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Feel confident using your business English

Feel confident using your business English

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Feel confident using your business English

1/5 (2 ratings)
227 pages
5 hours
Mar 15, 2016


Do you spend hours writing and rewriting emails or presentations in English?
Do you secretly hope that the phone won’t ring, because you’re worried about speaking English to colleagues or customers?
Do you dread having to give verbal updates at meetings if they’re held in English?

I work with people who need to use English at work. I’ve discovered that often, helping my customers to develop their language skills isn’t enough. What they really want are opportunities to work on subjects that are directly relevant to them, and strategies for using this knowledge in the every-day business situations in which they find themselves.

In the 50 chapters of this book, I provide tips on how to deal with a range of situations and how to increase your confidence, perform at your best and portray yourself in a positive light. These situations include contributing to meetings in English, using the telephone, taking part in networking events, going for job interviews and having general conversations.

I also look at some of the problems that people have in terms of improving their English and some possible solutions. The problems include fear of speaking, not being able to find the right course, not having time to learn and not being able to remember new vocabulary. There are also more general tips about what you can do to make language learning a part of your everyday routine, and not just something that you try to squeeze in when you have time.

The book is 50,000 words long and it is split into 50 chapters. However, you don’t have to read it from start to finish. For best results, see which chapters are relevant to your personal circumstances and start with those!

Mar 15, 2016

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Feel confident using your business English - Kirsty Major

Using English at work

1. Introduction

Do you spend hours agonising over presentations that you have to give in English?

Do you dread the telephone ringing, because it could mean that you’ll have to speak to an English-speaking colleague or customer?

Do you wish that you could speak or write effortlessly, without having to think about every single word and how it sounds?

Some people see only problems. It’s too hard. I can’t do it. These people will always struggle with the same things because they don’t try to change the situation. Others aren’t satisfied till they’ve found solutions!

People have all kinds of problems when it comes to learning English. In this book, I share some of the solutions that have worked for me as a language learner or that have helped my customers to develop what they know, use what they know and reach their potential.

In many ways, my role as an English teacher is to help my customers to find those solutions. I don’t just mean the answers to my grammar questions, but ways to solve the individual problems that they have when it comes to learning English, or putting the English that they have already learned to use in everyday situations. In many cases, people already have much of the knowledge that they need, but other issues, such as a lack of confidence, or not knowing how to get complicated ideas into manageable language, hold them back from achieving their goals. Through my work with individuals from a range of backgrounds, I’ve been able to help people to overcome some of these problems and I’d now like to share my tips and ideas with you.

You see, I believe that there is no right way to learn. Some people will tell you that you will fail if you don’t do things their way. However, I disagree with that because I believe that everybody has to figure out their own learning style and what works best for them.

I also believe that learning shouldn’t only take place during the English lesson. If you really want to make progress and remember what you’ve learned, you need to make the language part of your everyday life and find enjoyable ways to practise it. In this book, I suggest a number of ways in which you can do this.

The chapters are organised into sections and you don’t have to read them in order. You can look through the contents page to see which questions and problems apply to you and then read those sections to find out the tips and ideas that I have for you on that subject.

So who am I?

I provide support and training for people who want to develop their English, particularly those who need to use English at work.

I enjoy working with people and empowering them to grow in confidence and fluency when speaking or writing English. Seeing people using their new skills in their every day lives gives me a sense of job satisfaction!

I am a language learner as well as a teacher. I am confident using my German skills now  but I remember times when I wrote lengthy emails so that I didn’t have to pick up the telephone, or when I sat quietly in a social gathering, wishing that I had the confidence to say more. I know how difficult it can be to feel confident about using another language, but my personal experience also shows that it is possible.

Before working as an English teacher, I was a Communications Manager within central government. Although this was not a teaching role, the effective use of language was crucial to my work and I often worked with others to help them to convey their messages clearly and succinctly. This work and my previous positions gave me experience of working in an English-speaking business environment. I know what people actually say and which English textbook phrases are outdated and no longer used!

Five facts about me that aren’t work-related

1. My favourite animal is the dog and my favourite dog breed is the golden retriever.

2. I’m a night owl!

3. I’ve always been interested in languages. I learned French and German at school but didn’t continue with French. I learned Hindi for a couple of years and I am now also learning Turkish.

4. Things that I never allow to run out in the kitchen are coffee, chocolate and chilli flakes!

5.Even as a child, I wanted to be a teacher. Originally I gave up on the idea because I didn’t want to work in a school. However,  after working in other roles such as communications, I came back to teaching when I realised that I could train adults online.

Now it’s your turn!

I’d love to hear what you’ve learned after reading this book and how the tips have helped you. You can email me at kirsty@englishwithkirsty.com or check out where else you can find me online (the details are in chapter 50 of this book).

2. I hate speaking English on the telephone

These general tips apply to anyone who wants to communicate effectively on the telephone, but I am specifically looking at issues that are relevant to English learners.

1. Prepare for the call

It won’t sound natural if you prepare a script, but consider what you want to say, with whom you need to speak, and whether there is any information that the other person may want from you.

Are you likely to need any specific vocabulary that you don’t usually use? If so, you can look it up before you start the call.

If you are speaking with people in other parts of the world, consider whether there is a time difference and when would be the best time to make the call.

Try to find a quiet place to make the call so that you won’t be disturbed.

2. Be clear about what you want to achieve

Before you start dialling, think about the purpose of the call. For example, do you want to gather information, communicate information, negotiate, obtain agreement, make arrangements, sell something or develop an idea? 

There are many reasons for making telephone calls and if you are clear about what you want to achieve, it will be easier to measure whether you were successful.

3. Remember the other person has no non-verbal cues

Unless you are on a videoconference, the other person will have no idea if you are nodding, shaking your head, smiling or scowling at them! They have no visual cues, so you need to communicate everything verbally.

4. Think about your tone of voice

People don’t just communicate with their words. Messages are also conveyed  in the way that words are delivered. If you sound bored, angry or disinterested, the other person may well pick up on it and it will then be irrelevant how good your proposal is or how valid your arguments. It’s true that they can’t see you, but a lot can be communicated through your tone of voice, so make sure that it matches the message that you are trying to get across.

You may feel unsure about speaking in English, but try not to let this come across in your tone of voice. Otherwise people may think that you are unsure about the message that you are trying to communicate.

5. Make sure you listen carefully

Communicating is not just about speaking. You need to listen as well.

Particularly if you aren’t speaking your native language, there is a tendency to focus too much on your own words because you want them to be right. However you are having a dialogue and the other person will also be making contributions, asking questions or directing the conversation, so you need to be aware of these things as well. You don’t want the other person to think that you are not interested in what they have to say.

6. Speak clearly and be succinct

I used to work with a learner who always spoke quickly so that the other person wouldn’t hear the mistakes. The problem with this strategy is that she often had to repeat herself because she spoke too quickly and the other person didn’t understand what she said. Don’t make this mistake!

Try to bring your ideas across in a structured way and don’t be tempted to hop from one subject to another as new ideas come into your head.

7. If you don’t understand something, ask

This is a good idea in any situation, but especially if you are communicating in another language, there will be times when you are not sure about something that the other person has said. It could be because they have not been clear. It could be that there was background noise. It could be that they were speaking quickly or they have a regional accent. The reason doesn’t matter. It’s better to ask for clarification than to guess what the other person meant or to be unsure about what they think or what they are going to do.

8. Don’t be tempted to do other things at the same time

Even if the other person can’t see you, they are likely to hear if you are walking around, answering emails, tidying up or doing other activities that take your attention away from the call.

Give the other person your full attention. If you don’t, it can come across as disrespectful and they could think that you are not interested in them, or that you don’t think the conversation is important enough to give it your full attention.

If something really urgent happens, offer to call the other person back. Try not to take other calls or allow other people to disturb you unless the matter is really urgent.

9. Summarise the conversation so that everybody knows what’s expected of them

You could either do this at the end of the call or you could send an email afterwards. Either way, if you or the other person came away with things to do, it’s good to be clear about what was agreed during the call, who is responsible for carrying out which tasks and whether you will get in touch again to check on progress, have a meeting or involve others. This gives everybody the same information and reduces the risk of misunderstandings.

10. Voicemails – be clear and keep them short

Most of the other tips were about direct communication with people but voicemails are also a way of communicating information using the telephone.

If you need to give a lot of information, an email is likely to be the better choice so that the recipient can refer to it easily without having to write down the details.

If you leave a voice message:

1. make sure that your message is clear

2. keep to the point and avoid long, rambling messages

3. make sure that the other person knows how they can contact you and what, if anything, you want them to do.

3. I have to give a presentation in English

Presenting information to others in your native language can be a daunting task at times. Presenting in an other language can make you feel even more nervous. However, with these simple steps and with good preparation, you can make the task easier for yourself and feel more confident about the end result.

1. Plan what you're going to say - in English

It might be tempting to write a script or at least the key points in your native language, but, if you do this, you will be giving yourself a translation exercise as well. This could result in a lot of wasted time because you tried to translate the text phrase by phrase and the end result might not sound as good because you tried to stick too closely to the original text.

If you're going to present in English, it's better to do your planning in English too.

You may feel a bit frustrated because you could say much more in your native language, but it's better to have simpler sentences about which you feel confident than complex ones that catch you out when you try to deliver them.

2. Make sure you know the general vocabulary that you'll need for answering questions

You can't plan for every question that someone might ask you, but think of the kinds  of things that your audience will want to know and make sure you know the basic vocabulary that you would need to answer these questions. If it helps, take a short checklist with you, but don't spend too much time looking at this while you're presenting or taking questions.

If you don't know a word, try to think of another way of getting the idea across. If you are really stuck, you could tell the person who asked the question that you'll get back to them with the information later. Alternatively, if you feel it's appropriate, you could ask someone for help with the word ... but then move on and don’t give it any more importance.

3. Listen to yourself speaking about your topic in English

Many of us don't like to listen to our own voices and some people feel more self-conscious when they hear themselves speaking another language.

I sometimes make audio recordings of new vocabulary for my beginner students and I still find it strange when I hear myself speaking German on the recordings, even though I speak German all the time in other situations.

You may feel more confident if you practise listening to yourself speaking English. You don't have to make a recording, but say the words aloud. Talk about the subject material or your slides when nobody else is listening.

If you want a live audience, pets make wonderful, non-judgmental listeners. My dog used to listen to me practising presentations in German. She sometimes put her head on her paws and fell asleep but she never interrupted or laughed and practising in this way helped me to relax.

4. Speaking quickly does not prove that you can speak fluently

If presenting isn't your favourite thing, it's really tempting to try to gallop through your presentation so that it will be over sooner. However this only puts you under more stress and makes it harder for your audience to follow what you're saying.

This is also the case when you are speaking another language. Showing that you can speak quickly is not a way to show that you can speak well. Neither does it prove that you know a lot about your subject area. If English isn't your first language, it's possible that it will be a second or third language for other participants too and slowing down a bit may help them to understand your message.

5. Move on and don't let one mistake take over the rest of your presentation

It's normal to lose your train of thought, mispronounce a word, forget a word, hesitate or do any number of other things that weren't in your plan for a perfect presentation. These things are normal and they could happen to anyone.

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