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American Business Traditions + Common English Business Idioms

July 15, 2017

Business English is more than just learning the language, phrasal verbs, and vocabulary that you need to be confident in a professional setting: it also includes learning the American business traditions that you need to know in order to conduct business in the U.S.! Do you know these American business traditions? See how they differ from the business traditions in your country.

American Business Traditions + Common English Business Idioms


American Business Traditions

The handshake: an important first impression

The handshake is your first impression in business and it is considered VERY important. Make sure that during a handshake you:

  • Hold the person’s hand firmly
  • Look the person in the eye
  • Smile
  • Saying something such as “nice to meet you” or “it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

Formal names and titles

Before meeting with the person, make sure that you know their full name . . . but always use “Mr” and “Ms” when you first meet them. If the person has a title, such as “President” or “Doctor” or “Professor,” use this title + the person’s last name. Here are some examples:

  • It’s a pleasure to meet you, Professor Smith.
  • Nice to meet you, Doctor Jones.
  • Pleased to meet you, Vice President Roberts.

If the person prefers for you to use his or her first name, they will tell you. Usually, please say “Please, call me [first name].”

Dress to impress

It is true that Silicon Valley has a reputation of companies that accept very casual attire (think about Mark Zuckerberg, for example: he always wears a grey shirt!). However, in traditional business settings, it is important to dress professionally. For men, this often means a tie and a long-sleeved dress shirt; for women, this can mean nice slacks or a skirt and a dress shirt.

American Business Traditions + Common English Business Idioms

Forget gifts; remember hand-written notes

In the U.S., gifts can be seen as bribes (gifts you give someone to persuade them to make a decision). Instead, try to be thoughtful: send a hand-written note after the meeting and thank the person for his or her time, and suggest an opportunity to meet again.

American Business Traditions + Common English Business Idioms

Business cards before or after

Business card culture in the U.S. is very casual. Once you meet the person and get settled (sit down, take out your meeting notes) you can present your card; sometimes, this is something people do at the end of the meeting. The only thing that is important is giving your card when the other person does. If you’re unsure, wait to see when the other person gives you his or her card, then do the same.

If the card has an interesting design or logo, it is appropriate for you to give the person a compliment.

Smiles, eye contact

Body language is very important during a meeting. Be sure to smile, look at the person when they are speaking, and make eye contact. Avoid using your phone, and take notes if you can. Make sure that your phone is turned on silent so that it does not ring or buzz during your meeting.

Lunch meetings are productive

Lunch can be lunch . . . or, it can be an opportunity to discuss business. In American culture, it’s very common for people to have a productive lunch meeting where they eat together and talk about business plans.

American Business Traditions + Common English Business Idioms

Avoid smoking

Of course, there are some people in the U.S. who smoke, but many do not. It is considered rude to smoke without asking the people around you if it bothers them: to be safe, leave your cigarettes in your bag and wait until after the meeting.American Business Traditions + Common English Business Idioms

Common Business Idioms

Do you know these common business idioms?

To talk about similarities

To be in the same boat

Definition: to be in a similar situation.

To be on the same page

Definition: to understand someone; to agree with someone.

To talk about strategies

To cut corners

Definition: to not do things thoroughly; to not follow the normal steps for a process or project.

Game plan

Definition: a plan of action for a project.

To meet someone halfway

Definition: to compromise.

To think outside of the box

Definition: to think creatively.


Definition: to sacrifice something in order to gain something else; to compromise.

To talk about struggles/difficulties

A long shot

Definition: something that has very little chance of success.

To be between a rock and a hard place

Definition: to have the choice between two difficult decisions, both with outcomes that are not ideal.

To go out of one’s way (to do something)

Definition: to give extra effort, resources, etc. to help someone.

To have one’s head underwater

Definition: to feel overwhelmed, unprepared.

Converse International School of Languages in San Diego and San Francisco provides Business English classes with no more than 8 students per class (an average of 7 students) to help you improve your English skills for the workplace. If you need more intensive practice, CISL’s Premier English Executive Programs for professionals offer intensive instruction with 4-student classes focused on your career’s required English skills. Watch our testimonials below to hear about the success CISL students experience in our small classrooms and intensive curriculum. 

Contact CISL to learn more about our San Diego Executive English Program and our San Francisco Global Success Program and to begin the next phase of your career: conducting business confidently in English! 


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Language of Negotiation for English Learners

June 28, 2017

“Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.” -U.S. President John F. Kennedy

In business, it is important to negotiate so that both sides are happy with their agreement. This can be difficult to do in your native language, so it is of course also difficult in English. Use this language of negotiation for English learners and you will be comfortable negotiating deals in your profession.

Language of Negotiation for English Learners

Language of Negotiation for English Learners

Language of agreement

I completely/totally/wholeheartedly agree.

That’s a fair point/suggestion.

You have a good point.

I think we can both agree that . . .

I see no problem with . . .

I see where you are coming from.

Language of Negotiation for English Learners


Language of disagreement

I’m not sure if I completely agree with you.

I understand where you’re coming from. However,…

I’m prepared to compromise, but…

The way I look at it…

The way I see things…

If you look at it from my point of view…

That’s not exactly how I look at it.

From my perspective…

I’d have to disagree with you there.

I’m afraid that doesn’t work for me.

Language of Negotiation for English Learners

Language of persuasion

Why don’t you meet me halfway.

I’m confident we can come to an understanding.

Surely there is a solution that we will both be happy with.

I’m convinced this is the best option for both of us/both parties.

Converse International School of Languages provides Business English classes of no more than 8 students and Premier Classes of no more than 4 students for business professionals. Contact CISL to learn more about our Premier Classes, including our Executive English in San Diego and Global Success in San Francisco

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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!




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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.