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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.

Trade-off

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! 

 

Cambridge Exams CISL San Diego CISL San Francisco

5 Things You Need To Know Before Taking The Cambridge CAE or FCE Exam

July 8, 2017

Are you taking the Cambridge CAE or FCE Exam soon? Studying can be stressful, and so is test day! How should you study? What should you study? And what should you expect on test day? There are so many questions students have! Here are 5 things you need to know before taking the Cambridge CAE or FCE Exam.

5 Things You Need To Know Before Taking The Cambridge CAE or FCE Exam

There is a right way to study

Cambridge CAE and FCE exams have four official parts: Reading and Use of English, Writing, Listening, and Speaking. In each of these parts (called “modules”), there are many smaller parts; for example, Reading and Use of English for FCE has 7 parts (8 for CAE); Speaking has 4 parts, Listening has 4 . . . it’s a complicated test! Many students do not know where to begin.

Self-study is possible using the materials Cambridge has purchased. However, with such a complex test and so many parts, students often get confused . . . plus, there is no way to improve your speaking with self-study. A qualified instructor is necessary to help you understand each part of the test and the tips and tricks for passing each section. A teacher will also help you improve your pronunciation and speaking confidence.

On test day, know what to bring (and what not to bring)

Make sure you bring your valid photo ID, pencils, and erasers to the test. Electronics cannot be brought into the room, so if you want to watch the time, bring a watch (or use the clock that will be in the room). Food and drinks are also not allowed.

For more information, read these documents about Exam Day Tips for the paper-based test and the Speaking Module. They are from Cambridge ESOL.

Exam Day Tips, Paper-Based Test

Exam Day Tips, Speaking Module

You can also read Cambridge’s official Summary of Test Day Regulations for Candidates.

Understanding the test format saves time

Picture this: the Speaking Module recording begins, and the beginning of the recording is the instructions for the test. If you know the test rules, you do not have to listen to this portion of the test: instead, you have extra time to read the contents of the test.

For some, the test format is a little strange; for example, in the CAE Reading and Use of English Part 4, you must rewrite a sentence. Half of the new sentence is already written: you must use one given word plus 2-5 more words to complete the second sentence. What a strange format! If you know this in advance and have practiced this many times, this section is not a problem . . . but if you’ve only seen it a few times, you will probably have to read the instructions again. This is a waste of precious time.

5 Things You Need To Know Before Taking The Cambridge CAE or FCE Exam

When you consider that the entire test has many different parts (and that each part has different instructions and rules), then you see how understanding the test format saves time.

You can request your partner for the Speaking Module

Did you know that you can request your partner for the Speaking Module? You can! Talk to your Cambridge instructor about how to do this.

If you do not request your partner, you can still know who your assigned partner is before the speaking test. This gives you time to meet your partner and practice, which is very important to do before test day.

If you are assigned a partner who is very shy, check out our article on How To Deal With A Shy Speaking Test Partner.

Knowing what Cambridge wants will improve your score

Many parts of the Cambridge Exams (like Writing and Speaking) are not “right” or “wrong”; therefore, they are graded by trained teachers. But how are these instructors grading your test? Knowing what Cambridge wants will improve your score.

For example, the Writing Module is graded on the following:

Content (Did you answer the prompt? Did you include enough information?)

Communicative Achievement (Did you create the letter, report, review, essay, etc. as you were instructed? Did you correctly present your ideas to the reader?)

Organisation (Are your sentences and paragraphs well connected?)

Language (Did you use appropriate vocabulary, and a wide range of vocabulary? Did you use varying and complex sentence structures?).

A good Cambridge instructor will base his or her lessons on these things so that you have the tools you need to succeed in each module. Once you have these tools, you will use them as you write . . . and your score will improve.

Converse International School of Languages has been a trusted Cambridge Testing Centre for over 25 years and is proud to provide quality English instruction in small classes (no more than 8 students). To learn more about our Cambridge FCE and CAE programs, contact us.

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California Life CISL San Francisco Featured Grammar San Francisco San Francisco Travel Tips Student Activities Student Life

English Prepositions of Location (AT, ON, and IN) + SF’s Best Beaches

July 1, 2017

Prepositions are some of the most difficult aspects of English for many language learners: especially English prepositions of location such as AT, ON, and IN. (These are also called prepositions of place.) Learn how to use them properly to avoid confusion! Since CISL offers English courses in San Diego and San Francisco, we can’t think of a better way to practice English prepositions of location than to use examples of these prepositions in relation to something every Californian loves: the beach!

English Prepositions of Location (AT, ON, and IN)

English Prepositions of Location (AT, ON, and IN)

She is AT the beach, ON the sand, and IN the sun. Lucky girl!

English uses AT, ON, and IN for prepositions of location.

AT

The preposition AT can be used for a location, to show a destination, and to show a direction that something moved.

For location:

  • I’m at the store. Do you need anything?
  • I will call you when I’m at home.
  • Meet me at the coffee shop in Little Italy.

For a destination:

  • We will arrive at the final stop soon.
  • I thought the drive would be long, but before I knew it, we were at home!

For a direction:

  • Why are you looking at me?
  • In dodgeball, you have to throw the ball at the other players to try to hit them. (Notice how this is different than throwing a ball TO someone. When you throw a ball TO someone, they try to catch it. When you throw a ball AT someone, you are trying to hit them!)

ON

The preposition ON is used when we speak about the surface of a space. Imagine that something is on top of an area, not inside.

  • I was tanning on the beach when I saw dolphins!
  • I spilled coffee on my shirt.
  • They put some plants on the walkway of the house.
  • I was jumping on the bed and I fell.
English Prepositions of Location (AT, ON, and IN)

Do you get IN the water when you are AT the beach? Or do you stay ON the sand?

IN

The preposition IN is used when we speak about the area of a space. Imagine that something is inside of a space or area.

  • I am in my room.
  • She is still sleeping in her bed.
  • She won’t be in the office this week. She is sick.
English Prepositions of Location (AT, ON, and IN)

IN the wave or ON the wave? Both, actually!!!

Practice: IN or ON?

The prepositions IN and ON are often confused. Try this lesson to see if you understand the difference. Remember: when choosing the preposition, ask yourself if it is inside of a space or on top of a space.

  1. CISL is located __________ San Francisco and San Diego.
  2. The San Francisco location is __________ the top floor of a building.
  3. The school is also located __________ Market Street.
  4. Some students live __________ a hotel __________ San Francisco.
  5. The school is __________ Market Street; Market Street is __________ the Financial District.
  6. The other campus is __________ San Diego.
  7. The school is __________ a modern building.
  8. The building is __________ Broadway.

The answers are at the bottom of this page.

SF’s Best Beaches

San Diego gets all the credit for having beautiful beaches, but the truth is that all of California offers stunning coastline! Have you explored these five beaches that we consider to be SF’s best?

Ocean Beach

Surfers love Ocean Beach for its strong waves, and locals love it because it is a place where they have beach bonfires. Ocean Beach is also the perfect place to watch the sun set in SF!

wavy

A post shared by joe bennett (@tk.joe) on

How to get there:

Take the 5R bus to the La Playa and Fulton St. stop.

Baker Beach

Baker Beach provides visitors with a beautiful view of the famous Golden Gate Bridge. Yes, the beach is also a nude beach, but locals know that it is so much more: because fewer people visit Baker Beach than Ocean Beach, it’s a much quieter and more peaceful place for relaxing. Many couples come to Baker Beach to take their engagement or wedding photos, which prove that it’s a romantic beach spot!

How to get there:

Take bus 7 to Lincoln Way and 21st Ave,; transfer to the 29 Baker Beach bus and get off at Lincoln Blvd. and Bowley Ave.

Aquatic Park

Aquatic Park is actually a protected beach and swimming area in the San Francisco Bay. The protective cove makes it a safe place to swim, and Alcatraz and Marin are beautiful backdrops to your day at the beach. The best part? Across the street from the beach is Ghirardelli Square, so visitors have a delicious option for post-swimming dining!

How to get there:

Take bus 47 to Fishermen’s Wharf. Get off at Van Ness and North Point St.

Answers:

  1. CISL is located IN San Francisco and San Diego. (The school is inside the area of San Diego and San Francisco.)
  2. The San Francisco location is ON the top floor of a building. (The school is located on top of 
  3. The school is also located ON Market Street.)
  4. Some students live IN a hotel IN San Francisco. (The students live inside of the hotel; the hotel is located inside of the area of San Francisco.)
  5. The school is ON Market Street; Market Street is IN the Financial District. (The school is on the area of Market street and is located inside of the area of the Financial District.)
  6. The other campus is IN San Diego. (The school is inside the area of San Diego.)
  7. The school is IN a modern building. (The school is inside of a building.)
  8. The building is ON Broadway. (The school is on the area of Broadway St.)
California Life CISL San Francisco Featured Social Media Vocabulary

ESL Vocabulary for Videos + Awesome SF Videos

March 20, 2017

From gorgeous parks to its iconic plazas and bridges, San Francisco is a city recognizable by most. But new drone videos on YouTube are providing us with birds-eye views of SF (and a perspective of the City by the Bay that we’ve never seen before)! Have you checked out some of these incredible videos? Enjoy this unique look of the city, and be sure to learn some of the ESL vocabulary for videos we’ve included to help you understand sites like YouTube.

Awesome Videos of San Francisco

Enjoy these videos of San Francisco, which were professionally shot using drone footage. These aerial shots make us love SF even more!



ESL Vocabulary for Videos

How many of these ESL vocabulary words for videos do you know?

Shots

Definition: photos or video

Example: You got some great shots of the sunset and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Footage

Definition: film recorded for a particular event

Example: Did you see the footage of the fog rolling in to the Bay?

Drone

Definition: a small machine that flies and often carries a camera to shoot footage from the sky

Example: They used drone footage to show how many people attended the festival.

Aerial

Definition: existing, happening, or operating in the air

Example: People use drones to get aerial footage of sites.

 

B & W

Definition: black and white

Example: We can’t decide if we like the footage better in color or in B & W.

Tripod

Definition: a three-legged tool to hold a camera

Example: We used a tripod for more stability.

High-def

Definition: high definition

Example: This new camera allows us to take photos in high-def.

Would you like to see similar videos of San Diego and also learn some more ESL vocabulary for videos? Check out our post on YouTube Vocabulary and Videos of San Diego!

CISL San Diego CISL San Francisco Featured Vocabulary

Phrasal Verbs for the ESL classroom

February 7, 2017

Phrasal verbs are an important part of the English language, and we find them used in the business setting, while using public transportation, when talking about love, and–you guessed it–in the classroom! Academia is common place for phrasal verbs: read on to learn more about phrasal verbs for the ESL classroom!

Phrasal Verbs ESL classroom

Phrasal verbs for the ESL classroom

Some of these phrasal verbs have more than one meaning. In this case, we are looking at the definition that is used with the context of an ESL class.

Catch on

Meaning: to understand a concept.

Examples:

  • Your CAE Speaking score has really improved. It seems like you’re really catching on!
  • It was difficult at first to learn a new trolley route when I arrived in SD, however, after two weeks I’ve caught on.

Note: this phrasal verb is intransitive (it does not require/take an object). To learn more about intransitive vs. transitive phrasal verbs, check out our article on Grammar Lesson of the Month on phrasal verbs. 

Hand out

Meaning: to distribute (usually papers).

Examples:

  • The teacher handed out the test to everyone and then we began taking it.
  • Before my presentation, I handed an outline out to each classmate.

Note: this phrasal verb is transitive (it takes an object) and hence is optionally separable. The second example shows how you can separate this phrasal verb. 

Phrasal Verbs ESL classroom

Hand in/Turn in

Meaning: to submit (usually papers/homework).

Examples:

  • We all handed in our tests before we left for the day.
  • Did you hand  your homework in so I can correct it?
  • I forgot to turn in my essay! Hopefully I can email it to my teacher.
  • Did you turn your paper in?

Note: this phrasal verb is transitive (it takes an object) and hence is optionally separable. The second and fourth examples show how you can separate this phrasal verb. 

Make up

Meaning: to do at a later date than originally planned.

Examples:

  • I was sick on Monday, so I made up my test on Tuesday.
  • You cannot make the CAE up; therefore, it’s important that I don’t miss my test!

Note: this phrasal verb is transitive (it takes an object) and is optionally separable. The second example shows how you can separate this phrasal verb. 

Pass out

Meaning: to distribute (similar to “hand out”).

Examples:

  • She passed out our new EAP books today and I think they’re great!
  • My classmate passed candy out to each of us after his presentation. They were chocolates from his hometown.

Note: this phrasal verb is transitive (it takes an object) and is optionally separable. The second example shows how you can separate this phrasal verb. 

Student.Question.Class.Teacher.FAQ,Phrasal Verb

Speak up

Meaning: to say your opinion.

Examples:

  • If anyone doesn’t understand, please speak up.
  • Which beach should we go to after class? Someone speak up!

Note: this phrasal verb is intransitive (it does not require/take an object).