Cutting through corporate English: Clearer alternatives to business jargon

Pearson Languages
Two women in a pottery room talking over a laptop
Reading time: 4 minutes

The corporate world can often feel like an echo chamber of confusing phrases. Terms like "blue-sky thinking" and "tiger teams" might dominate conversation in boardrooms and email chains, but what do they actually mean in practice and are they the best way to communicate?

This blog post simplifies workplace English by offering straightforward business English alternatives to common corporate jargon. These replacements will resonate with fluent English language speakers and ease communication with non-fluent English speakers who are vital contributors to the workplace. Plus, a clearer form of communication can help foster inclusivity, improve understanding and ultimately enhance productivity.

What is corporate jargon?

Corporate jargon refers to the very specialized vocabulary and language used within the business world, often characterized by buzzwords, acronyms, jargon and phrases that are usually unknown to outsiders.

Why should we avoid professional jargon?

Jargon often acts as a barrier to clear communication, creating an environment where messages are misunderstood or misinterpreted. This misunderstanding can lead to inefficiencies, errors and frustrations among team members, particularly those who may not be fluent English speakers or are new to the corporate environment.

Furthermore, overusing complex language can unintentionally exclude or push away parts of the workforce, undermining efforts to build an inclusive and collaborative team culture. In essence, simplifying language and avoiding unnecessary jargon can make available information more accessible to a wider audience and ensure that all team members have the necessary information to contribute effectively to their roles.

For example, let's look at "think outside the box." It means to think in new ways, but it's said so much that it doesn't really grab attention anymore. A better way to say this might be "think creatively" or "come up with new ideas." Also, the word "synergize" really just means to work well together for better results. Saying "work together effectively" is much clearer and easier for everyone to understand, no matter if they're used to business terms or not. Using simple words helps everyone get the idea faster, making the workplace more welcoming and efficient.

The difference between English jargon and slang

Jargon functions as a shorthand among professionals, representing complex concepts among those in the know. Slang is less formal than jargon, often coming from cultural or societal trends and used more in casual conversations.

An example of jargon vs slang

An example of jargon and slang could be comparing "low-hanging fruit" to "no-brainer." "Low-hanging fruit" is a piece of jargon that refers to tasks, projects or targets that are easily achievable and do not require much effort.

On the other hand, "no-brainer" is slang that implies something is an obvious or easy decision, often used in more informal settings. While both terms convey the idea of simplicity and ease, "low-hanging fruit" is more likely to be used in strategic meetings or project planning sessions, whereas "no-brainer" might be used in informal discussions or brainstorming sessions.

Examples of jargon and their plain English alternatives

Blue-sky thinking

Avoid saying, "We need some blue-sky thinking." Instead, use, "Approach this problem with unlimited creativity."

Helicopter view

Avoid saying, "Give me a helicopter view of the situation." Instead, use, "Provide a broad overview of the situation."

Get all your ducks in a row

Avoid saying, "Before the busy season, get all your ducks in a row." Instead, use, "Ensure you're well-organized before the busy period begins."

Thinking outside the box

Avoid saying, "This client expects us to think outside the box." Instead, use, "The client expects unique and unconventional ideas from us."

IGUs (Income Generating Units)

Avoid saying, "Our goal is to increase our IGUs this quarter." Instead, use, "Our goal is to increase our student enrolments this quarter."

Run it up the flagpole

Avoid saying, "That's a great idea. Run it up the flagpole." Instead, use, "That's a great idea. Share it with the team for their input."

Swim lanes

Avoid saying, "To understand your tasks, refer to the swim lanes." Instead, use, "Refer to the job responsibility diagram to understand your tasks."

Bleeding edge

Avoid saying, "This new software is bleeding edge." Instead, use, "This new software represents the latest in research and technological innovation."

Tiger team

Avoid saying, "We'll need a tiger team to tackle this project." Instead, use, "We'll assemble a specialized task force for this project."

While some professionals may use jargon to appear more knowledgeable, the truth is that simplicity is key. Clear and straightforward language not only levels the playing field for everyone but also cuts through possible misunderstandings.

The case for plain business English

In today's global business environment, where interactions occur across diverse linguistic backgrounds and languages, it's paramount to ensure that our words are as clear and simple as possible. By favoring plain English vocabulary over opaque jargon, we promote an inclusive and efficient workplace where every member, fluent or not, understands and contributes to their fullest potential.

Continue to seek clarity in your communications. Remember that the true mark of expertise is not using complex language but making complex concepts understandable for everyone. Keep challenging yourself to simplify your language without diluting the meaning of your message. Remember, whether you're a seasoned professional or a new recruit, clear communication will always be your strongest asset.

If you or your team are looking to improve their business English skills, check out our business English courses and blog posts for up-to-date tips.

More blogs from Pearson

  • How to make the most of AI in the classroom

    By Pearson Languages
    Reading time: 5 minutes

    Artificial Intelligence (AI) is no longer a futuristic concept confined to science fiction. It has become an integral part of various sectors, including education. As educators, integrating AI into your classroom practices can enhance teaching and learning experiences, making them more personalized, efficient and engaging. Here’s how you can make the most of AI in your classroom.

  • A woman walking around outdoors with a camera

    The benefits of taking part in foreign exchange programs

    By Charlotte Guest
    Reading time: 4 minutes

    If you are a student or one considering a gap year, the option of foreign exchange programs may have crossed your mind or been mentioned to you. More and more young people are taking advantage of exchange programs and reaping the transformative benefits that come with it.

    Let's have a look at some of the reasons why taking part in an exchange program can be a life-changing experience and how it can help you more than you think.

    What is a foreign exchange program?

    A foreign exchange program is an educational initiative where students have the opportunity to study abroad and immerse themselves in a different culture for a specified period, typically ranging from a few weeks to an entire academic year. These programs facilitate cultural exchange by allowing students to attend foreign schools or universities, live with host families or in dormitories, and engage in activities that foster intercultural understanding and personal growth.

    The primary aim of a foreign exchange program is to provide students with a global perspective, enhance their language skills, and expose them to different educational systems and cultural practices. By stepping out of their comfort zones, students can develop independence, adaptability and a deeper appreciation for diversity.

    What are the benefits of a foreign exchange program?

    1. Cultural immersion and global perspective

    Embracing diversity

    One of the most immediate benefits of an exchange program is the opportunity to immerse yourself in a different culture. Experiencing new customs, traditions and ways of life firsthand fosters a deeper understanding and appreciation of global diversity. This cultural immersion helps break down stereotypes and broadens your worldview, making you more open-minded and adaptable.

    Develop cultural understanding

    Living in a foreign country teaches you how to navigate and respect different cultural norms and practices. This cultural competence is increasingly valued in our interconnected world, enhancing your ability to work effectively in diverse environments and making you a more attractive candidate in the global job market.

    2. Language proficiency

    Enhanced language skills

    For language learners, an exchange program is an opportunity to achieve fluency. Experiencing a language firsthand is one of the best ways to learn a new language. Being surrounded by fluent speakers provides constant practice and exposure, accelerating your language acquisition in ways that classroom learning alone cannot match. You'll develop better pronunciation, expand your vocabulary and gain confidence in your speaking abilities.

    Real-world communication

    Using a new language in everyday situations—whether it's ordering food, asking for directions, or making new friends—helps solidify your language skills in a practical context. This real-world communication practice is invaluable, ensuring that your language proficiency extends beyond textbooks and exams to actual, meaningful interactions.

    3. Academic and professional growth

    Academic enrichment

    Exchange programs often provide access to unique academic resources and teaching methods that differ from those in your home country. Exposure to new perspectives and approaches can deepen your understanding of your field of study and inspire new areas of interest. Additionally, studying abroad can enhance your academic credentials, making your CV stand out to future employers or academic institutions.

    Career opportunities

    Experience abroad signals to employers that you possess qualities like independence, adaptability and cross-cultural communication skills. These attributes are highly sought after in today’s job market. Moreover, the networking opportunities during your exchange can open doors to international internships, job placements and collaborations that might not have been available otherwise.

    4. Personal development

    Building independence and resilience

    Living away from home in a completely new environment challenges you to become more self-reliant and adaptable. You'll develop problem-solving skills, resilience and the ability to thrive outside of your comfort zone. These experiences build character and prepare you for future challenges, both personally and professionally.

    Forming lifelong connections

    The friendships and connections you make during your exchange program can last a lifetime. You'll meet people from various backgrounds, creating a global network of peers and mentors. These relationships can provide support, inspiration and opportunities long after your exchange program ends.

    Boosting confidence

    Successfully navigating life in a foreign country, mastering a new language, and achieving academic success abroad can significantly boost your confidence. This newfound self-assurance can positively impact all areas of your life, giving you the courage to pursue further opportunities and take on new challenges.

    5. Engaging with the local community

    Volunteer and community projects

    Many exchange programs encourage participants to engage with their host communities through volunteer work or community projects. This engagement allows you to give back to your host country, gain a deeper understanding of local issues, and develop a sense of global citizenship. It's a rewarding experience that fosters empathy and reinforces the importance of contributing to the wider world.

    Gaining valuable work experience

    Participating in volunteer and community projects during your exchange program can provide significant work experience that is highly attractive to future employers. These projects often involve teamwork, problem-solving and project management, all of which are essential skills in any professional setting.

    By contributing to local initiatives, you can demonstrate your ability to adapt to new environments, work with diverse teams, and handle responsibility. Furthermore, these experiences can fill gaps in your CV, showcasing your proactive approach to skill-building and community involvement. Engaging in meaningful projects not only supports your personal growth but also highlights your commitment to making a positive impact, a quality greatly valued in any career field.

    Where can I sign up for exchange programs?

    There are many organizations and programs that offer exchange opportunities for students and language learners. Some popular options include:

    • Study abroad programs through universities or colleges, which often have partnerships with foreign institutions. Check with your institution.
    • Government-sponsored programs such as Fulbright or Erasmus, (depending on your location).
    • Check non-profit organizations in your country, they may also offer exchange programs.

    Conclusion

    Taking part in an exchange program is a life-changing adventure that offers myriad benefits for students and language learners alike. From enhancing language proficiency and cultural awareness to boosting academic and career prospects, the experiences gained through an exchange program are invaluable. By stepping out of your comfort zone and into a new world, you open yourself up to endless possibilities, personal growth and a broader, more inclusive perspective on life.

    If you're a student or language learner considering an exchange program, seize the opportunity. The world awaits, and the benefits are boundless.

  • Friends studying together around one big table

    8 things you should try to avoid when learning English

    By Charlotte Guest
    Reading time: 4 minutes

    Learning a new language is an exciting and rewarding journey, but it can also come with its fair share of challenges. As English learners, it's important to recognize and overcome the common pitfalls that could hinder your progress. Here, we provide advice and guidance on what not to do to make your English learning experience as smooth and successful as possible.