Discovering a new market. Making a business trip. Formal and informal Business English language

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Sunday, August 21, 2020


BUSINESS English is the expression of our commercial life in English. It is not synonymous with letter writing. To be sure, business letters are important, but they form only a part of one of the two large divisions into which the subject naturally falls.

First, there is _oral expression_, important because so many of our business transactions are conducted personally. Thousands of salesmen daily move from place to place over the entire country, earning their salaries by talking convincingly of the goods that they have to sell. A still greater number of clerks, salesmen, managers, and officials orally transact business in our shops, stores, offices, and banks. Complaints are adjusted; difficulties are disentangled; and affairs of magnitude are consummated in personal interviews, the matter under discussion often being thought too important to be entrusted to correspondence. In every business oral English is essential.

Second, there is _written expression_. This takes account of the writing of advertisements, circulars, booklets, and prospectuses, as well as of letters. And in the preparation of these oral English is fundamental. It precedes and practically includes the written expression. For example, we say colloquially that a good advertisement «talks.» We mean that the writer has so fully realized the buyer’s point of view that the words of the advertisement seem to speak directly to the reader, arousing his interest or perhaps answering his objection. Oral English is
fundamental, too, in the writing of letters, for most letters are dictated and not written. The correspondent dictates them to his stenographer or to a recording machine in the same tone, probably, that he would use if the customer were sitting before him.

But in taking this point of view, we should not minimize the importance of written business English. In a way, it is more difficult to write well than it is to talk well. In talking we are not troubled with the problems of correct spelling, proper punctuation, and good paragraphing. We may even repeat somewhat, if only we are persuasive. But in writing we are confronted with the necessity of putting the best thoughts into the clearest, most concise language, at the same time obeying all the rules of spelling, punctuation, and grammar. The business man must be sure of these details in order to know that his letters and advertising matter are correct. The stenographer, especially, must be thoroughly familiar with them, so that she may correctly transcribe what has been dictated.

Business English is much the same as any other English. It consists in expression by means of words, sentences, and paragraphs. Moreover, they are much the same kind of words, sentences, and paragraphs that appear in any book that is written in what is commonly called the literary style. In a business letter the words are largely those of every day use, and but few are technical. It is the manner in which the words are put together, the idea back of the sentence, that makes the only difference.

We shall begin the study of business English with a study of words, for in all expression, whether oral or written, a knowledge of words, of their meaning and suggestive power, is fundamental. On the choice of words depends not only the correctness but also the effectiveness of expression—the courtesy of a letter, the appeal of an advertisement, the persuasiveness of a salesman’s talk. A mastery of words cannot be gained at once. Every time one speaks, he must consider what words will best convey his idea. In this chapter only the barest beginning of such study can be made. The exercises show the value of the subject.

The study of words is interesting because words themselves are interesting. Sometimes the interest consists in the story of the derivation. As an example, consider the word _italic_. Many words in this book are written in italic to draw attention to them. Literally the word means «relating to Italy or its people.» It is now applied to a kind of type in which the letters slope toward the right. The type was called italic because it was dedicated to the states of Italy by the inventor, Manutius, about the year 1500. An unabridged dictionary will tell all about the word.

The word _salary_ tells a curious story. It is derived from a Latin word, _salarium_, meaning «salt money.» It was the name of the money that was given to the Roman soldiers for salt, which was a part of their pay. Finally, instead of signifying only the salt money, it came to mean the total pay.

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Practically all of this information a good dictionary gives. In other words, a dictionary is a story book containing not one, but hundreds of thousands of stories. Whenever possible it tells what language a word came from, how it got its different meanings, and how those meanings have changed in the course of time. For it is natural that words should change just as styles change, names of ancient things being lost and names for new things being made. As the objects themselves have gone out of use, their names have also gone. When a word has gone entirely out of use, it is marked _obsolete_ in the dictionary. On the other hand, new inventions must be named. Thus new words are constantly being added to the language and the dictionary because they are needed.

There is a large class of words that we shall not have time to consider. They are called _technical_. Every profession, business, or trade has its distinctive words. The technical words that a printer would use are entirely different from those which a dentist, a bookkeeper, or a lawyer would use. You will learn the technical terms of your business most thoroughly after you enter it and see the use for
such terms.

None of the words, therefore, that you will be asked to search out in the dictionary are, strictly speaking, technical. It is evident that it will do you no good to search out the words in the dictionary, unless you learn them—unless you use them correctly in speaking and writing. There is pleasure in thus employing new material, as everybody knows. Use your eyes and ears. When you hear a new word, or read one, focus the mind upon it for a moment until you can retain a mental picture of its spelling and of its pronunciation. Then as soon as possible look it up in the dictionary to fix its spelling, pronunciation, and definition. Do this regularly, and you will have reason to be proud of your vocabulary.


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Business English Course: Sales & Marketing

Why a Business English Course specialized in Sales and Marketing?

Professionals with a sales and marketing background are often forced out of their comfort zones and have to make pitches, attend a meeting, speak to clients or market products in English. An online Business English course aimed at helping them in these situations will greatly improve their confidence and increase their ability to deal with unexpected aspects.

What is included in the Sales and Marketing English Course?

Because this field has evolved so much and is changing all the time it is imperative that professionals who work in the field of sales and marketing are familiar with up-to-date terminology and are comfortable discussing specific professional topics. This will be the focus of this course.

Moreover, the sales and marketing field uses less formal English than other business sectors, so emphasis will be put so that students are better equipped to understands idioms and colloquial language that English-speaking colleagues might use.

Who is the Sales and Marketing English Course for?

Whoever is professionally involved with:

  • Sales (all forms)
  • Marketing (all forms)
  • Customers service / satisfaction
  • Advertising
  • Public relations
  • After sales service
  • Outsourcing
  • Product launches
  • Market research

will find great benefit with this course.
The students that are interested in this track normally work in direct sales, retail sales, marketing, online marketing, customer service or PR department.

Sales and Marketing English Terminology

Customer satisfaction (often abbreviated as CSAT, more correctly CSat) is a term frequently used in marketing. It is a measure of how products and services supplied by a company meet or surpass customer expectation.

Digital marketing is the marketing of products or services using digital technologies, mainly on the Internet, but also including mobile phones, display advertising, and any other digital medium.

Direct marketing is a form of advertising where organizations communicate directly to customers through a variety of media including cell phone text messaging, email, websites, online adverts, database marketing, fliers, catalog distribution, promotional letters, targeted television, newspapers, magazine advertisements.

Elevator pitch is a short description of an idea, product or company that explains the concept in a way such that any listener can understand it in a very short period of time.

Marketing automation the software that exists with the goal of automating marketing actions. Many marketing departments have to automate repetitive tasks such as emails, social media, and other website actions.

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Marketing KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) are specific, numerical marketing indicators that organizations track in order to measure their progress towards a defined goal within marketing channels.

The dedicated native-English teachers selected for this track have professional experience in this field.

The Sales and Marketing Business Course is available in the PRO and PREMIUM formulas.

Maltalingua School of English Blog

English Language School in Malta – Learn English Under the Sun

English expressions – Formal and Informal writing


Low Medium (High)
A1 A2 B1 B2 (C1) C2

Formal English is used in for example, books, official documents, news reports, business letters or official speeches.
English is used in everyday conversation and in personal emails.

In formal writing sentences are longer and more complex whereas in informal writing they are shorter and simpler.

Differences between Formal and Informal expressions when writing an email:

Should you use formal, neutral or informal English?

When you are introduced to somebody for the first time, what should you say?

b) How do you do?

You may or may not be surprised to know that all three are common and appropriate in certain situations. They all perform the same function but they have different levels of formality.

a) Nice to meet you – This is neutral and can be used in most social contexts with most people.

b) How do you do? – This is a formal phrase that would only be used on formal occasions with specific people.

c) What’s up? – This is informal and would only be used on specific occasions by certain people.

This distinction between formal, neutral and informal registers (or styles) is not always so clear.

You may think that we would use a formal style in a situation such as an interview for a job.

However, I don’t think many people would use b) nowadays, because it is old-fashioned and rarely used, except in rare situations such as being invited to have a cup of tea with the Queen!

The neutral phrase (Nice to meet you) is probably the most suitable of the three for job interviews, although the informal phrase (What’s up?) might be fine if the interviewer is a young, relaxed American.

On the whole, formality in spoken English is not as common or important as it used to be. In the past, people made clear distinctions between formal language (which was often considered to be the correct form) and informal language (which was often considered inferior and incorrect). These days, we are aware that we make decisions about which style of language based on what is considered appropriate in each particular situation.

Characteristics of formal, neutral and informal spoken English

Formal language is characterised by the following features:

  • complex sentences
  • use of reported speech
  • indirect questions
  • use of modals such as could and would rather than can and will
  • full forms (should not) instead of contractions (shouldn’t)
  • frequent use of the passive voice
  • limited use of phrasal verbs
  • frequent use of long words with Latin or Greek roots

Neutral language is characterised by:

  • simpler sentences
  • active rather than passive voice
  • factual rather than emotional language
  • limited use of complex language
  • limited use of slang

Informal language is characterised by:

  • simple, often grammatically incomplete, sentences
  • active voice
  • emotional language
  • personal opinions
  • humour
  • slang, idioms and cliches
  • phrasal verbs
  • exclamations

Now, deciding which style to use can be difficult. To start with, we need to consider 2 main factors:

1. The degree of social distance between the speakers. If we know somebody well (friends, family, some colleagues) we generally use informal language. When we don’t people well or they are strangers, we generally use neutral language. When we don’t know somebody well and they have a high social status (judges, doctors, company directors, religious leaders), we may use a formal style to show deference (respect and politeness).

2. The nature of the topic. When we discuss serious or sensitive topics, we sometimes use formal language. This shows that we are thinking deeply about the topic and understand that it is serious and complex. So, when people discuss some aspects of business, intellectual conversations, official meetings, it is common to use formal language. In contrast, when we talk about everyday topics, we generally use informal language with friends and family and neutral language with strangers or people we don’t know well.

Another way of deciding which register is appropriate is to ask these questions:

  1. Where are we?
  2. What are we talking about?
  3. Who are we talking to?
  4. How do we feel about the person and the topic of the conversation?

Let’s look at these questions in more detail:

1. Where are we?

If we are in a relaxed, social environment such as a bar or a cafe, we probably don’t need to use formal English. In fact, using formal polite English might lead to a negative or unfriendly response.

A student of mine ordered a beer in a pub in London and made a polite request to the barman:

I wonder if you would be so kind as to serve me a glass of beer, sir.

The barman responded angrily, believing the student was making fun of him. In this environment, formal language was clearly inappropriate. As well as using an inappropriate register (formal), the student also failed to realise that we use phrases such as ‘I wonder if you would be so kind…‘ when we need somebody to do us a favour. As a barman’s job is to serve drinks to paying customers, he was perhaps offended by the choice of language used.

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Formal language, however, is suitable in certain settings. If you go to an official ceremony (weddings, funeral, graduations), you will certainly notice that the people present use fixed formal phrases that are specific to the event, such as this phrase only ever heard at weddings:

Ladies and Gentlemen, please be upstanding to the bride and groom.

In general, we don’t need to worry about learning these specific phrases, unless we are going to have an important role in these ceremonies. Just make sure you don’t use informal phrases when you speak to people you don’t know very well.

2. What are we talking about?

We tend to choose a particular register when we discuss certain topics. When we talk about everyday topics such as sports, weather, travel or TV shows, we are unlikely to use formal language. Again, using formal language may annoy the person you are talking to. Most people use informal or neutral more frequently than formal language outside of work. Therefore, if you use formal language when discussing an everyday topic, you may find that people think you are showing off or possibly being unfriendly.

On the other hand, we commonly use formal language to discuss some topics. These topics are generally of a more serious nature, such as business issues, politics, religion,personal finance and health issues. That is why even people you know may use more formal language if they talk about these serious issues with you. Serious topics often require serious language. You may joke with your boss in the office (informal language) but you are both likely to adopt formal language if you are negotiating a new contract.

3. Who are we talking to?

As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, you might find you use informal and formal language with the same person. This can cause problems because you may think you have a friendly relationship with somebody (because you sometimes communicate with informal language) and then find your relationship is fundamentally a professional one. In fact, you might decide to maintain a professional relationship and use neutral language with some of your colleagues or teachers: you know them quite well but they are not necessarily your friends.

It is probably more common to use neutral language rather than formal language with strangers. When we have small talk with somebody on a bus or with a taxi driver, we are unlikely to talk about serious topics.

4. How do we feel about the person and the topic of the conversation?

Our emotional attitude towards the person and the topic often determines whether we use informal, neutral or formal language. We may even start with neutral language and then switch to a formal style as the conversation changes.

Imagine we get into a taxi and start chatting to the taxi driver about an everyday topic, such as the weather. We would probably use neutral, perhaps even informal language, with them as the topic is a familiar one. This would probably change dramatically if the taxi driver tried to overcharge us. In order to show our frustration, we might switch to formal language to show we are serious about the topic (the price) and to demonstrate that the social interaction is a professional not a personal one.

So, as you can see, choosing the right level of formality when you communicate in English is important. But remember that native or proficient speakers will not necessarily be offended if your style is not entirely appropriate. We recognise that you are learning the language.


If you are able to use formal, neutral and informal language when you speak, you should find that you are able to express yourself appropriately in most situations.

However, out of the three styles, I would suggest that the formal style may be the least important. Unless you need it for professional or academic purposes, formal spoken English is not particularly common and you can often use a neutral style instead and still communicate in a suitable way.

Informal language helps you build friendships and develop strong relationships with people. It also allows you to express your sense of humour effectively.

Neutral language helps you deal with most everyday situations in a variety of different environments. It’s the default style and will rarely be inappropriate.

Formal language helps you function effectively in certain situations and will be appropriate in many professional, academic or official contexts. It’s useful for dealing with figures of authority.

So, next time you are about to have a social interaction in English, think about this question:

Should I use formal, neutral or informal language in this situation?

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