Corporate jargon refers to English expressions that are only used in the workplace. Sometimes, this type of business speak can feel like a foreign language, even for expert English speakers! And if you have learned English as a second language, you might come across business expressions that don’t seem to make any sense. These can often leave you puzzled and confused.
That’s where ELSA comes in. We want you to feel confident and empowered in the workplace, when speaking professional English. So, here is our guide to nine of the most common business English expressions!
1. Circle back
This phrase is commonly used in business English when people want to bring a discussion to an end, even though a decision has yet to be reached. So, the next time you hear someone saying, “Let’s circle back to this,” you’ll know that it’s not the last time you’ll be discussing this particular topic.
Definition: to revisit a topic at a later date
Example sentence: “Let’s finish discussing the current agenda items, and we will circle back to budget concerns at our next meeting.”
2. Move the needle
This expression can be a tricky one to figure out the first time that you hear it! It comes from the industrial revolution, when power was measured by the gauge on a steam engine. However, nowadays it is often used in a business context to refer to something that has made a visible change.
Definition: to make a significant impact or meaningful progress
Example sentence: “The most recent marketing campaign has really moved the needle on sales – we’ve seen a 20% increase in customer conversions.”
3. Down the line
Another phrase that doesn’t make much sense the first time you hear it, this expression is used when someone is talking about something that might happen later on, or in the future.
Definition: at a later stage or in the future
Example sentence: “There will be challenges in setting up this new platform, but I think we’ll see positive results down the line.”
4. Make a play
When you hear someone talking about making a play in the workplace, they’re not referring to games or the theater. They’re using this expression to talk about a strategic action.
Definition: to take action or make a strategic move
Example sentence: “Our main competitors have just released their new product, so it’s time for us to make a play to stay ahead in the market.”
5. Push the envelope
This expression comes from the world of aviation! It was used in the 1960s and 70s, where pilots were testing aircrafts’ capabilities. “Envelope” referred to the outer limits of safe performance. Nowadays, it’s more used in a business context when talking about something boundary-pushing.
Definition: to go beyond conventional boundaries and test the limits of what is possible
Example sentence: “Let’s push the envelope with our design and create something truly innovative.”
6. Put a pin in something
This is a diplomatic way of bringing a discussion to a close for the moment. It’s often used in meetings, when discussions have a way of dragging on, but it’s politer than saying, “Let’s talk about this later.” It also implies that you will return to the conversation in the future.
Definition: to postpone a discussion to a later point
Example sentence: “We’re running out of time, so let’s put a pin in the new project proposal and discuss it in more detail next week.”
7. Get up to speed
This expression is used when someone has been on vacation or on leave, or they are new to a project or team. Usually, getting up to speed means to inform yourself by talking to coworkers, reviewing messages or documents and gathering information about what has been happening in regards to a particular project.
Definition: to inform yourself on the latest news or developments
Example sentence: “I’ve been off on maternity leave, so I’m still getting up to speed with the new clients that we’re working with.”
This phrase is a shortened form of the verb “synchronize,” which means to work in harmony. In a business context, it’s often used to talk about different teams or departments working together.
Definition: to coordinate activities
Example sentence: “Before launching the new product, we need to sync our sales and marketing teams to make sure the messaging is coordinated.”
9. Be aligned
When people use this phrase in a professional English context, they are often referring to having shared goals or objectives that everyone is working towards. It means that there is coherence and collaboration which makes for greater overall effectiveness.
Definition: to be in agreement, or to have a shared objective
Example sentence: “Our team is aligned on the project goals, and we’re all working towards the same vision.”
Understanding these business expressions will help you to navigate the world of business English. Using them confidently will help you to communicate with ease in a professional, English-speaking context.
You can practice using these idioms in sentences with ELSA. Our speech analyzer will give you feedback on your pronunciation, intonation and vocabulary, to help you improve your speaking skills. That way, you’ll feel confident in using business English expressions when you’re at work and communicate more effectively in the workplace.
To really boost your business English skills, sign up for the ELSA Business Results course, developed in partnership with Oxford University Press.