What’s the Difference Between General English and Business English?

difference between business English and general English

Say you want to improve your overall language skills, but you also work in International business where English is the lingua-franca. It’s super important for you to be able to communicate clearly, understand and be understood when the stakes are high. You might find yourself in the common dilemma of ‘General English or Business English?’  

Which one will best suit your needs? Are general English and business English really so different? Let’s take a look!

What is General English?

General English, is exactly what it sounds like– English for general purposes. It aims to give language learners a firm foundation in basic grammar and communication. It focuses on developing the core skills of reading, writing, listening and oral skills, through a wide range of topics.

General English is the everyday language used in everyday situations. There are few technical terms, as it is expected to be understood by everyone without the need of expert knowledge. 

Most general courses will cover similar subjects, getting more in-depth and complex as you improve and progress.

Here are just a few of the subjects general English covers:

  • Introducing yourself
  • Small-talk
  • Family Life
  • Friends
  • Hobbies
  • Likes and dislikes
  • Food
  • Shopping
  • Travel
  • Holidays
  • Hometown
  • Environment
  • Books
  • Movies
  • Future plans

What is Business English?

Business English is the application of English language skills in a business setting, such as international commerce, finance, and a wide variety of business sectors.

It’s not a different subject but more like an extension of general English. I like to think that learning a language is like building a house. General English is the firm foundation that you can build upon. Then, business English is the specialist department you build on top of it!

While there will be some overlapping between the two in terms of topics and vocabulary, business English goes much further. Business English takes the student’s existing language skills and develops them in a more focused and direct way.

The aim is to allow participants to interact and communicate freely with English-speaking countries and companies. Since English is the Lingua-Franca of the international business market, the ability to speak and communicate in English is a vital skill for anyone interested in conducting global business.

Business English is Specific

Business English is one branch of what is called ‘English for Specific Purposes’ (ESP). ESP courses are designed to meet the specific needs of learners from particular disciplines or occupations.

For example, you can find ESP classes which focus on the following:

  • Business English
  • Medical English
  • Legal English
  • Engineering English
  • Academic English
  • Aviation English
  • Tourism English

The content in such courses is related to the relevant themes and topics, often using authentic materials and documents from the particular field. They will also focus on the cultural elements and etiquette found within the particular environments.

It’s also specialist in the sense that you are likely to learn phrases and industry related terms that even native English speakers won’t know because they don’t work in that field.

What Are Some of Those Specific Topics?

Business English is about expanding your English vocabulary and grammar knowledge through specialized content and topics.

Here are just some of the areas of vocabulary you’re likely to study:

  • Appropriate business greetings
  • Formal business emails
  • Telephone and conference calls
  • Negotiating
  • Client relations
  • Meetings
  • Presentations
  • Describing trends and graphs
  • Company organisation and structure
  • Human Resources
  • Sales and marketing
  • Cultural awareness
  • Networking

Typical Grammar Structures Studied in Business English

Some grammar points are given more importance in Business English than in general English, such as passives, modals, and reported speech. Also, there are particular phrasal verbs, collocations and idioms which are more commonly used in business settings.

Check a few of these business-specific grammar examples:

Business phrasal verbs

  • Let’s go over the figures later today.
  • We’ll have to make up for the bad performance last month.
  • We’re turned down their offer.

Business collocations

  • Brand recognition
  • Trade secrets
  • Time management
  • Admit fault
  • Calculate risk
  • Cut costs
  • Raise questions

Business idioms

  • Let’s get down to business.
  • What can they bring to the table?
  • I have a call just now, but I’ll touch base with you this afternoon
  • Before we make a decision we need to look at the big picture.

Which is Best For Me? General or Business?

Attending a general English class you’re likely to find a wide variety of people, of different  ages, backgrounds, all with different reasons for learning. They might want to travel to English speaking countries, or simply enjoy the language.

Business English, on the other hand, has a much clearer sense of purpose and direction. It’s specifically designed with professionals in mind and so will attract people of similar business backgrounds, who have the same needs and goals. Being in a room with people who share the same purpose as you can be a really great motivational tool!

While learning general English is a beneficial and enriching experience, business English has the potential to not only help you communicate, but to make you more successful. It can help you boost your your business, bring new clients, increase profits, and make a greater impact on your life– both personally and professionally.

To find out more about why business English is the tool you need and how it can benefit your professional life, join the Business English Community today.

Level up your Business English!

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