5 business idioms to improve English speaking at work (Part 4)

English business idioms to improve speaking at work

Do you need to communicate in English at work? What do you think is the most difficult aspect of using English at work? Many English language learners feel that it is more difficult to have a conversation, especially with a native speaker. But why? Firstly, a lot of native English speakers do not speak slower or more clearly when communicating with speakers of other languages. Secondly, they also use English business idioms and expressions, which can be difficult to understand.

Why are English idioms more difficult to understand? An idiom is a phrase or expression which does not have a literal meaning. In other words, you cannot simply work out the meaning by translating each word, so you need to learn the whole idiom as one item. So, do you really need to learn idioms? When you are communicating at work, you don’t need to use a wide variety of idioms yourself. However, it is advantageous to develop your business English vocabulary so that you can better understand and communicate professionally with native speakers. Once you are familiar with a few idioms, it can help you to communicate more naturally in English.

English business idioms to improve speaking at work 4-2

We have already given fifteen idioms that can be used in the workplace (in part 1, part 2 and part 3) which are commonly used in a work environment. Here are another 5 idioms with examples to develop your English vocabulary. We recommend studying these twenty idioms and experimenting with a few of them to improve your English speaking at work.

Can you guess the meaning of these English business idioms?

Here is a conversation between two colleagues, Jonathan and Maria. They work in different departments at an international travel company in their hometown, London, and are discussing their week. They speak quickly with each other and use several English idioms, both at work and in everyday conversation.

The idioms they use are in bold. We recommend that you read through the conversation first to get a general understanding. Then, go back and try to work out the meaning of the idioms from the context. You don’t even need a dictionary because we give definitions and examples at the end. Even so, try to guess what they mean first! This strategy will help you to remember them for the future.

Jonathan meets Maria after work

Jonathan:
Hi. How was your day?

Maria:
It was good thanks, not too difficult! I had to send a lot of emails, but not too many phone calls. And yours?

Jonathan:
Well, everything was going well this morning, and then there was a slight problem this afternoon. Do you remember that I’ve been designing new holiday packages for next summer?

Maria:
Ah yes. So, what happened?

Jonathan:
Well, I got an email from the director this morning. He said that I need to give this project to Mark, another colleague, and start researching other locations. Now, I’m back to square one. Great!

Maria:
Hmm, I wasn’t expecting that! Did he give you a reason?

Jonathan:
Not really. But if I read between the lines, I would say that he’s not happy with my Mark's work. The director must know that he's actually quite lazy and asks us to explain everything twice. So, I need to give my work to him and probably help him complete it, while I do my own research.

Maria:
Interesting! It sounds like they're keeping you on your toes too!

Jonathan:
For sure! But the good news is that I asked if I could take three weeks holiday in August, and the director gave me the thumbs up.

Maria:
Now, I’m jealous! I tried to get that time off myself, but I can’t go then because another member of my team had already booked her holiday. So, where do you plan on going? Anywhere nice?

Jonathan:
I’m planning on going to South America, but I haven’t booked anything yet.

Maria:
Well I heard straight from the horse’s mouth that you might be going with my colleague. She’s got three weeks holiday at the same time…

Jonathan:
Hmmm. What a coincidence! I hope that she’s going somewhere nice!

English business idioms to improve speaking at work 4-3

Definitions and examples to develop business English vocabulary

Did you understand the conversation between Jonathan and Maria? Were you able to guess the meaning of the English business idioms in bold? Here is a list of the business idioms that were used, along with definitions and examples.

1. back to square one

Definition:
describes when you need to start a project again from the beginning
Example:
Every aspect of our proposal was rejected by the CEO, so we are back to square one.

2. read between the lines

Definition:
to find a hidden meaning in something said or written (e.g. feelings/intentions)
Example:
If I read between the lines, I don't think my colleague actually wanted to resign.

3. keep you on your toes

Definition:
describes something that makes you remain alert, energetic and ready
Example:
Our management team make regular checks on staff to keep everyone on their toes.

4. give/get the thumbs up

Definition:
to show support and/or give approval
Example:
I got the thumbs up from my boss about working from home every Friday.

5. (straight) from the horse's mouth

Definition:
to obtain information directly from the original or a reliable source
Example:
I heard from the horse's mouth that the CEO is going to retire this year.

English business idioms to improve speaking at work 4-4

Time to practise!

It is easier to learn and develop business English idioms from a real-life context. In order to improve your English speaking at work, you should also try to use the idioms in conversation. Practice is the key to improving your confidence and will help you to speak English naturally.

If you would like to develop your English skills more rapidly, we have recommendations for English courses with a professional English teacher and options to study at home.

You can also visit our gallery on Facebook for more English business idioms, which are updated every week.

Welcome to the EnglishRadar gallery of useful English idioms for use at work and in business situations.

Posted by EnglishRadar on Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Posted in Business English, English for work, English vocabulary

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