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Paul Sparks, Online Business English Lesson Plans, Lesson Material and Ideas for Grade 1 English Conversation Lessons at Xiangtan Normal University...



Lesson 18 - Business Communications


The purpose of this lesson is to increase the vocabulary of students using a business communication theme. The lesson aim is also to increase the students knowledge of how British business works, through discussion about the methods of communication available for business.


Business Communication:
Many businesses have separate departments or divisions of the company, in order for the business to function correctly there has to be effective communication between these departments. The internal communication of a company can be in many forms (spoken, written etc.) but whatever method is used the employees must be able to communicate with each other effectively. The external communication of a business must also be efficient, communicating with customers and suppliers must be a top priority for any company. The main methods of communication for any business are as follows:

Written Communication (Internal):

  • Letters
  • Memorandum (Memo)
  • Notices
  • Company Journal / Magazine
  • Meetings
  • Reports
Written Communication (External):
  • Invoices / Statements
  • Business Letters (To Suppliers / Customers)
  • Annual Report / Accounts
Verbal Communication:
  • Telephone
  • Meetings
Visual Communication:
  • Pictures / Photographs
  • Posters
  • Graphs / Charts
  • Presentations
Electronic Communication:
  • Facsimile (Fax)
  • Telephone
  • E-mail
  • Video-Conferencing
  • Office Network (LAN)
  • Internet / Intranet / Extranet
  • Computers (Word Processors / Office 2000 etc.)
The telephone is the most common method of business communication. External telephone calls are used by a business to contact customers suppliers etc. A business could not function without a telephone. A business may also have an internal telephone system, so that employees can communicate with each other, this system is known as an intercom system or telephone network. The advantages of the telephone are that it is faster and more flexible than letters or memos, you can be sure that the message gets to the correct person. However the telephone does not keep a permanent record of the communication, so sometimes it may be necessary to use letters. (For more information on Telephone English see the bottom of this page)

Fax Machines

A fax machine requires a telephone line in order to be used for communication. It uses the telephone line to transmit pictures from one fax to another fax machine or a computer. Like a phone call the communication is instant. Fax can be used to transmit graphs, charts, diagrams etc. The advantage is that a fax can be kept as a permanent record. 

The first e-mail message was sent in 1971. In the beginning and even today, e-mail messages tend to be short pieces of text, although the ability to add attachments now makes many e-mail messages quite long. 

Email has many advantages to business including the following:

  • Email is instant
  • You can ask for a read receipt
  • Any documents can be sent or received as attachments (pictures, sound etc)
  • It is confidential (using encryption)
  • It can be used to send a message to any computer anywhere in the world
  • It can store any communications
  • Email reduces time spent on writing letters etc.
  • Email can be accessed from any machine (at home or work)
  • Email is very cheap
Instant Messaging
There is no doubt that the Internet has changed the way businesses communicate. For many companies e-mail has virtually replaced traditional letters and even telephone calls as the choice for correspondence. Every day, billions of e-mail messages are sent out. E-mail has been the most rapidly adopted form of communication ever known. In less than two decades, it has gone from obscurity to mainstream dominance. The newest development is Instant Messaging - a form of email, however instant messaging is interactive - you can chat in live time.

Most of the popular instant-messaging programs provide a variety of features: 

  • Instant messages - Send notes back and forth with a friend who is online 
  • Chat - Create your own custom chat room with friends or co-workers 
  • Web links - Share links to your favorite Web sites 
  • Images - Look at an image stored on your friend's computer 
  • Sounds - Play sounds for your friends 
  • Files - Share files by sending them directly to your friends 
  • Talk - Use the Internet instead of a phone to actually talk with friends 
  • Streaming content - Real-time or near-real-time stock quotes and news
Companies are increasingly introducing customised versions of Instant Messaging programs to allow employees to communicate with one another.

Telephone English

There are a number of phrases and idioms that are only used when telephoning. Here is an example phone call:

Secretary: Hello, Xiangtan Normal University, how can I help you? 
Caller: This is Paul Sparks. Can I speak to Mr Xiang? 
Secretary: Certainly, hold on a minute, I'll put you through... 
Mr Xiang's office: Mr Xiang's office, how can I help? 
Caller: This is Paul Sparks calling, is Mr Xiang in?
Mr Xiang's office: I'm afraid he's out at the moment. Can I take a message? 
Caller: Yes, Could you ask him to call me. I need to talk to him, it's urgent. 
Mr Xiang's office: Does Mr Xiang have your number? 
Caller: Yes.
Mr Xiang's office: Thank you Mr Sparks, I'll make sure Mr Xiang gets this asap. 
Caller: Thanks, bye. 
Mr Xiang's office: Bye.
As you can see, the language is rather informal and there are some important differences to everyday English. See below for key language and phrases used in telephone English: 

Introducing yourself -"This is Paul" or "Paul speaking"
Asking who is on the telephone - "Excuse me, who is this?" or "Can I ask who is calling, please?" 
Asking for Someone - "Can I have extension 321?" or "Could I speak to...?" (Can I - more informal / May I - more formal) 
Connecting Someone - "I'll put you through" (put through - phrasal verb meaning 'connect') or "Can you hold the line?" 
How to reply when someone is not available - "I'm afraid he is not available at the moment" or "He isn't in at the moment"  Taking a Message - "Can I take a message?" or "Could I tell him who is calling?" or "Would you like to leave a message?"

Exercises for Practicing Speaking on the Telephone 
Real life situations - Businesses are always interested in telling you about their products. Find a product you are interested in and research it over the telephone. You can ... 

  • call a store to find out the prices and specifications. 
  • ring the company representative to find out details on how the product works. 
  • telephone a consumer agency to find out if the product has any defects. 
  • call customer service to find out about replacement parts, etc. 
Leaving a Message 
Sometimes, there may not be anyone to answer the telephone and you will need to leave a message. Follow this outline to make sure that the person who should receive your message has all the information he/she needs. 

Introduction - "Hello, this is Paul." OR "Hello, My name is Paul." 
State the time of day and your reason for calling - "It's ten in the morning. I'm calling to let you know that ....." 
Make a request - "Could you ring me back?"
Leave your telephone number - "My number is ...." OR "You can reach me at ...." 
Finish - "Thanks a lot, bye." OR "I'll talk to you later, bye." 

Here's an example of message 
Telephone: (Ring... Ring...) Hello, this is Paul. I'm afraid I'm not in at the moment. Please leave a message after the beep..... (beep)
Mr Xiang: Hello Paul, this is Mr Xiang. It's about noon and I'm calling to see if you are busy this afternoon. Could you call me back? You can reach me at 123-45467 until five this afternoon. I'll talk to you later, bye. 

As you can see, leaving a message is pretty simple. You only need to make sure that you have stated all the most important information: Your Name, The Time, The Reason for Calling, Your Telephone Number 

Role Playing using the Telephone

Requesting Travel Information 

Student A: 
Choose a city in your country. You are going to travel to this city for a business meeting over the next weekend. Telephone a travel agency and reserve the following: 
Round-trip flight 
Hotel room for two nights 
Restaurant recommendation 
Prices and departure times 

Student B: 
You work in a travel agency. Listen to student A and offer him/her the following solutions: 
Round-trip flight: Air JW $450 Coach, $790 First Class 
Hotel room for two nights: Hotel City $120 a night in the downtown area, Hotel Relax $110 a night near the airport 
Restaurant Recommendation: Chez Marceau - downtown - average price $70 a person 
Product Information 

Student A: 
You need to purchase six new computers for your office. Call JA's Computer World and ask for the following information: 
Current special offers on computers 
Computer configuration (RAM, Hard Drive, CPU) 
Possibility of discount for an order of six computers 

Student B: 
You work in at JA's Computer World answer student A's questions using the following information: 
Two special offers: Multimedia Monster - with latest Pentium CPU, 256 RAM, 40 GB Hard Drive, Monitor included - $2,500 AND Office Taskmaster - cheaper CPU, 64 RAM, 10 GB Hard Drive, Monitor not included - $1,200 
1 Year guaranty on all computers 
Discount of 5% for orders of more than five computers 
Leaving a Message 

Student A: 
You want to speak to Ms Braun about your account with her company, W&W. If Ms Braun isn't in the office, leave the following information: 
Your name 
Telephone number: 347-8910 (or use your own) 
Calling about changing conditions of your contract with W&W 
You can be reached until 5 o'clock at the above number. If Ms Braun calls after 5 o'clock, she should call 458-2416 

Student B: 
You are a receptionist at W&W. Student A would like to speak to Ms Braun, but she is out of the office. Take a message and make sure you get the following information: 
Name and telephone number - ask student A to spell the surname 
Message student A would like to leave for Ms Braun 
How late Ms Braun can call student A at the given telephone number 
Selling Your Product 

Student A: 
You are a salesperson for Red Inc. You are telephoning a client who you think might be interested in buying your new line of office supplies. Discuss the following information with your client: 
New line of office supplies including: copy-paper, pens, stationary, mouse-pads and white boards 
You know the customer hasn't ordered any new products during this past year 
Special discount of 15% for orders placed before next Monday 
Any order placed before Monday will not only receive the discount, but also have its company logo printed on the products at no extra charge 

Student B: 
You work in an office and receive a telephone call from your local office supplier. As a matter fact, you need some new office supplies so you are definitely interested in what the salesperson has to offer. Talk about the following: 
New pens, stationary and white boards 
Do they have any special offers 
You would like to place an order for 200 packages of copy paper immediately


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