Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Study Business English with this Mini-Case Study on Starbucks

Starbucks is "rolling out" new stores
in China.
Did somebody say "coffee?" I am a huge fan of all things caffeinated -- that would be coffee, followed by tea, and let's not forgot chocolate (the darker the better and I currently working on a 90% cocoa dark chocolate bar, very delicious!). So when I opened the Wall Street Journal today and saw an article about Starbucks expanding into China, I decided to grab a cup of coffee and turn the story into a short business English lesson for this Blog's 12 official followers (thank you, loyal readers!) and the hundreds of others who visit this blog to improve their business English.

The article is entitled, "Starbucks Plays to Local Chinese Tastes." Here's the piece of the article we will expore, with the target vocabulary highlighted in blue:

After nearly 14 years of working to persuade China to buy into its foreign coffee culture, Starbucks Corp. is aiming to become more Chinese as it plans a rapid expansion in the country. Belinda Wong, president of Starbucks China, said in an interview that Starbucks aims to roll out 800 new stores in the next three years to add to its existing fleet of 700...
The company aims to capture a larger market by going more local and applying its cultural insights, Ms. Wong said. For instance, whereas kiosk-sized stores work well in the U.S., where office workers grab bacon-gouda sandwiches to go in the morning on the way to work, Starbucks has learned that Chinese consumers value space and couches on which to relax in the afternoons.
The coffee company is adding some stores that are nearly 3,800 square feet and can seat consumers who come with groups of friends and business partners. Starbucks also has discovered that Chinese tastes for coffee go only so far. It plans to introduce new Chinese-inspired flavors, building on existing favorites like red bean frappuccinos …

Businesses that have failed to grasp the local culture, importing alien models, have fallen out of favor. In September, Home Depot Inc. closed all seven of its remaining big-box stores in China after years of losses, having discovered that the do-it-yourself home improvement model doesn't work well in a do-it-for-me Chinese culture.

Now let's look at the vocabulary highlighted in blue:

(to) roll out - to introduce (often a product or service, in this case a retail store). Wow, with this "roll out," Starbucks will more than double the number of stores it has in China. And you thought there were a lot of Starbucks in Manhattan!

(to) capture a larger market - to get more customers (In this case, to get more people in China to switch to a visit from Starbucks coffee from whatever coffee house, tea house, or other place they are currently visiting).

(to) go only so far - to have limitations (In this article, it means that the Chinese customers do not have an unlimited thirst for just plain coffee. If Starbucks is going to sell them more drinks, the company needs to figure out what their tastes are and create drinks based on them -- hence the red bean frappuccion (whereas in the USA, you can get a Caramel Brulée Lattewhich I am pretty sure is not on the menu at Starburcks in Shanghai!).

(to) fall out of favor - to stop being popular; to become unpopular. (In this case, they are talking about the fact that the "global strategy" is no longer as popular and effective as it used to be. With a "global strategy," companies typically treat the world as one big market and have little or no variation in products or services across the various countries).

do-it-yourself - as the word suggest "Do it Yourself!" as in, buy all the stuff you need for your home improvement project and do your own construction work -- as in, re-model your own kitchen, re-tile your own bathroom floor, or install your own new toilets. This is often abbreviated "DIY".

To summarize this article, Starbucks is going to roughly double the size of its business in China. And instead of replicating what works in the United States, the company has figured out how to customize its offerings to suit the tastes of the Chinese consumer. That means drinks that appeal to them and their native cuisine (red bean frappuccinos, Hainan chicken and rice wrap) and plenty of space to hang around on a couch while drinking them. The company is also taking steps to attract non-coffee drinkers. Here's a closing quote from the article, in which we hear from an English teacher in China:

The company is aiming to cater to noncoffee drinkers like Cheng Xiaochen, a 27-year-old English teacher who hates coffee but occasionally meets his students and business partners at Starbucks in the afternoon. "It's a good place to meet people," said Mr. Cheng. "But the coffee is so bitter it tastes like Chinese medicine." Mr. Cheng said he sticks to mint hot chocolate and looks for other sweeter flavors.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Let's Learn Some Business English - Black Friday Special!

Black Friday is coming.  Stores hope
that you will "Shop 'til you drop!"
In other words, shop so much you
are so tired you're ready to drop (fall down
from exhaustion -- but only AFTER
you've paid for your purchases!).
Next Friday is the day after Thanksgiving. It's not just a day to digest all the turkey, stuffing, gravy, and cranberry sauce you just "pigged out on" the day before. It's also a day to go shopping (or "hit the mall" as Americans say!). In fact, it is the official start of the Christmas shopping season. The day is called "Black Friday." Why black? Some say it's because it's the day when retailers start to see a profit -- and seeing a profit is also called being "in the black" (versus "in the red" which means one is losing money).

To attract shoppers to the stores, many stores advertise "Black Friday specials." These specials are often referred to as "door busters."They are items on good sale used to attract the attention of customers (and then once the customer is in the store for their $99 LED TV or $9 toaster, the hope is that they will for more things at the store to buy).

The Wall Street Journal ran an article today about Black Friday. Let's examine a piece of this article, which is entitled "Stores Bring Black Friday to the Web." Idioms and expressions we'll discuss are highlighted.

As retailers gear up for the traditional shop-fest known as Black Friday, they are focusing on the mobs that line up outside stores and—increasingly—on the masses that shop online from home. 

Chain stores prefer impulse-purchase-prone store shoppers. Yet sales growth during the busy Thanksgiving weekend more often is coming from Internet shoppers like Melanie Cortese. Going to Woodbridge Center Mall with her mom on Black Friday was a family tradition for Ms. Cortese, a 37-year-old New Jersey mother of two. But no longer: she plans to go to bed on Thanksgiving night with a laptop nearby and wake up on Back Friday to shop online instead...

… Retailers can't turn their back on shoppers who like to go to the stores. For example, Brookstone sells technology items that need salespeople to demonstrate the products and let shoppers play with them, said Chief Executive Stephen Bebis. 

And while customers flock to the super-discounts, which for the retailers are often loss leaders, a lot of full-price selling also occurs on the day, retailers say. "It is one of our most profitable days," said, Jim Kunihiro, chief marketing officer for Sears Holdings Corp. Like many retailers seeking to get the jump on their competitors, Sears is opening for the first time on Thanksgiving Day for a first round of door busters at 8 p.m., followed by another round of special discounts at 4 a.m. Friday.


Wow, there is lots of interesting vocabulary for us to examine:

(to) gear up - to prepare for; to get ready for

mobs - crowds of people. Note: this is a noun; there is also the popular adjective form: mobbed, as in "The mall was mobbed. We couldn't wait to get out of there!"

impulse purchase - also called an impulse buy. A purchase that was not planned beforehand, but that was made at the store right before the purchase. Note: one who makes these type of purchases is called an impulse buyer. These people are good for stores, who are good at attracting them with displays designed to tempt.

(to) turn one's back on - to not pay attention to someone; to not offer service to someone. Of course, retailers can't turn their back on shoppers who like to go to stores. Even though shopping online increases every Black Friday, 60% of sales were still made in stores, according to the Wall Street Journal article.

(to) flock to - to come in great numbers (originates from "flock," a large gathering of animals. Shall we point out that many shoppers gathered together in enclosed spaces can sometimes start behaving like animals?!).

loss leaders - goods sold at near or below cost. The retailer will not a profit on these items, but they are designed to attract customers to the store. Once in the store, the retailer hopes the customers will find additional stuff to buy.

(to) get the jump on - to start doing something before others (usually to get some kind of advantage)

door busters - the type of low-cost items that customers practically bust (break) the door of the store to get their hands on! See more details above.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving! 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Office English: What to Call the Assistant

What do you call the person in your office who provides support to the staff? In the old days, this was called the "secretary." But nowadays, most people call her (yes, usually her) an administrative assistant. Since that's a lot of syllables to get out -- even for a native speaker of English -- this is often shortened to "admin" or sometimes "assistant."

There was a great article in the New York Times recently about the role today of the admin. I'll include a link later to the article in case you want to read the whole thing. In the meantime, let's examine a few of the lines from this article in our quest to speak better Business English. The lines in blue are from the article.

Part 1:

Assistants tend to be on the front lines when a company adopts new technology, said Ray Weikal ... They can be the ones coordinating remote teams, managing their company's Web site and learning cloud-based applications.

on the front lines  the first ones to be affected; those people closest to the real action. If this sounds like someone fighting in a war, there's a reason. The term derives from the military, with those on the frontline being the first to be involved in the fighting. On the front lines 

Part 2:

At Adecco, the staffing firm, more clients are asking for assistants with college degrees, said Joyce Russell, its president. “They want that broad-based knowledge that you pick up in college,” she said, and she has seen clients promote people who perform well in that role. But Ms. Russell added that she didn’t think a college degree was necessary to perform the job.Ms. Duncan said: “I’ll take street smarts and common sense” over a college degree in an assistant.

street smarts - the practical knowledge needed to deal with difficult situations (versus "book smarts" which is the kind of knowledge you learn in books, the stuff not always immediately applicable in the "real world." For example, you may know all about Beowulf, the Old English epic poem, but that does not mean you will be able to operate the office copier). I think of "street smarts" as being very similar to "common sense," which is also mentioned in the same sentence.

Part 3:

When it comes to job duties, where do assistants draw the line? Will they be expected to serve coffee? Pick up dry-cleaning? Boundaries are best established during the job interview, Ms. Duncan said. The relationship works best if both parties see it as a business partnership, she said, adding that there is a difference between providing a service and “being a servant.”

(to) draw the line - to set a limit; to establish a boundary. This is a very useful idiom. In business, you often do need to draw the line ... and not just if you're an admin. Let's say you're boss keeps asking you to work weekends. You might say, "I've come into the office every weekend for the past four months. It's time to draw the line." 

Do you want to learn more Business English? Check out Speak Better Business English and Make More Money, published by Language Success Press.

And here is the promised link to the complete New York Times article.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Workplace "Whiner" - and Some Useful Business English

Back in June, this blog featured a post called, A SHORT FIELD GUIDE TO AMERICAN WORKERS (PART ONE). Read it below. This post examines another type of worker -- the workplace whiner. What's a whiner? It's someone who complains a lot. Perhaps you have one of these in your office? Hint: It's the person who is never quite satisfied. For example, let's say your company was throwing a holiday party in a very nice restaurant. The whiner would be the one to point out that the place is too noisy. Or let's say you work in an office where the refrigerator is slow to be cleaned out. The whiner is the one who goes around complaining about how dirty it is (typically without offering to clean it out himself or herself).

The Wall Street Journal ran an article recently called "What to Do With A Workplace Whiner." Let's read some of that article and then discuss the expressions and terms used (these are in bold below). Add these expressions to your business English vocabulary. They are sure to come in handy!

It's one of the diciest challenges of office politics, one that invades the cubicle farm and executive suite alike: How to deal with workplace whiners. While it's often best to walk away, that can be difficult in today's team-based workplace, where many people work closely in groups. 
Trying to stay neutral by just listening and nodding can also backfire, says Dana Brownlee, founder of Professionalism Matters, a corporate-training firm in Atlanta. "Before you know it, there's another version of the story circulating, saying you were the one saying something negative about the VP. And they're talking about you over by the Coke machine."
And it can be tough to object without seeming self-righteous. "If you approach someone about their complaining, they may take it in a completely wrong way, and then you've alienated them," says Jon Gordon, an author, consultant and founder of a Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., training firm. It's better to try to bond with co-workers, while setting an example by not griping yourself, he says.
When Kris Whitehead joined a new employer several years ago, his colleagues' frequent work complaints "had a direct impact on my ability to sell," says the Nashua, N.H., salesman. With the economy in a slump, "I had the same secret fears" of failure being voiced by co-workers, he says. Staying upbeat "was an extremely arduous task."

Here we go with our vocabulary study:
dicey - risky; unpredictable. Example: Starting a business during a recession can be dicey.

office politics - the little games people in offices play to try to get ahead (get more money, get a promotion, get a better job, get more power, get better treatment, etc). 

cubicle farm - an office with cubicles (note: this term has a negative feel to it). This is often shortened to cube farm.

backfire - to bring about the opposite result of what was intended. Example: Our complaints about having the holiday party at our boss' house backfired. Instead of holding the party at a restaurant instead, the company just canceled the party.

self-righteous - always sure that one is right (and often being intolerant of others' points of view). This is definitely NOT something you want to be called!

(to) take something the wrong way - to understand or interpret something as insulting; to be offended by what someone says (often because you are not understanding it as the speaker intended). Example: Don't take this the wrong way, but I think it's time you start looking for another job.

(to) alienate - to make others hostile towards you; to push others from you by things you say or do. Example: Joe has alienated his entire staff with his bossy behavior.

(to) gripe - to complain; to whine (note: this term has been around for centuries -- it comes from the Old English term: gripan). Example: Please stop griping about working long hours. Everybody else is also working hard these days. 

in a slump - a slow period; a recession (Note: this has a second meaning -- when one is feeling down or depressed, you can say he's or she's in a slump).  

(to) stay upbeat - to remain positive. Example: Sales have been slow lately, but we're trying to stay update.

arduous - difficult; hard to achieve

If you like this post, be sure to sign up as a follower of this blog and also as a Twitter follower. That way, you'll be the first to know when we've got new content on here! And you won't have to gripe that you're the last to find out!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Back to School with some Business English

Whew, I can't believe summer is over and we're now in the back-to-school season! To celebrate that, I chose an article today called "Getting into B-School On Your Boss's Dime" from the Wall Street Journal. We'll learn some new business English words and expressions -- and who knows? -- maybe this post will even inspire you to go back to school. MBA anyone? Why not, if someone else is paying ...

Here we go with the part of the article we will analyze. Target vocabulary is in bold:

Getting into B-School On Your Boss's Dime

Companies are advertising a rather peculiar perk to lure top undergraduate talent: Showing them the door—to graduate school, that is.

As a means of attracting stellar young hires, an increasing number of firms in finance, consulting and technology are shepherding employees through the graduate-school admissions process by organizing and paying for test-preparation courses, inviting admissions consultants to help with applications, arranging mock interviews with senior staffers and even bringing school representatives to information sessions at the office...

It may seem counterintuitive to encourage employees to head for the exits, but firms say that assisting with the graduate-school application process leads to long-term loyalty and, with strings attached to tuition money, improves the chances that employees will return after graduation...

Such programs have been in place for a while, but have grown more popular in recent years as the recruiting process heats up.
Here we go with explanations of the vocabulary in bold:

on one's dime - paid for by someone else (usually by one's employer). Example: We all went out for sushi today, on the company's dime.

perk - a benefit given to employees (such as bonus money, a gym membership, free tuition for school, etc).

(to) lure - to attract (note: this is one of the verbs featured in our ESL app "Business English Power Verbs" available on iTunes for iPad and iPhone - check it out here.

(to) show someone the door - to fire an employee or to encourage an employee to leave the company (in this article, this expression is used with a twist - not firing an employee but rather encouraging them to go in the door of graduate school (so here we have a play on words)

stellar - excellent; the best

staffers - people who work at a company (note: a cooler way of saying "employees")

(to) head for the exits - to leave (often employees will "head for the exits" if there is a problem with the company). Note that the verb "to head" on its own means to leave for a destination, as in: "It's 5 o'clock? I'd better head home now."

with string attached - with conditions (note: you will more often here the expression "with no strings attached" meaning an offer or deal with no hidden conditions)

(to) heat up - to become more intense or active

Want to learn more Business English? Check out the book & CD Speak Better Business English and Make More Money.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

American Business English - Learn How to Name Your Colleagues!

A Short Field Guide to American Workers (Part One)

Your American colleagues and co-workers ... you gotta love 'em.*  Or not. If not, you can have lots of fun figuring out how to categorize them. Here are a few types of office workers that are universal (at least in the USA -- maybe other countries have their own typical office worker types): 

The "Naysayer" - image courtesy of the Wall Street Journal

The naysayer - the person who thinks nothing is ever possible ... ever. The one who is quick with the reasons why something will not work -- without have any creative suggestions for how to solve a problem. Favorite sentence starters for the naysayer:
- "That won't work because ..."
- "We tried that a few years ago and ..."
- "There's just one thing ..."
- "No, that'll never fly." (note: "fly" = work)

The nitpicker - the person who finds fault or problems with everything. The reason they find problems with everything is that they look hard for them! No problem is too small to identify and complain about! This word is featured in the book Speak Better Business English and Make More Money. Its origin comes from picking nits out of hair or fur (nits are the little eggs of parasitic insects).

The "Rambler" - image courtesy off the Wall Street Journal 
The rambler - this is the person in the office who does not know when to stop talking. Blah, blah, blah, as we say in American English, to express that someone is talking for too long. We can also say, "He goes on and on." This person seems to get most active when you're either trying to head out for your lunch break, or trying to leave your office by 5 p.m. Most of the information provided by the Rambler is: (a) stuff you either already know (perhaps because he's told you before, then forgot) or (b) you don't really care about. Ramblers I've known are not sensitive to small cues or body language. So they keep talking, even as you get up from your office chair and head for the door.

The control freak - this person spends every moment trying to control everybody else. How do they get their own work done? They don't. They think of it as their job to control what you and everybody else is doing. Think you're going to make a quick trip to the bathroom without anybody noticing? Think again!

The micro-manager - a relative of the nitpicker (see above). No tiny detail is too small for this person to worry about. She'll spend hours re-ordering the lists in your PowerPoint. He or she manages every single detail. The people working for her/him will often start to feel dumb, powerless, and resentful. But most micro-managers won't pick up on those feelings.

The bad apple - this is the person in the office who never should have been offered a job. Sometimes he or she is also called the "rotten apple." They create trouble everywhere. They talk behind people's backs and stir up trouble. They are the basis for the proverb: "One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch." In other words, this person can turn other people in the office -- good people -- into bad ones (by spoiling their morale, creating a bad atmosphere, etc). I don't know how such a wholesome fruit as the apple got to be part of this negative expression!

* you gotta love 'em - this American English expression means just the opposite of what you might think: you will NOT love them because they are annoying. So it is used mainly in an ironic way.

P.S. We've just learned of a company in the state of Utah, USA that sells coffee mugs based on annoying personality types! You know the old saying: "Only in America!" They've got a fine list of annoying personality types along with some funny pictures. Check it out here if you want a good laugh.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Want to learn American slang?

The Wall Street Journal ran a great article on learning American slang in yesterday's newspaper. You can read it online here.

The article interviewed American idioms and slang expert, Amy Gillett, author of the Speak English Like an American series. Here is Amy's full list of the trickiest slang for non-native speakers to learn and her commentary on what makes this slang tricky? Have tricky slang of your own to suggest? Post it as a comment!

The top five most dangerous/hard-to-use/confusing slang words for English language learners:

What’s up? / Whassup? / Sup? – When this gets stripped down to its shortest form (‘Sup?) it can be hard to understand. It’s also hard for non-native speakers to know how to answer.  They need to learn the acceptable replies (not much, nothing much) instead of replying “fine,” “good,” or “okay.”
Shut up! – this term can be tricky to use and to understand because it’s meaning depends on intonation. If you say it as a standard command without a smile, it is clearly rude. If you say it with a smile and rising intonation, it could mean “I don’t believe you” or “Really? Tell me more.”  Or if you stress the “shut” and stretch it out, it could mean, “No way!” or “That’s hard to believe!”  Confusing? You betcha!

hook up  – this term can mean anything from making out to having sex. Non-native speakers are always heartened to learn that native speakers don’t really know what it means either.  Non-native speakers need to be careful not to include it in any kind of romantic overture. Invitations to native speakers along the lines of “Hey, Ashley, want to hook up?” are to be avoided.

the “f” word – this word is tempting for many non-native speakers to sprinkle into their sentences for emphasis, just like many native speakers do. But non-native speakers sometimes overuse it out of enthusiasm or use the wrong article in front of it, as in: “What a f____!” instead of “What the f____!” Non-native speakers are also more likely to put it in writing, not fully appreciating its shock value.

lego – this term, popular on college campuses, is confusing for non-native speakers hearing it for the first time. No, we’re not talking about plastic interlocking toys. It’s slang for “let’s go” and was popularized by rappers.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Favorite "Hot" American Word

I just found out about an organization called the "American Dialect Society" that selects an English Word of the Year
every year. According to its website: "The words or phrases do not have to be brand new, but they have to be newly prominent or notable in the past year." Those selecting the word of the year include linguists, grammarians, professors, writers and editors.

The most recent Word of the Year (WOTY) is "Occupy." According to Ben Zimmer, chair of the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society, “It’s a very old word, but over the course of just a few months it took on another life and moved in new and unexpected directions, thanks to a national and global movement.” Yes, that would be the Occupy Wall Street movement, which went from occupying Wall Street to occupying cities and town around the entire USA and onto the rest of the world. In this case, the fourth definition of occupy given by Dictionary.com is the most fitting: to take possession and control of (a place), as by military invasion. Maybe with the Occupy movement, this meaning of the word will move up a notch or two!

Lots of other great words were under consideration for the Word of the Year. Here are three of my favorites (and I encourage you to try these out):

1) humblebrag - expression of false humility, often by celebrities on Twitter (Note: "Humble" means when somebody is modest and "brag" is when you say great things about yourself -- put them together and you have false modesty). Here's a great humblebrag example I found on Urbandictionary.com: "I can't believe I sounded like such a idiot on TV last night"

2) FOMO - acronym for “Fear of Missing Out,” - as in, you might miss out on a great party if you decide to skip it. A very nice expression for the mobile phone age because it's short and easy to type and expresses just that feeling you have sometimes when you don't really feel like doing something, but you worry that you will miss something good if you don't do it.

3) artisan, artisanal - term used to describe gourmet food and other products. The folks at American Dialect Society call it a "faux-fancy" term, which I like. It's the kind of adjective you can stick in front of a loaf of bread at a Farmer's Market and then double the price. Or try it out in front of "pizza" as Domino's Pizza is doing for their new fancy "Artisan Pizza" which sells at a premium to its standard pizza. I have also run into "artisanal cheese" recently. It was really expensive, apparently because somebody lovingly made it by hand, in small batches. I think I saw small specks of mold on it too, but maybe that was supposed to add to its charm and "artisanal" quality!

"Occupy" was the Word of the Year in 2011. Of course, there is going to be another WOTY in 2012. We can only guess now at what English word or expression might rise to the top of the pile and occupy next year's place of honor!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Let's Learn Some More Business Idioms!

Today's Wall Street Journal has an article about Microsoft trying to catch
up with Apple and Google in the apps market. Let's use this article to learn some new American English business vocabulary ... because that's what this website is all about: helping you learn more business English expressions and idioms so that you can communicate more effectively. By the way, if you like this blog, please become a follower -- and share it with a friend. So here we go with the Wall Street Journal article extract, expressions we will focus on are in BOLD:

Microsoft Banks on Mobile Apps

Microsoft Corp., struggling to dent the dominance of Apple Inc. and Google Inc. in the smartphone market, is stepping up efforts to court app makers like Hemi Weingarten.

Last fall, Microsoft aggressively recruited Mr. Weingarten to convince him to build his nutrition app Fooducate for its Windows Phone. Microsoft proposed putting a Fooducate engineer in Tel Aviv through a weeklong boot camp, and offered a new Windows-based Nokia phone for software testing.

Yet despite the enticements, Fooducate skipped the boot camp and chose not to develop a Windows Phone app.

"We decided to focus our energies on the bigger platforms" of Apple's iPhone and Google's Android, said Mr. Weingarten, the 41-year-old chief executive of Fooducate. He said he plans to develop for Windows Phone eventually.

His experience highlights how Microsoft is actively trying to woo developers to the Windows Phone—as well as the hurdles the software maker faces in getting app makers on board.

Now let's discuss the vocabulary from the article:

(to) bank on - to count on; to rely on (as a way to make money). You may hear people say, "You can bank on it!" As in this example: "Boss, do you think I'll get a promotion this year?" -- "You can bank on it!"

(to) step up efforts - to increase efforts; to try harder at something (Yes, you can be sure that Microsoft is stepping up its efforts in the app market - Apple is making a killing in this market! Make a killing means make lots and lots of money).

boot camp - an intensive training program. This expression comes from the military, where it means a training camp for military recruits. (Let's hope the participants in Microsoft's boot camp had more fun than people in a military boot camp -- at least they were probably served better food!).

(to) focus our energies on - to focus on; to devote resources to (In this case, savvy Mr. Weingarten of Fooducate has decided to "focus his energies on" developing apps for the iTunes and Android marketplaces -- and no wonder, they are huge. To tell you the truth, I didn't even know Microsoft had an apps marketplace until I read this Wall Street Journal article!).

woo - to try to win the favor of; to seek the support of. This verb has a second meaning: to gain the love of (usually a woman), for the purpose of marriage

to face hurdles - to deal with obstacles or problems (hurdles are problems you have to solve before you can do something). This handy little idiom also made the headlines of Wired Magazine recently: Google Glasses Face Serious Hurdles, Augmented-Reality Experts Say.

(to) get someone on board - to get someone to join or agree to something; to go along with something. (On board also means when you're on some form of transportation - like on board a bus, on board a train, on board a plane -- so to help you remember this, picture yourself on a plane with a group of business people, having a great talk, all of you in agreement with each other!).

Want to learn more useful business English? Check out our books and audio CDs, the

bestselling Speak Business English Like an American and Speak Better Business English and Make More Money.

Monday, March 5, 2012

LinkedIn Founder Will Teach us Some Business English: Talk Like a Successful American Entrepreneur!

Reid Hoffman is the co-founder of the company LinkedIn. As the Wall Street Journal discusses in a recent article and interview with him, he's also an investor and/or advisor to many other big tech companies. Now he's searching for the next "breakout idea". What's a breakout idea? One that is a very new idea that will form the basis of a very successful new product, service, or even entire company. Let's look at some of the Wall Street Journal's interview with Reid Hoffman, and we'll see his use of business idioms in action! Expressions we'll discuss are in bold. Today, we'll be exploring three great business expressions. At the end of this post, watch the video of Mr. Hoffman discussing his plans.

WSJ: Why is LinkedIn continuing to experience strong growth in a global recession? How long can the company keep it up?

Mr. Hoffman: In either an up or down economy, business proceeds. That is one of the reasons LinkedIn, in up and down economic circumstances, has continued to have good progress. I've been very pleased with Jeff as a CEO, the executive team has been firing on all cylinders. So far I don't see any negative indicators.

(to) fire on all cylinders - to operate as effectively as possible; to be running very well.

WSJ: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said he wants to reach 1 billion users. Do you have a similar goal for LinkedIn?

Mr. Hoffman: Ultimately the goal is to be the professional network of the world. It isn't just white-collar. It could be an executive assistant or a small-business owner. It is about improving what you are doing. Maybe that is roughly a quarter of the population of the world, and there are 7 billion people in the world

white-collar - office workers (those whose jobs do not typically involve manual labor or the wearing of uniforms - those jobs are called "blue collar"). If you work in a cubicle or nice office and the main way you get your hands dirty is the mustard you get on your hands while you eat your lunch, you are most likely a "white-collar worker" - this is for sure LinkedIn's current main audience, though we know from this interview that Reid Hoffman would like to expand beyond that

WSJ: You've just written a book, "The Start-up of You." What's the take-away?

Mr. Hoffman: Every individual needs to think about themselves as the entrepreneur of their own life. Do you invest in yourself? How do you establish good plans and strategy? How do you take intelligent risk? How do you adapt to the future? You don't do that, you are at serious risk.

take-away - the point; the thing you are supposed to get from reading something, watching something, or hearing a lecture. This is a very popular term in MBA programs around the world. Business school students read business cases. Then they discuss the "take-aways." Sometimes after a business school lecture, business professors will discuss the take-aways from the lecture as review. This helps for students who were sleeping during the entire lecture -- if they wake up and pay attention at the end of class, they can still get their take-aways.

For more great business expressions, check out Speak Better Business English and Make More Money and Speak Business English Like an American. Also, visit the iPhone and iPad apps Speak Business English I and Speak Business English II on iTunes.

Watch the video of Reid Hoffman discussing LinkedIn and improve your English. Listen for when he says "the need to stay on top of an industry." "Stay on top" is another business idioms - it means be aware of the newest things going on or keep your knowledge fresh. What other interesting things do you hear him say?:

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Think Outside the Box Is Not Just a Tired Business Idiom

Have you heard the expression think outside the box? It's a popular American

English business idiom and it means that you should think creatively about something. It also happens to be one of the business idioms I teach in my book "Speak Business English Like an American" (and I note that is now overused so you might not want to use it yourself -- but you will certainly hear it being used).

According to new research covered in a New York Times article "When Truisms are True", it really DOES help your creativity when you think outside the box. Business school professors performed an experiment on 102 students at New York University. They gave them a creative task - the students were told to think of a word that was associated with three other words (example: given the words measure, worm, and video, the students would give the answer tape). Some students were put in a 125-cubic-foot box made of plastic and cardboard to do the task. Others did the task while seated just outside the box. Guess which group performed significantly better? Those sitting OUTSIDE the box. They thought of 20% more creative solutions than the box folks. So thinking outside the box is not just a metaphor -- it can also be taken literally.

What implications does that have for those who work in cubicles? Get out of your box from time to time and do some thinking outside the box!

Two more business idioms proven to have powers by this research team: on the one hand/on the other hand. Are you familiar with this structure? Use it like this: One the one hand, I'd like to take the job in Russia. On the other hand, I'm very comfortable living and working here in the United States." When students were asked to come up with fresh ideas, the students who were told to generate ideas while using both hands (and switching between them) did better. They came up with MORE ideas than those students who only listed there ideas using one hand. Too bad the expressions aren't "On the one finger / on the other finger" - we'd have 8 more appendages to work with in generating creative ideas!

Check out the full New York Times article by clicking here

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Chinese Fakes Give Us A Chance to Learn Real English

Copies of Western brands are all over China. Of course, Western companies are upset to be competing with these fake products, also called "knockoffs" and sometimes referred to as "counterfeit." According to a new article in the Wall Street Journal ("Chinese Shoppers Lose Taste for Fakes" by Laurie Burkitt), Chinese consumers are starting to pass up these knockoffs and choose the real thing instead! Even if it means paying a lot more money. Let's read part of this newspaper article and then study some of the expressions in it. Words and expressions we'll study are highlighted in bold below:


Even as foreign companies and the White House pressure China to crack down on fake products, consumers like Liu Wenzhong are showing the nation's growing taste for the real thing.

At a North Face sports-apparel store in one of Beijing's most popular shopping districts, Mr. Liu recently bought a pair of snow boots and a fleece hoodie. At around 700 yuan, or roughly $110, each, they are nearly five times the price of counterfeit versions sold down the street.

"The difference of buying real and fake products is how you feel after," says Mr. Liu, a 36-year-old who runs his own fiber-optic-technology sales business and has a steady income of around 15,000 yuan a month. "I can wear a label I've paid for and feel proud."

While knockoff versions of real products still are widely available around China, Mr. Liu's comments indicate a change in shopper attitudes in a country where black-market purchases once were preferred by shoppers...

The shift has fueled the expansion plans of foreign companies in China. Such retailers as Nike Inc., Columbia Sportswear Co., cosmetics maker Shiseido Co. and North Face parent VF Corp. are opening stores in farther-flung Chinese cities. Many retailers are offering special in-store events and other enticements to get shoppers in their stores. And some have adopted measures, such as special packaging, to differentiate their products from fakes.

"Consumers in China are even more discerning than their counterparts in the Western world," says Aidan O'Meara, president of VF's Asia-Pacific division. "They don't want to be caught dead with a fake product."

Okay, now it's time to study some of the words and expressions from this article:

crack down on - to start enforcing rules more; to restrain. (Yes, we all know that these fake products filling the streets and stores in China are not legal, but in the past, there haven't been huge efforts to crack down on the fakes).

knockoff - a copy; a fake. Sometimes knockoffs are so good, you can't tell them apart from the real thing.

farther-flung - even farther than "far flung" - which means far from the center; in a remote or distant area. Far flung cities would be those not near one of the big capitals. "Farther" is the comparative form of the word "far". Far - farther- farthest.

enticements - things that attract people. In this case, store owners are offering enticements to get people to come into their store -- to lure them in and get them to start shopping.

(to) differentiate - oh, this is such a critical marketing term! This means to make your product or service different from those of your competitors.

don't want to be caught dead with - don't try to understand this idiom word for word! It has nothing to do with being alive or dead. It means something someone absolutely does NOT want. In this case, Chinese consumers do not want to be seen with a fake product (or at least one that others recognize as a fake).

Want to learn more Business English? Check out Speak Better Business English and Make More Money, a new book and CD to help you improve your Business English. There's an entire lesson in that chapter dedicated to knockoffs!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Please Do Not Take A Seat! Stand up and Learn Some English!

The Wall Street Journal just published a great article called "No More Angling for the Best Seat; More Meetings Are Stand-Up Jobs." This article describes the growing practice of stand-up meetings. Apparently, when people aren't sitting down all nice and comfortable, meetings are a lot more efficient. In fact, the meetings are one third less long, with no less quality in decision making. Let's learn some English from a piece of this article (words and business English expressions we'll explore are in bold):

Atomic Object, a Grand Rapids, Michigan software-development firm, holds company meetings first thing in the morning. Employees follow strict rules: Attendance is mandatory, nonwork chitchat is kept to a minimum and, above all, everyone has to stand up.

Atomic Object even frowns upon tables during meetings. "They make it too easy to lean or rest laptops," explains Michael Marsiglia, vice president. At the end of the meetings, which rarely last more than five minutes, employees typically do a quick stretch and then "go on with their day," he says....

The current wave of stand-up meeting is being fueled by the growing use of "Agile," an approach to software development, crystallized in a manifesto published by 17 software professionals in 2001. The method calls for compressing development projects into short pieces. It also involves daily stand-up meetings where participants are supposed to quickly update their peers with three things: What they have done since yesterday's meeting; what they are doing today; and any obstacles that stand in the way of getting work done.

Time to explore the business expressions in this piece of the article:

first thing in the morning - early in the morning, probably right after the employee has turned on his or her computer and grabbed a cup of coffee

chitchat - talk; gossip (social conversations not related to work - clearly this type of talk would not fit into a very short meeting!)

above all - most importantly

(to) frown upon - to discourage; to view something negatively

go on with one's day - continue with one's daily activities or work

fueled by - powered by; motivated by

(to) stand in the way - to block (here they are talking about obstacles standing in the way -- in other words, things that happen that slow down the progress of a project)

Okay, that's our Business English for today. Can you believe I typed all of this SITTING DOWN? I guess I'd better stand up now. Maybe I can go find a stand-up meeting to attend!