Orchid English Blog

How to Address People at Work in Britain

Posted on January 27, 2014

One thing that takes some getting used to is the level of formality in business English. Compared to a lot of other cultures, British language at work can be very relaxed. Of course, all companies have different cultures but these points are what I consider typical in British work culture.

Among colleagues we rarely use titles like “Mr” or “Ms”; I might use a title to approach someone I had never communicated with before, a client or to address a letter. Job application emails are also an appropriate time to address people with titles, if you know the person’s surname from the job advert.

When I worked abroad in Japan and France I was surprised that even after you have known a colleague a long time you do not really begin to speak to them casually. In the UK we might start an email to someone we don’t know using any of the following depending on how well we know the person, what our relationship is and what the email is regarding:

Dear Ms Smith,

Dear Alice,

Hello Alice,

Hi Alice,

 If the person replies addressing us by “Hi” and our first name we might reply in kind. By the third email we may have even abandoned first names entirely and just started using “Hi”.


One of our students recently expressed surprise that her  British female colleagues addressed her as “babe”! I can understand why this seems odd but for the most part we like to be casual with people we see regularly.


Adults almost always call their own teachers or instructors by their first names. Sometimes my adult students ask if they should be addressing me by my title as they would in their culture. I would say that this is only really appropriate for children addressing their teachers. It would sound natural to address your child’s teacher using their title because it fits with the culture of the school and the teacher would see you as setting a good example to your child.


Be careful also that you only use titles with surnames; “Miss Smith” sounds generally polite but “Miss Alice” sounds like a servant addressing a noble child of the house. I assume, readers, that you are not in this position!


Among British colleagues, most business-casual emails tend to start “Hi (first name)” and sign off with “Thanks”. This may look very informal but bear in mind that using this formula in most emails between friends would seem too formal. When I email friends I might start “Hi” or “Hey” with no use of the person’s name, and sign off using something like “See you soon” or “Talk to you soon”.

It may be the safe option to be more rather than less formal, but pay attention to what your colleagues do and think about trying to match it. Good luck!


Using “The” in Business English

Posted on December 18, 2013


By Emily Stallard, Owner and Trainer at Orchid English


Do you wonder when to use the definite article “the” and when to leave it out? You’re not alone. I have put the following list together as a quick guide to using “the” in business English.

Articles can be a real problem for people learning English. This is because:

  • There are a lot of different rules,
  • Sometimes you can use “the” or not use it without a difference in meaning, and
  • Other times it’s just a question of nuance


In my experience, students learning English with an Asian language background tend to use too few articles overall.  Students with a European language background such as French or Italian students will tend to use too many articles overall, or use them in the wrong place.



Political unions such as states or kingdoms

  • The United Kingdom
  • The United States
  • The United Arab Emirates


Republics need “the”, if you mention the republic

  • Ireland
  • The Republic of Ireland
  • China
  • The People’s Republic of China


Countries which have a plural name

  • The Philippines
  • The Netherlands


Public Organisations

  • The BBC
  • The NHS
  • The council
  • The government


HMRC is an organisation but does not need an article because it includes a possessive in the name: Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. If you wanted to describe HMRC you would have to use an article in: “The tax office”. Companies do not usually take “the”, so “I work for Orchid English” not “I work for the Orchid English”, “He works for Toyota” not “He works for the Toyota”.



  • The most effective strategy
  • The best way forward
  • The worst method we have tried


Ordinal Numbers

In spoken British English, for dates:

  • We say “Friday the 20th of December” but write “Friday 20th December”

In both British and American English:

  • The fifth conference of this year


So that was a selection of some useful rules on using “the” in business English. If you just remember one thing from this blog post, remember whether to use “the” for the country you’re living in! We hear lots of people say “I work in UK” or “My client is in US“. Now you know you need to say “The UK” and “The US”.  Learn more about using “the” in country names here.

Thinking Phrases in English

Posted on December 4, 2013

You know when you’re speaking in a meeting and trying to think of the word for umm, the thing, and you can’t remember what it’s called?

It’s a device that lets something get through one way but not the other… umm… hold on… what is it? The valve! Yes, that’s it, the valve.

What do you say while you need a second to access the word? If you’re Japanese I bet it’s “Nan darou?” and if you’re French I bet it’s “Comment on dit?” or “Qu’est-ce que c’est deja?” When you teach English abroad, some of the first phrases of the foreign language you learn are the phrases people say when they are trying to think of the word in English.

If you just need a second to access a word in English, it sounds much better if you can use one of these English thinking phrases rather than one in your first language:

“How do do you say it?”

“How”, asks more for a description, and “What” asks more for a set word or phrase.

“What’s the word?”
“What do you call it?”
“What’s it called?”
“What is it?”

“How can I put it?”
“How can I put this?” Use this especially when it’s something delicate.

We hear the following phrases a lot from our students, but they are ungrammatical:

“What you say?”
“How to say?”
“How do you call it?”

Remember it’s “How do you say it?” but “What do you call it?”

If you know the word is in the depths of your brain somewhere and you just need a reminder, you can add the word “again” at the end of these phrases to convey this:

“How do you say it again?”

Good luck! The more you practise speaking English the more you will build fluency and the less need you will have for thinking phrases in any language.

Stress Rules in Business English

Posted on November 27, 2013

“Is stress really that important?” our students sometimes ask, secretly hoping we will say no. Well yes, it is quite important. If you modulate English correctly it sounds interesting and it is much easier to understand. Stress is quite hard because there is often some artistic licence and native speakers will stress the same sentence differently. As a rule of thumb the most important words are stressed and little grammatical words are not stressed unless they are there for contrast.

“She APPLIED for the JOB and we HIRED her.” All the important words for meaning are stressed.
“We HIRED her?” – Sounds like: I saw a woman get interviewed, have we hired her?
“We hired HER?” – Sounds like: She seemed crazy, why on Earth did our company hire her?

If I were to read the next paragraph aloud here’s where I would put the stress:


Incorrect stress on a word can mean the difference between a noun and a verb in many cases, like “an EXport” but “to exPORT something”. Similarly, you want to make it clear whether you are “preSENTing” to your clients, or giving them a “PREsent”. So in these pairs and many others, the noun is stressed on the first syllable, and the verb is stressed on the last syllable.

Some affixes don’t change the stress of the word. The suffix “un” doesn’t change the stress of the word (unless you are making a comparison). So you can say the meeting was “uneVENTful” or the supplier was “unreLIable”, just as you would say the meeting was “eVENTful” or the supplier was “reLIable”.

Good news! The following suffixes don’t change the stress in a word:

In compound nouns, the stressed word is almost always on the first word, the “type”.
COFFEE machine (What type of machine is it? A COFFEE machine).

Some suffixes change the stress of the root word. “JaPAN” + the suffix “ese” become “JapanESE”. Similarly, your clients may be from “CHIna” and TaiWAN” but the people are “ChinESE” and “TaiwanESE”.

If a word ends in “ion” the stress will be on the syllable before the “ion”. So: “We managed to find a resoLUtion”, “There was some conFUsion over the contract”.

This was not a full list but I hope it was useful in improving your English intonation. Please let us know what you thought, or your experiences with English intonation on Facebook or Twitter.

What I like most about autumn in London

Posted on November 13, 2013

While I do like the summer best of all, there is something very relaxing about autumn in London. In Japan people are keen on going to the countryside to see the changing colours of the Autumn leaves and there is even a particular name for this, “Momiji-gari”. My Japanese students ask me where they can go around London to see this and are often surprised we lack a particular word for this in English! There are lots of places where you can see wonderful red and golden leaves around London, especially in Hyde Park.

If this is your first Autumn/Winter in Europe you must try mulled wine. It’s a hot, sweet spiced wine, you can get it in bottles in supermarkets or make your own from spice sachets and add wine. Pubs have started selling it too if you want to try different recipes. Some pubs also sell mulled cider which is also delicious and often has a lower alcohol content. Dictionaries I have looked at don’t show proof of similarity in the origin of “mull” as in “to heat, sweeten and spice” and “to ponder” as in “We’re just mulling over her proposal”. I feel as though the wine has been sitting and pondering as the spices infuse.

There are lots of Christmas markets starting around now such as the one at the Southbank Centre (16th November – 24th December) where you can drink mulled wine, eat mince pies and buy traditional European winter food and presents. German markets are especially popular. Did you know that the word “German” derives from the Latin “Germanus” meaning “genuine”? Of course there is always Christmas itself to look forward to – although I overheard a customer in Boots yesterday crossly ask the cashier that the Christmas music be postponed until it is actually near Christmas.

Fancy going further afield? You could always “Skith” as an Old Norse speaker may have said, “skith” meaning “a stick of wood” or “snow shoe”, or “ski” as we say in modern English today. I don’t know, however, whether Old Norse speakers were as keen on verbing (turning nouns to verbs) as English speakers are or whether they would have tutted and lamented the decline of their language by young people today. Oddly enough, in French  “snowboarding” is called “le surf”.

What do you think? What is your favourite thing about this season? Please let us know on Facebook or Twitter.