Business English

Say goodbye to BEC Exams

In early December 2021, an announcement was made by Cambridge English Assessment that rocked the English teaching world in Switzerland. The well-known standardized Business English tests:  B1 Business Preliminary, B2 Business Vantage and C1 Business Higher will be eliminated as of June 2024.  It was an unexpected surprise for many. Others foresaw it as a change long time coming.

Why are BEC Exams being cancelled?

Exams, if they are to stay relevant, need updating to reflect the communication style and forms.  Although BEC Exams have been highly sought after in Switzerland, they have been popular in only a few countries. So, instead of updating BEC, it was decided instead to phase them out.  

According to Cambridge English Languages GmbH based in St Gallen,  “…(they) have seen a significant decrease in the number of candidates taking BEC globally over the past five years. Some of this is the result of demographic factors but (they) must also recognize that requirements for assessment products are changing, with a greater need for assessments that can be taken on-demand and remotely”.

Should I take the IELTS instead of a BEC Exam?

A popular high stake test beginning to replace BEC Exams is called IELTS. It is a multi-level test which has been authorized by English-speaking country immigration officials from England, Canada, Australia and New Zealand as a mandatory part of their immigration process. The IELTS test complies with strict security requirements to ensure test takers can not cheat.  This makes IELTS a highly coveted certificate. 

Not only have such government authorities adopted IELTS as their go-to language proficiency check but, so too have other institutions. Swiss universities, colleges and companies are amongst the thousands of tertiary institutions and international companies around the world that recognize IELTS results as legitimate validation of English language proficiency.

Read more about IELTS

Are there any other tests comparable to the BEC suite?

There are a variety of professional standardized English language certifications recognized around the world.  Most of them are not necessarily business oriented, however.  These non-business related certificates include the well-known Cambridge General English examinations: B1 Preliminary, B2 First, C1 Advanced and C2 Proficiency.

For American testing options for college bound or work bound individuals in the United States, there are the multi-level TOEFL and TOEIC tests.  TOEIC is the business English alternative.  Both test results are highly recognized throughout the USA and has been well established for many decades as the test required as a key part of university application processes not only in the USA but around the world.

Last but not least, there is also a quick online computer test that can be used to measure your level quickly and serve to measure progress – a computer-based test called LinguaSkill.  However, this certificate is not recognized for university or immigration purposes. It could be, however, an alternative for companies needing to verify the language level of applicants and/or current employees. 

What will be required within Swiss Business Commercial Schools?

Further Educational Schools such as “KV” schools already developed their own internal business English tests a few years ago. These tests are offered as an option to students who wanted to avoid the cost and pressure of taking an international test. The KV internal English tests have instructions written in German and culturally designed for the Swiss market. Those for KV Profile B and E students are set at a B1 level and have been designed more simply than the B1 Preliminary.

I soon will learn how KV schools will go forward and will be sure to update this blog once this information has been received. However, I can imagine that these KV internal English language tests may continue to be used after the B1 Business Preliminary exam has been phased out in 2024.  

Here are links to download sample tests and answer keys for:

Internal KV English language tests: B, E and BM/BM2 Profiles.

Can I still prepare for the BEC Exams through The Boston School?

Yes. The Boston School will continue to offer preparation courses on a one-to-one basis for Cambridge BEC Exams as well as Academic and General IELTS tests to those interested in receiving an internationally renowned language certification.   Group classes with a minimum of 2 students per course can also be arranged.  Please visit our group course page for scheduling and pricing details. 

Still not sure which language qualification is most suitable for you?  We welcome your call so that we can listen to your needs and offer specific advice to you.  Whether it is for yourself, a family member or your staff.  


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Cryptocurrency back in the news

Author Philip Inman wrote an online article for “The Guardian” in February 2021 soon after Elon Musk invested nearly $1.5 billion in bitcoin.  Here is a link to this article entitled: 

“Bitcoin surges through key $50,000 level in European trading”.

What do you think of bitcoin?  Is it just another Ponzzi scheme?  Will it only be a matter of time that the system will crash?  Or is it something that will become more secure over time?

We used this topic as the focus of one of our Hangout in English sessions and created a Vocabulary Quiz based on words found in the article related to the stock market.  Maybe you may find this also useful?   Or if you wish to read more about 

We hope you may consider discussing such a topic and others with us at an upcoming Hangout hosted by The Boston School soon! 

 And if you’d like to get the answers to the Vocabulary Quiz, click here:

Stock Market Vocabulary Answer Key:


Serving customers in times of crisis

I came across this insightful article on the website: Help Scout.  It’s an article entitled “Crisis Communication Tips for Customer Service Teams” written by Matthew Patterson at the start of the Coronavirus outbreak in March 2020. 

Hope you find this helpful in managing customer service calls during difficult, stressful times.  I have chosen 25 words from the start of the article and created a B2/C1 level Quizlet vocabulary set.  

Perhaps this article on how to adjust to working from home  might also interest you?

It would be wonderful to hear from our readers. What advice can you give others at this time? Do you have a story to share?  We’d love to hear from you.

Business English Skills 5 minute read

How to Prepare Your First Customer Meeting

Table of Contents


A numbered text or phrase item has been provided for some students with its German or French translation to aid their learning.  

If you are new to your job and still learning the ins and outs[1], it may seem daunting [2]to meet a client who speaks a foreign language.  

What are some strategies you can take to be able to deal professionally and successfully with[3] this challenge?

Here are some steps you can take before, during and after almost any potential client [4] meeting when the specific technical terminology [5] may be new to you – whether it’s in your own language or not.

Our handy powerpoint presentation can be accessed here.

Before the appointment

Tip 1: Prepare an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) list

  • Think of the likely questions [6] potential clients ask you in your mother tongue.
  • It is a good idea to write the questions and answers in your mother tongue first, if your level of English at a beginner to intermediate level.
  • Identify which words in your mother tongue you do not know in the foreign language and look them up using a dictionary or google their images. 
  • Use an online dictionary or find an image online with an English description.  This helps to verify that you translate the word correctly. 
  • Write this new word down on a “cheat sheet [7]” along with the translation that you can study from.  This can be on paper, in an Excel sheet or with an app, such as Quizlet, for study purposes [8].
  • Bookmark any online images [9]to quickly access them [10] again and use as a reference tool.[11]
  • Work through 1 or 2 different scenarios. [12] Practice by saying the new words and sentences out loud [13]that you may need.  When you can answer the clients first 5 basic questions, this will help you feel more confident [14] at the start of the meeting and help gain the trust of your client [15].Ti

Tip 2: Pictures and more pictures

If you find it difficult remembering new words, be sure to use a company catalog, magazine or online pictures you have bookmarked or stored on a device that you can access and use during your meeting. This can save time looking for words to describe exactly what you mean. [16]

Think of how hairdressers apply this tip [17] by showing clients specific hair colours and styles.

 Looking at pictures or layouts may generate a new line of questioning [22] you hadn’t considered [23].  If so, repeat Step 1 and create more FAQ’s and add to your wordlist not only for this appointment but others to come [24].

Tip 3: Ask the clients to send their questions before the meeting via e-mail to you

After taking these steps, if you still feel unsure and nervous, then you can always help yourself out by sending your client a pre-session questionnaire [25] or short e-mail.  

The more details you know in advance about what territory the meeting will cover [26], the more prepared and in control you will feel.

This gives you more time to look up words [27] and pictures you may need that answer your client’s specific questions.  Here are some examples of what you could write, 3-7 days before the meeting is to take place [28]:

“In preparation for our meeting, please fill out the attached questionnaire.  We thank you in advance for your time and look forward to our meeting.”

“To prepare myself for our upcoming meeting, could you share with me specific questions you have prepared?  This way, if research is required to answer them fully, this can be done in advance. Time can then be saved in our meeting to work out the details. I look forward to our discussion and thank you in advance for your time.” 

NOTE: This option might not be suitable for everyone [29], though [30], since this could lead to [31] potential clients expecting you to be available [32] to answer more questions than you may be able to handle [33]. So this option needs to be considered carefully [34].

During the appointment

Tip 4: Set realistic language comprehension expectations [35] with the client right away [36]

It is very important to set the clients’ expectations about your comprehension and speaking level clearly from the start.  Don’t be shy [37] to use some of the following phrases besides the common one “I speak English a little bit.”

“Before we start, I want to let you know I do speak some English but there are some technical words I may not know.  But I am sure together, with a little patience, we can manage to understand each other.[38]”

  “ I hope you don’t mind [39] that I may interrupt you sometimes in case [40] I don’t understand you.  I can speak (English) but it’s not perfect yet [41].”

  • A picture is worth a thousand words [42]

When you get stuck [43], show them.  If you are in a shop or showroom, you can easily point to what you mean.[44]  The client may then give you the word in their language.  When they do, it’s a great idea for you to repeat it.  Wait for an approving response from your client to know you’ve got it right [45].  Then for your next client, use the word you’ve learned and see if they understand you. If they do, you can be sure you’ve just learned a new word without looking it up in a dictionary!

Tip: If you are selling goods but are meeting in an office setting, be sure to bring catalogs with pictures in print or accessible online from your portable device – phone, notebook or laptop. 

  • Ask them to show or draw a picture

In your pre-meeting e-mail, you can ask them to bring any professional drawings or details with them.  However [46], there are times when [47] pictures of technical parts or processes are not available. If the client is having difficulties explaining something to you clearly, don’t be shy to ask them to draw it for you if it makes sense.

Just be sure to have pen and paper ready, just in case. 

You could say: “I think I know what you mean but to be sure, would you mind drawing (the layout) for me?”

  • Describe in simple words and wait for the “aha moment”

When your vocabulary level is good, you can also explain a word you are missing by using simpler words.  There should be a clear “aha moment” that comes over the client’s face to show you he or she understands.

Of course, the client can do the same for you.  He can explain something more simply if you don’t understand.  But be sure to let him know you need clarification without waiting too long.

To interrupt the client naturally and smoothly [48], ask for clarification by first summarizing [49] what you did understand and then ask about what was unclear.  For example, you can say something like:

 “I understand what you’re saying.  You want to ….. but I didn’t understand (your reason).  Could you please explain that to me more slowly/in a simpler way?”

  • Tell them you can clarify by e-mail

Sometimes, not everything can be explained or discussed in one meeting. If not all questions have been answered, be sure to summarize what points learned and what open questions remain. 

Then confirm that you can answer remaining questions via e-mail. So, instead of spending too much time confused about [50] how to answer a question, you can stay professional and respond to them via e-mail.For example, you could say:

“Thank you for your patience with my English. I am not sure I understand what you mean.  Could you please write your question here and I can look into it when I get back to my office.  I promise I will provide an answer to you (by Friday).”

“It’s a pity we’ve run out of time. Could I ask you to send me an e-mail with any unanswered questions you may have? I will be sure to respond to you tomorrow.”

After the appointment

Tip 5: Follow-up

Call or send a follow-up e-mail within the agreed time set with the client during the meeting. It is very important to fulfil any promises you have communicated with your client and helps to gain your client’s trust.

If during the meeting you aren’t sure how long it is going to take you to respond, do not promise the client you will answer them “right away” or “as soon as possible”.  Instead, set a realistic date and allow some buffer time, in case you need to rely on others to answer the question fully.

50 key words/phrases included in this post are listed with their German and French translations below. 

A print friendly version of this article and word list is also available for your convenience.  

How to Prepare for your First Client Visit

Terms used in this post in English, German and French


[1] ins and outs 

[2] seem daunting 

[3] deal…with

[4] potential client 

[5] technical terminology 

[6] likely questions  

[7] cheat sheet 

[8] for study purposes 

[9] bookmark any online images          .  

 [10] to quickly access them 

[11] use as a reference tool              

[12] work through 

[13] out loud 

[14] feel more confident

[15] gain the trust of

[16] Describe exactly what 

[17] how (to) apply this tip                    .  

[18] home remodelling business          .    

 [19] This can come in handy              

[20] particularly when 

[21] may not be familiar with            

[22] generate a new line of questioning 

[23] you hadn’t considered  

[24] not only …but also…

[25] pre-session questionnaire 

[26] about what territory the meeting will cover 

[27] look up words  

[28] take place 

[29] This option might not be suitable for everyone 

[30] Though 

[31] This could lead to 

[32] expecting you to be available 

[33]You may be able to handle            .          

[34]This option needs to be                  .              

[35] Set realistic language expectations 

[36] right away 

[37] Don’t be shy

[38] We can manage to understand each other 

[39] I hope you don’t mind                    .           

[40] I may interrupt you sometimes in case         

[41] I can speak English but it’s not perfect yet.         

[42] A picture is worth a thousand words 

[43] When you get stuck 

[44] Point to what you mean 

[45] Wait for an approving response from your client to know you’ve got it right. 

[46] However 

[47] There are times when 

[48] To interrupt the client naturally and smoothly 

[49] Ask for clarification by first summarizing 

[50] Instead of spending too much time confused about 


Einblicke und Ausblicke 

scheinen entmutigend zu sein


potenzieller Kunde 


Wahrscheinliche Fragen


für Studienzwecke

setzen Sie ein Lesezeichen für alle Online-Bilder

um schnell auf sie zuzugreifen

Verwendung als Referenzwerkzeug



sich sicherer fühlen

das Vertrauen …zu gewinnen

beschreiben Sie genau, was 

wie Sie diesen Tipp anwenden (können)

Geschäft für Hausumbau                      .              

 Dies kann sich als nützlich erweisen.

insbesondere wenn

Sie sind vielleicht nicht vertraut mit

eine neue Befragungszeile generieren 

Sie hatten nicht bedacht 

nicht nur— sondern auch 

Fragebogen vor der Sitzung

darüber, welches Gebiet das Treffen abdecken wird

Wörter nachschlagen 

findet statt

Diese Option ist möglicherweise nicht für jeden geeignet.


Dies könnte dazu führen, dass 

erwartet, dass Sie verfügbar sind 

vielleicht können Sie mit                      .                      

Diese Option muss sorgfältig geprüft werden.

realistische Erwartungen an die Sprache setzen


Seien Sie nicht schüchtern 

Wir können es schaffen,  uns gegenseitig zu verstehen

Ich hoffe, Sie haben nichts dagegen    . 

Ich kann Sie manchmal unterbrechen, falls 

Ich kann Englisch sprechen, aber es ist noch nicht perfekt.

Ein Bild sagt mehr als tausend Worte  . 

Wenn Sie feststecken 

Zeigen Sie, was Sie meinen 

Warten Sie auf eine genehmigende Antwort Ihres Kunden, um zu wissen, dass Sie richtig liegen. 


Es gibt Zeiten, in denen 

Den Kunden natürlich und reibungslos zu unterbrechen 

Bitten Sie um Klärung, indem Sie zunächst zusammenfassen

Anstatt zu viel Zeit mit der Verwirrung über


les tenants et les aboutissants

semblent décourageantes

traiter …avec

client potential

terminologie technique

questions probables

fiche de fraude (F)

a des fins d’étude

ajoutez les images en ligne à vos favoris

pour y accéder rapidement

utiliser comme outil de référence    

travaillez sur 

à haute voix 

se sentir plus confidant

gagner la confiance de 

décrivez exactement ce que

comment (appliquer) ce conseil            .       

entreprise d’aménagement de l’habitat 

 Cela peut s’avérer utile                      

en particulier lorsque

peut ne pas être familier avec          

générer une nouvelle ligne de questionnement 

vous n’aviez pas envisage 

non seulement …mais aussi 

Questionnaire de pré-session 

sur le territoire qui sera couvert par la réunion

chercher des mots 

à avoir lieu

Cette option peut ne pas convenir à tout le monde. 

bien que

Cela pourrait conduire à  

l’attente de votre disponibilité 

Vous pourriez être en mesure de gérer

Cette option doit être examinée avec soin. 

fixer des attentes réalistes en matière de langues 

tout de suite

ne soyez pas timide

Nous pouvons parvenir à nous comprendre 

J’espère que cela ne vous dérange pas

Je peux parfois vous interrompre au cas où 

Je peux parler anglais mais ce n’est pas parfait

Une image vaut mille mots.                  .                

Quand vous êtes bloqué 

Pointez ce que vous voulez dire

Attendez une réponse positive de votre client pour savoir que vous avez raison. 


Il y a des moments où  

Interrompre le client naturellement et sans heurts

Demandez des éclaircissements en résumant d’abord

Au lieu de passer trop de temps confus sur 

Follow us and keep it for yourself