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What is Business English?

2018-02-05 14:47:00 by Brad Elliott

What is Business English? It’s a simple enough question that could have a simple enough answer: It’s the English you use when ‘doing’ business. But given that business covers pretty much every aspect of life, and could thus be said to likely use all elements of the language, how does it differ from General English?

And distinctions there must be, since across the world learners very often specifically request Business English. Given its high demand and potentially broad nature, there could be (indeed are) various, differing definitions and explanations of the term.

So here’s my take on the topic. I’ve been teaching and training English for Business since 2001, so you’d hope that I would know… Essentially, Business English is a set of communicative sub-skills under the broad umbrella of ‘effective communication’. English for Business is the classic example of transactional language. It’s decidedly not poetic. Its goal is to communicate ideas and opinions as effectively as possible, in order to achieve a higher aim – the doing of business – which in our capitalist world means to make money. Given the inherent importance of that, certainly to the people involved, it follows that language used when conducting business should above all be clear and effective. What is more, in a global world, the language of business is English.

Now, it’s important to distinguish between English for Business and English for Specific Purposes (ESP): Banking, for example, is an industry within business, but the language specific to banking is of especial interest to those who work in the banking sector – thus making Banking or Financial English an example of ESP. So if that isn’t English for business, then what is?

It is the language used that cuts across different sectors. Agriculture and banking may be two vastly different industries but they both involve meetings (what business doesn’t have meetings?). Meetings have their own particular language, irrespective of content: Examples of these include: how to chair a meeting, open the meeting, open up a discussion; solicit, give & react to opinions; agree, disagree, conclude and sum up and so on. This is an area where linguistic conventions exist – and this is what Business English is.

As well as meetings, these cross-cutting linguistic conventions include negotiating, giving presentations, writing emails, writing proposals & reports, telephoning & business small talk (say during a coffee break or over business dinner). Exploration of these issues from a language perspective, and teaching and training thereof is what I believe Business English is.

Furthermore, beyond language specific to activity (meetings etc.), there are other sub-skills required, such as the ability to communicate your ideas in a polite, formal, but firm way. Even with the predominance of American English and an increasingly relaxed approach to register (level of formality), linguistic conventions for Business English remain. The successful acquisition and deployment of these conventions will help foster effective communication when doing business, which is what business people want. And mastery of these conventions is what is achieved when English for Business is taught here at Spark English.

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Spark English is part of a Rwanda-based education group committed to helping Rwandans communicate effectively in English, empowering them to build a stronger future.