English Corner – The Basics of Business

“However, as you get older and you advance in your career or your business pursuits, you may find it to your advantage to know the basics of business English. In addition to the vocabulary and the grammar, you need to be aware of the major steps before you can advance in your position.”

It is likely that you will want to improve your English for purely professional reasons at some point. If that’s not you, then this blog post will not apply to you. However, as you get older and you advance in your career or your business pursuits, you may find it to your advantage to know the basics of business English. In addition to the vocabulary and the grammar, you need to be aware of the major steps before you can advance in your position. I cover a number of these topics in both Business English private lessons and also in an online course specifically for this subject.

For this article, I am going to focus only on the basics of business English and how to get your foot in the door to give yourself a chance to either get hired, get promoted or at least feel more comfortable using your English skills in a professional setting. I am not going to make a huge list of items for you to accomplish but rather give five pieces of general advice for you to get started in this niche part of the language. If you can get these five tidbits down in terms of remembering and utilizing them, you should have no problem getting to the intermediate or advanced topics within the business English curriculum, which is covered in both private lessons and an online course.

Let’s start with the most obvious point and then become more and more obscure from point #1 to #5. Some of these points of advice will seem obvious to you and I hope that others will make you think of your own approach and how it could be improved. I believe you will find these five pieces of advice useful to get you started with Business English and to keep you learning these kinds of topics into the future.

  1. Network, Network, and Network Some More: Networking and connecting with others is the key place to start when it comes to getting started with developing your business English skills. Networking is the foundation for doing the most amount of business and it can take various forms. When you’re emailing, you’re networking. When you’re at an event meeting people and practicing your English, you’re networking. When you’re calling potential partners or future customers over the phone, that too is a form of networking.

The biggest skill you’ll need to develop and hone for the English-speaking business world will be to become a good networker in a non-native language. There is no better test for your speaking, writing, listening, and reading skills then to put yourself out there and network with others who are also English speakers, native or otherwise. Networking also takes a serious amount of effort so make sure you put in the time to practice whether it is for writing e-mails, developing your business cards, or remembering to show up for events.

2. Remember the Small Details: In business, you not only have to remember the big details whether its’ for a project, a trip, or a presentation but it’s even more important to be aware of the small details. Mastering the small, insignificant details can make the difference between a successful business deal or an absolute disaster. What are the small details? Well, they could be a number of things. I like to think of them as peoples’ names, technical details, the times and dates of meetings, and staying on top of your tasks each and every day.

Preventing yourself from slacking off or getting complacent falls under this category of remembering the small details. You may think that names, dates, or the technical details are not important but if you forget or you neglect them, something is likely to blow up in your face. You may also hurt someone’s feelings or cause someone else to feel overwhelmed when you make little mistakes. In business, even small issues can become big issues, so it is better to strive to be a perfectionist than to let the small things slide. It does not mean obsessing over every little thing, but it means treating every part of a task the same and not slack off when something does not interest you because it could mean you making more careless errors. The little details can also make you stand out in a good way when you remember them and earn you greater respect and comradery at your work when you don’t make those careless errors too.

3. Put in The Extra Time: Similar to the Art of Networking extensively when you are starting out in business, putting in overtime to network or to get some extra work done or to put more effort on a project can develop your business acumen a lot quicker. Being a reliable and hard worker on a team can make up for your lack of knowledge in certain areas of the target language like English. However, you should be willing to put in extra time to study and work on the English skills needed to develop your proficiency in business, regardless of what type of business vocabulary and grammar you need.

You will need more than just the normal eight or nine hours doing your job but to develop your English level for business, you’ll need to be studying and practicing an hour per night to get really good at the English needed for your career.For this practice, you will need to mix it up with speaking practice, writing for potential work projects, and listening to other native speakers and seeing if you understand what they are telling you. Extra time not just for your job but also for your business English needs will set you apart if you are willing to put the effort in on a consistent basis over weeks or months in order to move ahead in your career.

4. Mastering Pleasantries: No business can be done without the correct way of speaking to both colleagues, potential partners and your superiors. You have to know how to talk to and interact with each type of person in your office or in your company. This involves studying pleasantries and the different vocabulary words that these conversations involve. There are different formalities and informalities involved when you’re talking with others professional depending on who they are. How you talk to your boss is different to how you talk to your intern who is in college.

Being proficient in business English means being able to have both productive and appropriate conversations with people from the higher ups to the new folks who just arrived. Greetings and goodbyes as well as making small talk are all important aspects of successfully doing business. Any good businessperson also is well versed in cross-cultural communication especially through the medium of a global language like English. Most of business is done over lunch, dinner, or an adult beverage.In order to have productive conversations, it starts with knowing how to address people in your own company and in other companies. It all starts with mastering pleasantries and then you can keep practicing mastering the entire conversation later on.

5. Know Who You Are (Background and Experience): Before you can begin to write about yourself let alone develop your professional resume (CV) and cover letter, you have to be able to know who you are. Knowing who are you means knowing how to write about yourself without bragging too much or boasting of things you did not do. You have to be aware of both your strengths and your weaknesses. You also should know what your skills are and what you still need to learn about. This trait of business involves having self-awareness and giving a fairly accurate perception of who you are professionally to other people.

Before you develop a resume, a cover letter, or even a short writing sample, it’s important that you firstly recounter your professional background up to this point where you start writing out everything in English. You’ll need to be aware of how to tie all of your professional experiences together, come up with a longer ‘pitch’ of what you bring to the table and how a company or business would benefit from you being there. Lastly, it’s key to brainstorm about your experiences, your career goals, and what your professional profile would be before you start putting pen to paper. This fifth basic trait may be the hardest to pull off but if you are to become comfortable using English for business purposes, you need to know who you are as a professional and about what you offer before you start jotting it all down.

These five basics of business for English may seem untraditional but you have to know how to walk before you can run, or you have to know how to network before you can sign the big deal for your firm. Your English skills for business have to master pleasantries, networking, and brainstorming before you can master presentations, deal making, or writing a formal cover letter. Taking these five basics seriously and getting them down first will not only make you a better English learner but you’ll also generally become a better businessman or businesswoman for having taken these bits of advice into consideration and acting on them to improve professional.

Once you have the basics down, let me know if you would be interested in a private Business English lesson or in enrolling in a Business English course to take your language skills in this area to a higher level. The sooner that you get started, the quicker you can advance in your career pursuits!

Movie Recommendations – Volume I

‘Good Kill’ (2014)

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Good Kill is an excellent drama/thriller film that highlights the ethics and the cost involving drone warfare and how it can affect the servicemen and women who have to pull the trigger and live with the consequences. Starring Ethan Hawke, this film is a deep and probing look at how warfare conducted from thousands of miles away can still leave a lasting imprint on those who have a role in it even when they are not anywhere near the battlefield.

The film highlights correctly how while drone strikes may carry less collateral damage to civilian lives, there will always be the chance for the loss of innocent life and families being destroyed. Whether that’s an errant missile crashing into a wedding party or a group of children running by a targeted building within seconds of a missile being launched and getting caught in the crossfire, death from the skies will not only affect terrorists, but women and children too. Because drone strikes are less costly to governments and militaries, the rules of engagement can sometimes be abused to focus too often on low-level targets, who pose some actionable threat, but who could also be captured for intelligence purposes. A lack of international norms and standards regarding drone warfare leads to serious consequences in terms of possible abuse by governments who overuse it on secondary targets.

Airmen and women such as Ethan Hawke’s character and his colleagues, who conduct drone strikes, are shown to suffer from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder because they get to know their targets, see how they live, and struggle with having the power of death over them. High-resolution surveillance makes the act of killing personal despite the fact that these servicemen are thousands of miles away. When a drone strike goes wrong and innocent civilians are killed, it leaves a long-lasting psychological effect on the military personnel involved.

They may not see their victims when they are flying an F-16, but they are aware of what collateral damage is when they see the dead bodies of women, children being shown on the high definition screen. Military service members do not last long as drone pilots due to the immense mental strain placed on them especially when they did not sign-up for conducting warfare with a joystick. Alcoholism, depression, and family problems have occurred due to pilots being asked to conduct drone strikes in the name of national security. All of these issues are highlighted in Good Kill making it more than just your average film about war, but also about an excellent look on how the human condition is affected from holding life or death decisions over those who never see it coming.

‘Roma’ (2018)

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Roma is more than just your average film about a family. It is excellent in its scope and ambition in covering a tumultuous period in Mexican history and for highlighting the issues of family, race, and class within the larger society. What I enjoyed most about this film was that it felt personal and it is based off of the childhood of the director Alfonso Cuaron. The way the story unfolds feels as if it has been lived out before.

Cuaron’s work and that of his film crew that was done with the cinematography, film editing, and screenplay is extremely impressive and goes to show the audience just how film is another form of human artwork that can display beauty, meaning, and pure emotion.

Amidst the story of this family are real-life events in Mexican history that overlap with the film without overwhelming the intimacy of the story being told. For example, The Corpus Christi Massacre or “El Halconazo” in 1971 are intertwined with Cleo’s search for a crib for his newborn baby to be.

Nobody in this film is perfect and true human error of both behavior and character are laid bare. Amongst the flawed characters in this film are redemptive qualities about them and how they fight and struggle to overcome betrayal, disappointments, and tragedy. The film is gripping in that it is about real life and there is no sugarcoating. In Roma, no one is immune from setbacks and struggles, and that is what makes the audience invests in the story being told even more.

Compared to many other films that I have seen, few have touched me more on an emotional level than Roma. The realistic dialogue, the set pieces, the chain of events, and the character development all lend to its longevity as one of the best films of the decade. If you have a Netflix subscription, do yourself a favor and watch Roma. You won’t regret the chance to view this pure work of art and I would not be surprised if it sweeps the awards at the Oscars. It is that good of a film and a noteworthy achievement by director Alfonso Cuaron.

‘A Private War’ (2018)

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This is a biographical film without feeling overwhelming or too much tied up in the protagonist. This film does a good job in covering the life of the deceased war correspondent, Marie Colvin, who reported from multiple war zones over two decades including Sri Lanka, Iraq, Libya, Syria. Marie was a fearless and bold reporter who did the under-appreciated work of reporting the facts on the ground when it came to what was going on in these war zones.

The film portrays her as someone who battled the terrible things that she witnessed and the horrors that she could not avoid. She struggled with her dependency on alcohol, cigarettes, was divorced twice and also had her bouts with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as many war correspondents deal with when they return home from a war zone. Rosamund Pike, the lead actress in A Private War does an incredible job in accurately portraying who Marie Colvin was in how she mimics both her mannerisms and her speaking style throughout the film’s entirety.

Despite losing an eye, suffering from PTSD, and struggling with maintaining her friendships and relationships away from the battlefield, Mrs. Colvin dedicated her life to reporting the truth and the facts from war zones around the world so that everyone would else would know the costs of war.

While she was afraid and while she was fearful, she had the courage to press on and do her duty in informing the public on what was going on. While she was killed during the siege of Homs, Syria, her memory lives on with this film and the work that she did for two decades in holding the powerful accountable for the wars that they started. In an era where journalists are being denigrated and dismissed with increasing impunity, it’s refreshing to see a film that pays tribute to a war correspondent who gave her life to the cause of reporting the facts so that people would be more informed on what was going on and to also care about why it was happening.  

The Why of Standards

How do we define standards? What exactly do they mean to our society and the world as a whole? See, the thing about standards is that if they are not observed by everyone to some degree than what would be the point of having them in the first place. Having standards when it comes to behavior, dress, professionalism, ethics, etc. helps society to function and for people to live productive and healthy lives. Without having standards or not being beholden to anyone else will create a society of winner-take-all or every man or every woman for themselves, which is not only counterproductive but also self-destructive in the long run.

As defined by Dictionary.com, A ‘standard’ is defined as “something considered by an authority or by general consent as a basis of comparison; or an approved model.” It’s a general definition but you can see that creating a standard requires the consent of the society at large. Standards can be difficult or easy to enforce depending on how popular they are but the total absence of standards in different areas of life should be fought against as much as possible. Everybody has different standards but the key to keep in mind is whether a lack of standards or a complete abandonment of standards is making the local community or overall society worse off as a result.

We don’t think about it but basic standards helps create laws, rules, and regulations that keep society running well. When there are no standards in anything whether its’ with business, politics, dress, the environment, etc. then every individual man, woman, and child will suffer in some regard as a result. Another thing to keep in mind is that a lack of standards or standards that are burdensome and counterproductive also cause harm to us as well.

Standards change over time but there are certain ideals and beliefs that I think should stand the test of time. By this I mean that basic manners and politeness should always be observed, presenting yourself well in your outer dress and appearance depending on the setting is crucial, and that you add with basic integrity, decency, and honesty when doing business or leading as a member of your community. Standards over time for these particular areas should not change and should even become stronger so that the next generations do not forget how to act, behave, and be good.

Standards can be relaxed in a number of areas or they can be hardened in other areas depending upon the mood and whims of the larger society but those areas I listed above should be consistent and not be trifled with. When basic manners, integrity, and matters of presenting become optional rather than mandatory, it’s likely that the entire society will feel the ill effects of such an absence of standards rather quickly. Fundamentally, systemic societal issues such as corruption, violence, and poverty, which while they have a wide range of causes are still related to an absence of moral and behavioral standards.

In a free society, standards can most definitely change and be adapted to fit to the times but it has to be with the approval of the majority of those people in that society. Leaving standards to the whims of a few leaders can be cumbersome and even negligent especially if they themselves due not match the standards for which they should follow based on their leadership roles. Standards are best when they are created, managed, and enforced in a democratic fashion and where the majority of people in that society are able to follow those standards.

While we are all individuals, we are all still apart of a collective society and we have to sometimes sacrifice our personal standards when we come up against those standards of the larger society even when we may fundamentally disagree with them. No standard is perfect but if the society has collectively agreed upon those standards, then all of the people must abide by them to the best of their ability. If the standards are to be changed, that should be done over time with the consent of the majority. Even if we don’t like the standards, if no one agrees to them, then they are not standards anymore and society could suffer as a result.

If you don’t like the absence of certain standards or believe that they are too burdensome on you or people that you know, then you need to make the effort and put in the work to change these standards. If you don’t like with how someone is behaving, then you need to make an informed argument as to how that person should behave in a more polite and decent manner. If you see some form of corruption and certain political leaders are letting it slide, then you need to take some responsibility in holding yourself first to a higher standard and then calling out that corruption to get others behind you so that the corruption may end in the future.

Individuals have power in a society with standards but they will fundamentally have less power in a society where there are weak standards or none at all. That is also the case where one sole individual can set standards for everyone else without so much as a protest from others, which is also dangerous and detrimental to society as a whole.

While standards such as for behavior, dress, professionalism, ethics, etc. may not always be popular to uphold, these standards form the backbone of the collective society. With the absence of any sort of standards comes at the behest of laws, rules, regulations, and principles as well. Standards form the base for a civilized society and in their absence; there is no way that a society of individuals can function at all.

When you read this article, think about your own standards and how they came to be in your thinking. Also, think about how important they are to you. Lastly, think about the current standards of your society and how long it took for them to be formed and implemented as well as how important they also are regardless if you agree with their being in existence or not. Standards are not meant to be popular all the time but they are meant to ensure codes of conduct in various manners of life.

The sheer absence of standards leads to an anarchy of sorts that would render polite society meaningless and turn individuals against each other in a collective free-for-all. Understanding the why of standards will make you more likely to improve and better your own existing ones.