Introduction:

When you meet work colleagues or business clients in a meeting or in any other business situation you normally just don't talk about business. It's very common to talk about social (non-business) topics as well. Sometimes this can be a very short conversation (what we call in English 'small talk'), at other times it can be for longer.

There are many different non-business topics which you can talk about (e.g. football, movies, the situation with the economy etc...). One of most common topics is talking about people you both know. What they are doing, how they are etc... This is not difficult to do if you know the English vocabulary and phrases used to do it. And this is what you'll learn here.

In this online exercise, you'll learn phrases and vocabulary used in English to talk and ask about what is happening to other people (work colleagues/co-workers or friends and family). Although the vocabulary in this exercise is focused on business, it can also be used when talking or asking about friends and family.

Click here to see more online exercises on social English vocabulary


Exercise: Talking about work colleagues

Read the following conversation after a meeting has finished between two work colleagues (Jill and Andy) who work in different countries. They are telling each other about what is happening with their colleagues.

From the context, try to guess what the meaning of the words/phrases in bold are. Then do the quiz at the end to check if you are right.

Jill:'I think that was a successful meeting. Are you flying back to London now?'

Andy:'Yeah. By the way, Simon sends his regards.'

Jill:'It's nice of him to do that. Tell him I said hello as well. How is he at the moment?'

Andy:'He's doing well. He just got married.'

Jill:'Really?'

Andy:'Yeah, he got married last month and his wife is already pregnant.'

Jill:'I'm surprised, I didn't even know that he was seeing anybody.'

Andy: 'He was going out with Lisa for over three years before they got married. He would have liked to come today, but he is snowed under with work. But he's always very busy. Have you heard from Peter recently?'

Jill:'No I haven't. He's not working in the same department or office as me now, so our paths don't cross as much as in the past. To be honest, it's been ages since I saw him.'

Andy:'I used to work with Peter. He's a good guy.'

Jill:'You know that he got promoted and is running the European Sales Department?'

Andy:'I heard about that from one of my colleagues back in London, George.'

Jill:'George. I haven't seen him in ages either. What's he up to now?'

Andy:'You didn't hear. He's moved on. He left the company 3 months ago. I should say that he was asked to leave, if you know what I mean.'

Jill:'It doesn't surprise me. I worked with him on a project 2 years ago, and he's just so lazy. Has Jennifer replaced him?'

Andy:'You haven't heard? Jennifer was diagnosed with cancer two months ago. So she's on sick leave.'

Jill:'Sorry to hear that. I have to say that I'm shocked. I bumped into her the last time I was over in London in the street and she looked healthy. I hope she gets better.'

Andy:'It was a shock to all of us. From what I hear the treatment is going well.'


What next

Well done for reading the text and learning the meaning of each of the words/phrase in bold. If you don't want to forgot what they mean and want to be able to say them correctly, I'd like you to do one more thing which won't take you long.

Answer the questions in the below quiz with the talking about colleagues vocabulary you've just learnt. Doing this will make sure that you both remember what they mean and that you'll use them in the future.



Quiz:

Below is a definition/description of each of the words in bold from the above text. Now choose the word/phrase from the question's selection box which you believe answers each question. Only use one word/phrase once. Click on the "Check Answers" button at the bottom of the quiz to check your answers.

When the answer is correct, two icons will appear next to the question. The first is an Additional Information Icon "". Click on this for extra information on the word/phrase and for a translation. The second is a Pronunciation Icon "". Click on this to listen to the pronunciation of the word/phrase and to do a pronunciation speaking test.

1. Another way to say that somebody has got a lot of work, is
         

Snowed under:
(adjective) 'to be snowed under' is a commonly used informal adjective which means 'to have a lot of work to do'. It is often used as an excuse or reason why somebody can't go to or do something (e.g. a meeting, report). The adjective is often followed by 'at the moment' or 'with work', e.g. 'He can't come to the meeting. He's snowed under with work'. Non-native speakers may not understand this adjective. In Spanish: "estar agobiada/desbordada de trabajo".

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Snowed under:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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2. A phrase that is used as a reply when somebody tells you sad news, is
         

Sorry to hear that:
(phrase) 'sorry to hear that' is a polite way to reply to someone who has informed you of something sad or bad that has happened to them or someone you both know. It is normally followed by sentence where you say that you hope the situation improves, e.g. 'sorry to hear that. I hope he finds a job soon'. In Spanish: "lamento que".

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Sorry to hear that:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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3. Another way to say have you 'had contact or spoken to' a person, is
         

Heard from:
(verb & prep) 'to hear from' is used for direct contact with a person. It is not only for spoken contact, but also for written contact, e.g. 'I heard from him last week, he sent me an email'. It is different to 'to hear about', which means to hear news/gossip about somebody or something. In Spanish: "oir a".

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Heard from:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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4. A similar way to say 'I expected it' or 'I'm not shocked' when you hear some news, is
         

It doesn't surprise me:
(phrase) 'it doesn't surprise me' is a commonly used phrase. It is used when you hear some news about somebody or something, e.g. 'did you hear about the shop closing down?' 'I'm not surprised, it was always empty'. It is similar but not actually the same as 'I expected it' or 'I'm not shocked'. 'shocked' is used in more serious situations than 'surprised'. In Spanish: "no me sorprende".

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It doesn't surprise me:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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5. An expression that means you don't have an opportunity to meet/see somebody any more, is
         

Our paths don't cross:
(phrase) 'our paths don't cross' is a commonly used phrase that means because of changes in work or social life (e.g. 'somebody has moved to a different office' or 'somebody doesn't go to a pub any more') two people are longer in a situation where they meet or see each other, e.g. 'how's Fred?' 'Since I moved to my new department, our paths don't cross any more. So I don't know'. In Spanish: "no nos encontramos".

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Our paths don't cross:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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6. A phrasal verb that means that you meet somebody by accident/without being planned, is
         

Bumped into:
(phrasal verb) 'to bump into somebody' is a commonly used phrasal verb that in this context means that you meet somebody you know without arranging or planning to do it before, e.g. 'I bumped into Sally when I was leaving the building. I didn't know she worked in this office'. It is a transitive phrasal verb (it has an object) and the name of the person always follows the phrasal verb, e.g. 'he bumped into Sally'. In Spanish: "tropezarse/encontrarse con".

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Bumped into:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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7. A different way to say 'what's he doing now?', is
         

What's he up to now:
(phrase) 'what's he up to now' is used as a question to ask how somebody's work or private life is, e.g. 'what's she up to now?' 'She got married 3 months ago and is still working with us'. If answering this question you shouldn't use 'up to' in your answer (see above example). In Spanish: "qué tal le va".

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What's he up to now:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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8. When somebody has obtained a higher or better position in a company, they have been
         

Promoted:
(verb) 'to be promoted' is when somebody has been given a higher position in a company than their current position. It is normally given as a reward for doing a good job, e.g. 'he used to be a supervisor, but he was promoted last year and is now the manager'. In the context of talking about colleagues, the verb is always used in the passive form, i.e. 'to be promoted'. In Spanish: "ascender".

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Promoted:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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9. A formal way to say 'he asked me to say hello', is
         

Sends his regards:
(phrase) 'to send his/her/their regards' is a very polite and formal way of saying 'he asked me to say hello'. It is used when someone who is unable to meet a person/people asks a friend or a colleague to say hello for them when they meet that person/people, e.g. 'Sally is sorry she can't come, but she sends her regards'. It's a very good phrase to use. In Spanish: "mandar saludos/recuerdos".

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Sends his regards:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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10. Another way to say that somebody's life or career is going fine or good, is
         

He's doing well:
(phrase) 'to be doing well' is a commonly used answer to a question like 'how is she?'. This answer literally means that somebody's life is going 'well' or 'good'. But because it is not professional to talk in a business situation about your problems, this answer is often used when in reality things are not going well or good. In Spanish: "está bien/se va bien".

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He's doing well:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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11. A phrase which means 'I haven't seem him in a long time', is
         

It's been ages since I saw him:
(phrase) 'it's been ages since I saw him' is an informal way of saying 'I haven't seen him in a long time'. In Spanish: "no le he visto en mucho tiempo".

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It's been ages since I saw him:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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12. An informal way of saying that somebody has left their job for another one, is
         

Moved on:
(phrasal verb) 'to move on' is an informal way of saying to leave one job for another. It's not used if the person that has left or resigned from their job has not found another job (i.e. 'is unemployed'). It is an intransitive phrasal verb (it doesn't have a direct object), e.g. 'she's not working here any more, she moved on'. In Spanish: "irse de la empresa".

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Moved on:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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13. A verb and preposition that is used when telling somebody 'news or information' about a person, is
         

Heard about:
(verb & prep) 'to hear about' means to hear news/gossip/information about somebody or something, e.g. 'did you hear about what the president did?'. It is not used for direct contact (spoken or written) with a person. For this, we use 'to hear from'. In Spanish: "oir/saber".

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Heard about:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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14. A word that is used to show that somebody is surprised with something they have been told, is
         

Really:
(exclamation) When 'really' is used as an exclamation it is generally used to mean that somebody is 'surprised' with something they have just been told, e.g. 'I'm going to San Francisco next week' 'Really?'. It is used in this context when hearing both good and bad news. But it can also be used to mean that somebody 'doubts' what they have just been told, e.g. 'it will be finished by Tuesday' 'Really?'. The change in its meaning, depends on how it is said. If the last syllable 'ly' is stressed (said in a higher tone), it means 'surprise'. If the first syllable 'real' is stressed, it means 'doubt'. In Spanish: "de verdad".

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Really:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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Practice

Now that you understand the new vocabulary, practise it by creating your own sentences with the new words/phrases.