Thursday, May 23, 2013

Business English Especially For Those With a Sweet Tooth!

In our last Business English lesson, we featured an article on cupcakes. Today we're continuing in our sweet series with a video on the growing demand for chocolate in China. Hershey's chocolate  a leading chocolate brand in the USA  is now entering the market in China. This video has lots of terrific English idioms. Read the idioms with their definitions below. Then listen for them in the video. Repeat that process again (this time while snacking on a piece of chocolate!). Then think about how you could use these expressions in your daily life (as in: "It's an uphill battle trying to get my kids to keep their rooms clean." or "I hope our customers will snap up our new product.")

(to) play catch-up – to make a big effort to overcome a late start; when you are behind and you have to take actions to get to the level of your competition

uphill battle – a difficult fight (when you are "facing an uphill battle," you face difficult circumstances)

(to) gain market share – to increase one's share (or piece) of a market (definited in percentage terms). This can refer to either dollar market share or unit market share

(to) pay a premium – to pay a higher price for something (because it's better quality or has a better brand, for instance)

(to) snap up – to buy quickly, or in large quantities (this term implies that the product is very desirable, so that many people are buying it)

mass market – produced in large numbers and sold through retail outlets, such as supermarkets 

(to) move upmarket – to start appealing to high-income consumers

bullish on – optimistic about a market (often used when describing investors, as they're "bullish on" a certain stock)

Want to learn useful English expressions and idioms every day? Got two minutes a day to study English while  you're taking a break for a piece of chocolate? "LIKE" the new Facebook, Speak English with Amy Gillett.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Business English and The Great Cupcake Crash of 2013

Today's business English lesson may make you hungry! In the United States over the past 10 years,
The great cupcake craze might be over ... but I'd still like
to take a big bite out of this one!
cupcakes have had a huge rise in popularity. They went from being a favorite at kid's birthday parties to being a popular treat for adults too. They got fancier and fancier and of course, more expensive. Cupcake shops sprang up all over the USA. Many cupcakes sold for a pretty penny (a lot of money) -- some for $4.50 each. Like any great craze, this one is now crashing. Maybe Americans just ate too many cupcakes. Maybe the cookie is back in vogue. Whatever the reason, cupcake shops are now struggling. Let's read a piece of an article from the Wall Street Journal entitled "Forget Gold, the Gourmet-Cupcake Market is Crashing. The words and expressions we'll explore are highlighted:

The icing is coming off America's cupcake craze. The dessert became a cultural and economic phenomenon over the last decade, with gourmet cupcake shops proliferating across the country, selling increasingly elaborate and expensive concoctions.
The craze hit a high mark in June 2011, when Crumbs Bake Shop Inc. a New York-based chain, debuted on the Nasdaq Stock Market  under the ticker symbol CRMB. Its creations—4" tall, with fillings such as vanilla custard, caps of butter cream cheese, and decorative flourishes like a whole cookie—can cost $4.50 each.
After trading at more than $13 a share in mid-2011, Crumbs has sunk to $1.70. It dropped 34% last Friday, in the wake of Crumbs saying that sales for the full year would be down by 22% from earlier projections, and the stock slipped further this week.
Crumbs in part blamed store closures from Hurricane Sandy, but others say the chain is suffering from a larger problem: gourmet-cupcake burnout.
"The novelty has worn off," says Kevin Burke, managing partner of Trinity Capital LLC, a Los Angeles investment banking firm that often works in the restaurant industry.

Now let's look at the words and expressions in bold: 

(to) proliferate – to grow or expand quickly; to spread
concoction – food or drink made by combining different ingredients (often many different ingredients in an unusual way)

in the wake of – following; as a result ofburnout – having had so much of something that one no longer wants it (note: also, often describes what happens when people work too hard and get too stressed out -- they suffer from burnout)

The novelty has worn off – something that was once new and popular, but no longer is; something that people have lost interest in (note: novelty means something new)

If you're looking to improve your English, check out our iPad & iPhone apps for English study. We've got two new ones you're sure to enjoy: Speak English Around Town and Say it Better in English. They're a fun and easy way to take your English study on-the-go! For daily English lessons - including conversational English and business English - "LIKE" the new Facebook page, Speak English with Amy Gillett.

Monday, May 13, 2013

A Business English Lesson Inspired by the CEO of IBM

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of IBM had to tell her employees that they needed to change. So what did she do? She recorded a video message and posted it on the company blog. Her message to her 434,000 employees: you need to move faster! Of course, the video was passed on to the news media (also called "the press"). Did CEO Virginia Rometty deliver the news to her employees the right way -- or was she yelling at them as if they were children? The jury is still out (that means, people are still discussing that question!). Businessweek — a weekly business news magazine — just published an article about this. Let's look at some pieces of this article and then discuss the expressions and words in bold:

After the disappointing earnings report on April 18, Rometty released a video to all 434,000 employees in which she admitted that IBM hadn’t “transformed rapidly enough.” She called out the sales staff for missing out on several big deals. “We were too slow,” she said. “The result? It didn’t get done.” The press got wind of her message, and Rometty’s now accused of the corporate equivalent of yelling at her children in public. The Wall Street Journal, which broke the story, called the outburst a “rare companywide reprimand.” IBM declined to comment on the video ...

Employees aren’t going to watch one video or read one memo and completely change the way they work—the company has to change, too. In the video, Rometty laid out a plan for IBM to respond to customers within 24 hours: “Engage management, engage leadership, and let’s deal with it.” She’s already “reassigned” the head of IBM’s computer hardware department, the source of a large portion of the sales drop. “Ginni’s a very direct, no-BS type of CEO, and she had one message that she delivered to everyone,” [Professor Noel] Tichy says. “It would be much worse if it went through the internal channels. No one wants to hear that the CEO thinks they dropped the ball through word of mouth.”

Now let's look at the expressions and word in bold:

(to) get wind of - to find out about something, often a secret

outburst - a sudden expression of feeling (often full of emotion)

(to) lay out a plan - to present a plan

no-BS - short for no bullshit (BS means bullshit; therefore, no-BS is just the opposite!)

(to) drop the ball - to make a mistake; to fail to perform one's responsibilities

word of mouth - gossip; news spread by people talking to each other (note: often used as a marketing term to describe an advertising or marketing message that is spread from one person to another -- which is a positive thing for the company because it means that people are talking about the company's product or service).

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Business English Greetings — and News of American Greetings

When I was growing up, I loved receiving greeting cards in the mail. My favorite greeting cards had Snoopy
Growing up, I loved to receive Snoopy
greeting cards in the mail. Now I'm just
happy to get any birthday cards in the mail!
on them. I would save and review them for years. So when e-cards came along and people stopped sending cards in the mail, I was not very happy. I am sure the management of American Greetings, a large greeting card company, was not so happy either!

In today's Wall Street Journal, we learn that American Greetings is saying goodbye to the stock market and taking itself private. The article is entitled "Wishing You a Fond Farewell – From the Stock Market." Let's read the beginning of the article and improve our business English. Words and expressions we'll explore are highlighted in blue and defined below:

It is an industry that thrived in the days when the printed word was king and correspondence went through the mail. But like many other businesses, it was battered by the rise of lively, innovative and often free competitors online, where stamps and handwriting aren't needed.
Welcome to the greeting-card industry, where the biggest publicly traded U.S. company in the business has decided to bid adieu to the stock market, announcing plans to go private. The Weiss family—descendants of the Polish immigrant who founded American Greetings Corp. shortly after his arrival in Cleveland in 1905—on Monday said it agreed to pay $18.20 in cash per share to remove the company from the public markets.   The greetings-card business has seen better days, and American Greetings today is worth almost 65% less than it was at its peak in 1998. Like many media companies, it was hit hard by the Internet, with customers finding new ways to share old sentiments like birthday or holiday greetings. Tech companies including Apple and Facebook launched their own electronic greetings businesses, letting their customers send physical or electronic gifts and greetings on a birthday or anniversary.

(to) thrive – to do very well; to succeed; to flourish (in this case, the greeting card industry was thriving ... back in the days when people actually sent their greetings by regular mail rather than via the Internet).

correspondence – communication by letters (in other words, people writing to each other)

battered by – hurt seriously by (Note: this can be used in the financial sense, as it is here. It can also be used in the physical sense as in: Our beach house in New Jersey was battered by Hurricane Sandy).

publicly traded company – a company that trades on the stock exchange (versus a private company that is owned by one family or group of investors)

(to) go private – to remove a company from the stock exchange, so it is once again owned by private investors. This is the reverse process of "going public" in which a company lists itself on the stock exchange. 

(to) have seen better days – to be in a period of decline or slow sales (yes, American Greetings definitely has seen better days -- 15 years ago, it was worth a lot more than it is today).

(to be) hit hard by – to suffer losses due to something (in this case, American Greetings was hit hard by the rise of e-cards, with consumers sending more greetings by Internet than by regular mail, or "snail mail.")

For more business English idioms, check out the new app for iPad & iPhone, Business English Power Idioms. It's a cheap and fun way to work on your business English!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Let's Learn Some Business English with a Story about Jesus (the Brand)

An advertisement for Jesus Jeans
(It looks like this model could have 

gone for the next size up!).
No, this is not going to be a post about religion. It's going to be a post to help you improve your Business English (and your legal English). But we are going to be talking about Jesus today. That's because an Italian clothing company has trademarked the name "Jesus" and uses it on its Jesus Jeans. It's now fighting with other clothing companies trying to use the name Jesus too.

In conversational English we sometimes say "Jesus!" to express anger or outrage (or the shortened "Jeez!"). Some of the people in the newspaper article we are going to look at today are definitely saying "Jesus!" They are very unhappy that one company is not sharing the "Jesus" name. Who would have though that dozens of clothing companies would choose "Jesus" as their brand name? And then start fighting about it? All of this is not in the spirit of Jesus himself, but it does make for interesting reading (and English study!).

Let's take a look at the newspaper article, which is entitled "If You Take These Jeans' Name in Vain, Prepare to Meet Their Maker" and is from the Wall Street Journal. The expressions we will study are in blue.

Inspired by his time leading a singles ministry in Virginia Beach, Va., Michael Julius Anton came up with an idea for a clothing line that he thought was catchy and unique—"Jesus Surfed." He was on good ground with "Surfed." But when he went to register the trademark, he found someone had beaten him to Jesus.
In a branding coup of biblical proportions, an Italian jeans maker persuaded the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2007 to register the word "Jesus" as a trademark, giving the company exclusive rights in America to sell clothing bearing the name of Christianity's central figure.
Since then, the owner of the trademark, Jesus Jeans, has clamped down on Jesus-themed apparel, pitting its litigators against more than a dozen other startup clothing lines it claims appropriated "Jesus" without the company's blessing. The company doesn't have a trademark on images of Jesus, just the word.
Before taking on Jesus Surfed, Jesus Jeans objected to "Jesus First," "Sweet Jesus," and "Jesus Couture," among others, which abandoned their trademark efforts. In some cases, when met with resistance, Jesus Jeans warned that it could sue for damages.
Now let's look at the definitions of vocabulary:

(to) come up with – to think of

catchy – memorable, appealing (Note: You will often heard the phrase "catchy tune," meaning a song or melody that stays in your head and is fun to sing, though eventually it might drive you crazy)

on good ground  safe with (Note: this terms first appeared in the Bible, which is probably why the author of this newspaper article chose to use it in a story about Jesus: Here is a quote from Luke 8:15, King James Bible: But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.)

(to) register a trademark – to formally register a symbol (name, logo, etc) for a product with a governmental patent office (in the USA, with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, USPTO)

(to) beaten someone to – to do something before somebody else has a chance (in this case, Jesus Jeans beat Jesus Surfed to register the "Jesus" trademark)

of biblical proportions – great; having big consequences; large in scope (Note: This often refers to natural disasters -- Example: A wildfire of biblical proportions swept through California and destroyed hundreds of houses). Biblical is the adjective form of Bible, so here we have a play on words.

(to) clamp down on – to get strict about

(to) pit someone against – to put someone up to fighting someone or something

blessing – two definitions (which is what makes this word choice another play on words here): 1) approval and 2) a favor or gift bestowed by God (Note: there are some other definitions of this word also)

(to) meet with resistance – to face one's objections to something 

(to) sue for damages – to take someone to court and try to get money (or other compensation) from them for harming one's business

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

I Love Business English: in Honor of Valentine's Day

Pam and Jim from the Office. An example of a
successful office romance.
In honor of Valentine's Day, I've chosen an article on workplace romances to help you improve your Business English. Ahhh, the workplace romance. We all have stories of love at the office. I remember when an old boss of mine disappeared for several days in Europe immediately following an official business trip. Coincidentally, a young assistant at the office was also in Europe for those same three days!

An old friend of mine fell in love during a summer internship. She ended up leaving her husband. The man she fell in love with left his wife. They now have children and are, as far as I know, happily married. So sometimes the office romance does end happily (even when it starts out as "an affair," because one or both of the love-birds is married).

Now, let's get down to business and look at our article for today. It's called "When Cupid Visits the Office, Rules Can Cut Risks" and it is from the Wall Street Journal. We will look at an extract from the article first, with words and phrases to study highlighted in blue.
Companies by now are well-acquainted with the hazards of workplace romance. But, if recent incidents are any indicator, they still find it tricky to put a lid on office passions.
Some companies have attempted to regulate the romantic sparks that fly between co-workers, mindful of the potential legal fallout.
Still, even the best-crafted rules can't guard against workers who follow their instincts instead of consulting the employee handbook.
Inappropriate relationships can topple careers, and allegations of unwanted attention or favoritism can cost companies millions of dollars and land businesses in the headlines for all the wrong reasons…
Lawyers say companies that do lay out ground rules for dating may be able to head some lawsuits off at the pass—or at least curb corporate liability should matters end up in court.
"It's not just about warding off or fending off a claim of harassment. You also don't want to create the kind of environment or perception that that's a way to get ahead," said David S. Baffa, an employment lawyer and head of the workplace-compliance practice at Chicago law firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP.
Now let's look at the highlighted words and phrases:

(to) put a lid on – to stop; to stop something from increasing. This is often used to discuss spending. For example: Expenses are getting out of control. We need to put a lid on spending.

sparks fly / make sparks fly / when sparks fly – this refers to the reaction between two people. Here, the reference is to "romantic" sparks -- in other words, two people attracted to each other. Taylor Swift has a popular love song called "Sparks Fly" (¯Sing it: 'Cause I see sparks fly whenever you smile'¯). Also, note that the sparks flying can refer to anger between two people. For example: Doug and Marie disagree on everything. If they're both at the meeting, sparks will fly.

fallout – consequences; bad results of a situation (in this case, the "legal fallout" refers to the lawsuits or legal troubles that may happen following an unsuccessful office romance)

(to) topple – to cause to fall (in both the figurative and the literal sense: when you stack blocks on top of each other and the tower gets tall, you put one more on and the whole thing topples over).

ground rules – basic rules; rules that everybody should be know and follow (Note: I've never worked at a company that laid out the ground rules for dating. All the employee manuals I've seen are pretty boring -- how many days in advance to ask for a vacation day, insurance policies -- nothing so interesting as How to Behave if You've Fallen in Love with a Co-worker).

head something off at the pass – to stop something from happening (in this case, to stop a lawsuit from happening).

(to) curb – to reduce (This verb is also often associated with spending.Example: Money is tight. We need to curb spending).

(to) ward off – to stop something from happening; to hold something off (This phrasal verb is often associated with illness. Example: Many people at my office are sick right now. I'm doing my best to ward off illness).

(to) fend off – to stop something from happening (Note that this is very similar in meaning to "ward off").

(to) get ahead – to advance in one's career (Yes, one way to get ahead may be to become romantic partners with the right person in the organization -- but the lawyer in this article says the company should not create an atmosphere where people think that).

I hope you've enjoyed this Valentine's Day lesson. If so, check out More Speak English Like an American, which is full of more useful idioms and vocabulary for Business English. And office romance, too!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

This Post Will Teach you Business English (and Maybe Make You More Money!)

Have you ever wondered how much a co-worker was earning? Would you like to be able to click a few buttons to find out? Some companies are now making it possible for employees to see what their co-workers are making. I can hear the office chats now ("Hey, Bill is making $200,000 a year? And he got a $25,000 bonus last year? Are you kidding?").

A Wall Street Journal article discusses this in an article entitled "Psst...This is What Your Co-worker is Paid." Let's read part of the article and then discuss the English idioms, expressions, and words of interest. Vocabulary we'll discuss is in blue.

Office workers have grown accustomed to knowing the intimate details of each other's lives—from a colleague's favorite cat video to a boss's vacation fiasco.
Now a small but growing number of private-sector firms are letting employees in on closely held company secrets: revealing details of company financials, staff performance reviews, even individual pay—and in doing so, walking a tightrope between information and TMI, or too much information.
The warts-and-all approach, most often found in startups, builds trust among workers and makes employees more aware of how their particular contribution affects the company as a whole, advocates say …
Little privacy remains in most offices, and as work becomes more collaborative, a move toward greater openness may be inevitable, even for larger firms. Companies "don't really have a choice," says Ed Lawler, director of the Center for Effective Organizations at the University of Southern California ...
But open management can be expensive and time consuming: If any worker's pay is out of line with his or her peers, the firm should be ready to even things up or explain why it's so, says Dr. Lawler. Management should also show employees how to read the company's financial and performance data, he adds.
And because workers can see information normally kept under wraps, they may weigh in on decisions, which can slow things down, company executives say.
Now let's review the vocabulary in this article:

walking a tightrope between - to deal carefully when in a sensitive situation, choosing between two things (often opposing things). "Tightrope" is a rope that acrobats cross in a circus, very carefully.

TMI - this is an acronym that stands for "too much information". It's used when someone is sharing too much personal information (also called "oversharing."). If your boss tells you the details of his date last night and later you are gossiping about him with a co-worker, you might say, "Greg was telling me all about his date with Lisa last night. She didn't leave his apartment until 3 a.m. TMI!"

warts-and-all - there are two definitions: 1) not trying to hide the bad things (this definition applies to this article; and 2) even with the problems or flaws ("I have some issues with my boss, but I love her, warts and all."). This is a very graphic expression because of the "warts" -- those are unattractive growths on one's body. If you love someone warts-and-all, you're able to ignore those unattractive growths.

out of line with - not consistent with; not at the same level as (Note: If your pay is "out of line" with your peers' pay, it's time to make an appointment with the boss!").

(to) keep under wraps - to keep secret. Example: We're going to give Susan a 20% pay increase next month, but let's keep that under wraps for now.

weigh in on - give one's opinion about. Example: Bill is making $200,000 a year. I'd like to weigh in on the decision regarding his salary increase for next year."

I hope you enjoyed this short Business English lesson. If you're looking for more Business English, please check out the book Speak Better Business English and Make More Money. You'll find over 400 useful Business English expressions in it. It's available for Kindle too!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Let's Learn Business English with some Naked Talk!

Welcome to today's Business English lesson. We'll try to keep this English lesson "PG-rated" despite the theme of nudity! Today we're going to learn 12 new English expressions and useful words, and we're going to have a lot of fun while doing it.

In the USA, there's an association for just about every cause or interest. So it was not that surprising to read about the "American Association for Nude Recreation" in the Wall Street Journal a couple of days ago. The association is for those who like to vacation with no clothes on -- or, in their lingo, to take a "nakation."

The Wall Street Journal article talks about this association's search for new corporate sponsors. The association's leadership was excited by the many recent products with the word "naked" in them -- such as Naked Pizza (and if you want a beer with that pizza, how about a Naked Lap Lager?!).

So let's sit down, take off your sweater (no need to get completely naked, unless it makes your English learning more effective!), and take a look at parts of this article. The terms we'll take a peek at highlighted in blue.

Extract from "Nudists Seek Corporate Sponsor Looking for Greater Exposure" WSJ article*:

The nation's largest nudist association is looking for corporate sponsors, and leaders think this might be their moment in the sun. Now that the organic food movement has given the word naked a wholesome new meaning—suggesting natural and free of preservatives—the word is popping up in all kinds of product names: Naked Pizza, Bear Naked granola, the Naked Grape Chardonnay and more than one naked lager.

Since October, the group has sent about 100 query letters. They have written to the makers of "naked" products and to companies selling items their members use a lot, such as Hawaiian Tropic and BullFrog sunscreens. And they have also targeted companies they think should be interested because their advertising has gone au naturel in a fun or artful way...

"We're hoping we'll give the association greater exposure," says the association's Executive Director Jim Smock, adding a difficult to believe, "no pun intended."

The response has been skimpy. So far, he has received three letters of regret, and a case of E. & J. Gallo Winery's Naked Grape wine …

Nevertheless, the group faces a significant hurdle. Though the 82-year-old organization has made strides in gaining social acceptance and legal protections, many people still find nudism off-putting.

Wooing major brands could be a heavy lift, given the risk of backlash and the association's relatively small membership, branding experts say.

Their advice: The association should first give itself a face-lift, a sleeker website, a revamped logo and maybe a stripped-down name.

Now let's look at some definitions:

moment in the sun - getting some attention, usually for a very short time (Note: this often refers to a person, usually not a well-known one, finally getting a little bit of attention).

(to) pop up - to appear, often unexpectedly. In this case, the word "naked" is suddenly appearing -- or popping up -- in all kinds of brand names. Obviously, marketers have realized that "naked" is a powerful selling word, at least for now.

(to) give one greater exposure - to get more attention in the media or among the public (Note: this is a pun because "exposure" has a second meaning -- the act of showing a body part, typically one that is not supposed to be shown in public!).

skimpy - small in quantity. This also has another definition, which is where the pun is here: skimpy also means lacking in fullness (when said of clothes, it means there is not enough of the clothing to fully cover the body part in question -- so a skimpy skirt, for example, might be tight and very short).

(to) face a hurdle - meet a challenge or something that blocks success

(to) make strides - to make progress

off-putting - something that causes feelings of unease, disgust, or annoyance (Note: from the phrasal verb "to put off" meaning to annoy, disgust, or repel someone)

to woo - to try to get the favor of; to attract 

heavy lift - a difficult task

give oneself a face-lift - to improve one's image or look

revamped - made newer and better; improved

stripped-down  - shorter; more simple; spare (Note: this is another pun, playing off the word "stripped" meaning naked)

If you would like to learn more business English idioms, check out the popular book & CD "Speak Business English Like an American" available from Language Success Press. It's also available in app format for iPad and iPhone under the names Speak Business English I and Speak Business English II.

*"Nudists Seek Corporate Sponsor Looking for Greater Exposure" is © 2013 by the WSJ and is reproduced here in part for educational purposes.