Category Archives: Personal Learning

Skills 360 – Business English Hacks (Part 2)

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Hello and welcome back to the Skills 360 podcast. I’m your host, Tim Simmons, and today I want look to give you more great tips for ramping up your business English skills.

You’ve probably heard that one of the traits of a great business leader is the ability to communicate. So, what does it mean to be a good communicator? What does a good communicator actually do? Well, there are a few things that every good communicator does. In our last lesson I covered a few of these simple techniques, and today I want to add to that list.

When you think of being a good communicator, you probably think about speaking skills. But my first bit of advice is all about listening. Nobody likes it if you drone on and never give anyone else a chance to speak. You’ve got to learn to keep your mouth closed and your ears open. And you’ve got to listen actively to actually show people you’re listening. That starts with smiling and nodding, which are simple habits that let the speaker know you’re tuned in.

But that’s not all. You can throw in the occasional “yes,” or “I see.” Or you can echo what the other person is saying, like “a 30% increase? Impressive.” If you do this, people know you’re engaged. And that’s especially important when you can’t actually see the other person, like when you’re talking on the phone or in a teleconference.

All right, so we’ve covered listening. Now I want to give you some speaking techniques. First off, have you ever found yourself at a loss for words when you have to criticize someone or their work? Because you know that it’s not just what you say that is important, it’s how you say it, right? If you just come out and say “your report was lousy,” you’re going to put the person on the defensive. Instead, you need to be a bit more indirect. Try something like “well, I think there are some things you could work on.” Better yet, combine the criticism with some praise, like this: “I think you captured the main ideas, but you might want to make the summary a little clearer.” Wouldn’t you rather hear feedback like that?

This kind of indirect criticism is wrapped up in something bigger that every great communicator has a special knack for: being diplomatic. Diplomatic language is careful language. And I’m not just talking about criticizing or disagreeing. Careful language is also necessary when you make suggestions or pitch an idea.

One of the tricks to being diplomatic is using words that soften what you’re saying. We can do that with modal verbs, like “can” and “could” and “might.” For example, think about the difference between “that is too expensive” and “that might be too expensive.” Sure they have the same meaning, but one is softer. And a bit of indirect language will make it even more diplomatic, like “I’m wondering if that idea might be a bit on the expensive side.” That’s certainly not going to get anyone’s back up, is it?

Another way to soften a statement is to use words of possibility, such as “maybe” or “perhaps.” Imagine you want to suggest buying new computers. You might say “we need to buy new computers,” but that might sound too forceful. Instead, how about something like “perhaps we could buy some new computers?”

So, a diplomatic approach can make people more receptive. But you also want your ideas to stick in people’s memory, and a great way to do that is with repetition. You can try repeating an important word or idea so people don’t forget it. Or you can try repeating a certain structure or way of saying something. For example, think about a sentence like “we’ve got to get costs down and get our revenue up.” Using “get down” and “get up” in this way makes it more impactful, and more memorable.

So there we have it: some quick and easy ways to improve your business English… Oh wait, there’s one more killer technique that beats all the rest: preparation. If you have difficulty speaking on the fly or phrasing things the way you want them, then plan ahead. Find out who you’re going to be talking to, and adapt what you say for that audience. Make sure you know what talking points are so you can do well in that negotiation. Before that big interview, rehearse your answers. Whatever you do, don’t go in blind.

So there you have it: surefire ways to be a great communicator. Remember to be an active listener, careful with criticism, diplomatic, and use repetition. And finally, don’t forget there’s no substitute for good preparation.

That’s all for today. So long. And see you again soon.

Skills 360 – Business English Hacks (Part 1)

Free Resources: Lesson Module | Quiz & Vocab | PDF Transcript | Mobile Quizzes


Hello and welcome back to the Skills 360 podcast. I’m your host, Tim Simmons, and today I want look at some quick and easy hacks you can use to improve your business English.

Business is all about relationships, and relationships are founded on good communication. And while English may seem like a difficult language, being a great communicator and connecting with people isn’t rocket science. You can learn just a few techniques that will take your business English skills to the next level. And I’m not talking about learning a thousand new words or some obscure rules of grammar. The tips I want to give you are fully within your grasp right now.

Let’s start with a real easy one: keep it simple. Use the language you know, and that your listeners know, to communicate your message in simple terms. Do you really think a sophisticated vocabulary is going to impress people? Or help you negotiate a good price from a supplier? Probably not. And it won’t help you connect with people on a human level. Listen to any great political speech or watch any great presentation online, and you’ll notice that the speaker keeps things simple.

Simple also means short, or concise. Why use 50 words when you can use 15? Everyone appreciates language that is clear and to-the-point. So keep it simple, and you’ll keep people engaged.

But what happens when other people don’t keep it simple? Communication is a two-way street, and sometimes you find yourself scratching your head at what someone else is saying. So what you really need to do is to clarify. And remember to be specific about what it is you don’t understand. If a supplier tells you a part is “temporarily unavailable,” which isn’t very clear, don’t just raise your eyebrows and say “pardon?” Instead, say something like “what exactly do you mean when you say this part is temporarily unavailable?” That will encourage the speaker to be more specific.

Another way to clarify is to check back and confirm. That sounds something like “So, you think we shouldn’t build a new website, right?” Or maybe it means saying “You’re saying John is the best applicant, am I correct?” Checking back and confirming is a great way to clarify because it poses a yes-no question. The person can either say “yes, that’s what I mean,” or “no, that’s not what I mean.” And if it’s the latter, the person can then give it another shot. And you can bet they’ll be extra clear so you don’t have to ask again.

So, we’ve talked about being simple and clarifying. Now here’s another crucial technique for communicating clearly: connect your ideas. Your ideas are, in fact, connected, right? So make that clear to your listeners. You can use simple linking words, like “and,” “so,” and “but.”

Or you can dress it up a bit with some more formal expressions. For example, you might say: “Product A is the cheapest. However, cost is not the only consideration. We also need to think about quality. For this reason, I think we should go with Product B.” Can you hear how important those words “however” and “also” and “for this reason” are? These linking words help show the connection between your ideas. And they help listeners see your logic.

Connecting your ideas can also mean showing a sequence. And once again, you don’t have to get fancy. Basic words like “first,” “second,” “next,” and “lastly” can help people see where you’re going. But if you don’t connect your ideas, they will sound like a random collection of thoughts. And you yourself might have to answer some of those clarifying questions I just mentioned.

Now there’s one more business English hack I want to give you today: remember to be polite and courteous. After all, you’re trying to connect with people and make a good impression, right? There’s an old saying that goes like this: “people buy from people they like.” So be friendly and polite.

And being polite begins with those little words we call modals, like “could,” “might,” and “would.” Whether you’re making a suggestion, giving feedback, or asking permission, modals are your ticket to courtesy. And remember that questions are always better than commands. So we don’t say “give me a pen.” Instead, use a modal and a question and say: “could I have a pen?” You don’t have to go over the top, but with a simple, polite, and courteous approach, you’ll do great.

So, let’s run through these four tips once again. First of all, I suggested keeping it simple to keep people engaged. Next, I advised you to ask questions to clarify when you don’t understand. Then I talked about the importance of connecting your ideas so listeners can understand your train of thought. And finally, I suggested making sure you’re friendly and polite. These are all great ways to communicate better and connect with people. But is that all there is to it? No, actually, I’ve got a few more great techniques for you in our next episode. So be sure to tune in!

That’s all for today. So long. And see you again soon.

Skills 360 – How to Improve your English Vocabulary 2

*** Get all the Skills 360 lessons on our free Business English App for iPhone & iPad:
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Free Resources: Quiz & Vocab | PDF Transcript


Hello and welcome back to the Skills 360 podcast. I’m your host, Tim Simmons, and today I want to look at more ways to take your English vocabulary to the next level.

So, you’ve found some great resources for studying English that suit your purpose. You’ve got a variety of listening and reading material chock full of great words and expressions that you want to learn to use. But how do you do it? How do you take those words and expressions and not only remember them but also make them an active part of your working vocabulary? Well, there are several things to keep in mind, and a few key techniques that you can use, as we’ll see today.

One really important idea is that words are used in groups. Sometimes we call them “chunks” or “collocations.” The basic idea is that we put words together in common patterns, and we should learn those patterns, not just individual words. Think of a simple sentence like “Dave is interested in golf.” Understanding what “interested” means is a piece of cake. But if you really want to make that a useful word, you need to pay attention to the fact that we say be interested in something. Take another example like the noun “profit.” It’s hard to use the word if you don’t know that we usually say make a profit or turn a profit.

The idea of groups of words is especially important when it comes to idioms and phrasal verbs, because together words can have a new meaning. So when we hear “give up”, we don’t think about giving or the idea of up, but the meaning they have together, which is “quit”. And don’t think about squares when you hear the expression “back to square one.” Together, those words mean “start again.”

Once you understand the importance of chunks of language, how can you sort out what those chunks mean? A good starting place is context. Look at how the words are used in the situation. From the situation, you can usually get clues to the meaning. Only after examining the context should you look at a definition. And if you really want to get a solid grasp on the meaning, you should look at more examples of the word or expression in a sentence. Good study materials should give you example sentences to learn from.

But it’s not enough just to notice vocabulary and chew over its meaning. You need to do something with it if you’re going to remember it and be able to use it. That starts with writing vocabulary down. Keep a record of good words and expressions that you come across. Write down the word, the context, and example sentences if you can. This is not just so that you have something to review. The act of writing the word and examples down will help you remember it later.

Okay, beyond writing down what you’ve learned, you need to put your new vocabulary to good use. The means trying to use the words you’ve learned in new sentences. You don’t need to write a masterpiece on business communication; you just need to practice putting that new word into a different context. And if you struggle, look back to where you found it or your example sentences. From that context, you should be able to see how the word or expression fits into a sentence. And again, practicing like this will really give you a leg up in recalling the words.

Okay, it seems like we’ve been dwelling on reading and writing, but let’s not forget listening. Learning words through listening is great if you want to actually apply them in conversation. We can learn how individual words sound, and how groups of words sound together. If you’re using listening materials that include a transcript, don’t lean on that transcript too soon. Really listen carefully before reaching for the written version.

Again, vocabulary you learn through listening should be written down and practiced in sentences. But to really take it to the next level, you should actually say the words. Start by repeating what you hear in your listening. Really try to mimic the sound and flow of speech. Then read aloud from your examples or the sentences you’ve written. And try to make completely new sentences just in speaking. In this way, you’re getting your brain and mouth ready to actually apply the words in conversation.

As you probably realize, it’s pretty easy to forget new words if we don’t take steps to commit them to memory. And even when we remember them when we hear or read them, it can be difficult to use them. But if you focus on chunks of language, if you look closely at how words are used in context, and if you write them down and practice using them in writing and speaking, you’ll be well on your way to building a better vocabulary.

That’s all for today. If you’d like to test yourself on what we’ve just covered, have a look at the website. There you’ll find a quiz about today’s show as well as a complete transcript.

So long. And see you again soon.

Skills 360 – How to Improve your English Vocabulary 1

*** Get all the Skills 360 lessons on our free Business English App for iPhone & iPad:
Download from the App Store

Free Resources: Quiz & Vocab | PDF Transcript


Hello and welcome back to the Skills 360 podcast. I’m your host, Tim Simmons, and today I want to look at ways to take your English vocabulary to the next level.

Many students of English have the feeling that they’ve learned pretty much all the grammar they need. Many also feel that they can understand fairly well and speak and write at an acceptable level. But these same people sometimes feel that they’re missing something, and that they say the same things in the same way all the time.

In fact, once you’ve reached an intermediate level, vocabulary becomes more important than ever. You need to add more and more words, idioms, and expressions to your stock of language so that you can take the next step up in proficiency. So how can you learn new words? What are the secrets of expanding your language ability?

First, let’s talk about materials, or what you use to learn English. You need to find good sources of English that will include words and expressions that will be useful to you. I strongly recommend you use both listening and reading materials. If you focus only on reading, as many students do, you won’t learn how language sounds and feels in your mouth. If you focus only on listening, you won’t know how it’s written.

So then what should you be listening to and reading? You want resources that are relevant to your purpose, both in terms of context and topic. Let me explain what I mean. If your purpose is to improve your conversation and presentations skills to do your job as a salesperson, then use resources that teach you conversational English and the language of presentations. That’s the correct match for the context of your English development. And if your work as a salesperson is in the hi-tech sector, then find resources that include vocabulary related to technology. That’s the correct match for the topic of your studies.

I don’t mean that you should limit yourself to only the kinds of language that you’ll meet every day. Variety is important too, and you need to read and listen to things that are interesting to you, not just practical. But there are only so many hours in a day, and if you’re like most people in business, you need to find what gives you the best bang for your buck.

Now, I’ve mentioned what kind of resources you should look for, and you’ll notice that I didn’t mention anything that is specifically about vocabulary. I mean like a vocabulary book, or word lists. That’s because it’s best to study vocabulary in context. You might have memorized words and definitions for language tests in high school or university. But did that really teach you how to use those words? Did you really understand the kinds of situations that those words can be used in? Probably not, so instead of memorizing lists, study vocabulary in its natural environment, and it’ll be easier to incorporate new words into your own speaking and writing.

So, you have found some good resources, and you understand the importance of context, but when you read and listen, which words and expressions should you be learning? How do you choose the vocabulary that you should study? Well, a lot of good study materials will identify the useful vocabulary for you. And they might give you definitions and examples. So with the context and this added info, you’ve got something to work with.

But if you’re trying to choose vocabulary on your own, you should focus on two ideas: relevance and frequency. Put another way: words that suit your purpose and words that are common. Words that suit your purpose are those that are related to your work and your English output. If you never write formally in English, then a word like “hence” might not really be relevant to you. And if you work in finance, then a marketing term like “segmentation” might not be relevant. Words that are common are important, because you’ll hear them more often and they’ll be more useful. So although you might encounter the word “pip” and think it’s interesting, it’s very uncommon, and so you shouldn’t spent your mental energy trying to remember it. There are thousands of more common and more useful words that you should learn first.

The fact is, we can’t learn every word we meet. We need to pick and choose carefully, and that means focusing on what is relevant and common. And we’ll find what is relevant and common in reading and listening resources that have the right topic and language context.

So long. And see you again soon.

360 – Making the Most of Personal Learning 2

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Welcome back to the Skills 360 podcast. My name’s Tim, and today we’re going to look at some more tips and ideas for making the most of your personal learning.

And FYI: listening to Skills 360 just got easier. Yes, this podcast now has its own channel on iTunes. If you don’t already subscribe, visit BEP or myBEonline for the free subscription links.

Okay, so last week I talked about setting yourself up with a system of personal learning. Today, I’m going to be talking about maintaining your momentum and staying on track.

All right. You’ve set some goals, found some resources, and come up with a plan for your personal learning. How are you going to stick to that plan? One of the greatest things you can do to maintain your momentum is to establish a routine. If you keep thinking that you’ll study if and when you get the time, or if you just try to fit in some listening practice every now and then when you get 20 minutes of free time, chances are you won’t achieve your goals. You’ll go nuts with frustration. You need to be regular. This usually means studying at the same time every day. Whether it’s on your commute, over your morning cup of joe, or part of your evening routine, doing it the same time every day will help make it a habit. It will become second nature, just like brushing your teeth.

Part of your routine should include a regular review of what you’ve already done. There’s nothing worse than putting in the work to learn something and then forgetting it a short time later. In last week’s episode we talked about variety, which means the breadth of input. But you also need depth. So don’t forget to look back and reinforce what you’ve already studied.

Now, remember in our last episode I talked about setting goals… SMART goals? Well, as you work toward those goals, you need to track or assess your progress. Are you actually coming closer to reaching your goals? Assessing your progress could involve breaking your goals down into stages. Reaching those stages means making progress. This could also mean keeping a careful record of what you do and what you can do. You will be able to look back through your record and see how far you’ve come. Another way to track yourself is to use our BuddyBucks system on What are BuddyBucks? Basically, they’re points that you earn for participating and learning. The more BuddyBucks you earn, the more progress you’re making. It’s a great way to see how much you’re getting done.

But tracking your progress is not always enough to keep your learning on track. You might need to dangle a carrot in front of yourself. I’m talking about rewards, which are closely related to motivation. You have to feel like you’re getting something for your hard work. You can certainly set different kinds of rewards for yourself for achieving certain milestones or reaching certain goals. For short-term goals, it could be something as simple as a cup of coffee. For larger goals, it could be a movie or concert or even a weekend away. And this is another way that BuddyBucks might help give you a spark. When you earn enough BuddyBucks, you can cash them in for access to more Business English Pod resources. Or access to human resources… by that I mean teachers… which brings me to my next point.

Sometimes learners encounter roadblocks when they have difficulty in their studies or can’t find answers to their questions. When this happens, some people flounder or become dejected. But you don’t have to. Someone has the answers to your questions, and you don’t need to suffer in silence. I’m talking about teachers. Get help when you need it! If you’re not taking a class and don’t have a flesh and blood teacher to help you, then go online. Post your questions to popular forums and watch the responses pour in. Or connect with a teacher online for one-on-one help. How or where to find a teacher? We’ll, we’ll have answer for that soon, so keep your eyes on

Great stuff. That’s all for today. I’d like to wish you the best of luck in your journey of learning. Take good care of your motivation and you’ll do great. If you’d like to test yourself on what we’ve just covered, have a look at the website. There you’ll find a quiz about today’s show as well as a complete transcript. So long, and see you again soon.

Discussion Questions

1. Do you have a regular schedule for studying English?
2. How can you know whether you’re improving your English skills?
3. What are your greatest personal motivators for studying English?