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5 Business Meeting Ice Breakers for ESL Learners

April 14, 2017

How do you start a business meeting? This is a difficult question for executives and professionals to answer. What about starting a business meeting in English when it’s not your native language? This is even more difficult! We have some ideas for meeting ice breakers that will start your meeting off well. Before using these ice breakers, however, make sure that your English skills are as high as possible: with CISL’s Executive English courses, students are in a classroom of no more than 4 students and have the opportunity to perfect their communication skills regarding their profession.

Business Meeting Ice Breakers for ESL Learners

One topic; one word

Present an idea or a topic to the meeting attendants. The topic should be related to the meeting’s agenda somehow; for example, if you’re meeting to discuss hiring a new employee, the topic can be the question, “What describes a good resume?” Every person in the meeting must think of one word to answer. Then, the person can discuss his or her answer after giving the one word.

Useful language: Each person must explain in detail why he or she chose the one word. For this reason, everyone will need to use conjunctions (words like “because” and “therefore”). Check out our article on conjunctions for ways to use these connecting words.

Career Highlight

Ask everyone in the room to share a moment when they felt very proud of their work. This is a great way to hear about each person’s interests and passions with their job!

Useful language: Both the Simple Past and Past Continuous are useful when speaking about career highlights.

The Lunch Question

Ask everyone this famous question: “If you could have lunch with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be and why?”

Useful language: Unreal Conditionals are useful for answering this question. For this answer, use the following construction:

If + subject + modal could + base verb, subject + modal would + base verb

If I could have lunch with anyone, I would choose . . .

Check out our articles on conditionals for more information on the Zero Conditional, First Conditional, Second Conditional, and Third Conditional.

Who would you have lunch with if you could have lunch with anyone?

Book Recommendation

Ask everyone to share a book they are currently reading, or a book that they recommend, and share why they think this book is important.

Useful language: Modals for recommendations are useful in this situation. Check out our article on Modals for Giving Advice for more info!

Need some book recommendations? Check out our article on great books for English learners!

A Career Goal

Ask everyone to share something they would like to accomplish in the next year (and why). This is an excellent way to learn about each person’s aspirations!

Useful language: When speaking about the future, we can use many tenses. The most common are WILL and BE GOING TO of the Simple Future, but because we are talking about a specific point in time in the future, we can also use the Future Perfect Tense.


CISL Executive English graduate. Another CISL student success story (from an already successful person)!

CISL’s Premier English Programs include San Diego’s Executive English and San Francisco’s Global Success. For more information on these intensive programs for the business professional, contact CISL

Business English California Life Career English CISL Alumni CISL Premier CISL San Diego CISL San Francisco Featured Student Life Suggested student activities

5 Business Idioms for New Employees + Ways to connect in SD and SF

May 27, 2016

The business world is the world of idioms: from sports related expressions to idioms about financial problems, office conversations are filled with phrases and expressions English learners quickly pick up!

If you are a new employee (or, if you are a CISL Career English student and are spending time at with an American company), the following expressions will be useful during your first few days at work. Are there any others you can think of? Tell us on Facebook or leave a comment below!

Interview Business English

Idioms for new employees

“Know/Learn the ropes”

Definition: to know or learn how something works when you are new to the job/company.

Example: “Thanks for helping me learn the ropes during my first few weeks.”

“Go the extra mile”

Definition: to put extra effort into something.

Example: “I’ll go the extra mile to make sure that we are efficient!”

“To get off on the right/wrong foot”

Definition: to have good (or bad) first impressions or experiences.

Example: “I plan on working overtime the first few weeks so that my boss and I get off on the right foot.”

“Hit the ground running”

Definition: to start smoothly and with energy and speed.

Example: “We’ll hit the ground running on Monday morning. After this meeting, I think we are ready!”

“The ins and outs”

Definition: the details.

Example: “My manager taught me the ins and outs of the company.”

“Rule of thumb”

Definition: general rule.

Example: “A rule of thumb here is that the customer is always right.”

“From the word go”

Definition: from the beginning.

Example: “From the word go, he has been a dedicated employee.”

Business English Formal Requests

Ways to connect in SD and SF

Are you business-minded? Want to use your English skills for business? Check out some of these resources in SD and SF!

This website is a great place to meet people who have your interests. Search for groups using the name of your business or industry and see what activities and events are happening!

Young Professionals of San Francisco 

Over 1,500 people are a member of this network which connects business-minded people throughout the Bay Area. Click here for info!


Photo from the YPOSF on Facebook.

San Diego International Club

This is a great place to meet international students in San Diego, practice your English, and connect with students who are “in the same boat” as you! (That means that they are experiencing the same thing as you.)

Click here to check them out!

San Diego Entrepreneur Center

If you are a driven person who wants to start a business, check out the San Diego Entrepreneur Center. It’s a great place to meet people who share your interests, and the center is full of resources!




Business English CISL Premier CISL San Diego CISL San Francisco Featured Learning Materials Lessons Word of the Day

Business English: Marketing Vocabulary and Expressions

November 15, 2015

From surgeons to CEOs, we have had the pleasure of teaching students from many professional backgrounds in our CISL Intensive, Business, and Premier classes! Today on the CISL Blog we are looking at Marketing Vocabulary, which is something our business, advertising, and sales students need. As you can see, however, you don’t necessarily need to be a part of these industries to use this vocabulary: these words are commonly used when discussing companies. How many of these important words do you know?


English Marketing Vocabulary 

“R & D”

This stands for “Research and Development,” which is the market research that a company does on a product (and the changes it makes to the product, based on this research) before it is introduced to the market.

Brand loyalty

Why do some people always buy one product? Some feel very strongly that Coke is better than Pepsi, or that, for example, Burger King is better than McDonald’s (to be honest, we Californians prefer In N Out!). Brand loyalty is a goal for many companies (and has been achieved by the ones previously mentioned). How many more companies with brand loyalty can you think of?

Brand-name recognition

How well can you identify a company? Do you know its name by seeing just the logo? Companies with brand-name recognition are easily identified, usually by just their logo or slogan.

Buying habits

What products do you buy, and from which stores do you buy them? These are your buying habits. Knowing them helps companies to better understand customers.


Are there stores or brands you prefer while shopping? Does advertising affect your choices?


This is the personal noun for the word COMPETITION. Who is your competition? Identify them, and you have found your competitor.

Consumer panel

A consumer panel is a group of customers recruited to give feedback regarding advertising, products, etc. Most often, the people on the panel are specifically chosen for their background or experience with a product or market, so the results are very specific.


A trademark is a symbol or slogan legally registered to a company.

A win-win strategy

A situation in which either outcome will be beneficial uses a win-win strategy.


For more on Business English and Premier classes at CISL, click here.

Business English CISL Premier CISL San Diego CISL San Francisco Featured Word of the Day

Business English: Making Formal Requests

October 22, 2015

Many languages have a formal and informal way of expressing oneself. Do you know how to formally and politely ask for something? People who use English in business settings must do this often. Let’s take a look at some useful phrases to help you get your way.* 

Business English Class

Making Formal Requests in Business English

Would it be possible to + base verb . . . ?

With this question, we are politely asking for something.

  • Would it be possible to change our meeting to Thursday?
  • Would it be possible (for us) to reconsider the rejected proposal?


Would you please consider + ing . . . ?

In this example, we use the GERUND (-ing) form of the word that follows “consider.”

  • Would you please consider canceling the meeting due to illness?
  • Would the owner consider offering a discount to some customers?


We kindly ask that you/he/she/it/they + base verb

In this example, we use the SUBJUNCTIVE. This means that the verb does not change to match the subject. Instead, it is always a base verb.

  • We kindly ask that you provide each customer with a receipt.
  • We kindly ask that he thoroughly read the report.


We respectfully request that (subject) + base verb 

This is yet another example with the SUBJUNCTIVE.

  • We respectfully request that all guests remain quiet when leaving the building.
  • We respectfully respect that the unhappy customer accept our apologies and a refund.

For more on the SUBJUNCTIVE, click here.


For more lessons on Business English, check out our articles on Formally Addressing Someone, Responding to Customer Complaints, and the Difference Between a CV and Resume. And be sure to read our Vocabulary Business Students Need to Know and Phrasal Verbs for Business English to help prepare you for the corporate (English) world!

Click here for more information on CISL’s Business and Premier English courses.

*Get your way means “to get what you want.”

Cover photo from Shutterstock.

Business English CISL Premier CISL San Diego CISL San Francisco Featured Word of the Day

Business English: Formally addressing someone

September 6, 2015

Formalities are important in both written and spoken English. Do you know how to properly address someone in English when you meet them in person or write to them in an email? The level of formality and appropriate greeting depend on if you know the person and how well you know them. Read on to learn about formally addressing someone in Business English.

Addressing someone formally

In spoken English

In most business settings, we use Mr., Ms., and Mrs. (We use Ms. when the woman is unmarried and Mrs. when the woman is married, if we know her marriage status. Although lately, this tradition has been changing: many people choose to use Ms. for all women.)

  • Hello, Mr. Jones. Nice to meet you. 
  • Good morning. Mrs. Stewart. It’s a pleasure to see you again. 
  • Good day, Ms. Roberts. 

If the person has a title, like Doctor or Professor, then we use this title in place of Mr./Ms./Mrs.

  • Hello, Dr. Johnson. 
  • Thank  you, Professor White. 

Note that for all of these cases, the use of the period to abbreviate the title is an American tradition. You will see these titles without the period in British English. 

For the rare cases that you meet someone with a different title, like Congresswoman or Senator or Mayor, we use this before the last name.

  • Hello, Congresswoman Stone. 
  • Good afternoon, Mayor Smith. 

After you meet the person, you will probably avoid the titles and begin referring to the person by his or her first name. However, this is not something that is done until you are 100% certain that it is appropriate to do so: usually because the person asks you to call them by his or her first name.


In written English

If you are writing to a company and you do not know the name of the person you are addressing, then use the following.

  • Dear Sir or Madame:
  • To Whom It May Concern:


You can also use the title of the person and the company name

  • Dear Board of Directors for English, Inc.:

Notice that we use the colon punctuation (which looks like this 🙂 for a formal letter. This is a tradition in American English but not in British English.


When you know the person’s name, you can use their last name with Mr. or Ms. or Mrs.

  • Dear Mr. Brown:
  • Dear Ms. Jay:

Notice that we still use the colon (:) in this formal email.


If you know the person well, then you can use their first name.

  • Dear John,

Here, we change to the comma for punctuation because we know the person and the letter is less formal.


For more on CISL’s Business English classes, click here.