to prepare them as much as possible. As in real life again, when we listen to something on TV, we are usually in the position where we know the subject area and can predict a lot of what is going to be said. In the class, we must try and prepare our students similarly.
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The Behaviorist Approach

Parent talking to childLook at the following extract:

Child: Nobody don’t like me.
Mother: No, say ‘nobody likes me’.
Child: Nobody don’t like me.
(Eight repetitions of this exchange)
Mother: No, now listen carefully; say ‘nobody likes me’.
Child: Oh! Nobody don’t likes me.

(McNeill, 1966)

The behaviourist approach to language learning grew out of the belief that students could learn a second language by being taught to produce the correct “response” to the appropriate “stimulus”. The student would then receive either instant positive or instant negative “reinforcement” in the shape of either correction or praise from the teacher.

The resulting methodology, audio-lingualism, was a very heavily teacher-centred approach consisting of a lot of “mimicry and memorization”. The linguist Leonard Bloomfield claimed that “language learning is over-learning” and this, in effect, was what audio-lingualism was based on.
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