Vol. 4. No. 4 R-4 December 2000
Return to Table of Contents Return to Main Page

Business English and Communication
Moira Sambey; edited by The Management Development Centre of Hong Kong and the Chinese University Press (1999)
Pp. xi + 264 and answer key
ISBN 962-201-842-4 (paper)

Business English and Communication is a textbook specifically written for Chinese intermediate and advanced business and management students or in-service professionals living and/or working in Hong Kong. The book is part of The Management Foundation Programme created in 1995 in order to provide "Hong Kong managers and supervisors with practical management skills" and "to help graduates to obtain international accreditation of professional bodies" (p. vii). It is the only book in the series in English; the rest are written in Chinese.

This book is designed for classroom use or for self-study. The language and structure use is appropriate for an upper intermediate level to lower advanced business reader. The core language has a distinctive business flavor. The spelling is done in Hong Kong (British) English. In this book, readers are introduced to business communication in an understandable, practical way.

The book has a skeletal table of contents, a preface, about the author, and introduction sections. At the back of the book is a very useful section of proofreading exercises, which range in length from sentence to short memo/letter. There is a separate answer key booklet for the end-of-chapter activities and proofreading exercises, which gives answers for tasks having specific answers and indicates which tasks have variable answers.

Business English and Communication focuses mostly on written business communication because, as the author states "written English is widely used in business and is the most challenging to master" (p. xi). This is debatable. Spoken English for business communication is just as challenging and just as widely used worldwide. However, this book is focused on a situation in which most business communication is done in Chinese at lower levels of management.

Each chapter has a box at the beginning indicating in concise bulleted statements what will be learned. At the end of each chapter are exercises reviewing the content of the chapter and practical activities introducing and practicing written communication students might encounter in Hong Kong business situations. These last language activities range from rather mechanical (e.g., filling in the correct preposition and changing active to passive) to very challenging (e.g., writing a progress report and doing a formal report).

The first of the 12 chapters in the book provides an overview of how effective communication is a valuable business asset and how communication differs among cultures in spoken, written, and body languages. It also offers tips in many appropriate places for learning how to successfully interact with people from different cultures in a shrinking international business world.

The next two chapters introduce word choice and basic grammatical structure discussed from the business perspective of simplicity of choice, clarity in meaning, and preciseness of word use. Sentences and sentence level errors are discussed next, along with appropriate sentence length, emphasizing information in sentences, and communicating bad news in a sentence. Much sound advice is given in these chapters about avoiding certain language use, such as slang, idioms, cliches, buzzwords, and repetition, and active and passive sentence use in business. Longer stretches of business discourse are then discussed and the use of deductive paragraph organization (for most business communication) and inductive organization (for persuasion and bad news) in business is introduced. [-1-]

From chapter 3 to chapter 11, the previous language content presented is woven into typical business writing: memos (both hard copy and in e-mail and both good and bad news), letters of persuasion, claims letters, sales letters, eight types of informal reports, formal reports, business meeting minutes, CVs, and cover and follow-up letters. All this business correspondence is explained well and exemplified. Use of charts, tables, and graphs within reports is adequately discussed along with primary and secondary research within reports. The form, use, and function of English in the various parts of correspondence are adequately described and illustrated throughout the text. In short, all of the steps in creating an effective written business document are introduced.

Spoken business communication is covered in depth only in chapter 7, "Trade Negotiation," and chapter 12, "Speaking and Listening." Chapter 7 indicates that trade negotiations should be done in a win-win manner in which one should use assertive language, not hedged, weak language. Examples of this are given along with attention to politeness in negotiation. Negotiating with cultures other than Hong Kong's is discussed at the end of the chapter. Chapter 12 offers two general lists for effective listening. One list gives reasons for poor listening, the other lists ways to learn to listen effectively. Giving formal reports, participating in meetings, and handling phone calls (both live and through voice mail) are then discussed. Again, lists of suggestions and appropriate language are given. Other references to speaking and listening are in chapter 1 (for very general tips in a list) and 11 (for job interviews).

Throughout the book suggestions are given to illustrate processes or formats for business correspondence and communication (e.g., for developing one's communication ability, emphasizing important information, the POWER approach to good writing, attention getting for sales letters, writing bad-news letters, negotiation, reasons for poor listening, and how to listen effectively). In addition, lists of suggested structures for informal and formal letters are given. These lists include useful information put in a concise manner. Although some might find the list method tedious, all lists are adequately explained and exemplified well with specific language illustrating functional use.

This book is an excellent one for its situation. However, it does have some weaknesses if it were to be used for a program with different purposes than those for which it was written. One such weakness is the omission of business content. The lack of any mention of teamwork in the writing process does not reflect modern business practice of having a team do a project and collaboratively write reports, both formal and informal. There was no mention of business plans and little analysis of numbers in relation to profit margins, how price setting is done, or how to research for competition. In addition, there was a short section of one chapter and another whole chapter dedicated to taking minutes of meetings, but no mention of making an agenda--singularly a manager's or supervisor's job. Another omission is not having any speaking as it relates to international trade shows or to socializing in order to build business relationships. [-2-]

Other omissions have to do with the text's layout and slightly off-center content. Most serious is the lack of an index, a must for self-study readers. Also, the formal report example is actually a feasibility study--a market analysis would have been as useful for a formal report. In addition, there is only one citation form given for formal reports, which doesn't reflect the variety of research sources mentioned in the text as available. Also, research using the Internet was mentioned but no activity was given to actually use it. Finally, the more challenging writing activities are situation-based reports, but they lack much of the data a real report would be based on. For example, in chapter 8 ("Informal Reports"), the activity in which students are asked to write a reason report activity based on a situation to be improved in their company's department is too vague and open-ended (p. 162). Writing a suggestion report based on six months of sales figures has no data to base it on (p. 163). The progress report activity about being halfway through an MBA program has no data about the course of study, grades, or other factors (p. 163). Apparently, the teacher or the students would have to create them.

All in all, if I were a student in a class in Hong Kong, this would be a valuable introduction to business writing. The language would be accessible and business-oriented and most activities would be thorough and not impossibly difficult. However, for speaking, I would get only good advice. If I were an in-service manager trying to get a certificate by self-study, I would definitely want more activities in each chapter, and more breadth and depth of content. If I were a teacher for this course, I would be happy to know that by adding some data to activities and broadening the content a little, I would have a solid textbook. If I were hiring someone who had studied this in their certificate program, I would know that they had the basics and could most likely grow into the writing demands in my company.

Jim Bame
Utah State University
<fabame@cc.usu.edu >

© Copyright rests with authors. Please cite TESL-EJ appropriately.

Editor's Note: Dashed numbers in square brackets indicate the end of each page for purposes of citation..

Return to Table of Contents Return to Top Return to Main Page