Who Are You Talking To?


When you speak English, one of the things you must think about is relationships. Who are you talking to? How well do you know them? What is the situation?

It is useful, especially in business situations, to be formal. In most native-English speaking cultures, business relationships start formal then become more informal as the relationship develops.

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Podcast: Gossip


Today I’m talking about gossip, which can be good when used to build rapport but the wrong kind of gossip can be awful so there are some strategies for stopping conversations that are just gossip and rumours.


The podcast is also available in the iTunes Store by searching for Get Great English or clicking here.

Also, you can stream it on Stitcher here or in the sidebar.

Useful Phrases for Chairing Meetings

Business English

Chairing a meeting means that you have to be in charge of keeping the meeting on topic and on schedule so that important information can be given and decisions can be made. Here are some useful phrases.

  • Starting the meeting

  • You need to make sure that everybody knows it is time to start and it is best to keep the meeting friendly so use a friendly but authoritative phrase like:

    Now everyone is here, let’s get started.

    If there is a lot of noise from continuing small talk, especially in a large meeting, you may want to be more direct:

    We have a lot to get through so let’s start.

  • Inviting people to speak

  • As the chair of the meeting, you shouldn’t be doing much of the speaking yourself but you should be inviting others to present their information or opinions following the meeting’s agenda. This could be formal:

    First, I’d like Mr. Said to give us his analysis of the first quarter’s revenues. Would you begin, please?

    It could also be informal:

    Next, Molly’s going to run through the new IT policy. Molly.

  • Maintaining order

  • If there is a lot of disagreement, people may keep interrupting. This is not always bad but it may become chaotic. If this is the case, saying something similar to the next example may help. Please note that this is not a question. You are giving instructions, not making a request.

    Mr. Arnold, I understand that you have something to say but I’d like to give Ms. Capello the opportunity to finish. I’ll come back to you soon.

    To come back to the speaker who was interrupting is very simple.

    Mr. Arnold, could you give us your ideas, please?

    If the meeting has become chaotic, give a reminder.

    I’m sure everyone would appreciate it if we avoided talking over one another.

    If all else fails, why not give everyone a break.

    I think we all need to take time out. Could everyone come back by twenty-past ten, please?

Don’t forget that there are other posts to help you, too:

I hope this helps. Remember, if you have any questions or requests, send them in the comments, by emailing me or sending a tweet.

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.

Interrupting Is Not Rude


Everybody seems to think that interrupting people is rude. Maybe this is something learned when we are children, with our parents telling us, “Don’t interrupt when I’m talking.”

Interrupting when it is unnecessary is rude but sometimes you simply must interrupt. Here are the ways to do it.

Try to get someone’s attention visually.

Sometimes a raised finger or raised eyebrows is enough. At other times you may need to raise your hand above head height.

Be polite

This should be obvious but not everyone is polite when interrupting and native speakers are usually the worst. A simple “Excuse me, but I’d like to say/ask something, please.” should be fine. If there is a pause, say what you want to say. Try not to ask if it is all right to ask a question. “Sorry, can I ask a question, please?” is something native speakers do say but it is so weak that someone may simply say no.

Be quick

Remember, you want to interrupt the conversation, not hijack it. If you interrupt and then give a long speech, people will avoid letting you interrupt in future. Keep it simple: three sentences at the longest.

Links – Money Talk


These links are about money and how we talk about it.

22 Phrases That Only Wall Streeters Will Understand via Edulang

Banking language by English-At-Home.com

This one isn’t about English but it is about business. The English Empire: A growing number of firms worldwide are making English their official language. At The Economist, via Ross Harrison

How to Give a Presentation


English presentations are very common in business and are becoming more common for students of the language too. Whatever the reason, here are some tips to help your presentations.

  1. Prepare
  2. You need to know what you want to say and the best way to remember it is practice. Prepare short prompts on index cards or sticky notes. Put your slides in order so you don’t have to worry about them. Keep practising.

  3. Sequence the Main Points in Your Introduction
  4. Let people know what to expect. For example: “First, I’ll talk about…, then I’ll move on to…”

    ‘First’ and ‘second’ are fine but anything after ‘fourth’ means you need to edit your presentation or group ideas together.

  5. Don’t use PowerPoint like Word or Excel
  6. If you have a lot of words or data on the screen your audience will try to read it instead of listening to you. If reading data is so important, send it out as separate file in an email so your audience can prepare for your presentation.

  7. Engage the Audience
  8. You have to work to get people’s attention. Use interesting graphics rather than clipart or stock photos. You can ask questions to your audience or even set them a short task based on what you have just presented or are going to present next. There’s a good example of this in the Tim Brown TED talk below:

  9. Relax
  10. If you relax, your audience can concentrate on your presentation, not you. If you prepare, it is easier to relax. Try to control the speed of your speech. Set your tempo by walking into the presentation area at the speed you plan to speak at and this should help.

  11. Make Eye Contact with Everyone
  12. This is especially important when you are talking about key information because you can check whether your audience understands. People will also pay more attention when they know you are looking at them.

  13. Leave Time to Answer Questions
  14. Check everyone understands what you talked about and get ready to give more details if necessary. When you are really finished, thank everyone for their time and make sure everyone has your contact information.

If you have any other tips leave a comment below.