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Episode 5: Using Business Books To Improve Your Business English

Episode 5: Using Business Books to Improve your Business English

Using textbooks to learn and improve at English is very common, and there is nothing wrong with using textbooks as part of a balanced learning program!

However, it is also important to include more specific material, such as business books and magazines, and incorporate these into your learning program.

In this episode, I explore the importance of such a strategy and I also talk about the concepts of general and specialist vocabulary.

So, what about you?  What materials are you using to improve your level of English?

Let me know in the comments section below.

All the very best!


Here is the full transcript:

In this episode I’m going to be talking about how to use business books to improve your level of business English. Hi there, I’m Paul Urwin, and welcome to the business English community podcast, where the world of business meets the English language. We discuss culture, strategies, techniques, vocabulary, grammar, and much, much more. Find out more at

Hi there, Paul here, and welcome to episode five. Remember, if you are an intermediate or advanced speaker of English and just really looking to take your business English to the next level, then this is the podcast for you. What I try to do is to talk about real business English situations, because I know that that’s what is actually going to help you to improve. After all, we’re going to be experiencing real situations out there. Before we get started, I just wanted to give you a quick reminder to check out our YouTube channel. We’ve got some fantastic videos on there. You can link to the YouTube channel directly from the website and also on the website, you will find a completely free audio book and a completely free online training session. So I suggest you download those if you haven’t already. You can find them of course, at

Before we get into today’s main section, I’m just going to give you a word of the week, and this week’s word of the week is brand. B-R-A-N-D, brand. Now this is a great word when it comes to companies and to business English, and a brand is simply a type of product manufactured by a particular company. Some companies have only one brand, and some companies, I can think of Unilever, and Procter & Gamble as a couple of examples. Those companies have many, many different brands operating from the one company. But I really like the word brand, because there are also so many extensions or variations of that word and I’m going to give you just two today. One is brand equity. What is brand equity? Brand equity is commercial value that really comes from customer perception rather than the product itself. It’s coming from the customer’s perception of the brand. What value does that actually have? That’s brand equity.

The other one is brand positioning. Brand positioning is a marketing strategy and it’s all about trying to get a brand to occupy a particular space or particular position in the mind of the customer. Often positioning it against other brands to give it it’s own particular space, its own distinct flavor or position, if you like. That’s brand positioning. Brand positioning and brand equity, there are many others, which is why brand is such a great word. On to today’s main topic, which is all about using business books to improve your business English.

I want to start out by talking about a traditional English learning method, which involves using course books or textbooks to guide a student from one level to the next. I think these textbooks or these guide books have a really important part to play, and I’m sure that we all learned through textbooks definitely at school, and possibly in other areas of life, such as language learning as well. In the case of English learning, these textbooks are written by experts and they contain great exercises. So they are very, very good and they can certainly be used as part of a balanced learning program. If that’s what’s good about them, then what’s bad about them? What’s bad about them or not necessarily bad, but what’s limiting, is perhaps a better word about them, is that they are not up to date. If you pick up a textbook that you’ve had on your shelf for a year, well then it’s at least one year old, and it’s not going to have any information or anything in terms of what’s been happening in the world or in your sector, in the last year or so.

Also, textbooks generally don’t focus, especially English learning textbooks, don’t focus on specific subject areas. If you are a physicist or if you are an entrepreneur, or if you are a sales executive, or a mining expert, then you are unlikely to find the material that you need in an English learning textbook. I also feel that those English learning textbooks sometimes are too balanced. How can something be too balanced? Generally, they have exercises in all parts of the language. That’s reading, writing, listening, and speaking of course. That’s great in the sense that I suggest that you need to become competent in all four parts of the language. The problem of being too balanced occurs when a student has a distribution that is not balanced, so if you need to focus more on learning or improving your conversation, and less on improving your grammar, then maybe following through a balanced textbook is not going to help you achieve that, whereas focusing on conversation exercises might help you to improve your distribution.

I wanted to start out by first of all, saying that English learning textbooks can be a good part of your learning process, definitely, but also at the same time, understanding their limitations. What can you use to complement those types of books? You can learn a lot from specific books that are related to your area of interest. In many ways, that’s how a native speaker learns English anyway. If I look back on how I learned English, obviously I was exposed to English all the time, it’s my native language, and for sure, I took English classes as well, so at school we had English classes, but we also had classes in other subjects of course, such as physics and biology, and those books were written in English. As I got older and I started to want to find out about other areas, I learned about those subjects in English by getting hold of that material in English, and what’s interesting here is at the same time, I was improving my level of English.

Also when I read fiction, when I would go on holiday and read a novel, not only was I relaxing and enjoying my time on holiday, but was also learning and improving my English the whole time. What I’m trying to say is that I think it’s a very natural way to learn English simply to expose yourself to material in English, but in other subjects. Now, what about you? What is your area of expertise? What are you interested in, and following on from that, what books or what materials are you reading on a daily basis in English? That’s what I would like you to have a look at. The more material that you can read in English about your subject, the better and more confident you are going to get about that particular subject. I would really encourage you to find business books related to your particular area of interest, and really to get into them and really to explore them deeply, to understand the vocabulary, to look up the vocabulary, and this is not just about vocabulary, it’s also about a writing style.

You will find that people who write about physics, write differently to those who write about entrepreneurship. If you associate yourself with a particular group of people, then you can over time, start to create an identity for yourself in terms of the way that you speak about the subject and in terms of the way that you write about the subject. This is not just about improving your English, improving your business English means improving your English in a specific context, and that means being able to talk effectively about your subject. It’s not about being able to talk about Jack and Jill going to the beach, it’s not about being able to describe every single color in the English language. Those things are, in my opinion, a little bit unnecessary most of the time, but if you can operate effectively in your specialist area, that is when you’re going to achieve a good level of success. What I also find interesting here, is that everyone has different vocabulary needs.

We often talk about a student improving their vocabulary, and I think it … a lot of people don’t really focus on the fact that everyone has different vocabulary needs. I like to divide it into a general and a specialist vocabulary. Everyone needs a basic general vocabulary in order to operate in the English language, but then it’s your specialist vocabulary that relates to your area of expertise which you can add on the top of that. Recognize that your needs are different to everyone else’s and while someone else may be reading a book about physics, you may be interested in something about medicine or about entrepreneurship or about mining or geology or something completely different. And that’s also why for me, business English is all about relating business with English, combining the two subjects, if you like.

It’s not about learning English in isolation, it’s about learning about your subject in English right from the outset. That’s really my thoughts for this week, let me know what you think. What do you think about this? What’s your specialist area? If you go onto the website, and if you go to, that’s E-P-I-S-O-D-E and then the number five, why not leave me a comment at the bottom of that, and let me know what you think about this subject. Are you developing your specialist vocabulary? Are you really focusing on English and business as separate subjects or are you managing to combine them successfully, but please let me know what you think.

Now I’m going to wrap up with this week’s phrase of the week, and this week’s phrase of the week is to sign off on something, to sign off on something. And that means to approve something. It might mean that something is actually being signed, or it might mean that it’s not actually being signed, but it’s getting approval nevertheless. This phrase obviously comes from the fact that many things needed to be signed in order to be approved and that practice of course, continues to this day, but this expression is also used to imply approval when something is not actually signed. Let me give you an example. My boss hasn’t signed off on my pay raise yet. My hasn’t signed off on my pay raise yet. Or, I need her to sign off on it before we can place the order. I need her to sign off on it before we can place the order. To approve something, whether or not it is actually being signed depends on the context.

Hope you found that useful, and that’s it for today. Thank you so much for listening, thanks to everyone in Taiwan, in China, in Colombia and Brazil, in Italy, in the United States and in all of the many, many other countries where this podcast is being downloaded. If I haven’t mentioned you on that list, then please get in touch and tell me where you are from. Finally, if you enjoyed today’s episode, I invite you to check out our online learning platform and community at The business English community is the essential resource for intermediate and advanced learners who want to take their business English to the next level. We offer extensive audio and video libraries, live webinars and ask me anything calls, and very importantly, an active community where you can get answers to all of your business English questions. If you really want to take action to improve your level quickly, then sign up at That’s it for me, thanks for listening, all the best, and until next time.

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