The undeniable benefits of improving your English communication skills

When should I consider improving my English communication skills?

Now’s the time to boost your English for the workplace.

It’s no secret that English is the most important language for business. According to SIL International, almost 1.3 billion people speak English as a first or second language. Over 130 nations worldwide officially designate English as a primary or secondary language. 

In fact, the globalization of tasks and resources has pushed multinational companies from Airbus to Samsung to adopt English-only corporate policies.

Fields from customer service to engineering to science to health care have expanded worldwide.  Career opportunities are growing in English-speaking countries such as Canada, the USA, New Zealand, and Australia.

Plus, the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the globalization of labor markets. English communication skills are crucial to connect partners, clients, and stakeholders across geographical boundaries. 

So, it’s no surprise that millions of people are improving their English for the workplace and enrolling in English courses for companies.

Today’s jobs involve interacting with clients on Zoom, reporting to superiors at conference tables, leading colleagues in a lab, or pitching products to hundreds of audience members on a TED Talks-like stage. 

Whether you’re traveling by plane or commuting via internet connection, English for work is the medium through which millions present, persuade, and express themselves in a single common language. English communication skills help you speak up, bring about consensus, and get across your ideas.

Man saying

Now’s the time to get a leg up and a foot in the door. Recognize those two idioms? Idiomatic language abounds in the business world (more on that later.)

Let’s take a deeper look at English for work in the boardroom, the networking shindig, and the office.

Why English? Since English is the most widely spoken language, career-minded professionals and university students are enrolling in English courses for companies. 

From aspiring start-ups to Fortune 500 companies, employers seek workers with top-notch English communication skills. Employers prefer candidates with English communication skills. 

From the employer’s perspective, mastering English highlights your drive to excel beyond the minimum duties of the job.  English communication skills not only enhance your resume and LinkedIn profile but also make a splash at a job interview, career fair, or networking event. You can cultivate professional relationships in order to access the hidden job market of industry contacts and informal connections.

Wait…the hidden job market? 

Did you know that most people don’t land a position through official job postings and formal career fairs? Rather, you’re more likely to find work opportunities through the hidden job market, which consists of social networks, word-of-mouth buzz, social media, volunteering, internal hiring, relationships with colleagues, friends, and family, and other unofficial channels. English for work is the language connecting these lines of communication.

Fast forward to the future after you land your dream job. Let’s face it: you can’t always avoid office politics. You strive to bond with colleagues at the water cooler. And now the water cooler encompasses the whole world.

Cultural differences and miscommunications can create friction. Your challenges include navigating disagreements and resolving conflicts. You definitely want to get along well with everybody, no matter where they’re from.

Interpersonal skills require more than just correct grammar and textbook English accuracy. English for work entails tactful idioms, attention to the nuances of word choice, and cultural knowledge. Such sophisticated English communication skills foster the relationships crucial to a rewarding career.

Man saying

Employers don’t want a lone wolf—they want a team player. Teams around the world use English for work to train, meet, and collaborate across geographical boundaries. Today’s workers use English to break the ice with clients, video conference with partners, develop content for websites, create instruction manuals—and enjoy the best meetings ever.

Why now? As the global economy adapts to the coronavirus pandemic, companies must collaborate both in-person and online around the world. English for the workplace builds bridges across borders and time zones. 

There may be no going back to before the pandemic. Even if you don’t travel abroad, you’ll use Zoom, Google Meets, or Microsoft Teams to conduct interviews, attend conferences, and collaborate with partners.

Whether pitching on the phone or connecting via email, English for the workplace has never been more important to survive today and thrive tomorrow. In 2021 and beyond, the globe will become more and interconnected both practically and virtually, from town halls to chat rooms.

Why you? If you want to climb the career ladder, English for the workplace connects every rung to the top. 

This is especially true if you’re interested in health care, customer service, or management. 

Keep reading for more insights into English for work relevant to executives, medical professionals, and sales and support staff.

English for sales and customer services

You’re super smart, competent, and motivated. You know exactly how to do your job in, say, tech support or sales. You’re a total expert in the company’s products and services. 

Unfortunately, it’s a fact that your expertise doesn’t matter much unless you can communicate in English effectively. Saying the wrong thing with the wrong tone can turn a call into a catastrophe. 

When you struggle communicating, the person on the other end of the line won’t benefit from your expertise. Even worse, one bad customer service experience can damage a company and your career. 

Credibility is key to instilling confidence in the customers, and your credibility may be undermined by awkward English phrases, vague statements, grammar confusion, and rushed pronunciation. 

Their confidence in you comes first from your own confidence using English for work. 

On top of that, your job is extremely important. Who do people call when their computer crashes? When the washing machine bursts with soapy suds? When the electric heater dies on cozy New England winter morning? 

Customer service or technical support—that’s where people turn for help. Alternatively, people may go to a physical store or contact a sales representative online on the phone to replace rather than repair an item. In every case from an emergency to an inconvenience, people depend on your excellent English communication skills to diagnose the issue and deliver a solution.

Whether you’re a techie or a telemarketer, here’s some advice about English for work in service, support, or sales.

It’s a cliche to say  “service with a smile.”  The first step is to literally smile not just in person but also on the phone. Your smile comes across the phone connection—the customer can hear the warmth and friendliness. And your smile comes to life when speaking English for work with care. 

At the same time, your goal is avoid sounding overly eager or enthusiastic, which can be a turn-off. Speaking at a moderate, deliberate pace with a pleasant tone of voice, you make a positive first impression and establish trust.

Another common cliche is that “the customer is always right.” Of course, this doesn’t mean customers are perfect human beings. 

What it means is that you treat them with respect, even if they act unreasonable or make mistakes. Staying relaxed, you devote your full attention and take your time. Don’t rush. You listen carefully and respond diplomatically with the right phrases.

Your job is to make customers happy, even if they act rude. Dealing with customers who are frustrated, annoyed, and impatient can be a challenge in any language—let alone a second or third language. It’s important for you to sound calm and reasonable at all times, even if the customer becomes angry or unreasonable. 

Another expectation is that you sound professional but not overly formal. When you study English for companies, you learn the appropriate vocabulary, idioms, and speaking techniques to maintain this delicate balancing act.

All these English communication skills take practice. You can memorize lines but you must speak them naturally. Nobody wants to chat with someone who sounds like a robot reciting a script.  

Besides speaking, you need to listen. Customers may speak quickly, even inaccurately. The phone connection may be garbled. On the phone you don’t benefit from the visual cues of hand gestures, body language, or facial expressions to aid understanding. 

Imagine your customer is a computer user who isn’t tech savvy—they may struggle explaining their issues. They may be so confused by the gadget that they feel like they’re the ones trying to speak a foreign language: technobabble.

Your job is to figure out what they’re trying to say.  After you diagnose the issue, your goal is to describe next steps and solutions in the simplest possible terms. 

Can you explain your company’s product to your grandparents so that they grasp the basics? One of the greatest challenges in any language is to explain complex concepts in an easy-to-understand way. It’s easy to make things complicated but hard to keep it simple.

The value of English courses for companies stems  from the fact that “practice makes perfect” (another common cliche.) Only in an English course for companies can you get the necessary feedback to improve your English for work. With support from instructors and peers, you not only acquire useful phrases but also gain confidence.

To help get you started on your own, here are examples of English for the workplace phrases useful for customer service and sales. 

Notice all the subtle ways that the tone is softened by modals like might or could, positive words like absolutely, and diplomatic phrases like “I’m afraid that…”

Practice these in front of the mirror. Alter them to fit a familiar scenario. Try role plays with a friend on FaceTime.

  • When greeting a customer, you could say. “Good morning/afternoon, thank you for calling. How is your day going? Terrific.”
  • When you take responsibility for an issue, you could say. “I’m afraid there’s been an oversight on our part. It looks like we might have made a mistake.”
  • When offering help, you can say, “Great question. I can absolutely help you with that.”
  • When offering a solution, you could say. “I’d be happy to replace the product at no extra cost. I could also offer a discount for your next purchase.”
  • When receiving feedback, you could say, “Your opinion is extremely important to us. I really appreciate you letting us know. Thank you.”
  • When apologizing for not being able to do more, you could say, “I’m sorry, but this is to out of our control. However, what we definitely can do is…” ”
  • When handling an upset customer, you can say. “I understand this has been an inconvenience. I would be frustrated too. Please let us set things right.”
  • When you don’t know something, you can say, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out for you. Let me check with my manager right now. Rest assured, we will sort this out.”
  • When concluding, you can say, “Please don’t hesitate to call us again if yCat in a pink wig typing at a computerou have any questions. Is there anything else I can help you with? Have a wonderful day.”

These sentences can put a splash of color in your English for work. Keep reading for more English phrases for business at the end of the article. But first, let’s take a look at the corner office on the top floor.

English for executives and managers

It’s a truism that the future of business is not regional—it’s global. For the top brass, proficiency with specific business terms, phrases, and idioms of English for the workplace is not good enough. 

Mastery is mandatory.

Simplified ESOL texts and IELTS or TOEFL test prep courses can introduce the basics of English for the workplace.  However, the upper echelons of management speak the business English of Bloomberg and TED Talks. 

So must you. You must be able to understand, analyze and discuss authentic materials like The Economist and The Wall Street Journal.

While it’s hard to calculate the exact dollar value of mastering English for the workplace, studies suggest that your pay can increase up to 30% if you become fully fluent in English. Besides a higher salary, English for work gives you power and purpose. The rewards are not just monetary, but personal. 

Whatever price tag you put on English communication skills, it’s a smart investment to study authentic materials like Forbes and The Harvard Business Review in the context of English courses for companies with classmates and an instructor.  

An instructor can guide you through the current jargon, varied writing styles, and unstated cultural assumptions of Wired and Bloomberg Businessweek. You can acquire the latest and greatest catchphrases, key terms, and smart approaches to discussing articles on current trends. You can hone the accurate pronunciation, natural intonation, and diplomatic demeanor necessary to negotiate, persuade, and lead. Most importantly, you can build the confidence to speak up under pressure. 

It’s well-known that executives and managers must lead teams across linguistic and cultural boundaries. In the past, an Italian firm might have translated materials, webinars, and emails into German, Spanish, Japanese, French, Portuguese, Arabic, and more. Town hall meetings and important sales calls might have been held in multiple languages—perhaps unsuccessfully. All this costs money and causes headaches. 

Sure, it’s fine to lead a team in your native Chinese in the Hong Kong office, but what about the Japanese branch or Australian branches? Deals fall through and tensions shoot up due to miscommunications and one-sided conversations. 

That’s why more and more firms have adopted official English-only company policies, even for lower level staff. The German electronics company Siemens? English only. The Tokyo-based auto manufacturer Honda? Ditto.

Furthermore, many companies are cutting back on the number of languages that documents are translated into for employees. That means even entry level positions increasingly require English fluency.  On top of that, companies are also instituting English-only requirements for the corporate leadership. To move up the ladder, it’s necessary to level up your English. 

As a senior staffer in a multinational firm, you may oversee 200,000 employees and partners located across 40 countries. Or will you lead a staff of 300,000 in 80 cities? Spearhead an initiative with dozens of other similarly massive workforces? It’s no wonder that English-only policies represent the future.

Easier said than done, right? Communicating in a second or third language can lead to feelings of awkwardness, frustration, and fear. You might be afraid of accidentally using the wrong word or saying something inadvertently funny. 

Still, if you’re giving a tour of a plant, you must speak loudly and confidently. If you’re on a sales call, you can’t be so afraid of embarrassment that you wait quietly for somebody to ask you a direct question.

Squirrel jumping on to a thin branch

In English-speaking countries, participants expect you to volunteer, interrupt, agree, disagree, ask, and take the bull by the horns. See what I mean about idioms? (See below, too.)

To get proactive, many professionals invest in English courses for companies. As a business English student, you can take risks in the safe environment of a supportive classroom. It’s like learning gymnastics with a soft cushion to fall.

Keep reading for more tips about English courses for companies.

English for Health Professionals

Just like customer service companies and multinational firms increasingly rely on English to do business, the use of English is also growing in health care settings around the world.

Experts including the World Health Organization report a widespread shortage of healthcare workers, even in English-speaking countries. Places with aging populations such as the USA are in constant need of healthcare workers in hospitals, assisted living facilities, and private homes.

Over 90% of medical work worldwide is performed by nurses. Nursing includes specializations such as midwifery, surgery, and anesthesia, with career paths spanning the globe. Nurses, midwives, and doctors work in a variety of settings besides hospitals: health clinics, refugee camps, military bases, and schools. 

Health care is a rapidly expanding field where English for work makes a difference. In fact, English communication skills can literally save lives.

Of course, just like business execs and customer service reps, medical professionals need English for the workplace to communicate with coworkers and bosses. But what makes health care   special is the job’s most important person: the patient.

Patients need to understand your questions, answers, and reassurances. Elderly patients may need you to speak slowly and loudly. Worried patients count on you to explain complicated medical terms, treatments, and test results. To care for patients, you need to be understood. 

Your pronunciation must be easy-to-understand, your word choice precise, and your tone calm and reassuring. Your command of medical terminology must be comfortable and clear. 

Besides medical knowledge and training, your most important attribute is your bedside manner—the way you speak with, listen to, and care for patients. Your bedside manner can transform anxiety into calm. Even sickness into health.

Using English communication skills, you can ask about your patients’ families, discuss their interests, and share their daily lives. You can chat and make small talk. Your English communication skills can help bring your patients comfort, even joy. 

Plus, while speaking confidently, you’ll want to make eye contact comfortably and confidently. This is true whether working as a doctor in ER, a nurse at a clinic, or a midwife in a home.

And let’s not underestimate the effects of the pandemic. 

In 2021 and beyond, you, coworkers, and patients will wear face masks. Wearing masks muffles speech and complicates communication, making you strain harder to hear speech and struggle harder to speak. 

English communication skills are already tricky enough with the physical obstacle of a mask. English courses for companies provide training in forceful pronunciation to overcome the challenge of masked communication.

Little girl using a stethoscope on a dog

Plus, there’s more to English at work than speaking—you also must listen. Elderly patients may slur their speech or mutter quietly. You need to understand your patients describing unusual symptoms, complaining about pains, or requesting urgent help. Young patients may speak quickly or use slang. You need to listen and understand quickly and accurately—mask or no mask.

The high demand for medical professionals means an investment in English courses for the workplace can pay off at home and abroad. You can take your medical career wherever patients need care.

Common Business English phrases for a workplace meeting

Earlier in the article we looked at diplomatic phrases for customer service and sales. Here are some more expressions.

Do you know how to disagree tactfully during a meeting?  Can you graciously point out that your bosses made a mistake and earn not their annoyance but their gratitude?  Are you comfortable inviting a colleague out for a coffee to get professional advice—and then follow up with the perfect thank-you note?

Here’s a few more examples of English for companies applicable to any field, from engineering to nursing. During a meeting, you may agree, disagree, summarize, suggest, request, and more.

  • To begin, you can say, “Let’s get the ball rolling.” That’s an idiom that means to get started.
  • To begin again after a mistake, you can say, “I think we have to go back to square one.”
  • To volunteer, you can say, “Can I jump in?”
  • To agree, you can say, “My thoughts exactly. I totally agree.”
  • To talk about a strategy, you can say, “So, what’s our game plan?”
  • To give an opinion, you can say. “It seems to me that…”
  • To disagree, you can say. “That may be true, but…” or  “I see what you mean, but…”
  • To ask for a favor, you can say, “I was wondering if you could…”
  • To ask for advice, you can say, “Do you have a minute. I’d like to pick your brain about something.” 
  • To summarize, you can say, “Let me get this straight. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re saying that…”
  • To invite a contribution, you can say, “I’d love to hear your take on this issue.” 
  • To check for agreement, “Are we on the same page?” That’s an idiom that means to share a common understanding.
  • To give an estimate, you can say. “Here’s a ballpark figure.”
  • To make an easy decision, you can say, “That’s a no-brainer.”
  • To keep your focus, you can say, “We should keep our eye on the ball.”
  • To set up a quick meeting, you can say, “How about we touch base later?” That’s an idiom that means to speak together briefly or check in.
  • To decline an invitation, you can say, “Sorry, but tomorrow afternoon doesn’t work. Can we touch base later?”
  • To accept an invitation, you can say, “Sounds good! Tomorrow afternoon works.”
  • To conclude, you can say, “How about we wrap things up?”
Young man with a clapperboard saying

Without question, tomorrow’s career opportunities require English language proficiency.

A major benefit of taking a course in English for workplace communication is that you can learn the idioms, etiquette, and cultural expectations of meetings. 

Now’s the time to get the ball rolling.

For more tips related to English for work and English communications skills for university and business, check out our free resources.

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