PAs And Secretaries: Studying English In Portsmouth (Hampshire)
You have succeeded in getting the job as PA to the boss of a large company. You used your best English and you beat many other candidates. Now you have to do the job! What language will you need? How can you ensure that your English is actually good enough?
This article will discuss the essential language needed, how to survive and how you can improve your English skills.
‘What skills does a PA need?’ Google gives this answer:
“Duties, Responsibilities, & Functions. A personal assistant helps with time and daily management, scheduling of meetings, correspondence, and note-taking. The role of a personal assistant can be varied, such as answering phone calls, taking notes, scheduling meetings, emailing, texts etc.”
We can see that a PA’s position is to ensure the smooth running of the office and to take care of the manager’s diary. So if we break this down, the main skills are:
- Answering the telephone, writing emails and letters and making arrangements
In an English context this mainly translates into telephone English, email and written English and general business English.
To increase your general business English, in the context of your job will require work on your part. What is the company you will work for? Which department will you be in? What will be the subject area? Try and break it down into manageable areas.
For example, if your new job is in an electronics firm, and your job is in the training department, you will need to know which products they work on, which will be easy enough to find out, and then the language surrounding ‘training’ which you can find by searching on the internet. This is probably the easiest area of language to organise. Generally, company websites have all the main language used by their company in their ‘about’ section. If not all, it will give a good indication of where you may have gaps in your knowledge.
Using the telephone in English is very challenging for many foreign students. Speaking on the telephone is a particular skill, particularly important for many professionals, and made more difficult because of having no facial gestures to guide you. When we speak face to face, we use a lot more than just the words spoken to understand the message. It has been said that only 7% of communication is actual words, and the rest of the message is body language, gestures, facial signs, head nods etc. However true the statistics are, it is certainly true that understanding the other person on the telephone is a great deal more difficult than speaking face to face.
So, how can you improve your performance on the telephone? The following are a few tips that we give our students when they come on our business English courses here in LSI/IH Portsmouth, and can really make a difference.
- Listen to the Radio. It doesn’t really matter which station you listen to, and you don’t really need to concentrate, it just needs to be playing in the background, so subconsciously your ears ‘tune in’ to the ‘melody’ of the language. You will find after a month or two you can follow spoken English at a much faster pace.
- Prepare. Think about the conversation you are going to have. Try and predict the questions you might be asked and then have the answers ready. Think about the language and vocabulary you might need.
- Pinterest – Yes really. Type ‘Telephone English’ in the search bar and you will find lots and lots of suggestions with ‘set phrases’ you can use on the telephone.
- Don’t be afraid to ask someone to repeat, once, twice, three times, as many times as necessary. If you cannot understand the phrase they are saying, ask them to use other words. Tell them you don’t understand. The aim is to understand, not to pretend you understand.
- Finally, ensure you use a lot of ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’ when you are speaking to native English speakers, then even if your English is not perfect, they will know that you are trying to be polite.
Email writing – the principles are very similar.
- Read! Read as much as you can. The more you read the more your brain will recognise the order of the words. Read emails from native speakers, underline phrases that you keep seeing and make a note of them.
- Keep your emails short, the shorter they are the fewer mistakes you are likely to make.
- Pinterest – again it is a fantastic resource for set phrases, and it’s free, type in the search bar: ‘Email English’.
- Again use a lot of ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’ if you are writing to a native speaker, and they will know you are trying to be polite even if you are making mistakes in your grammar.
Of course, another very effective way to improve your professional English is to ask if you can be sent on a Business English course, one where they teach English for PAs and secretaries and the communication skills that are required. Here at LSI/IH Portsmouth we run a variety of professional courses, and one specifically for PAs and Secretaries, where they improve their English for telephoning, email writing, general business English as well as meeting skills and presentation skills. Many companies see this as an investment in their professionals, they know that the skill of speaking English is invaluable in today’s workplace, and it is not easy to learn corporate English in a general English classroom. However, often a company will want to invest in employees who have already proven their worth with a few years loyal service under their belt. Therefore, if the opportunity is not available at the start of your job, putting the suggestions above into practice should certainly help you manage your position.