A Reluctantly Offered Guide to the Latest English Business Jargon

Do you feel empowered to move the needle by leveraging your company’s core competency? Does your business make hay for its shareholders? If English isn’t your first language, then many of these expressions might be confusing. After all, if your company manufactures medical devices, why would someone ask whether you’re “making hay?”

Business jargon confuses staffs

Jargon is the enemy of good writing and good communication. As an English teacher, you may wish that it would disappear. Unfortunately, until business jargon is abolished forever, non-native English speakers who work for global companies have no choice but to learn it. If you want to get certified to teach English overseas, there’s a good chance that you’ll take a job teaching Business English. Even when they’ve learned English in their countries’ school systems and universities, your students may have no idea how to use or understand business jargon.

Common Business Acronyms

To someone who works in the U.S., an acronym like “ROI” has become part of the business lexicon. Your business English students, however, may have no idea what “ROI” means. Give them a quick list of common acronyms before their next big meeting. Here are a few to get them started:

  • Return on investment (ROI). When a company’s managers invest money, time or other resources in something, they want to realize a benefit. Before investing in a new oil field, for example, the company will calculate how much they can expect to earn back from their investment. If they invest $1 million in the beginning and end up with $1.1 million in a year, then they’ve earned a 10 percent return on their original investment, or an ROI of 10 percent.
  • Key performance indicators (KPI). Every business wants to measure how it’s progressing toward certain goals. For example, if a company plans to increase its earnings by $120,000 in one year, then the company should earn an average of $10,000 per month. The amount of money earned each month is a “key performance indicator” of how well the business is progressing toward its revenue target. Therefore, monthly earnings may be one KPI of the health of the company.
  • Business-to-business or business-to-consumer (B2B or B2C). A company’s customers may be either individual consumers or other businesses. If you’re discussing products or services that you sell to consumers, then you are discussing your business-to-consumer marketing strategy, or B2C. Alternatively, if you’re talking about products or services that you supply for other businesses, then you’re talking about your business-to-business marketing strategy, or B2B.
  • Weekon-week, month-on-month or year-on-year (WoW, MoM or YoY). When you discuss your company’s earnings, you talk about how much your company has earned during a certain time period. To compare one week to another, you discuss your week-on-week, or WoW, earnings. Comparing two months means making month-on-month, or MoM, comparisons. Looking at this year’s earnings versus another year’s earnings is a year-on-year, or YoY, comparison.

Talking with business jargon

Other Types of Business Jargon

You can research common business jargon from many sources to give business English students an idea of common phrases they may hear. In addition to providing handouts, flash cards or slides of these phrases, place students in pairs or small groups and have them practice using the phrases in conversation. Challenge them to use common expressions from these categories:

  • To explain progress toward an end goal. Common phrases may include “timely completion,” “on schedule, ” first phase,” “development concept,” “shovel-ready” and “actual future results.”
  • To illustrate financial concepts. Terms like “within budget,” “market conditions,” “to meet increasing demand” and “50-50 joint venture” are commonly used when discussing a company’s financial decisions.
  • To set goals. Managers may suggest starting with a “low hanging fruit” before “moving forward” to something that’s “mission critical.”
  • Other common phrases. Businesses may “blue sky” during a brainstorming session, try to obtain “buy-in,” reach for “best in class” status or reflect upon a “teachable moment.”

Your students should ultimately learn to avoid jargon and to utilize clear, concise communication. However, “at the end of the day,” your students will need to know how to use and understand business jargon. Your job is to “circle the wagons” and teach them to make sense of these overcomplicated and nonsensical phrases.


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