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What Exactly is Business English?

For those of you who aren’t already in the know, Business English is A Thing when it comes to the matter of learning English as a foreign language. Amongst General, Academic, ESP (English for Specific Purposes), and others, there are learners who seek out courses or tutors specifically to learn Business English on the basis of thinking this will get them ahead in the world of… well. Business.

Now, if you’ve never had to learn English for this purpose, or haven’t had to teach it, be thankful; textbooks for language learning are generally some of the best insomnia aids around, but Business English is a whole other level of mind-numbing. But what exactly is Business English? Is this something both native and non-native speakers are aware of? Do employees, on entering a new job, get taken to one side and given a cheat-sheet of what to add to their vocabulary?

Let’s take a look!

Photo via Flickr

What is it?

Business English is, in simple terms, the language in which those who do business converse. It is your formal in place of your informal, your professional instead of your normal, and for many it is putting on what we used to call a telephone voice but now carries just as effectively on Skype (other contacting methods are available).

Business English, is a term the encompasses vocabulary from many sectors, and the theory behind learning it is that once you can speak Business English, you can more confidently give presentations to your colleagues, compose emails, reports and letters with all the correct terminology that will probably earn you a pat on the shoulder more than it will a bonus, and possibly most important, will allow you to participate in Bullsh*t Bingo in your next team briefing.

How do I spot it?

Have no fear. Here are a few choice words and phrases that you can adopt to make you belong amongst the suits.

Out of the box thinking - what happened to thinking outside the box? Too casual? Either way, this means having ideas that are beyond the parameters we normally set ourselves. Or maybe it just means thinking about something outside of our office cubicles; who knows?

Team Player - gah. Who isn’t a team player these days? Find us a CV/resume that doesn’t specify this candidate is a team player and works well with others, and we’ll show you someone who has, um.... thought outside the box…

Synergy - cooperating or collaborating with others/other companies. ‘I had good synergy with…’ ‘the two companies have synergised well to…’. Bleugh.

Best Of Breed - a stock representing the optimal investment choice. In other words, the stock to pick if you want to make a penny/nickel/bitcoin or two.

Non-Traditional Management - managers who think outside of the box, or break the mould. Or, better put, those that don’t conform to the typical management principles (of being a **insert insult of choice here**)

Okay we’ll stop

GIF via Giphy

But we think you get the gist. Business English is nothing but jargon, like a language within a language invented by people who want to feel superior. No, managers; we do not want to touch base with you - or touch anything with you, in fact. Neither do we wish to walk the talk. We actually have lives outside of this open-planned hell that we’re stuck in with you like some cheaply-carpeted purgatory, even if you don’t.

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Business English, then, is not really like other ‘specialist’ language, where it enhances or helps define difficult principles. We spoke recently about language being unnecessarily complex in things like scientific paper abstracts, but you can understand why specific language is used in fields like biochemistry or quantum physics. These fields study complex ideas that need clear definition, and yes, we’d like them to be simplified into layman’s terms for those who aren’t in the know. But this language doesn’t exclude people who don’t know it just for the sake of exclusion, which Business English does seem to do. How many condescending conversations have you had to endure, or have overheard with management waxing lyrical about important stuff that essentially means, work harder, get work done, give me more?

GIF via Giphy

Back away from the soapbox

**heavy breathing** Sorry, perhaps we’ve touched a sore spot there, and Business English does have its uses, but perhaps you see our point; increasing our vocabulary so we are more knowledgeable is always a good thing. But when it’s done to belittle others and make already self-important people feel even better about themselves, that is an entirely different thing. And on top of that; find us an English language learner who attempted to learn Business English before General who doesn’t complain about not being able to make small talk with their colleagues, and we’re fairly certain we’d have found someone in denial.

Since we’re on the theme of Business English, next time we’ll take a look at something that falls into this category of English a lot. A bug bear for some, and a way of life for others: join us as we look at the humble acronym.

Until then!