Understanding comma rules is important!

Commas clarify meaning by indicating pauses and separating elements within a sentence. The presence (or absence) of a comma can subtly or dramatically change the meaning of a sentence. Below, we have shared 13 simple rules for English commas.

13 Simplified Comma Rules. Add a comma–

  1. After multi-word introductory comments: “When I was a child–”
  2. After certain introductory words such as no & yes: “Yes, I am very interested in the job.”
  3. Before a quote: He said, “We have to finish today.”
  4. To separate two interchangeable adjectives: “a serious, complicated situation”
  5. In lists of three or more
  6. To set off non-essential information
  7. To separate a statement from a question tag: “That’s correct, isn’t it?”
  8. With the word “which”
  9. To separate the day of the month and the year: August 12, 2017
  10. To separate a city from its state: Chicago, Illinois
  11. To separate independent clauses (phrases that could be written as complete sentences)
  12. With conjunctive adverbs such as however
  13. And finally – The Oxford comma – also called the serial comma and the Harvard comma – is a subject of debate. In other words, there is no right or wrong usage rule, except that you must use it when it is needed to avoid confusion. Whether you use the Oxford comma is a matter of style – some style guides call for it, and others don’t. Check your school or company style guide and punctuate your texts accordingly.

Did you find the above English comma rules useful? Would you like to take a deeper dive into Business Writing? Or Academic Writing?

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There’s so much to know about written English! Comma rules is just the beginning. Contact The English Center today.

Comma Rules Made Simple was first published in 2018 and edited May 2024.

Business Presentations in English: Beyond the Deck.

In this article, you will take a deep dive into English business presentations, looking primarily at the soft skills and smart habits that contribute to successful, engaging presentations that will leave you feeling proud and leave your audience feeling impressed.

Do you have an important business presentation coming up? Gotta do it in English? :-/. Check out our Business English Masterclass. Six hours to success.

Would you rather read about business presentation skills in Dutch?

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Your business presentation toolkit contains advice about–

Before you start this article, please be an assertive reader and just find the items below that are useful for YOU. Some of these tips may already be part of your presentation preparation process (great!), but others may be new, valuable skills. So scroll through, take what you need and leave the rest. But first…

Your spoken English.

Before your next presentation, PLEASE take an honest inventory of your spoken English. How is your pronunciation, articulation, intonation, voice quality, rate of speech, pausing/phrasing? Are you easy to understand? Does your voice sound pleasing to your audience or is it staccato, harsh, high-pitched, nasal, flat (lacking intonation) or halting (lacking fluency)?

Read more about The English Center’s Spoken English Test

Read more about in-company business English training in Amsterdam and online.

Liever in het Nederlands over bedrijfs training lezen? In-Company Cursus Zakelijk Engels

Pronunciation for business presentations.

PRONUNCIATION. Accents and pronunciation are a big topic, but the bottom line is that when your English contains too many sound errors, such as sound substitutions or missing sounds, your English can be tiring to follow and hard to understand. Accents can be fine and add a certain charm to your English, but it is best to find out what errors you’re making and how significant they are. In other words–do they interfere with communication? If they do, you need to fix those mistakes. It’s that simple.

Get a professional evaluation of your spoken English pronunciation, because your friends won’t tell you! And if you want to go for the “gold standard,” a near-native sound, you can request a free intake appointment to learn more about spoken English coaching and accent reduction.

Voice Quality.

What is a good voice? What is good voice quality in a given language? That depends on the language. Be aware that the “normal” voice quality in your native language may be very different than that which the English ear finds pleasing. That does not make any other language-sound right or wrong, but it is a practical matter that you do not want to irritate, confuse or bore an English-speaking audience. Business is competitive, and your sound must capture your audience.

If your spoken English needs improvement, contact The English Center. We can help!

Looking for a relevant book from a top Ted.com speaker? Check out Julian Treasure’s,  “How to be heard: Secrets for powerful speaking and listening.” Or maybe Chris Anderson’s “Ted Talks.” Both books are widely available.

OK, so what sound is considered best in English?

The most popular English voice is a throat or chest voice with a relatively low pitch. It is sometimes called “the daddy voice,” regardless of gender. This voice signals seems to trigger confidence and will automatically put your audience at ease. If you already have a mid to low voice, you are in luck! If not, there are ways to try to lower your voice pitch. Read “How to make your voice deeper.”

Is my voice too nasal?

If you think maybe you speak through your nose,” try this little test. Say ah in your normal way. Then use your fingers to pinch your nostrils together so that no air can come out. Then repeat the ah sound. If the sound does not stop or change quality, you do not have a nasal voice. A nasal voice is not generally considered attractive in English, although American actress Fran Dresher made it her trademark in the popular TV show, “The Nanny.”

A nasal or unusual voice can be an asset for business presentations, voiceover work, etc. – if it makes you memorable, so if you have an unusual voice and you can’t or don’t want to fix it, embrace it!

Rate of speech and phrasing for business presentations.

How fast should I speak when giving a business presentation? Pace, like pitch, tends to go up when we are under pressure. Control your pace in order to give your audience time to process what you are saying. Do not try to impress by speaking quickly. You will only leave your listeners behind; without enough time to derive meaning from your words. And do not go fast because you imagine that people will not notice your errors if you go fast enough. Or they will think you speak English well because you speak it fast. That doesn’t work.

The best presenters take a moderate pace and use phrasing (pauses) to delineate meaningful units of speech. Listen to Obama. He does a great job of phrasing: delivering bite size units of meaning that build on one another, leading the listener gently and confidently on precisely the path he has chosen. No listener is left behind with his expert phrasing!

See this collection of Obama speech snippets from NBC News.

150 Words per minute is a good rate of speech for your business presentation.

Most experts say about 150 WPM is a good rate for a business presentation. Read your script with your timer on to calculate your pace and do your best not to speed up when you’re on stage.

Control your speed and you will not only give people enough time to process what you are saying; you will signal confidence. It’s like you’re letting the listeners know, “Hey, this is my time. I have something of value to say and I’m not going to rush through it.”

Language music? In a business presentation….? Yes!

Be sure that you are correctly using intonation (the ups and downs, fast and slow, stretches and contractions of English words and sentences) to carry meaning. Without proper intonation your English prsentation will lack meaning. Let me repeat that. Your spoken English will lack meaning in the ear of the listener because English relies on language music (intonation) to carry meaning. Without the proper use of intonation, your English presentation can sound confusing, bored, lifeless or just plain lazy.

After you have prepared your instrument (your voice), you can proceed. Next…

It’s your presentation. What is your intent?

Define the purpose of the presentation for yourself. Why are you giving this presentation? Identify the main goal of your presentation; know your motivation. This is internal information and may or may not be shared with the audience, but just like an actor has to know the motivation of the character, you have to know why you are going to take the stage and present! Whether it’s simply to deliver a standard weekly presentation for your team or it’s a C-suite, high stakes, make-or-break performance, know your “why.”

Business presentation takeaways.

Ask yourself: What are the intended takeaways for this business presentation? Takeaways are the most important thoughts and facts that the audience will not forget. These are usually bitesize, memorable and repeatable soundbites. If the audience leaves your presentation with no repeatable takeaways, you did not succeed.

And please consider how your audience should feel when they leave? You might call this an emotional takeaway. Should they feel…?

Choose a register.

Your register is simply the level of formality you will use. Getting this right is important, but for those of you presenting to your own company, maybe even to your own team, this will be super easy. You know your company culture perfectly. But when you are out of the office or go abroad, keep it in mind. Company culture is trending hard toward less formal, but it can differ from business to business and certainly from country to country. Being too informal can be insulting and being too formal can make you appear pompous and socially distant / lacking empathy. As an extra note, when you do leave the country, please be sure that you are well versed on social norms so that you do not, as we say, “put your foot in your mouth.”

Gather your info and create your outline.

Now begin gathering your information in your platform of choice. Collect the relevant data, facts, and supporting materials. Start building the business presentation in your presentation platform – whatever program you like. Of course your company probably already has a template in a particular platform.

Organize your presentation into a logical structure with a clear introduction, body, and conclusion. Each part should flow smoothly into the next. Be sure that the beginning and end are strong and clear.

Edit the outline for a narrative or story arc. If you can create some excitement, tension, or anticipation, that helps bring your business presentation to life. Add some surprise or humour if appropriate. See Nancy Duarte’s “The Secret Structure of Great Talks” for help with this.

Begin your business presntation with a hook.

A hook is a great way to capture your audiences attention at the beginning and get them really engaged. It can be something as simple as an interesting fact about your topic, a question about your topic that you will answer by the end of the presentation or a funny saying that relates to your topic. What is most important is that you don’t start with the same introduction as most other presenters…..”Hi, my name is Jane Smith and today I am going to talk about The History of Concrete Production in The Netherlands”. Zzzzzz…..

Slides: Visuals and text.

Source or design engaging visuals: Create simple, clear, engaging graphic slides that complement your message. Keep the screens clear and uncluttered. Obviously, use appropriate branding.

Resist the temptation to have lots of text on your screen because humans are really not good multitaskers (trust me on this), and they will stop listening and start reading when they are presented with loads of small print. The text in your presentation should only be points that you elaborate on during your talk…..NOT every word that you say. That’s why the program is called PowerPOINT.

If a line or two of text is so compelling that you must put it on the screen–then put it on the screen all by itself. Those big words will be quickly read and will signal that THESE. WORDS. ARE. IMPORTANT.

When the business presentation outline and slides are in good draft form, you are ready to…

Write and rehearse your presentation script.

Yes, write a script. Giving a good presentation is a bit of theatre, so just like a good actor, write and learn your script.

Practice, Practice, Practice: Rehearse your business presentation script many times. Practice speaking confidently and at a comfortable pace. Familiarize yourself with your content and visual aids. The best ways to practice are standing, with a mirror, a friend/partner, with your phone’s native audio recorder or with your phone’s video function.

Listen to feedback and listen to your recordings / watch your videos.  There’s always room for improvement. Keep rehearsing until you feel good about what you hear. It does not have to be perfect or to sound native, but it should be (given time restraints) your personal best. When you know your “lines,” add those lines to the note section of your screen (visible only to you) or go “old school” and use index cards with key words and phrases to keep you on track with your more-or-less memorized script.

Once you know the script rather well (perfection is not required) you can work on other aspects of your presentation stage craft, such as…

Body language in presentations.

Body language is, according to some experts, more important than your words. Whether that is really true or not is unimportant, but please be assured that body language does matter a lot. Use these tips for better body language in presentations

Smart Tip #1: More about body language and stage fright: Some research shows that “making yourself big” before going on stage or entering the conference room may help you feel more confident. Check out Amy Cuddy’s TED presentation, “Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are.” It’s been viewed 69,198,787 times!

Smart tip #2: Use your phone’s video recorder to how you how you really look on stage and edit your body language accordingly.

Smart tip #3: Watch this great video from American university’s Stanford Graduare School of Business, “Make Body Language your Superpower.”

Hand Gestures for business presentations: A short list of hand gesture that help your audience “take onboard” what you are saying.

Coming from your neutral, hands-at-your-sides position, use the–

Time management.

Did you know that the maximum length for a Ted Talk is 18 minutes? Of course, your business presentation may be shorter, but be aware that a longer presentation means you have to work harder to keep the audience engaged.

When rehearsing, trim or extend your presentation to fit the allotted time or your content. And if there is no required length, plan to keep your presentation “short and sweet.” Keep it to the point. Be concise and yes, leave them “begging for more.” OK, enough idioms.

Time tip: Use your phone’s native timer to keep you on schedule. Plan for questions and discussions, if applicable. (More about handling questions later.)

Engage your audience.

Incorporate interactive elements, story/stories, show-stopping stats and can’t-look-away visuals to capture your audience’s attention. We live in a very visually and auditorily stimulating, TikTok kinda world, so do not deliver a lecture or simply instruct. Thou shall not bore thy audience. Use your content, voice, body language and slides to keep them focused on you and the info you are sharing.

Presentation Questions???

In some cases, you will want to encourage questions and participation during the presentation. In other cases, you will ask the audience to hold question till the end, but in any case, you must prepare for potential questions. Be ready for expected questions with well-researched answers. But what happens if you do not understand the question? This is a real and understandable fear for presenters.

Try this approach to questions.

First of all, always have a helper in the audience. This person (a strong English speaker) will help you handle difficult questions. Next, accept the fact that you will not understand every question and that this doesn’t always mean your English listening skills aren’t good enough. It may simply mean that the questioner has a strong accent or used confusing word order, bad grammar, etc. So don’t worry about it. Just politely ask them to repeat the question. When you think you understand, restate the question and then answer it. If you still do not understand the question, ask your helper to restate the question. Failing that, tell the questioner to chat with you after the presentation. You have to keep things moving.

In a bigger hall, you might have several helpers, working the crowd with a microphone and repeating questions in an easy-for-you-to-understand manner.

Also appropriate for a big crowd is to have the helpers collect the question and then speak them to you. In that scenario you do not get questions directly from the audience and only have to listen to one person (your helper), who’s accent and manner of speaking you know and easily understand.

Of course, you should also practice likely questions with best answers. Remember, the best answer is concise and to the point. Don’t go on and on. Most people have pretty short attention spans and you have to allow time for several questions. Do not get stuck.

Presentation tech & equipment check.

Test all necessary equipment and technology (e.g., projector, microphone, laptop) well before your presentation. Have backup plans in case of technical issues. Tech issues are common and when “all eyes are on you” it’s not pleasant to have to solve those problems in real time. And definitely have a designated tech assistant who can assist as needed and certainly jump in if you have a technical glitch.

Finally, remember the famous quote, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” Confidence, enthusiasm, clear speech with good pacing/phrasing plus a pleasant voice will combine with a well-structured message for a successful presentation.

Brenda de Jong-Pauley for The English Center

Contact The English Center about all things business English training related. We’re here to help you succeed in Business English.

How to speak so that people want to listen (Julian Treasure)

TEDxEast – Nancy Duarte The Secret Structure of Great Talks

TED Studio – Chris Anderson TED’s secret to great public speaking

Contact The English Center.

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10 Tips for ESL Vocabulary Acquisition and Retention

We all know you can’t speak a language without knowing the right words – words are quite literally the building blocks of language. That’s why learning and retaining new vocabulary is such a fundamental part of learning to speak fluently.

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But retention is, for most people, the most difficult, time-consuming, and at times discouraging part of second language acquisition. There are just so many words to be learned and remembered. It can seem hopeless, like climbing a mountain that is so tall you know you will never reach the summit.

But the process starts easily. You read or hear a word, your practise saying it, maybe write it down, and recall it a few minutes later. That’s your short-term memory at work. But if you want these words to stick, you need to commit them to long-term memory. 

And what’s the best way to do that? Well, let’s see what science has to say.

Not a reader? More of a video watcher? Then check out this TED Women video with ready-to-use, practical advice and insights about your memory from brain expert  Wendy Suzuki. The video is entitled: The brain-changing benefits of exercise

How does memory work?

According to Scientific American, the process by which information in our short term memory converts to long-term memory happens through physical changes in our brain.  When long term memories are formed, the hippocampus takes information from the working memory and changes the brain’s actual physical neural wiring. A long term memory means our brain now has brand new physical connections!

The good news is that these new connections between neurons and synapses stay as long as they remain in use. And that’s the bad news: they stay in place as long as they stay in use.

Yes, use it or lose it.

Vocabulary use is the key to retention

Language retention is not a passive sport. You have to receive (read or hear) and then produce (speak or write) the words to retain them. Ideally that means that you receive them, speak them and or write or type them, and then use them in spoken or written language in a context that will build memory structures. And then you repeat that after some time has passed (spaced repetition).

But let’s start with acquiring the vocabulary in the first place.

10 Tips: Best practices for vocabulary acquisition and retention

1. Set aside a time and space to focus

While it’s tempting to multi task, studying a sticky note on your mirror while brushing your teeth, science shows that new words will sink in far better if you can devote some undivided attention to your learning session.  Create a dedicated space and time for vocab-learning, and stick to it.

2. Get a vocabulary notebook

The pen is mightier than the smartphone…?

A 2021 study involving Japanese university students shows that information is retained better when taking notes on paper than typing on a phone, tablet or computer.  While digital devices are temptingly convenient, it may be worth slowing down and writing by hand.

Consider investing in a dedicated notebook for your vocabulary learning – it can be anything from a cheap, plain exercise book to a beautiful leather bound journal with lines – and you use it consistently.

3. Use spreadsheets

Don’t own a pencil? OK, we get it. Spreadsheets are a smart, active place to keep your shiny new words.

Spreadsheets are a fantastic way to keep all of your vocabulary in one place, and make it easy to find specific words quickly. You can reorder your lists however you like, print them out, save them in notebooks, use colour, and play around with them in whatever way feels right. Over time, you may want to group words of similar themes together, according to context.

We suggest this easy to use pattern:

Column A: the word or words. For example: investigate, investigation, investigating, investigated

Column B: translation of the core word into your native language. You may choose to use a Google spreadsheet with a formula for auto translation.

Column C: short definition, synonyms, mnemonic devices, and sample sentences. Whatever will help YOU remember this word are the best things to put in this column.

4. Use a “karaoke” English learning app–English Central

English Central is a multi sensory, interactive online platform for English language learners, from beginner level to advanced, with 10,000 courses and videos to help you expand your vocabulary in an “authentic media,” focused context, such as job interview English, social English, business English, travel English and much more.

English Central uses spaced repetition, something we’ll speak more about later. But for now, this is how we use English Central with our clients. You can use this app independently or as part of a course. Contact us to learn more.

• Step 1: WATCH the short, authentic video and click any words you don’t know for an instant definition.

• Step 2: LEARN the words. By listening and typing in the new words. In just a few minutes you have read, heard and typed new words, and you’ve done it all in a meaningful context. That’s active, multi-sensory. contextual learning and that’s great! There’s just one thing that’s missing–

• Step 3: SPEAK the video. Now, like karaoke, you become the star, saying all the lines from the video. The system records you and gives you instant feedback on your pronunciation and fluency. This way you are sure your pronunciation is correct! And you can listen to yourself and re-record anything that you’re not happy with.

Conclusion: English Central is the ideal way to expand your vocabulary, both receptive (reading/listening) and productive (speaking/writing).

Ask us about placing you in a course with supervision from an English Center teacher to get the most value from the program.

5. Define your vocabulary goals. Choose some categories and work them!

The point of learning words is to use them, right? Consider what kind of vocabulary you are most likely to need in everyday social and professional situations and focus on that.

Or choose a book you love and dive into the author’s world.

Or choose a levelled ESL vocabulary book, such as Cambridge English Vocabulary in Use. For business English, we love MacMillan Business Vocabulary Builder.

Ask your language trainer to help you source well written articles. Because we work with lots of business English students, we love the Economist and Harvard Business Review. They are great sources for smart, challenging reading. Note all the words you don’t know and learn them while reading and rereading and watch your understanding explode!

Finally, keep your eyes open. The most relevant language is the kind you come across naturally. When you encounter a word or expression you want to know, make a note of it, look it up (or ask your teacher at the next lesson), and incorporate it into your learning – and then use it!

6. Maintain your brain

Keep in mind the organ responsible for all this memorisation – your big, beautiful brain.  While remarkable in its abilities, it’s also just a squishy blob of flesh with needs like the rest of your body – needs like hydration, nutrition and sleep.

Memory relies heavily on your overall physical health.  Do you feel forgetful and unable to focus when down with the flu?  That should be a clue – memorising lists of information just isn’t a priority for the body when it’s fighting infection, hungry, stressed or exhausted.  We know this, yet how often do we run ourselves ragged keeping up with everyday life or chasing our ambitions?

What’s more, studies show you can unleash your brain’s full memorising potential just by giving up alcohol!  According to NIH (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism), moderate to heavy drinking impairs long-term memory.  So even if you don’t have a drinking ‘problem’ per se, try one month alcohol free and see how it affects not only your language learning, but your everyday brain function, too.

Finally, if you did not watch the Wendy Suzuki TED video yet, check it out now. The video is entitled: The brain-changing benefits of exercise.

7. Use spaced repetition for better vocabulary retention

This technique is well supported by research and works on the principle that we remember chunks of information best by allowing some time in-between study sessions, to allow it to ‘sink in’.  Remember, memory relies on actual, physical changes happening in your brain, and this needs time to occur and reoccur.

Here’s a simple approach to spaced repetition:

• Phase 1 – Learn the new vocabulary (along with pronunciation and definition).  Incorporate mnemonic devices! (see next section)
• Phase 2 – Try to recall all of the new vocabulary.  Give extra attention to the ones you struggle with.
• Phase 3 – This is not the day after Day 2, but rather three days after.  Yes, leave three whole days in-between!  As with Day 2, see which words are easy to recall and which still need attention.

You can read lots more about spaced repetition online, but just try phase 1, 2 and 3, and see how it goes.

8. Make it memorable with mnemonics

This word alone seems difficult to memorise, doesn’t it?  Pronounce it with a silent m and a schwa sound in the first syllable. If you are Dutch, this word translates as “geheugensteuntje” or “ezelsbruggetje” (a donkey bridge).

A mnemonic is a pattern of letters, ideas, or associations that assists in remembering something. A great example is “fanboys” for remembering the most common English conjunctions: for, and, not, but, or, yet and so.

If you are Dutch, you know this tasty mnemonic: soft ketchup, which is used to teach children (and foreigners like me ;-)) the spelling rule for d and t word endings in the past tense.

And here are some more memory enhancement ideas….

9. Use your ears and your mouth, not just your eyes

We tend to think of study and memorisation as a quiet activity, but it’s better to involve sound when you’re learning a language . After all, you’re learning these words to speak them, not just to know them when reading, eh? If you’re not sure how to pronounce a word, just type it in to hear a quick audio clip.  Listen to the word and repeat it a few times until you get the hang of it, and say it whilst writing it out.

Our smartphones are also handy recording devices.  When you learn a new word in an English lesson, don’t be shy!  Whip out your phone and record either yourself or your teacher saying the word out loud, so you can remember it later.  If you’ve forgotten to do this during the lesson and are racking your brain trying to remember how to say that one frustrating new word, drop your teacher a message and ask them to say it in a WhatsApp voice note – then bring them a small gift at the following lesson to say thank you (just kidding!  Or am I…?).

10. Visualize and tell stories

Human brains love stories.  That’s why our film and television industry is so enormous?  Even if you don’t consume much fiction, I bet you still have an interest in history, true crime or biographies.  We remember elements of a good story because they’re necessary elements of something that matters to us.

Like the example with “mnemonics,” creating a visual to go with a word is a powerful technique for remembering it long-term.

Then take it a step further and use your list of new vocabulary to create a whole story. Storytelling is something you can do on your own, or during a session with your English trainer, taking turns working the new words into an original story. Be creative and engage your imagination and sense of humor to make your story visual and memorable. Be sure to type, write or record the story as you go along, so you can remember it (and the vocabulary) later.

In conclusion

There’s no substitute for a big beautiful vocabulary; expanding your vocabulary is one of the most rewarding, but challenging, aspects of learning a language. Fortunately, there are many ways you can make it easier.  Why not try one of these 10 tips today?  Or try a few, and see what works best.  The results may surprise you!


Alexandra Roberts and Brenda de Jong-Pauley for The English Center, 2023

Are you looking for an English trainer in Amsterdam, Amstelveen or Den Haag? Or an online trainer? Our team customizes lesson that fit your life and your profession. Contact us to learn more. Or call +31 20 823 0569.

Do you want to focus on Business English vocabulary?

Are you a Nederlander looking for some quick vocabulary gains? Check out our 50 Zakelijk Engelse woorden die je al kent with audio.

Does your team need to speak better English? Read about our customized in-company training.

Romeo and Juliet – A Love Story that’s 426 Years Young

As I write this post, Valentine’s Day 2023 is almost here, and in honour of this most romantic of all holidays, we want to share a story first published 426 years ago. You know the title of the story already – it’s Shakespeare’s The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.

What, you say? I don’t know that title.

Well, that very wordy title is exactly what it was called when it was first penned, but today we know it simply as Romeo and Juliet, a play that stands alone as the most iconic love story of all English language love stories. And despite its shortened title, all the joy and pain of true, young love is contained within this story, and no other poem or play is more associated with romantic love than is this tragic tale of two “star-crossed” lovers.

Vocabulary tip: The term “star-crossed” is used when a relationship appears doomed to fail. The meaning derives from astrology, whose adherents believe that the stars control human destiny.

Spoiler alert: the young lovers die in the end.

Are you an actor? Do you want to improve your pronunciation so that you sound more native? Do you need to learn an American or a British accent? We offer private diction coaching and pronunciation training to help you achieve exactly the right sound.

Don’t really know the story? Here’s a Romeo and Juliet plot synopsis from the Folger’s Shakespeare website.

It’s in the prologue of Romeo and Juliet that Shakespeare introduces his new phrase “star-crossed lovers”—and the “stars” (fate, luck, destiny?) do seem to conspire against these tender young lovers.

Romeo is a Montague, and Juliet a Capulet. Their families are enmeshed in a feud, but the moment they meet—when Romeo and his friends attend a party at Juliet’s house in disguise—the two fall in love and quickly decide that they want to be married.

A friar secretly marries them, hoping to end the feud. Romeo and his companions almost immediately encounter Juliet’s cousin Tybalt, who challenges Romeo. When Romeo refuses to fight, Romeo’s friend Mercutio accepts the challenge and is killed. Romeo then kills Tybalt and is banished. He spends that night with Juliet and then leaves for Mantua.

Juliet’s father forces her into a marriage with Count Paris. To avoid this marriage, Juliet takes a potion, given her by the friar, which makes her appear dead. The friar will send Romeo word to be at her family tomb when she awakes. The plan goes awry, and Romeo learns instead that she is dead. In the tomb, Romeo kills himself. Juliet wakes, sees his body, and commits suicide. Their deaths appear finally to end the feud.”

The story opens…

Two households, both alike in dignity
(In fair Verona, where we lay our scene),
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife.
The fearful passage of their death-marked love
And the continuance of their parents’ rage,
Which, but their children’s end, naught could remove,
Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage;
The which, if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.

You can read the entire tragedy online or download the file…

… as a free PDF from the respected “Folger’s Shakespeare Library”

Video: The Balcony Scene from Romeo and Juliet, with a very young Leonardo DiCaprio

Video Trailer–Romeo and Juliet, Globe Theater, London

Video: A quick, easy summary of Romeo and Juliet from SparkNotes

[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]Brenda de Jong-Pauley, February, 2023

PS. Would you like more Shakespeare? Yes?

Read our popular post, “Shakespeare: Ten Favorite Quotes and a Beautiful Apology.”


Shakespeare’s Language of Love: 14 Romantic Quotes

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Diplomatic Phrases: How to be less direct and achieve more

The language of diplomacy is a cultural construct that tells us what to say and how to say it in social and professional situations. Diplomacy tells us how to be polite and show respect while still communicating in a clear manner. While most children learn diplomatic language from their parents, and later in school, ideas of what is and is not polite vary widely between languages and their associated cultures.

Does your team need to speak more diplomatically? Read more about our customized in-company training.

Because English has become the preferred language of international business, we find ourselves at a moment in history where international workers are using English without the attendant knowledge of good manners and diplomacy. And for those working in HORECA (hotel, restaurant and cafe) and other intensely customer facing businesses, diplomatic English is a necessity.

Knowing a set of diplomatic phrases is not enough, however. L2 speakers must understand the context and underlying intent, which is often to show empathy – and try to access these feelings within themselves. Without that grounding, diplomatic language can sound fake and forced, which is almost worse than no diplomacy at all.

Many cultures are much more direct than English-speaking cultures. Directness, for example, in Dutch culture is seen as a strength, a sign of openness and honesty. However, if you translate the phrase that you are likely to say in Dutch in a difficult situation word-for-word into English, it usually sounds blunt and rude, far too direct for most English-speaking cultures. When speaking in English, especially in customer service situations, respect is shown differently. While the need to be honest is still present, there must also be consideration taken towards cultural differences and the ways in which respect is given and received.

While diplomatic language begins with “please and thank you” plus the occasional apology, these words are just the beginning.

Would you like to practice your business etiquette in an online or in-person business English intensive? Contact The English Center about a free appointment or ask us about our custom course offerings. Call +31 20 823 0569

From the time we first make requests, we receive lessons in diplomacy. Please and thank you are the first lessons most of us receive. But diplomacy at this level is just the bare minimum of human respect. By kindergarten age, most children have mastered these phrases.

And while we learn many important life skills in kindergarten, there are many more techniques, tools, and tips that you need to use when working in client-facing sectors, such as HORECA (hotels, restaurants, and cafes). In the tourism industry, dealing with complaints, making apologies, and delivering bad news are common communication skills necessary for success. After all, it’s not just when things run smoothly that you have to impress the client with your diplomacy. It’s when things go wrong that diplomacy is really a life saver.

That’s why The English Center has created a guide outlining diplomatic business English phrases that you can pull from for problem solving when things, in fact, do go wrong. For 10 difficult situations, we provide an omnibus of go-to sentence starters for you to put in your bag of customer service magic tricks to smooth over and calm even the most hard-to-please client.

In every category, we’ll provide example sets of too direct vs. diplomatic phrases in English.

Instructions: Read the phrases below and note the contrast. Let’s dive in!

Diplomatic Phrases Function 1–Asking for Information

Sometimes we don’t fully understand what a client is asking for, or we need more information in order to give them what they want. Let’s take a look at five “too direct” phrases for asking for clarification and replace those phrases with more diplomatic ones.

Too direct: You did not give me enough information. Tell me more.
Diplomatic: Please provide me with more details so that I can resolve this issue.

Too direct: You asked for a reservation for the first week of December, but now you are talking about different dates.
Diplomatic: There seems to be some conflicting information re: your reservation dates. Please clarify your arrival and departure dates so that we can complete your reservation. Thank you!

Too direct: I can’t look up your information without your name. Give it to me.
Diplomatic: I’m happy to assist you today. In order to look up your account, may I ask your name?

Too direct: If you want room service, you have to pay for it. Give me your credit card number.
Diplomatic: I’m happy to help you place your room service order. We just need to put a credit card on file for billing purposes. May I have your card number, please?

Too direct: You can’t file a complaint against an employee without their name. Do you know their name?
Diplomatic: I’m sorry you’ve had a poor experience with our staff, and I’m happy to help rectify the situation however I can. Do you know the employee’s name, or can you remember what they look like?

Diplomatic Phrases Function 2–Checking for Understanding

Sometimes the client gives the information you need, but you aren’t sure you understand what they are saying because they spoke too fast or have a difficult-to-understand accent or gave you too much information at once. There are several ways to check for understanding to ensure you can solve their problem quickly and efficiently.

Too direct: You’re speaking too fast. Slow down.
Diplomatic: I apologize, I didn’t quite catch that. Could you repeat that a bit more slowly for me?

Too direct: Your accent is so thick, I can’t understand you. Did you say your room number is 121?
Diplomatic: I’m sorry, did you say Room 121, as in one-two-one?

Too direct: We don’t have a Room 121. You’re confused.
Diplomatic: I’m sorry. I think I must have misunderstood. We don’t have a Room 121. Perhaps I can check your room number with your name?

Too direct: How do you want your chicken, fried or grilled?
Diplomatic: Chicken, an excellent choice. Do you prefer fried or grilled this evening?

Too direct: I don’t understand you. What do you mean, someone else has your room?
Diplomatic: I understand that you walked into your room and someone else was inside. I’m sorry you experienced this situation. Can you provide me with some more details? Was the person another guest or an employee of the hotel?

Does your team need to speak more diplomatically? Read more about our customized in-company training.

Diplomatic Phrases Function 3–Delivering Bad News

Unfortunately, sometimes delivering bad news is inevitable. We can’t make available some service or product a client would like due to conditions that we personally have no control over. We may be able to pass a complaint up the chain of command and hope for a different result for the next customer, but it doesn’t change the fact that whatever your customer needs, you cannot provide. When it’s time to deliver bad news, do so with grace and diplomatic style, and even though you can’t fix everything, your empathy and kindness will go a long way to smoothing ruffled feathers.

Too direct: Read the sign. No vacancies.
Diplomatic: Unfortunately, we don’t have any available rooms this weekend, due to the festival taking place nearby. We recommend our sister hotel across the city if you would like to stay at one of our hotels, or if you prefer something close by, I have a list of hotels within a kilometer.

Too direct: We are out of lobster. You need to pick something else.
Diplomatic: I’m afraid that we’re out of the lobster. Might I recommend the diablo shrimp? They are quite flavorful.

Too direct: You clean your own laundry here. What do I look like, your maid?
Diplomatic: While we do not have a laundry service, we do have available a self-service laundromat behind the gym facilities. Would you like me to show you where it is and how to find everything?

Too direct: Bad news. We won’t have this item in stock again until next week.
Diplomatic: Good news! This popular item will be in stock again next week. Would you like me to reserve yours now?

Too direct: You can’t bring your pet in here! Get that dog outside!
Diplomatic: I’m sorry, but unless your adorable friend is a service animal, we don’t offer facilities for pets. We do, however, have a recommendation for a wonderful doggy hotel half a kilometer away where he can stay. Would you like their number?

Diplomatic Phrases Function 4–Handling Complaints and Apologizing

Sometimes things go wrong, and when they do, customers complain. While rarely does a client who has had a good experience leave a rave review online, you can be sure that when mistakes are made, customers will rant and rave a lot. Before it gets to that point, nip it in the bud with some carefully chosen diplomatic phrases for handling customer complaints.

Too direct: I can’t do anything to fix this.
Diplomatic: I understand how frustrating this must be. I’m sorry that I am unable to help further with this issue. Perhaps I can assist you with something else?

Too direct: It’s going to take a lot of time.
Diplomatic: We will try to have this resolved as quickly as possible. However, I do want to let you know that the timeframe may take longer than we were expecting.

Too direct: Did you leave the “do not disturb” sign on your door? Well, that’s why your room isn’t cleaned. Next time, don’t do that.
Diplomatic: Unfortunately, our housekeeping staff noted that the “do not disturb” sign was hanging on the door, so they left your room untouched. Would you like me to see if someone is available to clean it now?

Too direct: Your toilet is broken now too? Didn’t I just talk to you about a broken AC, and it turned out you just hadn’t turned it on? Do I need to show you how to use the toilet too?
Diplomatic: I’m happy to send someone up to take a look at the toilet. Can you tell me a little more about what is happening with it? Hopefully, it’ll be a simple fix like the AC, and we can have you back to enjoying your stay with us in no time!

Too direct: According to our records, the extra charges on your bill are from room service and all those lunchtime liquor bottles from the mini fridge, remember?
Diplomatic: According to our records, we note room service and mini fridge items totaling $500. This accounts for the extra charges on your bill. Would you like a detailed receipt? We’re happy to separate the charges out if multiple people in your suite were using these services.

Diplomatic Phrases Function 5–Negotiating Diplomatically

We negotiate for a lot of things in life, from deciding which movie we want to see with our friends, to buying a car or house, to hammering out a vendor contract, to asking for a raise. When we negotiate diplomatically, we are looking for win-win situations, ones where all parties benefit. Let’s discuss a few specific scenarios and how to handle them diplomatically.

Too direct: You need to lower your prices.
Diplomatic: I understand that you need to make a profit, but I also need to stay within my budget. What can we do to meet in the middle?

Too direct: I deserve a raise, so give me one!
Diplomatic: I believe the value add I bring to the company has been quite high, and I would like to see the results of the company’s success caused by my actions reflected in my next salary increase.

Too direct: I’m not interested in Option A. I only want Option B, or I’m not doing it.
Diplomatic: I prefer Option B because of these reasons, so I would like to continue with this option.

Too direct: You need to compromise!
Diplomatic: Let’s look for a compromise together. What do you think about…?

Too direct: You’re not flexible enough on the payment options.
Diplomatic: Let’s talk about the flexibility of the payment options. I am happy to…., but I need…

Diplomatic Phrases Function 6–Making Arrangements: Meetings and Invitations

Whether we’re arranging a meeting or letting someone know we can’t make it, when we do so with diplomacy in mind, we’re more likely to get the result we want; a successful meeting or event.

Too direct: I need you to meet me tomorrow at 2 pm to discuss something important.
Diplomatic: Could you meet me tomorrow at 2 pm? I have something important to discuss.

Too direct: I’m busy then. Suggest another time.
Diplomatic: Unfortunately, 2 pm doesn’t work for me. Can we meet at 5 pm?

Too direct: Okay, 5 pm tomorrow. Don’t be late!
Diplomatic: Five works for me as well. I’ve added it to my calendar and sent you a confirmation. If anything changes between now and then, please let me know.

Too direct: I’m stuck in traffic. I’m going to be late.
Diplomatic: I’m afraid I’m running late due to traffic. Can we meet at 5:30 PM?

Too direct: I’m not waiting that long! Forget it!
Diplomatic: I’m afraid I can’t wait any longer. Let’s reschedule for another day. When are you free?

Diplomatic Phrases Function 7–Giving Advice and Making Suggestions

Sometimes people ask for our advice outright. Sometimes we take it upon ourselves to offer unsolicited advice. Whichever the situation, if we deliver that advice or suggestion in a positive, uplifting, and friendly way, whether it’s when dealing with a customer, a boss, a colleague, or a loved one, they’re more likely to follow it.

Too direct: You need to quit your job.
Diplomatic: Does this career path have what you’re looking for in the work environment you like? If not, maybe it’s time to consider a change.

Too direct: Don’t stay on the third floor. There’s a bachelorette party going on, and it is so loud!
Diplomatic: Might I suggest the fifth floor? Our third floor is occupied with a pre-wedding celebration, and the fifth floor will offer you a quieter stay.

Too direct: That hat looks ridiculous. Take it off.
Diplomatic: What a sharp suit! I love it! I’m not sure it goes well with the hat though. Have you thought about not wearing it? Your hair looks great!

Too direct: You need to learn to work with him, even if you don’t like him.
Diplomatic: It’s always frustrating to work with a coworker that you wouldn’t normally like to interact with outside of work. Can you put aside your differences and focus on the job? You both enjoy this work. Maybe you can find common ground on that.

Too direct: You can’t just quit! You need to keep your commitments!
Diplomatic: I know things are very stressful for you right now. Is it possible for you to move to part time or cancel some other commitments? The company has done a lot for you. They paid for your education, which means they believe in you. What responsibility do you have to honor your commitment in return?

Diplomatic Phrases Function 8–Offering Help and Accepting Help

Sometimes others need help. Sometimes we need help. When it’s time to ask or be asked, do you know what diplomatic phrases to use? Keep reading to find out!

Too direct: You are carrying too much! I’ll get the door!
Diplomatic: Oh, wow, that looks heavy! Please, allow me to open the door for you.

Too direct: It took you long enough! Why didn’t you offer to help sooner?
Diplomatic: Why, thank you so much for your help! You are too kind!

Too direct: Help me with this door!
Diplomatic: Please, could you assist me with this door? I appreciate it very much.

Too direct: I can help, if you’d just let me!
Diplomatic: May I help you? If you wish, I’d be happy to…

Too direct: No one asked you to help, but thanks, I guess.
Diplomatic: Thank you for your help. It really wasn’t necessary, but I appreciate the gesture.

Diplomatic Phrases Function 9–Declining Help and Declining to Help

Sometimes we are asked to help someone and don’t want to or don’t have the time, resources, or energy to. Sometimes people offer to help us, and we don’t want or need it. We can learn to decline help and decline to help with some very simple diplomatic phrases.

Too direct: Stop! I don’t need your help! I can do it myself.
Diplomatic: It’s very kind of you to help, but it’s not necessary. I’ve got it, thanks!

Too direct: I don’t have time.
Diplomatic: I’d love to help, but unfortunately, I am swamped right now. Have you asked…?

Too direct: I don’t want to.
Diplomatic: It sounds like you’re very excited about it, but it just doesn’t sound like something I’m interested in. Maybe someone else would like to help?

Too direct: I don’t want you on this project.
Diplomatic: Thank you for volunteering for this, but I really need your skillsets elsewhere.

Too direct: That’s a stupid idea, and I’m not helping with stupid ideas.
Diplomatic: I appreciate your enthusiasm for this idea, but I don’t think it’s going to work for me.

Diplomatic Phrases Function 10–Delivering or Celebrating Good News

Not everything involved with diplomacy is dealing with a downer situation. Sometimes you can use diplomacy to heighten the delivery of good news or celebrate a momentous occasion. Use the following phrases to add even more fun and flair to any positive situation.

Too direct: We met our KPIs this week. Good job, team. Do even better next week.
Diplomatic: Wow, look at those numbers, people! You have earned a pat on the back this week! Let’s knock it out of the park again next week!

Too direct: We have upgraded you to a luxury suite. You’re really lucky, you know?
Diplomatic: Good news! We were just able to upgrade you to a luxury suite. Please enjoy your stay!

Too direct: You are finally getting married, huh? Well, it’s about time!
Diplomatic: Congratulations on your upcoming wedding! I know you’ve been looking forward to this for a long time, and it’s worth the wait when you finally find the right person. I hope you two are very happy together!

Too direct: You’ve just won a free spa day. You can book your spa services online.
Diplomatic: Wow, this is exciting! It says here that you’ve won a free day at the spa! Would you like the website to book your day, or would you like me to assist you with this?

Too direct: You just got a promotion? I want a promotion! That’s not fair!
Diplomatic: Congrats on the promotion! I know you’re going to do well in your new position. It’s the perfect fit for you! I’m going to talk with management about my chances for promotion next week. Wish me luck!

Beyond diplomatic phrases – a few words about the 7-38-55 rule

While the words we say are important, just as important — if not more so — is our tone of voice and nonverbal communication – gestures, posture, facial expressions, etc. Some communication experts call this the 7-38-55 rule, meaning that only 7% of your communication is through words, while 38% is tone of voice, and 55% is completely nonverbal. While the science behind this is shaky on the exact numbers, the majority of experts agree that how you say something is as important as what you say. When you are delivering diplomatic dialogue, remember to control your tone and your nonverbal communication as well as you control your verbal communication.

Would you like to practice your business etiquette in an online or in-person business English intensive course? Contact us for a free appointment and to hear about all of our course offerings, or we can custom create your private one-on-one course today!

Call +31 20 823 0569

Read more about diplomacy with The English Center’s article, “Diplomatic English for Business.”

Author: Krys Copeland
Editor: Brenda de Jong-Pauley

HOW TO PREPARE FOR YOUR ENGLISH TEST or ESL EXAM. Remember, test success is not just about English.

Do you need to prepare for an English test? Do you need to take an IELTS, TOEFL, Cambridge, GMAT or other exam to enter university, graduate from high school, or immigrate to an English speaking country? Or do you want to display a Cambridge proficiency score on your CV? Whatever your reason for taking an English test, the tips below will help you succeed.

Of course, your success starts with good English fundamentals – reading, grammar, vocabulary, listening, writing and speaking – but that’s just the beginning. English test preparation is also about test taking strategies. The good news is that almost all ESL tests have a lot of things in common. So whether you’re taking an IELTS, TOEIC, TOEFL, CAE or the Lezen/Luisteren Engels toetsen (MAVO, HAVO or VWO), these tips will help you.

SECTION ONE: Prepare for your English test by knowing the 3 QUESTION TYPES

1. Know the English test question categories

Your first task is to choose a preparation book or digital resource that contains practice tests. This book will help you learn everything you can about how the test is structured, especially the kinds of questions you will face. ESL tests commonly use 3 sorts of questions. We will look at each of these separately and provide universal testing tips to help you succeed.

  1. Multiple choice and true/false or yes/no
  2. Vocabulary
  3. Gap Fill

2. ESL multiple choice questions: prepare to choose

Most exams that test language skills are (primarily) in a multiple-choice question format, aka (=also known as) MCQs. MCQs are the most common question type across all exams worldwide, and are also probably the question format you are most familiar with. However, just because the format is familiar doesn’t mean that it’s easy.

True/False and Yes/No questions also fall under the multiple choice umbrella – they’re exactly the same in format, just with fewer options. MCQs ask questions and offer several answers to choose from. There may be one or several correct answers, with the other choices being there only to confuse you and steer you off course. So how can you stay on the straight path to the correct answer?

3. Read. The. Question.

The most important tip for answering these questions is to Read. The. Question. Sounds simple, right? All the information you need will be in the question and the text/listening provided. So make sure you focus on the question and the information it asks for. We recommend highlighting key words– these are typically words that have content, such as verbs, nouns, people, places, etc.

Start with the question, NOT the text. Read the question very carefully.

When you know the key information from the question, go to the text and search for the information to help answer the question. Don’t even look at the answer options yet – they are only going to slow you down and distract you.

Once you find the answer in the text, or hear it in the audio, only then should you go back to the answers and choose the one that best fits with the information you have already found.

This way, your attention is on the information you know with certainty from the text, rather than the possibilities that have been created to confuse you. Once you find an answer that fits with the information from the text, then you can choose your answer and move on. Focussing your attention on the information you have found will not only guide you to the correct answer, it will also save you valuable time – something that we could all use more of in any exam!

So your precise sequence for each question is–

A. The question: read it very carefully
B. The text: read it with focus, looking for the answer
C. The answers: now read the multiple choice answers provided under the question. Does one match the answer you found in the text?
D. Make the best choice / best match, remembering that paraphrasing and synonyms may be used

4. Paraphrasing: the ESL test trap

So far, so good, eh? Just match the information correctly and don’t get distracted by deliberately misleading answers. OK.

But the correct answer won’t always be a simple match-up of words between text and answer choice(s). In fact, choosing an answer just because you found the same words in the text is the easiest way to choose an incorrect answer – and test designers know this. The correct answer is often paraphrased based on the information in the text, meaning that synonyms and other phrases will be used to communicate the same meaning with different words. So once you have found your answer in the text, make sure you choose the option with the same meaning as the text – and not just the same words.

Do you need a test prep course? Would you like to discuss ESL test prep with a teacher? The English Center provides private test prep courses Live Online and in person in Amsterdam and Den Haag. Contact us about a free consultation and get customized training to help you succeed.

5. Prepare for your English test with vocabulary

Words and their meaning are another common type of question for reading tests in particular. You may be asked to choose the correct synonym for a word or phrase from the text. This question is simply testing your vocabulary knowledge, and if the test asks about a word you just don’t know, you may feel hopeless, but don’t give up! There are some strategies you can apply for vocabulary question types.

6. Context. Context. Context.

Much like the MCQ question, it’s important to focus your attention on the text and the section where the key phrase is found. If you don’t understand the word or phrase on its own, look at the paragraph or sentence where you found it. Try and get a basic understanding of the context. Is it something positive or negative? Are we talking about a process or development? What ideas are being expressed, and how do they connect? Do they agree or contrast with each other? Try and think of your own synonym for the word. Then move to the options, and assess them based on what you think best matches the meaning of the word or phrase in the text.

If you are also stuck on the options, there are some things you can do to try and “whittle down” (=reduce or narrow) the choices for yourself, and they’re similar to those used in understanding the text.

Are the words positive or negative? Are they describing a process? Do they agree with, or contradict information in the text? Once you make your choice, substitute your choice with the word or phrase in the question. These question types show how important it is to have a wide vocabulary and be able to recognise a wide variety of languages.

Word knowledge is truly the “magic bullet” of second language success.

7. Fill the gap questions

Vocabulary knowledge also comes into play with the third of our question types – fill the gap, which is also known as “cloze reading.” Rather than a word or phrase being provided in the text, you must select the correct option to fill in a gap in the text. This can be a real pain if you simply don’t recognise or understand the words given as answer choices.

The technique for this question is very similar to the vocabulary question. It is important to first pay close attention to the information before and after the gap. A common error made by test-takers is that they stop reading once they get to the gap. Don’t do that! This habit will cause you to miss crucial information and context needed to answer the question.

So carefully read the whole sentence where the gap is and try to think of what kind of word belongs in the gap. Adjective? Verb? Phrasal Verb? Also, think again about the overall meaning and context of the words around the gap. Are they positive, or negative? Does the sentence show a development of an idea or process? Do all parts of the sentence agree, or is there a contrast between different parts? Understanding this context of the gap will help you infer what kind of word belongs in the gap.

Then evaluate the options in the question the same way you did with the vocabulary options – based on the context. This gap-fill question also includes another important component to pay attention to – grammar. When you choose an option, make sure it fits grammatically with the sentence. Does the verb match with the subject? Are there any prepositions to pay attention to? Is it the correct word form (noun/verb/adjective/adverb)? Substituting your choice into the gap and then reading the full sentence will give you a good idea about whether it fits with both the grammatical and lexical needs of the sentence.

Extra Tip: Reading your answer aloud (you can whisper it to yourself) can help you “hear” if you have the right word form.

SECTION TWO: Prepare for your English test with these test success strategies

8. Practice, practice, practice, but with which book?

Choose a test prep book and use it. There are many good test prep books on the market – just find the one that suits you best and dive in. Or consult with your teacher and let her recommend a book.

9. Start to prepare for your English test ASAP

Give yourself as much time as possible. This is not the kind of test that you can prepare for the night before you take it. Make test preparation part of your healthy lifestyle, like going to the sports club and eating healthy food.

10. Prepare for your English test with practice tests

So now you know what questions to expect and how to best answer them, but in general, how do you best prepare for your exam? Well, naturally, the first tip is to practice, practice, practice! Many tests offer a practice test version. Invest in your success by getting these tests and using them. Doing as many of these practice test questions will help you feel familiar with the format of the test, as well as honing the strategy that is most likely to lead you to success.

Would you like to discuss ESL test prep with a teacher? The English Center offers private test prep courses Live Online and in person in Amsterdam and Den Haag. Contact us about a free consultation and get customized training to help you succeed.

11. Timing: are you the tortoise or the hare?

By timing yourself on practice tests, you will learn if you are going too slow, but also if you are going too fast. Some test takers are so worried about completing the test that they finish early and waste valuable time that could have gone to better reading, processing, review and editing.

Other test takers take so long on tough questions that they do not finish ALL the questions. And as we said earlier, MCQs should never be left blank. If you guess, you may get it right! So whoever are you, the tortoise or the hare, be sure to use your time wisely.

12. Put it in a nutshell: summarize

To help with reading fluency and comprehension, try timing yourself as you read an exam text, and then summarize the key information in 1 or 2 sentences. This “global comprehension” of a text is often the most difficult part of reading in a second language, and can easily “slip you up” (=cause errors) when the pressure is on.

13. Learn to skim

Adding timing to your test prep also allows you to practice the reading skill known as skimming, where you read a text quickly to get an overall understanding of the information without focussing too much on smaller details. Time is of the essence in an exam, so only allow yourself to do intensive and detailed reading of a passage when it’s required to answer a certain question. Skimming the text also allows you to get an idea of where information is found in the text, so when you have to go look for a smaller detail, you’ll have a better idea of which section or paragraph you should go back to, once again saving precious time.

14. Prep for your ESL test by growing a memorable English vocabulary

Prepare for your English test by strengthening  your word retention through word USE, also called productive speech. As they say, “Use it or lose it.”
Outside of exam practice, vocabulary building is the most valuable preparation for ESL exam success. But “learning” vocabulary is not enough – recycling that vocabulary over and again is essential to be able to commit the vocabulary to long-term memory. This is why memorizing long lists of vocabulary isn’t that effective – with memorization, you’re rote learning not committing the information to your long-term memory.

So when you learn new words – use them! Either in individual activities, or in communicating with people you know. Accessing and producing that vocabulary over and over again will ground it in your memory, ready for use when you need it in an exam. And of course, one of the best ways to improve your reading in a second language is to read!

15. Prepare for your English test by relaxing with a good book

Reading non-exam texts will help develop all the previous skills we talked about – vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension. But don’t panic and think you need to tackle the works of Shakespeare, or struggle through James Joyce’s Ulysses! When you read, keep it to things you enjoy and find interesting. If you’re interested in tech, read about the latest announcements from Apple’s press conference. If you’re fascinated by economics, check out some articles from international publications like The Economist or The Wall Street Journal.

Tip! Pay special attention to linking words and phrases. There will be loads of them in any book your read, and they are absolutely necessary for accurate comprehension of written content.

16. Watch an English movie or TV

If you are not a big reader, do not despair. While reading remains the top recommendation for vocabulary building, watching “runs a close second.” (= is almost as good). Are celebrity gossip and reality TV shows your cup of tea? Follow some scandalous stories online, on TV or at Netflix. Just choose entertainment with an authentic text (that means not created specifically for second language learners), and engage with it properly.

Choose English Subtitles so that you can not only hear but also see the words. Keep a diary or spreadsheet of words you don’t know and look them up later. Or, even better, use the pause function to find them right when you need them. Your smartphone is a great dictionary. Use an app or just type in the word in your browser and you will get the meaning and often the pronunciation, too!

Finally, you can go full karaoke with our video app. This app lets you WATCH LEARN and SPEAK thousands of videos at all levels and in all content areas. This app is a top recommendation for building vocabulary. Read about the video app now.

17. Prepare, but be willing to guess

Remember this the next exam you’re taking a test – the text will always contain everything you need to answer the questions. But if you really have no idea about the answer, particularly in a multiple choice test, the best strategy is just to guess! Almost none of the internationally recognized English exams work on negative marking, so even if you get it wrong, you won’t lose any points. With a typical 4-answer question, guessing gives you a 25% chance of getting it right, compared to 0% if you leave the gap empty. So when all else fails, take a chance!

Passing your English test should never be a gamble, however. So be sure you do not “go it alone.” Get some smart help!

18. Prepare for your English test by working 1:1 with an English test preparation teacher

We help clients prepare with personalized test preparation courses built around the learner – your goals, English level, learning style and schedule. Contact The English Center today to schedule a free intake appointment.


July 2022
Clare Kelleher
Brenda de Jong-Pauley

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Zakelijk Engels woordenlijst met audio: 50 Business English vocabulaire woorden die je al kent! Met deze zakelijk Engels woordenlijst je kan deze zakelijk engels woorden nu gebruiken want ze zijn hetzelfde – of bijna hetzelfde – in Engels zoals in Nederlands.

Vergroot jouw Engelse vocabulaire met deze Zakelijk Engels woordenlijst. Deze  “business English word list” bevat audio en vertaalde woorden – Engels/Nederlands – met nuttige voorbeeldzinnen.

Vragen over zakelijk Engels cursussen? Bel gerust +31 20 823 0569⁠.

Zakelijk Engels Woordenlijst en audio

1. Advertisement (advertentie)
The advertisements in this campaign are really young and fresh. I think they are going to work well for us.

2. Aggressive (agressief)
It is hard to handle angry, aggressive customers, but I have learned to stay calm and really listen to what they are upset about. Then I can find a solution.

3. Atmosphere (sfeer)
You will love working at our office. The atmosphere is casual and friendly.

4. Boss (baas)
I would never want to be a boss. It’s way too much stress!

5. Brilliant (briljant)
Steve Jobs was a very difficult guy, but you have to admit, he was brilliant.

6. Capacity (capaciteit)
The warehouse is full. It’s at capacity. We can’t order any new product right now, we just don’t have the room.

7. Client (cliënt)
Many of our foreign clients find us on the internet. And because of video conferencing, we can meet with those potential clients without ever leaving our office!

8. Colleague (collega)
My new colleague is a little slow. I hope he catches on soon!

9. Collegial (collegiaal)
We value workers with a collegial approach. At our company, you really have to know how to work well on a team.

10. Commercial (commerciël)
This is not a recreational club. This is a business, a commercial enterprise, and we are here to make money.

Wil je een gratis Engelse niveau test online doen?

11. Communication (communicatie)

Good communication is essential for a successful company.

12. Communicative (communicatief)
My intern is not very communicative. I think she is so quiet because she is a bit overwhelmed by all her new tasks.

13. Costs (kosten)
We have got to do a better job of controlling costs.

14. Creative (creatief)
Being creative is important. Sometimes you just have to think “out of the box” and create something really different.

15. Crisis (crisis)
The terrible financial crisis of 2007–2009 came to be known as “the great recession.”

16. Dynamic (dynamisch)
Your presentation was very dynamic. You got the whole team excited.

17. Effective (effectief)
She is a highly effective communicator. She really knows how to get her point across quickly and concisely.

18. Energetic (energiek)
I always feel really energetic on Mondays but by Friday I am exhausted.

19. Energy (energie)
I always have lots of energy for new projects, but sometimes I get tired later on when I have to handle the details.

20. Enthusiastic, enthusiasm (enthousiast, enthousiasme)
The new director is so enthusiastic that he has got everyone really fired up. At my company, enthusiasm is sometimes as important as skill.

Wil je je zakelijk engels idioom kennis gratis testen? Doe nu onze gratis test.

21. Essence (essentie)
The essence of the report is the story of the comeback after the crisis.

22. Essential (essentieel)
He brings some essential skills to the team.

23. Expressive (expressief)
She is very expressive and that is one reason she is such a good leader and motivator.

24. Focused (gefocust)
You really have to be focused when you are in important meetings. It’s no good to be checking your phone and looking out the window.

25. Good character (goed karakter)
Our organization is an NGO (not for profit) and good character is something we really look for in new hires.

26. Good leader (goede leider)
He is a great colleague but a bad leader. I don’t think he will be promoted to management.

27. Hard working (hardwerkend)
Only hard-working people are welcome at our company. The owners really expect a lot from the team.

28. Loyal (loyaal)
My company has been good to me for many years, so I feel very loyal.

29. Inclusive (inclusief)
The conference center’s quote is inclusive of rooms, food, beverages, misc., and taxes.

30. Innovation (innovatie)
Without innovation, companies cannot survive for long. You have to change with the times.

Wij bieden een gratis kennismaking consultatie. Maak je afspraak nu.

31. Integral (integraal)
Research and development (R&D) is an integral activity at our company.

32. Integration (integratie)
The integration team is finding it tough to get all the platforms working together.

33. Last minute (laatste minuut)
My boss is always asking for “one more thing” at the last minute. It makes me crazy!

34. Leadership (leiderschap)
Leadership is a broad set of skills and while you can teach it, I think some people are just born with it.

35. Location (locatie)
These days, it is super quick and easy to find the location of a company; just Google them.

36. Motivation (motivatie)
Motivation is key. They say that to be successful in sales, you have to be motivated by money.

37. Microphone (microfoon)
Is your microphone on or off? I think you are muted.

38. Partner (partner)
My best friend and I started a business together. Now my best friend is also my business partner. I sure hope it works out.

39. Passion (passie)
HR is looking for designers with passion for our creative team.

40. Passive (passief)
Being passive in the workplace is not helpful. Employees need to speak up, contribute and share their opinions.

41. Plus (plus)
While my colleague was sick last week, I had to do his work plus mine. Wow, that was too much.

42. Presentation (presentatie)
Your presentation to the board was outstanding. It was the best one of the day. Well done!

43. Product management (product management)
Product management means many things, including new product development, planning, forecasting, pricing, product launch, and marketing.

44. Project management (project management)
Good project management practices help companies achieve goals and do it on time.

45. Telephone (telefoon)
Hey, I know you like to text and email, but you do remember how to use a telephone, right?

46. Shocking (schokkend)
The news of the merger was extremely shocking. We had no idea!

47. Success, successful (succes, succesvol)
To achieve great success, you have to want it really badly. Successful people are almost always highly motivated.

48. Team leader (teamleider)
The team leader will set a good example and make sure that everyone is working well as a team.

49. Team player (teamspeler)
Lots of companies hire many specialists, but the individual employees still have to get along, communicate well, and be real team players.

50. Workplace (werkplek)
During Covid, my workplace was no longer a chic office at the World trade Center. It was my dining room, or my living room… and sometimes my bedroom!

In conclusie, hopen wij dat je deze zakelijke Engelse woordenlijst nuttig vindt en dat je deze geweldige woorden integreert in jouw dagelijks zakelijk Engels. Als je Nederlands bent, moet dit “a piece of cake” (= gemakkelijk) zijn. Als je je zakelijk Engels woordenschat verder wilt ontwikkelen, je grammatica wilt herzien, je zakelijk Engels schrijven wilt verbeteren of je uitspraak wilt perfectioneren, dan hebben wij enkele suggesties voor jou. Zie verder!

Post “Zakelijk Engels woordenlijst,” Brenda de Jong-Pauley, May 2021, Ed. May 2022


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Are you satisfied (= tevreden) with your English / business English vocabulary? Do you want more English words and phrases? Do you want a big English vocabulary?

Vocabulary – words, phrases, idioms, collocations, phrasal verbs – no matter how you describe it, you need these language building blocks. And whatever your level, beginner to advanced, you need to keep adding and refreshing your vocabulary. Maybe you have forgotten some old words, or maybe you need to add new words that relate to your job….? You can build your vocabulary with a private customized course that focuses on the language that is the most important for you! Would you like to speak with a native speaker teacher in a free consultation appointment?

How good is your knowledge of business English idiom?

Take our free business English idiom test online now and discover how well you understand the expressions (=uitdrukkingen) used in everyday professional English.

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Would you enjoy a business English group course?  Courses are available at 3 levels: pre-intermediate, intermediate and advanced.

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With a private business English course, you can focus on the words and phrases that are most important for you and your job.

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Would you like to take a free English level test? You can do it online now.

The English Center of Amsterdam⁠ is your source for advanced English and business English training⁠ in the Netherlands, always with a top native-speaker business English trainer.

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Call +31 20 823 0569⁠. We are happy to speak with you in English or Dutch!

Photo credit: Sunset over Zuidas, the commercial and business zone of Amsterdam, by Nordwand

Zakelijk Engels Woordenschat: 5 Pro Tips

De wereld van zakelijk Engels wordt aangedreven door woorden. Rapporten, vergaderingen en e-mails kunnen soms een puzzel lijken om op te lossen met al het ingewikkelde en specifieke zakelijk jargon dat wordt gebruikt. Dus hoe kun je je eigen zakelijk Engels woordenschat verbeteren zonder de definities van honderden woorden uit het hoofd te leren? Onderzoek naar woordenschatontwikkeling (tweede taalverwerving of SLA) verandert de manier waarop we woordkennis benaderen. Hier zijn enkele van de onderzoeksresultaten die gemakkelijk kunnen worden overgenomen door alle professionals die hun zakelijke Engelse woordenschat wil opbouwen.

1. Blijf bij de zakelijke Engelse woordenschat die je nodig hebt

Als het gaat om het bestuderen van woordenschat, kan het overweldigend zijn om te weten waar te beginnen. Je kan zelfs ontmoedigd raken door het aantal woorden dat je niet kent in plaats van uit te zoeken hoe je kunt bouwen op wat je wel kent. Bovendien hebben we met onze hectische agenda’s vaak niet genoeg tijd om te kunnen besteden aan het ontwikkelen van onze Engelse woord vaardigheid.

Om het meeste uit jouw studie zakelijk Engels te halen – of het nu gaat om een groepscursus Engels, privé coaching, een in-company training of zelfstudie – bedenk waar je aan moet werken en wat belangrijk is voor jouw werk. Als jij op de IT-afdeling werkt, hoef je geen uren te besteden aan het uit jouw hoofd leren van financiële terminologie als boekhouden geen belangrijk onderdeel van jouw werk is. Als jij een project manager bent, heb je dan echt sleutelzinnen nodig voor verkooppresentaties of klantenservice? Aandacht besteden aan jouw unieke behoeften in jouw Business English reis kan je een goede basis geven voor het bouwen van je mentale woorden bibliotheek, en er ook voor zorgen dat wat je leert nuttig zal zijn en voor jou in jouw huidige werkplek en op de lange termijn, in jouw carrière.

2. Kijk naar Engelse woorden in hun context

Sommige leerlingen van zakelijk Engels vertrouwen graag op lange lijsten van woorden en zinnen met definities in hun eigen taal, of een uitleg in het Engels. Als dat voor jou werkt, prima dan! Maar dit haalt de woorden uit hun context – en dit kan vaak de betekenis van het woord en hoe het wordt gebruikt veranderen. Een van de moeilijke aspecten van het bestuderen van Engels is dat woorden vaak meerdere betekenissen en gebruiken hebben, die veranderen afhankelijk van de context.

Bijvoorbeeld het woord “market.” In sommige contexten kan het een leuke plaatselijke winkel betekenen waar jij je boodschappen voor de week haalt. Maar in de context van een verkoopgesprek kan “markt” de betekenis aannemen van een gebied waar u aanwezig wilt zijn, zoals “de Europese markt” of “de Zuidoost-Aziatische markt.”

Context is ook de sleutel voor het gebruik van idiomen. Zelfs als je de betekenis van deze verwarrende termen begrijpt, is het correct en – wat nog belangrijker is – het natuurlijk gebruiken ervan een punt waar taalleerders vaak moeite mee hebben. Door te kijken naar de context waarin een idioom wordt gebruikt, en naar de betekenis ervan, wordt het gemakkelijker om deze uitdrukkingen te gebruiken als een moedertaal.

Door de woordenschat in de juiste context te plaatsen, met voorbeeldzinnen bij de definitie, wordt je je beter bewust van de vele betekenissen die Engelse woorden kunnen hebben en kun je ervoor zorgen dat je de juiste woorden in de juiste context gebruikt. Anders als je door iemand anders gevraagd wordt naar de ontwikkeling van de Aziatische markt en uiteindelijk praat over hun nieuwe bakkerij afdeling die onlangs naast het gedroogde fruit is geopend. Nee, he?

Doe nu onze gratis en vrijblijvende Engels niveautest. 50 meerkeuze vragen!

3. Focus op “brokken” Engels

Een taal brok is een zinsdeel van twee of meer woorden die samen voorkomen en als één geheel fungeren. “Toch” is één woord, terwijl “Hoe maakt u het?” een eenheid is die betekenis kan overbrengen. Studies tonen aan dat het voor leerlingen van vreemde talen veel gemakkelijker is om brokken taal te onthouden en in hun geheugen op te slaan dan losse woorden.

Als we opnieuw kijken naar ons voorbeeld van “markt” – het kan worden gebruikt om talloze brokken te maken die veel gemakkelijker te onthouden zijn dan het woord op zichzelf. Door verschillende woorden samen te voegen tot woordgroepen of zinnen, breid je niet alleen jouw woordenschat uit, maar wordt je geheugen ook sterker wanneer je het woord weer oproept.

Dit kan heel nuttig zijn bij het meest voorkomende type woordgroep: het gevreesde werkwoord in woordgroepen. Het onthouden van de betekenis van “ter sprake brengen” kan eenvoudig zijn, maar door het samen te voegen met enkele verwante woorden, zoals “de kwestie met u ter sprake brengen” of “het onderwerp ter sprake brengen in de vergadering” kan je meer oefenen met het woord en het ook gemakkelijker maken om het te produceren wanneer dat nodig is.

4. Oefen met jouw nieuwe zakelijke Engelse woordenschat

In staat zijn om een woord te herkennen wanneer je leest of naar iemand luistert, is slechts één aspect van woordenschatkennis. Dit staat bekend als “receptieve taal”. Het deel dat problemen veroorzaakt voor veel mensen is hun “productieve taal” of het daadwerkelijk gebruiken van de woordenschat zelf. Dus hoewel het geweldig is om een lange woordenlijst te hebben voor de farmaceutische verkoop, hoe kan je ervoor zorgen dat je in staat bent om die Engelse woorden en zinnen spontaan te produceren wanneer je ze nodig hebt?

De sleutel is om de productie van zakelijk Engels vocabulaire zelf te oefenen, zowel met schrijven als spreken. Als je niet iemand hebt die bereid is om met jij te gaan zitten praten, probeer dan jezelf op te nemen – met jouw smartphone over een onvoorbereid onderwerp gedurende een minuut – luister dan terug en kijk hoeveel van jouw doelwoorden je heb gebruikt. Door je zenuwen kun je je verspreken en fouten maken, maar niemand zal deze opnames ooit horen als je dat niet wil!

Oefen met het schrijven van e-mails, rapporten, memo’s, wat jij dan ook voor jouw werk moet doen, en gebruik daarbij jouw nieuwe woordenschat. Al die prachtige zakelijke woordenschat zit gewoon in je hersenen, en het zal muf worden en verrotten als je niet probeert om het te gebruiken. Zoals we in het Engels zeggen, “use it or lose it!”

5. Spoel en herhaal je nieuwe zakelijk Engelse woorden!

“Spoel en herhaal” is een Engels idioom dat betekent, “Doe het nog eens. En nog eens. En nog eens.” De harde waarheid die veel studenten niet kunnen bevatten over het leren van een taal is dat het niet van de ene op de andere dag gebeurt. Vocabulaire leren, zoals elk onderdeel van het leren van een vreemde taal, is niet zoals het opslaan van een bestand op een computer; maak de map, sla het bestand op, en het is er voor altijd. Een taal leren vergt tijd en herhaling om het niveau van zakelijk Engels te bereiken dat je nodig heb voor professioneel succes.

Welke gewoonte je ook aanneemt om jouw woordenschat te vergroten, probeer er een gewoonte van te maken. Of het nu gaat om het lezen van een artikel in het Engels dat gerelateerd is aan jouw vakgebied, het oefenen van zakelijke Engelse woordenschat met flashcards, of zelfs alleen maar jezelf pushen om met je collega’s in het Engels te chatten, maak er een gewoonte van om te doen wat jij het meest nuttig vindt voor het ontwikkelen van jouw vaardigheden en kennis.

Herhaling heeft niet alleen het voordeel dat het jouw beter helpt worden in je taalvaardigheid, maar ook kan helpen je vertrouwen in jouw capaciteiten te ontwikkelen. Hoe vaker jij met collega’s of klanten in het Engels spreekt, hoe zelfverzekerder je je elke keer zult voelen, en zelfvertrouwen is essentieel in de zakenwereld.


Auteur: Clare Kelleher, MA TESOL, Oktober 2021

Vertaling May 2022


Wilt u Zakelijk Engels IDIOMS leren?

Hebt u de hoofdstukken 1-4 in onze idioom les reeks gelezen?

Ga naar hoofdstuk 1 van onze Zakelijk Engels idioom series

Ga naar hoofdstuk 2 van onze Zakelijk Engels idioom series

Ga naar hoofdstuk 3 van onze Zakelijk Engels idioom series

Ga naar hoofdstuk 4 van onze Zakelijk Engels Idioom Series


Wilt u onze GRATIS zakelijk Engels idioom test proberen?

Doe nu onze gratis online test voor zakelijk Engels en ontdek hoe goed u de uitdrukkingen (=expressions) begrijpt die in het dagelijks professioneel Engels worden gebruikt.

Bent u tevreden met uw Engels / zakelijk Engels woordenschat? Wilt u meer Engelse woorden en idiomen?

Laten we dan afspreken voor een gratis consult.

Woordenschat – woorden, zinnen, idioom, collocaties, zinsdelen – hoe u het ook omschrijft, u heeft deze taal bouwstenen nodig. En wat uw niveau ook is, beginner tot gevorderde, u moet uw woordenschat blijven aanvullen en opfrissen. Misschien bent u enkele oude woorden vergeten, of misschien moet u nieuwe woorden toevoegen die betrekking hebben op uw job….? U kunt uw woordenschat uitbreiden met een privé cursus op maat die zich richt op de taal die voor u het belangrijkst is!

Als u Nederlands bent, mis dan niet deze ENG-NL zakelijke woordenschat post met audio: 50 Zakelijke Engelse woorden die je al kent!

Bent u op zoek naar een in-company training?

Als Engels de bedrijfstaal is waar u werkt, zijn er misschien werknemers die op een professioneler niveau moeten spreken en schrijven. Bezoek onze in-company training pagina voor meer informatie over onze bedrijfstraining aanpak en diensten.

Bent u geïnteresseerd in het vergroten van uw zakelijk Engels vocabulaire?

Zou u graag een kleine groep cursus zakelijk Engels volgen? Groepscursussen zijn beschikbaar op intermediair en gevorderd niveau. Privétrainingen en in-company trainingen worden op maat gemaakt en zijn beschikbaar voor alle niveaus.

Wilt u uw zakelijk Engels woordenschat verbeteren met opmaat, een op een training?

Wilt u een 1:1 privécursus met een native-speaker trainer?
Met een privé cursus zakelijk Engels kunt u zich richten op de woorden en zinnen die voor u en uw werk het belangrijkst zijn.

Wilt u een gratis zakelijk Engels niveau test doen?

De de test nu. 

The English Center of Amsterdam is uw bron voor trainingen Engels voor gevorderden en zakelijk Engels in Nederland – en overal Live Online – altijd met een top native-speaker business English trainer. We bieden echter ook in-person lessen aan op geweldige locaties in Amstelveen, Amsterdam, den Haag en uw kantoor in de Randstad. Vraag het ons.

Bel +31 20 823 0569. We staan u graag te woord in het Engels of Nederlands! Laten we contact opnemen!

In this very engaging TEDx video, Celeste Headlee – journalist, author and public speaker – shares her 10 Tips for Better Conversations.

Watch the video now, but if English is not your first language, please scroll down for our vocabulary expansion list before you view the video.

Conversational fluency is important, right? We all know that. And we know it is even harder to converse well in our second language. But the beauty of these tips is that these “rules” transcend language; these tips will work for you regardless of the language you are speaking. But if English is not your first language, our vocabulary notes may help you better understand the tips.

What are Celeste’s Ten Tips for Better Conversations? How can she help you talk and listen…. better? I know it sounds simple, but (surprise!) you may not be doing it very well. Please see her tips below with our English vocabulary expansion notes.

  1. Don’t multitask: (=don’t do several things at the same time) Example: don’t talk, apply makeup and check your phone at the same time. When you are speaking with someone, show them some respect and give them your undivided attention.
  2. Don’t pontificate: (=don’t lecture). Don’t try to browbeat (=bully with an arrogant, “I am an expert” manner) someone into your POV (point of view). You are not a professor speaking to a class. And please don’t share excessive facts and details. That gets boring.
  3. Use open-ended questions: Avoid questions that can be answered with yes or no.
  4. Go with the flow: Be flexible and allow the conversation to develop organically.
  5. If you don’t know, say that you don’t know. Be authentic. Never try to BS your way around a subject you do not know. Honesty is refreshing!
  6. Don’t equate your experience with theirs: Do not – the first time the other person pauses for breath – tell them how the exact same thing happened to you! While sharing common experiences certainly has its place, wait until the right moment to say, “me too.”
  7. Try not to repeat yourself. Don’t repeat yourself. Don’t say the same thing.  Again and again. Don’t do it. See how annoying that is?
  8. Stay out of the weeds: Avoid needless detail. It gets boring and can dilute your point.
  9. Listen: Listening is the golden rule of conversation, and listening well is an art. Check out any of Julian Treasure’s books or videos to learn about becoming a better listener.
  10. Be brief: Conversation is like tennis. You can’t just hang onto the ball; you have to hit the ball back to the other guy. 😉 With the possible exception of great storytellers, if you speak too long, you will lose the listener’s attention.

You might also enjoy our post The Fine Art of English Conversation with 14 MORE conversation tips. Are you looking for an online conversation course to improve your conversational business English fluency?

Call The English Center +31 20 823 0569


Brenda de Jong Pauley, 2022


In this article we will answer the question, “How to write a business email.” We’ll review some common English email phrases and explain their uses – and limitations – in business English emails. And as a bonus, we’ve included a short dive into the tricky area of gender and salutations.

What is your English level? Take our free test and find out!

If your inbox is anything like mine, it’s is overflowing with emails that deserve responses. Emails are an indisputably large part of our work lives, and despite so many communication options, from Slack to WhatsApp, the email still rules as the monarch of business communication. Yes, being able to send clear, concise, professional emails in English is an essential skill for the modern workplace. So here are some email phrases that will help you communicate with everyone from cold calls to clients, and from colleagues to CEOs.

We begin at the beginning. Sort of.

Write a business email salutation

After the subject line – which you must state clearly and concisely – comes the salutation. This is the opening greeting and will be the second thing (after the subject line) that creates an impression on the reader. So it’s very important to get it right. While internal emails to close colleagues can be easily addressed with a simple “Hi, hello or even, hey,” emailing someone you don’t know, or a client, requires more diplomacy and care. To be safe, you can almost always begin with “Dear” and, whenever humanly possible, include the name of the person to whom you are writing.

Get a name!

Making an effort to get the recipient’s name – and spelling it correctly – is of top importance, because getting an email to Sir/Madam or “to whom it may concern” is very boilerplate and impersonal. Emails that begin that way scream SPAM / unsolicited communication from someone trying to sell me something, so please, use a name. Important exceptions may include job solicitations, where the recipient’s name has been deliberately hidden, but in general, GET a NAME!

First name or both names? Just be observant. If you are replying to someone, and they have signed off with just their first name, replying with just your first name is perfect. When the recipient sets a lower level of formality, such as being on a first name basis, you should follow suit. Read more about diplomacy here.

Sometimes, however, we try our very very best and, alas, fail to get the name. So in order to maintain a high level of professionalism and to show respect, we can use the salutations,

“Dear Sir/Madam,” or the even more formal, “To whom it may concern”

Is it OK to write a business email that starts, “Dear Sir/Madam?”

While the phrases above are well known and allow us to begin the email formally and correctly, I must point out that “Sir/Madam” raises non binary gender issues. A solution that is applied in the UK, but is not globally common, is “Mx.” This honorific replaces the traditional Mr, Miss and Ms.

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Gender and honorifics in email salutations: Mx, Ms, Mr

Mister, always written in its contracted form Mr. (US) or Mr (UK), is a widely used English honorific for men under the rank of knighthood. The title “Mr” derived from earlier forms of master, as the equivalent female titles Mrs, Miss, and Ms. all derived from earlier forms of mistress. Ms. replaced Miss and Mrs. many years ago. Please note that American English (mostly) uses a period; British English does not. Thus Mr./Mr, Miss/Miss, Mrs./Mrs, Mx./Mx

According to Wikipedia, Mx. (usually pronounced /məks/ or /meks/ is an English language neologistic honorific that does not indicate gender. Developed as an alternative to gendered honorifics (such as Mr. and Ms.) in the late 1970s, it is the most common gender-neutral title among non-binary people and people who do not wish to provide a gender in their titles. Mx. is widely accepted by the Government of the United Kingdom and many businesses in the United Kingdom, and is also in many English dictionaries.

You can also use a job title in a salutation, such as “Dear HR Director” or “Dear Client.” Or you can simply say “Hello” as a standalone salutation.

Write a nice business email opening because small talk keeps it friendly

Okay, so we’ve got the salutation out of the way, now what? It’s often good practice to include a friendly opening phrase at the beginning of an email, rather than just launching straight into your main request or point. Think of this like “small talk” when meeting someone; we often ask how their day has been, if they’re enjoying their stay in the city, or, most commonly, comment on the weather. Emails by nature don’t allow for this friendly back and forth, but a phrase like

“I hope this email finds you well.” or “I hope you are well.” These openers allow you to appear amicable and considerate, but also maintains a professional tone and distance.

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Say “Thank you!” ASAP

I love to say thank you early on in an email. You can thank the recipient for their last purchase, their help with a project, their inquiry, their interest or their feedback, even if the feedback was negative. Gratitude is an attractive, disarming, “feel-good” message. Use it generously!

“Thank you for your inquiry.”
“Thank you for your feedback.”
“Thank you for contacting us.”

State the purpose of the email

You’ve made small talk, so now let’s get down to business. To address the topic of your email, you should already have included a clear and concise subject line, but here is where we can include more information about our request/clarification/issue.

“This email is to inform you that…” is a great way to impersonally introduce the matter at hand in the email, while
“I am/we are writing to you regarding…” adds a bit more of a personal touch while still maintaining some formality.

Closing remarks in business emails

So you’ve given all the necessary information, but you can’t just sign off immediately. It’s important to maintain an open line of communication, so a few set phrases at the end will express this.

“If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.” This can be tacked on at the end of any email to allow the recipient to feel comfortable approaching you again.

“I hope you find this satisfactory.” can also be used if you want to express the desire that you hope you have been helpful or provided the right information.

Your “goodbye” will also play into the final impression that your email leaves with a reader. This is why email beginnings and closings are so important, as they will be the things that build the image of you in the mind of the reader. It doesn’t matter how charismatic you are in person; if you only communicate with someone over email and do so curtly, that’s how they will view you. So be careful with how you end things!

If you want a reply from the recipient, finish your email body with…

“I look forward to hearing from you.” This classic CTA (call to action) works wonderfully well and signals reciprocity and open lines of communication. It says, “the ball’s in your court.”

If you know you will be meeting them in person, you can say…
“I look forward to meeting you on x date”
This line politely communicates a positive attitude towards the meeting.

Finally, conclude your email with

“Kind regards or best regards”

In conclusion

The truth about email English is that tone and register will vary widely – there is huge variety in correspondence within industries and companies. Diplomacy and levels of formality, relationship/power hierarchies and cultural norms can mean that it’s best to play it safe and err on the side of formality and diplomacy. But too much formality can also cause problems as the reader may experience a formal style as cold, non-authentic or old fashioned. To better understand diplomacy and levels of formality in English, click here.

The bottom line is to know your company’s style, be diplomatic, and be appropriate for the reader and the situation.

Would you like a practical book on the subject of English Emails? We recommend Email English by MacMillan. Their Email Phrasebook section can be a life saver!

Do you want a book that improves ALL your writing skills? Then get a copy of Skrunk & White’s The Elements of Style. 

Do you want to know how well you write in English? The English Center offers a writing test.

Would you benefit from a private writing course? The English Center offers private training to help you find your English voice at your keyboard! We can help with all kinds of writing tasks, from academic papers to business blogs. We can begin with a free consultation appointment.

A Brief Business Email Phrase List 

Salutation Options
Dear Ms. Kelly,
Dear Mr. Kelly,
Dear Betsy Kelly,
Dear Betsy,
Dear Sir/Madam,
Dear Mx. Kelly,
To whom it may concern,

Openings and Small Talk
I hope this email finds you well.
I hope you are well.

Thank you!
Thank you for your inquiry.
Thank you for your feedback.
Thank you for contacting us.

Stating the Purpose
This email is to inform you that…
I am/we are writing to you regarding…

Closing with Kindness and a CTA
If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
I hope you find this satisfactory.
I look forward to hearing from you.
I look forward to meeting you on…
Kind/Best regards,


Clare Kelleher
Brenda de Jong Pauley
April, 2022

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