Category Archives: Publication Announcements

COBUILD English Usage 4th Edition: Changes in vocabulary and grammar

In the second of our blog posts about the new edition of COBUILD English Usage, Penny Hands details some of the findings that came out of the team’s research into the ways in which new words and uses are created.

The second stage of the COBUILD English Usage update involved a survey of the current state of various aspects of the English language. It was carried out specially for this edition using the constantly updated Collins Corpus, as well as social media research and crowdsourcing.

It’s all very well having billions of words of corpus, but how do you find new words in it? It’s for this reason that a linguist’s job is a 24-hour one, constantly on the lookout for new words and uses. Corpora allow us to track these changes and to look for different ways that they are used, and to establish who uses them and in what context.

One really useful source of data is the Language Observatory Group (LOG) facebook page, set up by Mike McCarthy, where members add their observations about changes in the language.

The aim is not to gripe about ‘annoying’ things we hear people say, but some members care about that happening more than others. Mike has a certain refreshing tolerance for people expressing their preference for, or dislike of, certain neologisms, taking the view that a lot of fashions in clothes, music, etc, seemed odd or silly when they came out (and then do again when we look back on them).

New words are created all the time, often coming into the language via younger people. Occasionally we see a completely new word appear apparently from nowhere; more often, though, new words come about by people recycling existing ones so that they are used in a slightly different way.

The resulting findings hopefully provide a handy reference guide to new words and uses, but they also represent a fascinating snapshot of today’s society with all its attitudes and preoccupations.

Comparing the Bank of English section of the Collins Corpus with the ‘New Monitor’ corpus (which contains recent material from news and social media websites), we explored the ways in which language has evolved, looking at content from social media sites and news articles produced over the last 10 years.

Firstly, based on data from Collins’ new words database, we looked at some of the most popular ways of creating new language.

Common ways of doing this include adding a prefix or a suffix to an existing word, combining words, or using words in new ways, perhaps by giving them a new function or part of speech.

So the first thing we did was to follow up some hunches we had about new-word creation. As predicted, a lot of the new words we were seeing coming through in our dictionary department were ones created from existing words, combined with prefixes and suffixes.

Here are some of the most prominent innovations that came up in our survey of the current state of the language.


Common examples were:








upand down

upthread, upvote, uptick

downthread, downvote


Common examples were:

-less cashless, contactless, driverless, paperless

free traffic-free, GMO-free, carbon-free, meat-free, lactose-free


This one was flagged up among others on the LOG facebook page by Gavin Dudeney, who spotted the use of ‘sciencing’ on Radio 4.

The new probe is due to touch down on Mars soon and will be ‘sciencing’ as soon as it does.

This observation led us to investigate the current craze for verbing.

What we found, on investigating the social media sections of the Collins corpus, was a multitude of verbs based on brands.

Brand names have always been a rich source of verbing – hoovering, xeroxing, googling – but they seem to be proliferating in our current climate. I wonder if that’s because of the way that we all feel part of the action – we have agency over what gets bought and sold on these sites.

Why are you asking this here when you can just google the answer?

Jen snapchatted the whole thing.

Now we usually netflix it or chill at home with some good food.

We also found plentiful examples of airbnbing, eBaying, Instagramming and Ubering.

Adjectives as nouns

The next tendency we investigated was the sudden increase we had noticed in the use of adjectives as nouns.

Spread the happy. (Nutella®)

Committed to great since ’78. (Ben & Jerry’s®)

Find your fabulous.

And, by extension, a HarperCollins book …

‘Because’ as a preposition

Finally, we observed the repurposing of because as a preposition:

Why bother discussing this? Because language.

Not bothering with this. Because lazy.

Not going out tonight. Because working.

Here’s a snapshot of the concordance for ‘Because language’:

Note the line from the 2018 social media corpus containing the acronym ‘nsfw’, which stands for ‘not safe for work’, often used as a warning for an email subject line or social media post when sharing a link to potentially inappropriate content:

‘… hilarious nsfw because language.’

See also below a Twitter user’s use of ‘Because’ + adjective:

Note the use of a full stop to create a pause for emphasis.

Finally, if you’re interested in looking into this type of research further, take a look at Jack Grieve’s inaugural lecture, ‘The Future of Language Change’ at the University of Birmingham in December, 2018.

Professor Grieve shows how the study of language change is fast becoming a data science, and demonstrates what can be done with social media and high-level analysis tools.

He shows a series of graphs to demonstrate how we can now track usage from its initial use on social media and its exact location. We can see on what days certain words are typically used, where a brand-new coinage starts, and its pattern of diffusion over time. We can even home in on a particular city or neighbourhood, and see in which district a word emerges.

In the past, linguists used to say that you can never know where a word started because you’re not there to notice them. But now that isn’t true, at least for language used on social media. Language change research is making huge strides – and we’re the lucky ones who are here to see it.

COBUILD English Usage 4th Edition: updating the examples

In the first of our blog posts about the new edition of COBUILD English Usage, Penny Hands details some of the changes she made to the examples to ensure they reflect changes in society, and ponders on how future-proof these changes are likely to be.

One of our aims for this edition was to have a really close look at the example sentences, as our hunch was that society has changed so dramatically since the last overhaul that there would be work to do bringing things up to date.

Looking back at the brief for the last edition in 2011, I see that we were worried about authentic examples being too complex – a common criticism levelled at the COBUILD range in its earlier years, and which we were still ironing out.

As I was going through the examples, I took notes and categorised the outdated material. This would help us, I hoped, identify areas to focus on when we formulated new topic pages. These would be added to the resource to guide students and teachers in various aspects of language use that might have changed in the last ten years.

Here are the categories into which the outdated examples I identified sorted themselves:

  • technology
  • women
  • old-fashioned language
  • toilets
  • American English/British English


Unsurprisingly, in the area of technology, we found a large number of examples that needed to be changed. For example:

Some tech items, such as tape recorder and portable computer were obviously outdated, but others seemed to be just starting to look anachronistic because they related to things we do less and less often.

Since one of the aims of the update was to future-proof the book to an extent, I used my gut feeling to make interventions where they might not seem to be altogether essential at the moment. Examples of such amendments were as follows (underlining shows which word was being illustrated by the example sentence):

  • Is there a phone anywhere? I changed this to: Is there a place to eat anywhere round here? as asking casually for a phone didn’t seem to be something we would need to do very much these days.
  • You can take money out at any branch of your own bank. I changed this to: You can take money out at any cash machine.*
  • I’ll take my phone with me. I changed this to: I’ll keep my phone switched on because most people always take their phone with them; sometimes, though, we do turn our phones off, for example, if we’re in the cinema.
  • clock/radio à singer/songwriter (to illustrate the of use of the forward slash)
  • When you get your daily paper, which page do you read first? I changed this to: When you start up your computer, which application do you go to first?

* By the next edition, money in the form of notes – and as a result, cash machines – may well be on their way out, but I did feel that cash machines are still common enough to warrant a mention.


I found numerous references to women that, while not necessarily offensive, were just starting to make me flinch a bit. In the following examples, the replacement material is shown after the arrow.

  • … three beautiful young girls à … three adventurous young girls
  • I think a woman has as much right to work as a man. à I think a child has as much right to respect as an adult.
  • He arrived accompanied by his wife. à Children under 14 must be accompanied by an adult.
  • These days more women become managers. à These days friends tend to send messages rather than call each other.
  • She’s over 40 but she still dresses like a teenager. à The organisers advised people to dress appropriately.
  • Every businesswoman would have a secretary if she could. à Every pregnant woman wants the best care she can get.
  • Women must have equal status. à All citizens must have equal status.

Looking at the way I updated the examples referring to women gave me pause: I had frequently replaced woman/women with child/children. This prompted me to consider how things are changing from a hierarchical point of view. When we come to our next round of updates, will the examples with child no longer be acceptable? What will I need to replace them with next?

Old-fashioned language

The next category that came out of the analysis was that of ‘old-fashioned language’. Here are some of the words and phrases that jumped out.

American English/British English

Then there were the inevitable items that were labelled as Americanisms, which can hardly be referred to as such any more.

References to lavatories, ladies’ and gents’, air travel being ‘easy these days’, newsagents, letters, and an ‘Indian gentleman’ also all got reworded or expunged from the text.

So, what will future updates bring?

Much as I’ve tried to future-proof the examples, I’m going to make a perhaps rather rash prediction that all my new examples with children will have to be thrown out in ten years’ time, with dogs taking their place. But even then, anyone who has watched the TV programme ‘Supervet’, or the equivalent in their own country, and observed the status of the pet in many families, will have doubts about even that. Robot-servants, maybe?

COBUILD: Shifting senses – How the meanings of words change

In the 30 years since the publication of the first COBUILD dictionary, a whole flurry of new words has come into the language and as they’ve caught on and become part of everyday usage, they’ve been added to the dictionary.

I’m not just talking about the trendy new coinages that occasionally hit the headlines; think omnishambles, binge-watch or post-truth. Most of these never become used widely or frequently enough to make it into a learner’s dictionary like COBUILD. The occasional exception is words like selfie, which appeared and became ubiquitous with surprising speed. More interesting, perhaps, are new uses of existing words which sneak into our vocabularies almost unnoticed.

In 1987, the meanings of post were all about mail, sticks in the ground, and jobs, no mention back then of the kind of post many of us put on social media daily now. Clicking was still just about making a noise, not something you do to a link, which itself was still a generic connection rather than a way of switching between webpages. And a thread was a piece of cotton or the flow of your argument, rather than a series of online comments.

The entry for click from the first edition (1987)

The entry for click from the first edition (1987)

The entry for click from the ninth edition (2018)

The entry for click from the ninth edition (2018)

Not all these shifts have been in the online world either, other technological developments have also generated new usages. Back in the 80s, wireless was just an old-fashioned word for radio. Nowadays, you might have wireless headphones, speakers, microphones, or keyboards. If you talk about a hybrid now, you’re more likely to be referring to a type of semi-electric car than a plant or animal bred from two different species.

The entry for wireless from the first edition (1987)

The entry for wireless from the first edition (1987)

The entry for wireless from the ninth edition

The entry for wireless from the ninth edition

With each new edition of a dictionary, lexicographers are keeping an eye on corpus data to see what new words are coming into use, and also to pick up on new senses of familiar words. Like new coinages, new uses need to reach a certain frequency and distribution threshold for inclusion, first in larger native-speaker dictionaries, then, as they become more common-place into learner’s dictionaries too. Which words do you think might take on new meanings in the coming years?

Photographs taken from

This blog post has been written by Julie Moore, who is an ELT lexicographer and materials writer.

Find out more about our new editions of the Collins COBUILD dictionaries and other COBUILD materials here.

New editions of Collins COBUILD Dictionaries – Out now!

In celebration of COBUILD’s 30th anniversary, Collins is proud to launch new editions of its three most popular Collins COBUILD dictionaries, out today:

  • Primary Learner’s Dictionary
  • Intermediate Learner’s Dictionary
  • Advanced Learner’s Dictionary

To find out more about these dictionaries, take a look at our new COBUILD Dictionaries leaflet.

So what’s new?

  • Up-to-date coverage of today’s English – based on the constantly updated 4.5-billion-word database of today’s English language, the Collins Corpus
  • Authentic examples – real-life examples of English from the Collins Corpus show how words are used in everyday language
  • Vocabulary-building features – brand-new features on collocation, word history, usage and synonyms to help learners use English with accuracy and confidence
  • New supplements – offer guidance on effective communication in English
  • Full sentence definitions – all words and phrases are covered in depth and explained in full sentences to show words in context
  • Frequency – the most important words are clearly highlighted to indicate which to learn first.

Authentic English at your fingertips 

‘Flipping’ the classroom: easier than we think?


In the last couple of years, I’ve occasionally come across articles and conference presentations on the topic of ‘the flipped classroom’. It’s a concept that’s not new, but when I brought it up in conversations with a number of colleagues (I was talking about an upcoming presentation for IATEFL), I realised that few of us EFL and EAP practitioners seemed to have really engaged with it. So that’s why I decided to write this blog: both to find out why we’re not all ‘flipping’ (I couldn’t resist) and to share a bit more information about what it means.

In many eras and locations, the teacher has been seen as the focus in the classroom and the source of most of the information. The flipped classroom approach is more learner-centered. It acknowledges that it is increasingly easy for students to access content online before coming to class,  which means that the lesson time can be used to share that knowledge and implement it in more practical, personalised and exciting ways.

One reason why English teachers might not know too much about this strategy it is that it is easily dismissed as something we are doing anyway: isn’t it generally good classroom practice to get students to come prepared and to maximise the resource that students are by getting them to interact rather than to fill in exercises? To that I’d say that yes, EFL teachers are definitely doing it already, but by naming and examining it we can reflect on ways to do it more efficiently and systematically.

Another reason for the lack of engagement is that it is a blended learning method and therefore involves technology, and not all teachers and students are in a position to rely on this: it very much depends on their location in the world. Where online access is available, teachers may be reluctant to use technology to the extent that they believe is required. It is certainly true that a lot of teachers who use the flipped classroom approach have done this in a rather enthusiastic way, e.g. they have done a complete swap from their conventional teaching to this approach and have dedicated their time to making their own instructional videos using the latest clever software.

Well, you can probably tell I am not one of those people… I applaud them but I am never going to be like them. I lack the know-how and the time to do something about it. I do believe though that it is worth seeking out new materials that use this approach or to look for existing online open source videos while adapting our course books and ways of working so that we maximise classroom time.

So why am I so passionate about giving the flipped classroom a go? It’s simple: it is better for our students. Here are just a few of the reasons:

  • it makes them more autonomous learners (lessons won’t ‘work’ unless students come prepared)
  • with ‘content’ being accessed elsewhere, classroom time can be dedicated to checking understanding and building on it in through group interaction
  • it energizes them during lessons and brings the unknown into the classroom (they rely on each other for dissemination and to put theory into practice)
  • it builds on their interest in technology and allows them to learn in the same way that they access much other information (i.e. online)
  • weaker students can access and repeat the information they need as often as they like in the privacy of their homes. This levels the playing field in the classroom and stops them having to catch up later, which does wonders for their confidence.

It clearly is an approach that is definitely worth taking, both for its modernity and efficiency. And the good news is that publishers and authors agree with this and are making our lives easier by incorporating it into their materials, which takes out the hard work for the teachers – here’s one we made earlier. So, there really is no excuse left not to flip.

by Els Van Geyte

Els Van Geyte works at the Birmingham International Academy at the University of Birmingham and is the author of IELTS exam skills and Academic English text books.

Who am I? A bio-mini-quiz to inspire your students

Are you looking for original ways to get your students to read? Here are 8 ‘Who am I?’ questions revealing interesting life-facts about some of the Amazing People featured in the 8 brand-new Amazing People ELT Readers we’ve just published. Can you guess who the people are?

Below you can also find links to videos of each of these Amazing People talking about their lives and achievements. There are also links to download classroom ideas, lesson plans and worksheets from our ELT Readers Teacher Zone, as well as more information about the books the people are featured in.

The answer key is provided at the bottom of this post.


Read the ‘who am I’ questions 1-8. Can you match them with the Amazing People A-H and their images a-h?

Who am I? questions:

1) I wrote the very first computer program – and you might be surprised to hear that I was a woman. My father was Lord Byron, the famous poet, but he died when I was only 8 years old. Who am I?

2) I was born in Salzburg, Austria. People said I was a ‘child genius’ because I began playing and composing music when I was very young. My older sister Nannerl was a very talented musician, too. I’m most famous for my operas, The Marriage of Figaro and The Magic Flute. Do you know who I am?

3) I was an American trumpet-player and singer, and I came to discover ‘a wonderful world’. I grew up in a poor area of New Orleans, where life was tough for young African-American boys. Do you know who I am?

4) I became sick with meningitis at 19 months, before I even learned to speak. I still went on to become a famous teacher. I started an organisation to teach people about blindness in 1915. Who am I?

5) Do you know Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn? Then you probably know my name, too. But the name you know me by is not the name my parents gave me – that’s Samuel Langhorne Clemens. Who am I?

6) I opened my first salon in New York City when I was 25 years old and went on to create what became one of the most famous cosmetics brands in the world. I was also the first woman to appear on the front cover of the Time magazine. My parents gave me the name Florence Nightingale Graham. What’s the name I am known to the world by?

7) A very famous prize for cultural and scientific advances is named after me. I was a chemist and businessman and my greatest invention was dynamite. Who am I?

8) I was a powerful Roman leader, and I lived much earlier than any of the other people in this quiz. From a young age I wanted to be a leader and a hero. I fought hard to gain control of many territories for Rome. My father was called Gaius and my first name is Gaius, too, but I am known by the name of… do you know?


Amazing People A-H:

A) I am Helen Keller. My story is featured in Amazing Women (Level 1).
Helen Keller video / Download Helen Keller classroom and student activities

B) I am Elizabeth Arden. My story is in Amazing Entrepreneurs and Business People (Level 1).  Elizabeth Arden video / Download Elizabeth Arden classroom and student activities 

C) I am Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. You can read my story in Amazing Composers (Level 2). Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart video / Download Mozart classroom and student activities 

D) My name is Ada Lovelace and you can read my story in Amazing Mathematicians (Level 2). Ada Lovelace videoDownload Ada Lovelace classroom and student activities 

E) I’m Louis Armstrong, and you can read my story in Amazing Performers (Level 3).
Louis Armstrong videoDownload Louis Armstrong classroom and student activities 

F) My name is Alfred Nobel and my story is in Amazing Philanthropists (Level 3).
Alfred Nobel videoDownload Alfred Nobel classroom and student activities 

G) I am Julius Caesar. You can read my story in Amazing Leaders (Level 4).
Julius Caesar videoDownload Julius Caesar classroom and student activities 

H) I am Mark Twain and I’m one of the writers in Amazing Writers (Level 4).
Mark Twain videoDownload Mark Twain classroom and student activities 


Images a-h:


Can’t see the image properly? Click on it to display full screen.


Answer Key:

1) D) h)
2) C) a)
3) E) g)
4) A) b)
5) H) f)
6) B) d)
7) F) c)
8) G) e)


Amazing-Women-Level-1--PB Amazing-Entrepreneurs-amp-Business-Peo-PB1 mathematicians_level2 Amazing-Composers-Level-2--PBAmazing-Performers-Level-3--PB Amazing-Philanthropists-Level-3--PB leaders_level4 Amazing-Writers-Level-4--PB

Click on the images to find out more about each Amazing People ELT Reader. The Amazing People ELT Readers have been created in association with The Amazing People Club.


Two Collins ELT titles shortlisted for English-Speaking Union Awards 

We’re delighted to announce that not just one, but two (TWO, t-w-o!) of our books have been shortlisted at this year’s HRH The Duke of Edinburgh English Language Book Awards, awarded by the English-Speaking Union. 

Here is what the ESU judges say about the titles:



Collins Key Business Skills is a worthwhile addition to the market and innovative in the possibilities it provides for self-study. The clear presentation aids the logical progression of the content and the tasks provide realistic challenges.



This is an original entry with a strong layout, progression and development. It is easy to use and is successful in making even the mundane activities of daily life engaging and interesting. The audio files are authentic and the content is very suitable for the target audience.


Effective International Business Communication – OUT NOW 


Is good international communication just a question of how good you are at English? No, says Bob Dignen, communications expert and author of Collins Effective International Business Communication. It’s equally important to understand communication processes and styles.

The characteristics of a ‘good’ communicator can’t easily be tracked down, says Bob Dignen in an interview published in the January issue of Business Spotlight. ‘Good communicators think situationally’ because ”good’ will be defined by the situation, not by some abstract ideal’.

Effective International Business Communication by Bob Dignen with Ian McMaster is a guide that helps you use the right style of communication at the right time to get your message across clearly in any situation. But it’s not all about speaking – the title also helps you listen more effectively to create better understanding. With the advice given in this book you’ll be able to handle challenging meetings with native and non-native speakers of English, build successful relationships, and manage conflict.

Effective International Business Communication will be available in bookshops and online from 31 January 2013. If you’d like to have a look, please download a sample unit here. You can also read the first page of the Business Spotlight interview with Bob Dignen on the Business Spotlight website (scroll down, and click on the image next to BUSINESS SKILLS: Communication’ to start reading).

English for Life: Writing – Intermediate is Book of the Month 

Another fantastic review of a Collins title has been published in the EL Gazette this month. Pete Sharma recommends Collins English for Life: Writing Intermediate  for self-study and as classroom supplement. He praises the  ‘Useful Information’ section in each unit, and particularly likes the unit on tweeting. You can read the full review at the bottom of this entry. 

Collins English for Life: Writing Intermediate is part of a four-book skills series. There is one complete book to help students with each of the four skills – Speaking, Listening, Reading and Writing. And the good news is that the Pre-intermediate level of this series will be published at the end of this month! If you’d like a sneak peek, download some sample units in our General English section


Pete Sharma, EL Gazette, January 2013.

Business Skills and Business Language 

Are you looking for advice with presentations, meetings, networking and negotiations in English? Read Barry Tomalin’s article ‘Business Skills and Business Language’ below. Barry is the author of Collins Key Business Skills.


Barry Tomalin
Author ‘Key Business Skills’ (Collins, HarperCollins Publishers, 2012)

Jean-Francois is frustrated. He’s a senior manager in an international computer business services firm. He works with UK, US, Chinese and Egyptian colleagues and he can’t get through to them. And he is not getting the results he needs.

‘I’ve studied business English for five years in France,’ he says, ‘But I’m not communicating in the way my overseas colleagues need. What do I need to do?’

Jean-Francois is right. Like a large number of business executives working with overseas colleagues and customers, he is not confident in communicating internationally.

Therefore, all the business English he has so carefully learned is not much use because he lacks the international business communication skills to go with it.

What are these skills? There are four.

NETWORKING The skill of networking and building good relations with overseas colleagues and customers

PRESENTATIONS The skill of making a successful presentation to international colleagues and customers

MEETINGS The knowledge to run or take part in successful conference calls

NEGOTIATIONS The skill of negotiating internationally

What’s the solution? Jean-Francois needs to leverage his language. He needs to learn how to present his ideas as a clear package. He needs to learn business communication skills. And he needs to learn the language that delivers these skills. But not any language. The language native speakers use. That will create a ‘no surprises’ communication culture and free him to concentrate on what he really wants to say.

We can present the three ingredients of successful communication like this.



(See your ideas as a Product, present them as a Package and be Positive.)

USE FRAMEWORKS                                  USE STOCK PHRASES

(Use structures so you don’t forget things.) (Use everyday phrases people are familiar with.)

How can Jean-Francois apply these three ingredients to the areas he needs to deal with? Here are a few ideas.



Learn to listen, not to judge, not to evaluate and certainly not to take over the conversation.

If you can learn to listen quietly and appreciatively, it can work to your advantage. Suddenly, you are showing interest in the other person. You are in touch with how they feel, not just the words they use. Do you know how they will describe you? An excellent conversationalist!

A lot of people feel uncomfortable just keeping silent and listening. If that is your case, why not use F.A.C.E? F.A.C.E is an acronym. It stands for:

F Focus
A Acknowledge
C Clarify
E Empathise

That’s the structure you can use in listening appreciatively to another person. What is the language you can use with each word?

Well, Focus is essentially body language, eye contact. But you must be careful. In Asia, especially in Japan, eye contact may be intermittent or even avoided rather than constant. 

Acknowledge is nodding and showing appreciation. South Indians might do it with a head roll, Europeans with a nod. We may also add an ‘Uh huh’, or maybe a ‘Really!’

Clarifying is asking questions to help the story move along. ‘So what happened next?’, ‘What did you do then?’, ‘How did you solve that problem?’. Remember, your aim is not to evaluate. It is to encourage the speaker to develop the story or argument.

Finally, Empathise is to show appreciation. There are various phrases people use, depending on the situation. However, they all have one thing in common. They are always positive or sympathetic. ‘Wow!’, ‘Congratulations’, ‘That’s great!’, ‘How awful!’. You probably get the idea.

Active listening and using F.A.C.E is a great way to build empathy with your contact, face-to-face or virtually but you can lose any advantage gained if you say the wrong thing. The most common ‘intercultural’ question I am asked is, ‘How can I avoid causing offence?’

The answer is to be sensitive to cultural fault lines. Fault line is a geological term. It describes the movement in the earth’s tectonic plates that causes earthquakes and tsunamis. In culture, cultural fault lines identify areas that might cause tension within a community. They seem to break down into six areas. Here they are, with examples:




French in Belgium vs Flemish in Belgium

Which language should you use or is it better to use English?


Protestant vs Catholic in Northern Ireland and elsewhere and lots of other examples.


In France it’s a bit of a joke but Paris vs the rest of France, or Bavaria and the rest of Germany.


Greece in the Eurozone but also the perceived economic difference between the richer north of Italy and the ‘Mezzogiorno’ South.


Tensions in the ‘rainbow state’ of South Africa or even today between black and white and Hispanic in the US.


Calling Canadians ‘Americans’, traditional rivalries within Europe between UK, France, Germany and Russia and countless other examples.

In all these environments it’s perfectly possible to discuss issues with people you know, but it might be risky to raise them immediately.

So for networking you have a structure for conversation, you have common phrases people use and by definition you are being more concise and organised in your presentation.



Speaking of presentations, the structure I use is the one to answer questions. It’s called ‘the 4 ASKS’. Don’t ask me why. The 4 ASKS structure has a ‘stock phrase associated with each ASK.’ Here they are. When you answer a question: 





Thank you for the question.

The questioner feels appreciated.


If I understood correctly, the question was …

The question was …

Repeat so everyone can hear.

Check you’ve heard correctly.

Reformulate to make the answer easier.


The answer is …

Question answered.


Does that answer your question?

Check the questioner is happy.

Notice that last stock phrase, ‘Does THAT answer your question?’ not ‘Have I answered your question?’ It is a technique we call ‘depersonalisation’. If you’re not happy with the answer, it’s not me that’s the problem, it’s the answer. I can try again!


One of Jean-Francois’s problems is running conference calls. Because of his English he often feels  he loses control of meetings and they go on too long with no positive result. Is there a structure he can use that will help him control his meetings? Yes, there is.

The 9-point meeting control framework

POINT 1 Establish control early: Kick off meeting, welcome and get guests to identify themselves.

POINT 2 Don’t take your own minutes. Get someone else to do it. Frees you to run meeting.

POINT 3 Introduce each item and speaker.

POINT 4 Elicit contributions.

POINT 5 Keep to time.

POINT 6 Keep to agenda.

POINT 7 Summarise discussion and decide what to minute.

POINT 8 If people digress or get aggressive, suggest you discuss ‘outside the meeting’.

POINT 9 Thank and close meeting, check minutes and circulate.


Points 7 and 9 are especially important. Remember what people say: ‘Whoever controls the minutes, controls the meeting.’



This is our final point. But surely, Jean-Francois knows how to negotiate! Yes, he’s very good at it. But he’s not good at judging his negotiating partner’s position from the language used.

He thinks his partner is ready to agree but suddenly he realises that the partner has raised a new point and gone right back to the start of the negotiation. Is there, he asks, a structure he can use to help him identify his negotiating partner’s position from the language he is using? Yes, there is.

He can use the five stage negotiation process defined by Professor Gavin Kennedy of Glasgow University and a ‘guru’ of negotiating.

Kennedy identifies five stages in any negotiation. They are:

PREPARE:            Prepare the ground. Explain your position.
DEBATE:               Discuss each side’s position.
PROPOSE:           On the basis of what you have discussed, make a proposal.
BARGAIN:             Argue about what you will or won’t do to reach agreement.
AGREE:                 Finally, hopefully, you reach agreement.

Easy! What’s the problem? The problem is it is not a linear process. Negotiatiors may change the stage they are at, at any time. If they are doing it in a foreign language, it is difficult to know what is happening. Are there any stock phrases which will give us a clue?

Yes, there are, but you have to find them. We suggest you make a list of the five stages and keep them in front of you in any negotiation. Then, when you hear a phrase, match it to the stage of negotiation. This way you will build up phrases and vocabulary and their relation to each stage of a negotiation that will make you feel more confident. And Jean-Francois as well! To help you, here is one we have prepared.

So, we have looked at frameworks and associated common phrases that you and Jean-Francois can use to help you be more confident and fluent in networking, presentations, running conference calls and negotiations. And if you use these techniques, you will sound more concise and much clearer and more decisive.  Try them one by one and see what happens. You will be delighted by the results.

BARRY TOMALIN is the author of Key Business Skills, a one-stop Business English guide and practice book, published on December 6th. You can see all these techniques explained with exercises and recordings to help you practise.