Reading for Business When English Is a Foreign Language

Reading in English may be necessary to keep informed on recent developments in your field or in your company. Certainly, this can be slow going in a foreign language unless you train yourself in some special techniques.

The goal is to understand as much as possible while using your time as efficiently as you can.

However, keep in mind that your purpose can vary:

You may need only to get a very general idea and can skim the material,

you may need only some specific information and that is called scanning

You may need to get a general understanding of a subject by reviewing some textbooks.

You may need to scrutinize intensively highly technical material .


In this technique, the eye runs rapidly over the material. Speed is essential because you have limited time. You may have to review extensive documentation, but need only to get a general idea about the contenIn English, often the first sentence in the paragraph contains the main idea. So some people just let their eyes run over that first sentence.

When skimming documents, it might be helpful to write a brief summary when you are finished. Someone might ask you your reaction and you can impress them with your answer.

Busy managers use skimming, even when using the “executive summary”.

Examples of skimming:

A magazine article when you are looking for something to read in greater detail.

Newspaper– for a general idea about the news of the day


This  skill is used when you are looking for a particular fact. You ignore everything but that particular piece of information as you run your eyes over the page. It doesn’t matter if there are words that you don’t understand.

Examples of scanning:

Looking in the newspaper for the price of your stock.

Checking out what is playing on television

Reviewing an airline schedule to get the most convenient flight


Say that you are studying a book on human resources, but it isn’t in your field. You are just trying to get a general idea of the basic concepts. It is an effort to improve your general knowledge. This can also be applied to a enjoying a novel for pleasure.

In these cases it is not necessary to know the meaning of every word. You are only aiming to understand the meaning within the context of sentence or paragraph.

Examples :

Books that expand your general knowledge

Light reading such as novels, adventure stories

magazine articles


Sometimes we have to review something very carefully. Contracts and legal documents require this kind of scrutiny. Each word and each figure must be reviewed. Now is the time when you really need a good dictionary.

Examples of Intensive review:

Financial statements

Insurance policy

Technical reports vital to your company

Legal documents


Reading is time consuming, but a necessary activity. Practice is very important. Non-native speakers will, at first, find it tedious to read in a language not their own. However, the rewards for doing so are rich.

Not doing the necessary work will eventually hurt your career.

Published by pitman

I am a Business English Coach who works with managers and other professionals helping them to perform at their best when it is most important: such as a presentation, meeting with an important client, or a job interview. I am also a resource person for teachers of Business English.

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