‘I have learnt English for many years. I can do grammar activities well, I can read and write correctly, but now I need to present my company and negotiate with customers, and speaking is too difficult. Why are my speaking skills so bad? How can I understand foreign people better? How can I improve my Business English?’
– Comment from English student on Quora
Have You Ever Found Yourself In Any Of These Situations?
I often get students who have learnt business English for a long time, but still struggle: they can understand texts easily, but when they have to communicate in day-to-day business English situations, they don’t feel confident enough.
These are the main problems they often face:
- Unsuccessful communication: ‘I do not know how to say what I think, I cannot express all the ideas I have.’
- Cultural barriers: ‘I was misunderstood, we communicate differently in my country.’
- Accent and pronunciation: ‘I do not understand foreign people when they speak English, or they do not understand my accent.’
- Lack of confidence: ‘Speaking on the phone is too difficult and makes me anxious,’ ‘Job interviews are just too scary.’
If you said yes to any of them, especially if you come from countries like China, Japan, Russia or South Korea, you’re not alone. And you’re also in the right place! In this article you will find 5 powerful tips to boost your speaking and listening skills for business English .
But first – Why is it that investing so many hours in learning English still feels like it’s not enough?
The Reasons Why You Keep Failing At Spoken Business English
Let’s look at the main reasons why your spoken business English skills are not as good as your writing or your reading:
- Lack of practice in the ineffective traditional teaching methods
- No time to prepare
- Anxiety and lack of confidence
1. Lack of Practice in the Traditional Teaching Methods
We know why you keep failing at spoken business English! And the reason is… because you haven’t spoken enough! Easy, right? At school we spend most of our time reading and writing, and we don’t spend that much time speaking.
This lack of practice is the main reason why your written skills are (way) better than your speaking or listening. The traditional teaching methods focus far too much on the books, and very little on real life situations.
2. No Time to Prepare
If speaking and listening seem difficult it is also because they’re live. They’re about performance. There is no undo. No revision. We can’t go back and check that word we didn’t understand. We can’t delete that sentence with poor grammar we just said. It can be a bit scary, especially if we are talking about Business English.
3. Anxiety and Lack of Confidence
Anxiety is your biggest enemy! When we write, we can take our time and think about the words we want to choose. We can use a dictionary or ask somebody for help. With speaking and listening, there is no time to think, and this causes anxiety. This can make you lose confidence, which makes you speak (or understand) worse than you would. The workplace is not always the most relaxed place, and business English can feel daunting at times.
So now you understand why, what can you do to improve your speaking and listening skills? Follow the next 5 powerful tips.
Tip 1. How Active Learning Will Help You Communicate More Effectively in Business English
The first thing you have to do is to ‘learn how to learn’, that is, memorising a list of words or follow complex grammar rules is definitely not the road to fluency.
- Switch from passive to active learning. Would you learn how to cook by reading a recipe book? Probably not. You would most likely learn by cooking, and by burning a few dishes, using too much salt, and messing up. It’s the same with Business English – we need to step into the kitchen and get a little burnt sometimes. By this I mean, practice whenever you have the chance, don’t be scared of making mistakes, and don’t worry too much about getting it perfect the first time. We learn much more from from doing than from reading and listening.
- Use it or lose it. Get rid of all the things you learnt that aren’t helping, and make a list with the specific things you actually need (phone conversations, writing emails, negotiating, giving presentations, understanding a conference, asking a girl out, you name it). Once you have your goals, your direction, then you can collect the most common phrases that native speakers use in those situations.
- Join a class. There are countless options out there, but there is no faster and more effective way than having a personal teacher to help you out with the specific points you need to improve.
Active learning: start using the language as much as possible, remember only the most useful things you need, and join a Business English class.
Why: you will learn faster how to communicate effectively, more like a native speaker.
Tip 2. Why Context Is The Key To Boost Your Communication Success
When we learn, we need a situation, a meaning, we need to make sense of what we learn. If you learnt all the words in the dictionary, would you know how to speak the language? Probably not. This is because you need to know how words are connected, how you can link them, and what combinations are usually used together.
- Learn in context. When do you use that word? In what situations?
- Use the right collocations. Collocations are combinations of words that go together. We don’t do the bed, but make the bed. If you master these, you will be much closer to sounding like a native speaker. Learning how words are combined or using a collocations dictionary will make you sound like a pro.
- Learn in chunks. Instead of learning a list of words with no context, try learning your vocabulary in a sentence. This will help you remember them better.
Context: learn the words within a sentence, and in the situations you will use them.
Why: they are easier and faster to remember, and people will understand you better (hence higher success rate!)
Tip 3. Why Shadowing Is The Easiest Way To Increase Confidence
Shadowing is a very powerful technique to improve your business English. It consists of repeating a piece of English audio as you listen. You should repeat after the speaker as soon as possible. Don’t let the speaker finish the sentence, and try to speak almost at the same time. It’s similar to when you sing along your favourite song! It’s much easier if you have the script, as you can read it at the same time you listen. Don’t worry if you don’t understand everything you’re saying, this is just about imitating a native English pronunciation. This will help you improve your pronunciation, rhythm and intonation, as well as your listening skills. Once you’ve mastered this, confidence will go up and up.
Any audio would do, but ESL LAB offers dialogues organised by level, where you can choose among very basic and common topics. They have the transcripts, that you can read as you listen, and there are comprehension quizzes available.
Shadowing: listen to an English audio file (or video) and try to repeat after, trying to imitate the speaker.
Why: you will considerably improve your pronunciation, intonation and rhythm, as well as your listening skills, which will help you gain confidence.
Tip 4. How Speaking Will Help You Overcome Cultural Barriers At Work
We’ve talked about learning how to cook by cooking, and learning how to speak… by speaking! Communicate as much as possible in English, find colleagues you can speak English with, and pay attention to the way they speak, and how it is different from your culture. Join a tandem Facebook group, use Meetup to find people in your area, meet travelers on Couchsurfing, or meet people at conferences; the options are endless. These are all awesome opportunities, but the fastest and most effective way to overcome those barriers is to join a course with Talaera, where you will be carefully matched to a professional teacher, and have tailored training to your specific needs. Tell them your goals, and your teacher will help you get there.
Speak: Speak English! With colleagues, friends, or travellers, or find a teacher.
Why: learning by doing is the most effective way to understand how a language and its culture actually work.
Tip 5. How To Boost Your English Accent By Recording Yourself
And last but not least, if you want to sound more like a native speaker, recording yourself will boost your accent. For this, choose an English audio file with its transcript, listen to it carefully, and then record yourself while reading it (with your phone, for example). Then, listen to your recording and find the differences between the original and your speech. Underline the words that you mispronounced and try repeating them until you get them right. You might have to repeat the process a few times, but once you get it, your accent will be much better!
Record Yourself: record yourself while reading an English text, listen to it, and practice the words you mispronounced.
Why: you will realise exactly what you have to improve, and your accent will sound much more like a native speaker.
Google Docs has an amazing feature called Voice Typing that can become a very good friend of yours to improve your pronunciation, especially if your speaking level is still very weak. Open a Google Doc, click on Tools – Voice Typing and set the language to ‘English’. Choose a text or a series of sentences you would like to practice. If you pronounce them correctly, the system will recognise your voice and will type it automatically. If it types something you didn’t mean, it means you should work a bit harder on them. Awesome for when you don’t have a native speaker to help you out, right? 🙂
Interested in improving your business English? Visit us at www.talaera.com
25 Useful Resources for Business English
In addition we have compiled a list of 25 useful resources you should bookmark. Check them out:
- Free Collocations – Dictionary with word combinations.
- Cambridge Idioms – Dictionary with idioms and phrases.
- Wordreference – Dictionary with tens of language combinations, synonyms, and definitions. It also includes a discussion thread about more subtle meanings.
- Forvo – Find out how any English word is pronounced.
Listening & Speaking
- Talaera – Learn English effectively with professional teachers and tailored training to your specific needs.
- Ted Talks – Inspirational and interesting talks with transcripts.
- Ted Ed – Education platform where you can find lessons and videos about ‘ideas worth spreading’.
- ESL LAB – Short dialogues with transcripts and comprehension quizzes organized by level.
- Blinkist – App where you can listen to short versions of 2000+ bestselling nonfiction books.
- BBC English at Work – Animated series that focuses on English communication in the office.
- BBC Pronunciation – Video series where they show you how English is really spoken.
- BBC Radio 4 In Business – Podcasts with insights into the business world to practice your business English.
- Connect With English – Video series to practice common day-to-day situations and activities.
- British Council Business At Work – Videos, audio files and texts related to business and work.
- English Class 101 – Audio English course.
- Audible – Amazon audiobooks.
- Video Vocab -Short videos that teach vocabulary in specific business areas like human resources, accounting, marketing, project management, and technology.
- Real English Business Course – App with lessons for conducting meetings, giving presentations, negotiating, and communicating by telephone. (Free with in-app purchases)
- Meetup – Meet people in your area or organize your own.
- Couchsurfing – Meet travelers from all around the world visiting your city.
- TandemPartners – Find people who want to learn your language and are willing to practice English with you in exchange.
- 11 Idioms & Expressions You’ll Hear In An International Workplace
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- How to succeed in the international workplace when English is not your first language
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