The Trap of “Useful Phrases” for Business English

Posted on February 23, 2016

By Emily Stallard

We English teachers are often asked to provide useful phrases for business English on some topic or other; negotiating, meetings, presentations and so on. If you’re making a presentation, “moving on now to my next topic” is a good useful phrase to help you sound natural.

Useful phrases can be very useful to bridge knowledge gaps and to provide specific functions. These functions could include moving on in a meeting and disagreeing tactfully. The Market Leader series has some excellent useful phrases for business English in various work situations.

So what’s the trap? There is a common misconception that learning lots of useful phrases by heart will lead to fluency. People learning English often believe that when they have learned enough useful phrases they will be able to access a dictionary-like store of memorised phrases when they need them.

Despite diligent learning, this never works well. This is because the phrases are often not quite suitable for the situation and should be modified. It’s through constant modification and practice in real speech that you can improve your English.

I’m sorry to say I know this through experience because I did the same in Japan when I was studying Japanese. I would write useful Japanese phrases in my notebook and commit them to memory, but through lack of use I would soon forget them. The useful phrases went “in one ear and out the other“!

Children acquire language through trial and error and a lot of the sentences we produce are unique to us. So in conclusion, while useful phrases in business English can be a good supplement to learning English, we must be careful not to rely on them too much.


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