The Importance of Teaching Business Idioms

Whether you are a ‘Business English’ teacher or not, if you are teaching ESL to professionals, business idioms are incredibly important to your students…

The world of business communication has become loaded with idiomatic expressions. Terms like pull one’s weight, cash cow and bring to the table are now commonplace in everyday business speech (and increasingly in written/email language).
Part of the reason for the use of business idioms is to increase team motivation. We don’t just release a new product, now we launch it! Part of their popularity is also likely based on the propensity of like-minded speakers to create clubs. Like any group of people, if you’re part of the club you’re expected to speak the lingo. If  your students are working professionals in an English environment, their colleagues will expect them to understand how they speak about business. In the modern office environment, understanding business idioms has become a requirement.

How do I teach business idioms, especially if I don’t have any business experience?

First, you’ll need a good resource. Off2Class has 2 lessons dedicated to business idioms in our Idioms Category: ID8.1 and ID8.2-Idioms-for-the-Workplace.
business-idioms business-idioms
As we’ve mentioned earlier, it’s best not to try to tackle too many of these expressions in any single lesson. 10-15 business idioms per lesson is more than enough. In our previous idioms blog post, we suggested that idioms should only be tackled with Upper-Intermediate or Advanced students. Unfortunately, this may not be practical when it comes to business idioms. Whether your students are Upper-Intermediate or not, if they are working professionals, they are going to want to learn these expressions. Here are some best practices:

  • Focus on the most used expressions first (our lessons cover the 30 most common expressions)
  • Allow for student self-discovery and context (we open our lessons lessons with exercises where the students can guess the meaning of each idiom, using the context of a scenario)
  • Try not to focus too much on the origin of the idiom, this can confuse your student, and may be hard to justify for certain business expressions (e.g. in the red and in the black are actually derived from accounting terms – prior to the invention of computers!)
  • Give your students ample practice to use the idioms in context (each of our lessons comes with self-study activities, as well as lesson summaries that we deliver to your students)

Have you taught business idioms to your ESL students? What strategies have you taken? As always, we love to hear stories from the field!


  • Duncan McRae says:

    April 11, 2016 at 7:01 am

    I have used many business idioms in teaching advanced students. It can be a great learning experience for them and particularly if part of the exercise is for the student to incorporate them in sentences of their own making.

    • Kris Jagasia says:

      April 11, 2016 at 7:12 am

      Thanks for stopping by Duncan. I think you’ve got a great approach. There’s only so far that memorizing idiom definitions can take a student! What kind of business English students are you currently teaching?

  • Kirsty Crow says:

    April 11, 2016 at 10:59 am

    I regularly incorporate these into lessons for students who are in their final year before University. They are a great way of stimulating conversation. The Elephant in the Room, Throwing the Baby out with the Bath Water and Caught between a Rock and a Hard Place always stimulate some interesting conjecture.

    • Kris Jagasia says:

      April 11, 2016 at 5:31 pm

      Cheers Kristy, those are some of my favourites as well!

  • Jerry Altman says:

    April 14, 2016 at 6:03 pm

    In my experience, students love learning idioms because that moves them closer to fluency. Knowing business idioms can be a confidence-booster that helps students become better motivated.

  • Julie Smith says:

    April 16, 2016 at 12:25 pm

    I love teaching these. Both in General English for life skills and in Business English.
    A fun approach is to introduce the business lesson in the form of a meeting.
    I am the native speaker and they are the international office representatives. Common language – English.
    So when I open the meeting using all the common idioms and phrasal verbs and then ask them for their thoughts I am always met with stunned and confused faces.
    I call the lesson ‘How to understand the native speaker at a business meeting – Yes, they are speaking English! ‘.
    Leads to some great fun.

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