Javier runs a small business and has to communicate with his suppliers in China and his clients in France, Belgium and Italy.
Kati is a consultant and works on international projects with different teams of people from all around the world.
Rashida is a board member of a multinational corporation and regularly meets with fellow board members from different countries.
Soo Jin’s company often sends their employees on training days where the training takes place in English.
Giovanni works mainly with Italians in his Florence head office but there is a new CFO from Germany who doesn’t speak a lot of Italian.
Whatever the context, it is undeniable that English is now widely used as the global language of trade and of business, a lingua franca that is used as a tool to communicate across borders between people who do not share a first language.
More and more learners are signing up for English courses to help them get a better job or to perform their job more effectively, and not just to talk about their family, their recent holiday and their favourite movie. And the specific nature of their needs is a common feature of Business English courses.
With this increased demand for Business English classes, General English teachers might consider making the move into teaching Business English but might have some concerns about their ability to do so.
So what do we need to know about teaching Business English?
What Business English is
- Business English covers a very broad area, and can include topics from Human Resources to Product Development spanning a range of industries.
- Business English students have signed up with a specific need for English. So it is crucial that trainers conduct a thorough needs analysis with their learners and use the needs analysis as a basis to tailor the course to suit them.
- The person paying for the course might not be the person taking the course. So it is important to take into account the needs of both parties and consider how as a trainer, you could demonstrate a return on investment for the company/person paying for the course.
- There are six major business communication skills that often feature in business coursebooks: meetings, negotiations, presentations, telephoning, socialising and business writing (e.g. email writing). Depending on the needs of their learners, Business English teachers would help their learners develop the target business skill by helping them with the needed language (vocabulary, structures, pronunciation, discourse) and also by helping learners develop the micro-skills needed in performing the macro-skill.
- Communicative competence is often prioritized over linguistic competence. English is a communication tool in performing a task. So it is more important to get a message across effectively than to perfect one’s use of the present perfect.
- Business English students who are already in the workforce often have a clearer idea of why they need English and might be more motivated as a result.
- Many Business English students will be using English in cross-cultural contexts and so intercultural skills should be factored into any communication skills training.
- Business English learners might have a limited time to attend classes and so it is important that they are trained to be autonomous and continue learning outside the classroom.
- Business English trainers are moving from being ‘knowledge givers’ towards being facilitators and coaches.
What teaching Business English does not have to be
- Teaching Business English does not have to be intimidating for those without business experience.
Many teachers who are thinking about moving into the sphere of teaching Business English sometimes worry about their lack of business experience. Business English trainers are hired as experts in the use of language and experts in communication. While having business experience could help, it is impossible to have experience in all the different industries.
Instead, it is essential to have a healthy dose of curiosity and to do some basic research into the potential clients’ companies and business in order to be able to better understand the topics that might be relevant to the learners and to better be able to ask questions in class that can support and extend what learners are saying about their work.
- Teaching Business English does not have to be about teaching jargon.
Learners often come with knowledge of the jargon and terminology commonly used in their own industries. What they do need is the ability to negotiate meaning and communicate effectively.
- Teaching Business English does not have to be boring.
Activities can be fun and motivating whilst being relevant and useful.
- Business English does not have to be only for students who already possess a high level of English.
Business English can be for beginners too. While the contexts take place in the business world, the language can span different levels.
- Teaching Business English to low-level students does not have to mean teaching simpler concepts.
Students who have a low level of Business English do not have a low level of intelligence. They are just as able to consider complex issues and have deep discussions but they might need some support with the language needed to express themselves.
Why you should consider teaching Business English
- It expands your repertoire
- It gives you a chance to make a difference to someone’s career
- You can charge a higher fee.
- You can go freelance and introduce more flexibility into your work.
- It opens your mind when seeing English used in contexts hugely different from the ones you are used to.
- It helps you improve your communication skills too.
What to do if you are considering moving into the field of Business English teaching
- Speak to Business English trainers in your school or your online personal learning network.
- Get qualified! Sign up to do a Trinity Cert IBET (with me!)
- Improve your own business communication skills by creating/finding opportunities to practise those skills.
- Join the Business English Special Interest Group (BESIG) of IATEFL, attend their webinars and conferences and learn from colleagues in the industry.