Business English: 7 Mistakes to Avoid as a Non-Native Speaker of English in the Workplace

In today’s workplace, a global environment where cultures mix and multiple languages are spoken is valuable. This is an exciting time to be in business, but it can have its challenges if you are a non-native English speaker. Business English Courses offer instruction on vocabulary and grammar needed for meetings or interviews, but successful workplace communication goes far beyond your college courses.

business rates for spanish courses in Knoxville Employees who speak English as a second language bring unique skills and challenges with them to the workplace. Without being vigilant in your use of English in the workplace, you may encounter situations where team members have difficulty communicating with you or where customers misinterpret the tone or intent of your communication. For employees new to the US, cultural miscues are inevitable and expected, but even employees who have lived in the US a long time may lack cultural knowledge that native-born employees consider to be “common sense.” Here are some pitfalls to avoid:

Business English Error #7: Incorrect use of definite and indefinite articles.

“Please drop report off at my desk” “A manager is holding interviews tomorrow” “Melissa is on the vacation” If you aren’t sure whether or not these sentences are right or wrong, you may struggle with using articles correctly. Many languages do not have articles, or just have one definite and indefinite article, so learning to navigate articles in English can be tough. But using proper business English is vital in communicating clearly. A general rule: Use “a” when the meaning is not specific, and use “the” when you want to be more specific “Can you hand me a stapler?” (any stapler around) vs. “Can you hand me the stapler?” (the stapler I let you borrow earlier).  Articles are not usually needed before proper nouns. “Melissa is vacationing in the mountains” vs. “Melissa is vacationing in Colorado.”

Business English Error #6: Prepositions

Will I see you “at the meeting”? Or is it “in the meeting”, or “on the meeting”? Prepositions are the most difficult set of words to use in any language, and they can cause the most confusion when misused. Unfortunately, prepositions have to be studied and individually memorized in order to be used properly in business English. Fortunately, you can easily find lists of the “most common prepositions” in the English language to study. Remember to keep an eye out for those, and double check your usage when one of these words comes up. Better still, analyze e-mails or messages from native English speakers to study their preposition usage. Confidence Learning Services will provide a free e-mail, blog, or web analysis to identify any lurking grammatical errors you might have.

Business English Error #5: Phrasal Verbs

Do you know the difference between “Run” and “Run Into”? “Make” and “Make up”? Phrasal verbs typically involve prepositions or adverbs, but the combination of the specific verb and preposition/adverb changes the meaning of both words. But when you are using English in the workplace, you will “run into” these phrasal verbs constantly. If you see a combination of a verb and a preposition or adverb, “check it out” (Check out = Investigate) with a native speaking friend, or use an online resource like <h3>Business English Error #4: “It’s/Its”</h3> For starters, these words cause trouble for native English speakers all the time. It’s is a contraction for it is or it has. Its is a possessive pronoun, it means “of it” or “belonging to it”. Its’ is not a word. But that’s not really what we’re here to talk about. Much of business English happens in written communication, but spoken English is also important. Non-native speakers often pronounce “it’s” as “is”. Thus, when you mean to say “It’s vital that we take care of this account today” or “The copier needs its ink replaced”, native English speakers hear “Is vital that we take care of this account today” or “The copier needs is ink replaced”. This gives the impression that an important part of your sentence is missing, and your grammar is poorer than it really is. Take the time to make sure your sound completely stops during the production of “it’s”, and that your “s” is voiceless, like the sound in the word “ice”, with no vibration in your vocal chords.

Business English Error #3: Rushed e-mails or blog posts


Don’t send that e-mail off just yet!

An important part of business English is communicating via e-mail, or projecting a brand image via blog posts. But both of these can turn into a disaster if you don’t take the time to pay attention to vocabulary, grammar, and spelling. Typing “can” instead of “can’t”, failing to use an appropriate greeting, or misspelling your client’s name can all turn into situations that demand much more time than a quick proofread would have. Save a draft of your e-mail and come back to it later before pushing send, if you have the time. If not, read the e-mail aloud to yourself before sending, or look back to see the type of language used in previous e-mails from others. When in doubt, ask a coworker or search online for advice and proofreading before sending your e-mail.

Business English Error #2: Poor understanding of etiquette and cultural norms.

When you think of “Business English”, you may think of just that – a language to be used. But even if you are perfectly fluent in English, there are some aspects of the language that are more cultural than grammatical. Many nonnative English speakers use the rhythm and intonation patterns of their first language when speaking English in the workplace. These rhythm and intonation patterns may sound harsh or aggressive to native speakers of American English. Additionally, nonnative English speakers may begin questions with, “Why did you…?”, “Why didn’t you..?”, or “Why aren’t you…?” while native speakers may begin those same questions with more embedded, polite phrasing: “I was wondering…?”, “Is there any reason…?”, or “Do you think you could…?” Pay attention to what phrases native English speakers use when making requests or delivering information in your workplace, and strive to do the same.

Business English Error #1: Thinking that there is nothing left to learn.

This is a problem I see among many non-native English speakers. Because they took a Business English course, or have conducted business successfully for the past 10 years, or because they speak better English than other speakers of their native language, they assume that there is nothing left to learn, and their English cannot improve any more. Coworkers may still struggle to understand their use of English in the workplace, but they refuse to enroll in any more courses, aren’t interested in Business English coaching, and don’t take time to add to their vocabulary. In any language, more remains to be learned, no matter your level. Speakers who realize that there is still room to grow are often more advanced than those who think they “speak English perfectly.” When we tell ourselves there is nothing left to learn, we are missing out on valuable learning opportunities that surround us. Wondering if you could improve your use of English in the workplace? Contact Confidence Learning Services at 1-865-226-9477 for a free consultation. We’ll take a look at your website, blog posts, or the past several e-mails you have sent, and give you a report on your use of Business English, at no cost to you.