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Commonly-Used Idioms in Business English Communication

Commonly-Used Idioms in Business English Communication

Intermediate and advanced English Language learners communicating in business in English, frequently encounter business English expressions that confuse them. These group of English words or expressions, are often unique to the English language and are referred as idioms. The meaning of the expression is inferred from the group of words, and not any individual word.

In business meetings and business communication, these expressions are frequently used because they also allow the speaker to communicate meaning concisely. There is no need for additional explanation, when your manager asks you to focus on ‘the big picture’, or to ‘think outside the box’ when discussing a potential solution to business customer’s problems.

The problem the English language learner when engaging in business English conversations is multi-faceted. Some English learners are learning English in a country where English is a foreign language (EFL), or in a country where English is the official language, and they are learning English as a second language (ESL). English language learners may not be familiar with the origin of these expressions and may not be able to deduce the meaning from the group of words.

Where do Idioms Originate?

Idioms or unique expressions exist in every language, and dramatize a concept which may be familiar to the language’s users and the speaker’s culture. Different cultures will have a variety concepts or imagery which are expressed in groups of words, also described as metaphors (1). What metaphors, idioms or expressions do you know which are unique to your first language, that is, the expression has a special property or concept that is difficult to understand outside of your culture? The word ‘idiom’ originates from the Latin idioma, which means “individual peculiarity of language” (2).

How can you Improve Your Learning of Idioms for Business English?

The metaphors, idioms, or expressions in English heard in business English are numerous and frequently heard in meetings or seen in emails. To learn them effectively, try to do the following:
– First, try arranging the business metaphors and idioms in logical categories based on a common feature, e.g., 1) game plan; 2) stay ahead of the game.
– Second, you can put one of the phrases in Google search, between quotation marks “…” + business news, then click NEWS, and see how other business English writers use those idioms in sentences.
– Third, if you understand one of the concepts, try to develop a sentence in a similar way to the example you saw in the NEWS.


Arranging Idioms in Categories

Here are some ways to group business English idioms in categories.

Category – Business English idioms having the same key word
Metaphors, Idioms

Category – Business English idioms related to sports
Metaphors, Idioms

Category – Business English idioms related to food
Metaphors, Idioms

There are many other categories into which you can group idioms, such as those related to:
– Language: e.g. in plain English; its Greek to me.
– Law: e.g., case by case basis; lay down the law

1. Boers, F. (2003). Applied Linguistics Perspectives on Cross-Cultural Variation in Conceptual Metaphor. Metaphor & Symbol, 18(4), 231-238.
2. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/idiom

What method do you use to learn and use business English idioms?

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