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Code Switching for Business: From Plain English to Professional English

It can be particularly challenging for English language learners to strike the right tone when writing business communications. In this article, we offer a useful list of terms that should be avoided, and provide helpful substitutions that will instantly elevate your communication to a professional level.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Code Switching is defined as: “the practice of alternating between two or more languages or varieties of language in conversation.”

Many bilingual communities will code switch between their two common languages. For example, we code switch when we speak English with our friends and then return home and speak to our parents in their native tongue.

But the term “code switch” often does not indicate the straightforward idea of changing your speech from one official language to another. Rather, code switching connotes an often more subtle shift in speech patterns, which is intentionally used to cater to one or another cultural or social group.

Professionals in any workspace will often code switch when they are speaking to their boss, or presenting to a group, or courting a new client. The words they use become more formal.

For English language learners, it can be difficult to know what is the appropriate language to use in the workplace. When most of our communication is conducted over email, this presents an advantage to non-native speakers who are often more comfortable and capable reading and writing over listening and speaking.

But when most of your communication is via email, it is more important to strike the right tone with your language. An email that is overly formal can be off-putting to a colleague you work with every day. Likewise, a message that contains too much informal language can make you seem unprofessional.

To master the art of code switching for business, it is important to know there are some words that are simply not appropriate for the work environment. These words are not offensive, but to a native English speaker they can be mistakenly interpreted as your being “short” or rude outright rude – particularly if used in an email. Try using these professional replacements instead:

Plain English Professional English

got — received

"I got your email" — "I received your email"

need — request or require

"I need some help" — "I am requesting some help"

use — implement

"I want to use these strategies" — "I want to implement these strategies"

talk about — discuss

"Let's talk about it" — "Let's discuss"

get in touch — contact

"I will get in touch with you soon" — "I will contact you soon"

make sure — ensure

"Make sure you're not late!" — "Please ensure you arrive on time"

give — provide or forward

"Can you please give me that report?" — "Can you please forward that report?"

plan / schedule — itinerary

"What is the plan for the trip?" — "What is the trip itinerary?"

tell me — share

"Please tell me your thoughts" — "Please share your thoughts"

say more / talk more — elaborate

"Say more about that" — "Please elaborate"

fix — solve

"Can we fix this problem?" — "Can we solve this problem?"

find out — identify

"We need to find out what's wrong" — "We need to identify the problem"

as little as possible — minimal

"We need to spend as little as possible" — "We need to minimize expenses"

as much as possible — maximum

"We need to earn as much as possible" — "We need to maximize revenue"


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