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.

Confusing Vocabulary Explained


These are some words that students often find confusing. I hope this post helps you to tell the difference. If you have any other ideas, leave a comment.

Hard / Hardly

Hard (adverb)Describes a high level of effort.

She studies hard all the time. She reads, writes,speaks and listens to English for five hours a day.

Hardly (adverb)Describes a low frequency or low level.

He hardly studies at all. Look at his notebook! He’s hardly written anything.

Complex / Complicated

ComplexDescribes a system that is difficult to understand or a thing that is very detailed and difficult to copy or understand the way of making it.

The Tokyo transport system is complex. You should pick up a map before you visit and find the stations you need to go to.

ComplicatedDescribes an action, thing or situation that is difficult to understand because it has many parts or steps.

Getting to my office is complicated. You have to take a few turns and cross three footbridges. I’ll meet you at the station.

Even If and Even Though


A lot of false shortcuts are taught to English students. Lots of words and phrases are said to be “the same” because it is quicker to teach them to beginning and intermediate learners without explaining them. ‘Even if’ and ‘even though’ are not the same but teachers often say they are.

In this first example, ‘if’ causes a conditional; ‘though’ explains a reaction to an action.

Even if you come, you won’t enjoy it.

Even though you come, you don’t enjoy it.

In the second example, ‘if’ is a conditional, explaining an unlikely situation or just an idea; ‘though’ talks about an experience.

Even if you came, you wouldn’t enjoy it.

Even though you came, you didn’t enjoy it.

In the next example, ‘if’ comments on what didn’t happen; ‘though’ comments on what did happen.

Even if you had come, you wouldn’t have enjoyed it.

Even though you had come, you didn’t enjoy it.

In this final example, ‘if’ and ‘though’ have similar meanings but have different nuances. ‘If’ talks about a possible plan whereas ‘though’ talks about a definite plan.

Even if you are coming, you won’t enjoy it.

Even though you are coming, you won’t enjoy it.

This is a bit tricky but I hope you understand this better.