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English for HR Managers: Jargon

Course participants at The London School of English

One of the main challenges for Human Resources managers is the jargon they must understand and use. Our English for Human Resources course helps HR Managers and HR professionals understand and use the specific vocabulary of HR. Here, trainer Richard introduces some of this jargon, and describes some of the practical techniques used on our English Human Resources course that help course participants learn and practise in real contexts.

One resource that trainers on the HR Managers Course normally use is a book called Key Terms for People Managers, now in its third edition. The first edition was called Key Terms for Personnel Managers; the second Key Terms for Human Resource Managers. This change in title shows how jargon is constantly changing in this specialist field.


Jargon is defined as the specific language of a community, usually a professional one. Footballers, engineers, doctors, lawyers and even trainers use words and phrases that are special for their jobs and which sometimes are only understood by them. In some languages the equivalent word for jargon may also include the informal language of the street, but in English we use a separate word for this: slang.

English for Human Resources

Most industries have their own rich jargon, but the language used by human resource managers is probably the fastest changing.

Some HR managers are specialists, only working in one area of their profession, such as reward, formerly called compensation and benefits, which deals with salary and the extras of a job, such as a company car or gym membership, known as fringe benefits or less formally as perks. Most, though, are generalists who deal with all areas that affect employees in an organisation. This might be recruitment, finding people for jobs.

As part of our English for HR course, course participants roleplay interviews with job applicants. These applicants are participants on the course for young business professionals, English for Work & Careers, who either have recently left college or university or are working in their first job. After the interviews, the HR managers give feedback to the young business professionals on their performance in the interviews and tips on how to improve. The HR managers also comment on the Curriculum Vitae, or resumes (American English), that the young business professionals have provided, which list their education and experience.

The least pleasant part of an HR managers job is dismissal, which means that an organisation no longer wishes to employ someone. This might be due to an individual’s performance. They are frequently late or absent; they fail to meet targets or do not get on with their manager or colleagues. In such cases, the informal terms firing or sacking are frequently used. But when it actually comes to giving the bad news, the expressions we’re releasing you or we’re letting you go are used, which sound much better, making the employee feel like a prisoner who is being set free. Sometimes, though, the worker loses their job because the position itself is no longer needed, due for example to technological change, or the organisation does not have the money to pay for it, owing for example to bad market conditions. In American English, the easily understood term eliminating the position is used but in British English we talk about redundancy. Redundancy means that somebody or something has no use. It can be used about language as well. Free, as in free gift is an example of redundancy in language because, of course, a gift is always free, so the word ‘free’ is not needed.

A visit to the employment tribunal

On our HR managers course, the participants usually visit the Employment Tribunal in Holborn, Central London, where cases are heard regarding employees who feel they have lost their jobs for no good reason. This is called unfair dismissal. Such cases are heard by a panel of three people made up of someone with a background in management; someone from a trade union (the organisation that represents workers) and a lawyer who leads or chairs the case. Something that frequently comes up in these cases is bullying. A bully (from bull) is a person who treats others badly often because they have the power to do so: a manager, for example. In many countries this is called mobbing, an example of an English word that has travelled and is used in a different way in foreign countries than in England. This change of meaning happens quite frequently.  Another example is paperboard, which is the term employed in France for a flip chart used in presentations.

Outside speakers

To give the HR course participants a better understanding of the cases, and a more general picture of employment rights and conditions, there is usually an outside speaker on the course: a lawyer who gives a talk on employment law in England. Among other things, they may explain that the usual amount of money an unhappy ex-employee can receive in compensation is around four thousand pounds. Where discrimination can be shown, however, there is no limit, and sectors such as banking sometimes have to pay out many millions in compensation. Outside speakers also give talks on other HR topics as well.     

Other areas of HR management

Also covered on our HR course are training and development, which focuses on improving employees’ skills and performance, employer branding, which concerns making an organisation attractive to new hires, and dealing with the unions that represent workers. All of these, like every other area of HR, are marked by frequent changes in jargon: new buzzwords that are soon out of date and replaced by new ones.


  • Resource (noun): something, such as employees or materials, that is used to do an activity better
  • Field (noun)a special area of study or work
  • Equivalent (adjective): equal in meaning (also value, amount, function)
  • Performance (noun): the way you do a job
  • Compensation (noun): something, typically money, given to someone who has been treated badly in some way
  • Discrimination (noun): to treat someone badly because of their race, religion, political beliefs, disability (=a physical or mental issue), age or gender (=male, female or other)
  • Buzzword (noun):a word or phrase, often an item of jargon, that is fashionable at a particular time or in a particular context (such as ecotourism in travel)

This post was written by Richard, one of our trainers at The London School of English.

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