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Don't panic! Tips for using English in the workplace

Hi everyone,

These days it is a requirement for many non-native English-speaking workers to communicate through English at work. This can be stressful, especially for beginner and intermediate level language learners. Perhaps you are one of these employees. Do you lack confidence speaking English at work? Are you worried about appearing foolish in front of your co-workers? Do you stress out at the thought of using English at meetings? In today's post, I have included some tips that can help to make your working day a little less stressful.
1. Keep it simple
Don’t overcomplicate things. Communication in the workplace should be simple and to the point. Get your point across in a polite, direct matter. If you can use 10 words to say what you need, don’t try to use 50.
2. Use modal verbs
In English, modal verbs are used to make polite requests, to ask permission, to speak about abilities, discuss future possibilities and more. They can be used to show respect, to soften opinions and to speak politely, very important factors when it comes to communication in the workplace. Look at the following examples
• I need time off work next week.
• Could I have some time off next week?
• That’s not a good idea.
• That might not be a good idea.
• Turn off the light before you leave the office.
• Would you please turn off the light before you leave the office?
In the workplace, the use of modal verbs is your first step to being regarded as polite and courteous by your co-workers.
3. Soften your English
On a similar vein to modal verbs, the use of diplomatic language in the workplace is very important for all aspects of business communication. We can use modal verbs such as can, might, could and would to soften our language. We can also use opinion words and words of possibility such as I think, maybe or perhaps to further soften the statements that we make, especially in situations where we are not in a position of seniority and may need to tread carefully.
• That’s not going to work.
• I think that might not work.
• Looking at the figures, your proposal is going to cost us too much money.
• Looking at the figures, your proposal might cost us too much money.
4. Be an active listener
Active listening is such an easy thing to do but can really improve your ability to communicate with your co-workers. Demonstrate that you are fully engaged in the conversation by nodding, smiling and using words such as ok, yes, right, I see, sure, got it etc.
5. Don’t be afraid to clarify
It’s very tempting to nod your head and smile when you don’t fully understand the instructions that have been given to you. We don’t want our co-worker or boss to judge us for not understanding properly, so we pretend to understand everything in the hope that we can piece the information together from memory! However, in business it is extremely important that you clarify if you are unsure. You can use the following questions:
• Sorry, could you repeat that please?
• What exactly do you mean by that?
• I didn’t quite catch that. Can you repeat it?
• So, what you are saying is, the London website needs to completed first?
• Let me clarify. You think that the Swindon branch will have to close, am I right?
6. Prepare
Many English language learning websites talk about compiling a ´hit-list´ of 10 small talk questions that you can use to start and develop conversations. This is excellent advice for workers on business trips or for those attending conferences, or just to make small talk before or after meetings. If you have some good conversation starters, they will help to relax both you and your colleague. The following are some basic examples:
• Which company are you with? How long have you been with them?
• So, how are things in the sales department these days? As busy as ever?
• When did your flight get in? How’s the jet lag?
Using English in the workplace need not stress you out! My Business English courses will be tailored to your specific needs so that you focus immediately on the vocabulary and grammar which you need to communicate with confidence. Arrange a free trial lesson and take the first step towards getting that promotion you always wanted!

  1. What stresses you out at work?
  2. Do you need to use English at work? Describe the tasks you must complete using English.
  3. Which aspects of Business English do you find most difficult?


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Carlos Luis
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