Four Costly Business English Mistakes

Business English

Usually I tell my students, “If you make a mistake, nobody dies.” For most people, English mistakes in a conversation don’t have significant effects and in business conversations you are probably fine. However, there are four kinds of mistakes that business people routinely make and may cost them money.

Spelling Mistakes

This should be easy to avoid. Most businesses use Microsoft Word and you can definitely install the English spelling and grammar checker, or you can ask the IT manager. The grammar checker is not always reliable but the spelling checker is very accurate. Go through each error one by one – do not click ‘Correct All’ – because the spell checker will change any names to real words.

Machine Translation

Google Translate works quite well between European languages but between European and Asian languages it is dreadful. The grammar, especially word order, is strange. This tells customers you couldn’t be bothered to try to translate your document. If you need to translate something, give the document to a company employee with a high level of English and ask them to try it. Give them at least twenty percent more time than you think they need because everyone underestimates how much time translation takes. If they are not a confident translator then you should hire a professional. It is not cheap but that is the cost of doing business.

Lack of Proofreading

You must proofread documents. Check they make sense to your readership. Depending on the type of document, you may need to have a high level of accuracy; contracts ought to be 100% accurate but short emails may have grammar and spelling mistakes as long as they can be understood and they are not the first contact with your customer. If you don’t have the confidence to proofread your own documents, consult a professional. (I also offer this service – email me for details).

Unclear Vocabulary

Nobody expects a non-native speaker to be 100% proficient in their conversation all of the time. However, people expect presentations and speeches to contain the correct vocabulary and to communicate effectively. If there is a word you need to use in a presentation or speech that you need to check in a bilingual dictionary ensure you also check it in a monolingual English dictionary. If you still don’t know how to use the word, try a different word that you do know how to use or change Google’s language settings to English and search for examples of the word in real sentences by native speakers. Then, input your sentence into Google and if there are a high number of results it is probably correct. If you aren’t sure, hire a proofreader, such as me.

If you follow these steps you should limit your mistakes to only the trivial ones that rarely matter. Remember to proofread everything and if you are unsure of your proofreading, ask a professional.

Use Parallelism in Academic Writing

Write a diary

In academic writing, there is a tendency for students to write what comes straight out of their head without pausing to think about grammar. While this is fine when one is writing against the clock, it is good practice to use parallelism, or parallel construction, not only at the whole text level (introduction, supporting arguments, opposing arguments, conclusion), but also at the paragraph level. This is not marked down in TOEFL or IELTS but it is looked at in GMAT.

An example of generally acceptable academic writing without parallelism:

The data displays a sharp increase in activity in the summer of each year. Other than summertime, the activity fluctuates and has no overall trend.

With parallelism:

The data displays a sharp increase in activity in the summer of each year. Other than the summer, the data displays fluctuations which have no overall trend.

Parallelism looks less interesting but it is easier to read and understand, which is very important in academic texts.

I have an ebook about academic writing coming very soon.

Easy Ways to Use English Every Day

“I want to use English,” my students say, “but I don’t have anyone to talk to apart from you.”


“What about writing a diary?” I suggest.

“I never keep to it. I always abandon it after a week or so.”

In which case, here are some other suggestions.

The first one is from my student who makes her to-do list in English every day. It’s a daily habit and it means she keeps using English and it has to be clear.

Next is the logbook, which is not quite a diary, but a list of the things you have done. It might be a list of the study activities you have done, or in the case of the artist Austin Kleon, a list of all the day’s notable activities. I keep one about this website (in English, my mother tongue) and one about my running (in Japanese, my second language). I have found that the more you do this, the more motivated you become to keep going with your goals so it’s definitely worth trying.

If you know any other easy ways to use English every day leave a comment to share your idea with others.

Tell Stories Easily by Using 4 Parts


You can tell stories easily by using four parts: beginning, main point, reaction and ending. Remember that stories usually stick to the past tense.


It is common to use a past-continuous clause (was/were ~ing) and ‘when‘, followed by a past-tense clause (simple or continuous) for a detail to link to the main point.

“I was having a job interview when I felt the room shaking.”

Main Point

Get straight to the point. This is an action.

“There was a huge earthquake.”


What did you do after the action you just talked about?

“Everybody left the building and went home.”


How did things get back to normal or back to a comfortable situation for you?

“I had to walk for five hours because there were no trains.”

This might be useful next time you write your diary.

Write a diary

Leave Your Comfort Zone to Learn More


Comfort Zone: a place or situation where everything is comfortable and familiar.

You can already read English well enough to understand this blog.

This blog is not reading practice; it is part of your reading practice. I know that ‘real’ English (as opposed to ESL textbook English) is difficult but life is difficult, too. If you want to get better, you have to leave your comfort zone.

Trying costs you nothing. You can’t fail, because trying means you win. If you have problems this time, remember that next time will be easier.
Let me know what you try in the comments.

Think ‘3’ When Writing Opinion-Based Test Essays


When you write opinion-based essays for TOEFL or IELTS, you need to keep thinking about organising your thoughts in threes. This helps you to structure your writing more effectively. When you have three thoughts to organise each part of your writing it is much easier to stay with your plan.

Plan in Three Parts

    You need:

  1. an introduction;
  2. main points;
  3. a summary and/or conclusion.

And Keep Planning in Three Parts

    Your introduction should include:

  1. what the essay question means or background information;
  2. why this is important or significant;
  3. what your essay will cover.
    Your main points should include:

  • Your opinion, judgement or findings;
  • contrasting views;
  • evidence to back up your view and why the contrasting views may be wrong.
    Your conclusion should include:

  1. reinforcement of your views;
  2. limitations or special cases;
  3. restatement that limitations and/or special cases are minor.

By doing this, you should increase your score and also find it easier to complete the essay within the given time.

Why is Writing an English Diary so Useful?

Write a diary

I always recommend my students to write an English diary. The reason is simple: you should write every day because you need to practise as often as you can. It doesn’t need to be long; a few sentences is fine. It’s an easy way to write about things you have learned. It is also a useful way to practise longer sentences because you can think longer about a written sentence. Due to this it can also help your speaking, too. When you write your diary and find you don’t know how to express your ideas, you know you need to find some new, useful vocabulary so it helps you assess yourself.

Remember, you are writing your English diary for yourself. Take a look at your diary sometimes and check the sentences. Are they correct? Is there a better way to say what you wanted to say? Make a note in a different coloured pen or pencil.

Also, remember, if you miss a day or two, don’t worry. Write next time you remember. If you write just before bedtime or in your lunch break it is easier to keep the habit.

I usually recommend paper diaries because they are smaller and easier to write in quickly, but some people keep blogs. Here are some examples:

Always Smile

You could also start using Twitter in English. Don’t forget to follow me at @getgreatenglish! Evernote is also good for people who want to keep a diary on their mobile phone.

Edit Overused Words in Your Writing


When students ask me how to improve their writing the first thing I tell them is to read more and copy the style. After that, I usually tell them to change ‘good’/’better’/’best’ a few times and delete or change ‘very’. Why? They are overused and – most of the time – not precise enough.

Is something simply ‘good’ or is it ‘pleasant’? Is it ‘very good’ or is it ‘excellent’? Is it ‘the best’ or ‘the most appropriate’? Is it ‘better’ or ‘more suitable’?

If you use the words good, bad, very or nice in your writing, read it again to check that your meaning is clear enough. You could even search for alternatives on Word Hippo.

Improve Your Email

Blank Email

Today people use email for business and pleasure. It’s slightly different to the traditional letter; it’s occasionally perceived as a little less formal than a letter. However, that doesn’t mean you should ignore the standard form of the letter. In this post I will show you how to improve your email writing.

If you want to get more detailed advice about business email, buy my ebook, Better Business Email.


If you’re writing an informal email a simple ‘Hi’ or ‘Hello’ will do. It’s a nice touch to use the name of the person you’re sending the email to: that way, they know that you haven’t sent the email to the wrong person by mistake.

If you’re writing a business email, ‘Dear’ is the standard opener. You may often see business emails without ‘Dear’, and with only the name. This is only acceptable when you have already established a working relationship.


For friends, use given names (e.g. John) or nicknames (e.g. Johnny). For business it’s more complex.

If you have a working relationship already, you can use a given name. If you don’t, it is best to use a title (that is, Mr., Mrs., Dr., etc.) followed by the family name.

Never use a title followed only by a given name. It looks and sounds strange.

Get to the point!

A lot of people have full inboxes. Say what you want to say. Make it short, but include details and keep it interesting. This is true for both personal and business emails.

Signing off

Use ‘Yours’ or even ‘Bye’ in personal emails. For business or formal emails, ‘Yours faithfully’ is the most appropriate for first contact. In further emails, use ‘Yours sincerely’.

Sign off with your name. Your given name is fine for personal emails. Use your full name in business emails. You can use your title with your full name but be aware that this looks extremely formal.


Business emails should include an automatic signature with your company name and address, URL and telephone and/or fax number.

Check your spelling and you are ready to send your email.

Here are some examples:


Hi John,

It was great to bump into you the other day. I wish I’d had more time to chat and maybe go for a coffee.

I have some time off next week. Do you want to meet up for a coffee, dinner or drinks sometime?

Let me know.



Dear Mr. Smith,

I was very pleased to have met you again at the conference. I was disappointed that I did not have time available to discuss your company’s language training needs.

I am available for most of next week. If you would like to let me know a time that is convenient for you, I would like to meet you to discuss this.

I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,

Marc Jones