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Guidelines for Avoiding Potential Problems When Using Idiomatic Expressions in Business

Guidelines for Avoiding Potential Problems When Using Idiomatic Expressions in Business | ITTT | TEFL Blog

The focus of this essay is to provide some guidelines to TESOL teachers when instructing their business students in the use of idiomatic expressions and how to avoid potential problems when using them in the business environment.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Allan D. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

Clear communication is critical in the business environment. The following are some potential problems and some solutions when teaching and using idioms in the business environment.

Idiomatic expressions may easily MUDDY UP THE WATERS, which is to be easily misunderstood or misconstrued.

  • Idiomatic expressions are a type of informal language that may not always accurately convey what it is intended. For example, a manager that is instructing someone to PUT IT ON THE BACK BURNER, was intending it to mean that it is not a priority at this moment, maybe misunderstood by the hearer as don’t bother working on it any further when in fact it is due this Friday at the 10 a.m. board meeting.
  • Idioms may also diminish the intended tone or seriousness of what is being communicated; therefore, idioms should be used with great care when detailed or important information is being communicated. This is especially true with important meetings or when giving an important presentation as they may diminish the gravity of the topic.
  • Idiomatic expressions may also become a cliché when overused and be an oversimplification of what is intended to be communicated, therefore use sparingly.
  • Idioms may also be incorrectly used and place the speaker in an unintended potentially embarrassing situation especially when you are in an argument or trying to make an important point. For example, this is a MOOT POINT (open for further discussion) may easily be confused with this is A MUTE POINT.

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ONE SHOE DOESN’T FIT ALL! Idiomatic expressions are not always universal.

  • There are idiomatic expressions that are used almost exclusively in one country that will not be understood when used in other countries, for example, in the United States, the UK, and even Australia. There also may even be regional differences within the country, for example in the USA, east coast versus the west coast. It is therefore important that the teacher be aware of the country that the student(s) are targeting for business practices, otherwise select universally accepted expressions.
  • Different departments use different idioms, for example, Marketing, Sales, Accounting, Manufacturing, etc. Whenever possible choose expressions that target the department(s) they work in so that they may avoid any potential confusion in the workplace. When an accountant uses the expression, the BOTTOM LINE, he/she is usually referring to the final total of the account or balance sheet which is not the intended meaning when used in other settings where it is usually intended to mean get to the point of what is the outcome.
  • Idiomatic expressions may also be outdated and no longer used in the culture and therefore have lost their meaning as each generation often creates its own set of idioms.

The BOTTOM LINE (the final word or summary) is that business communication should be CRYSTAL CLEAR!

Clear and effective communication is important in business. TESOL teachers that are instructing business students, need to be aware of some of the inherent limitations and potential problems when using idiomatic expressions in the business environment and convey this information to their students. While idiomatic expressions do have their use in the workplace, teachers and students should ERR ON THE SIDE OF CAUTION (be very cautious) when using them.

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