Teaching Business English

Is teaching Business English similar to teaching English for Special Purposes (ESP)?

Comparing ESP to Business English teaching is controversial in itself. Some argue that ESP is in a category of its own, distinct from Business English. However ESP does involve particular technical or specialised elements comparable with Business English. Think of careers in the motor vehicle industry, engineering, law or medicine. These fields require certain specialised technical skills developed from unique training, yet they still include business practices and procedures present in other business areas. Even if ESP is dealt with as a completely distinct category, its goals in language development are the same as in Business English, i.e. learning English to perform comfortably at work.

What kinds of business skills are covered when teaching Business English?

Business English teaching focuses on developing both the language and the style of typical business skills. The student may well have these skills in his or her own language, but Business English teaching stresses the difference in style required for conducting business in English. The focus is then on courteous language that attracts, establishes and sustains good business. These skills are primarily for dealing with customers, clients and colleagues.

What are these specific skills?

Speaking skills: telephone conversations, negotiations, presentations, meetings and socialising in the work place.
Workplace writing skills: minutes, emails, faxes, reports, letters, memos, etc.
General business areas: general management, human resources, marketing, finance and administration.

What qualifications are required for Business English teaching? Do I need to have a business background?

Both your academic and teaching experience in ELT are a requirement for teaching Business English. Business English teaching certificates from university or teacher training courses are an advantage, but not required for teaching Business English. Business English is not only for teachers or trainers with business backgrounds. While that is ideal, an interest in business is the main prerequisite for being a successful Business English teacher. While teaching Business English, you are going to acquire a wealth of information about the business world, not only for your pupils, but also for yourself.

Are there particular lesson types or structures which are well suited for Business English teaching?

The following lesson formats are useful: one to one lessons, group lessons, seminars or workshops (7 days maximum), in-depth short courses (4-10 weeks). In comparison with General English, Business English is usually more flexible in its planning and delivery, and so the teaching will easily accommodate the work requirements of your students.

Which techniques are specific to Business English teaching?

Business English teaching is particularly centred on interactive, student-focused teaching methods. Students should actively participate in communication tasks which can be transferred to their real work situations. For example, brainstorming and role-play appear to be quite beneficial to the Business English setting, mimicking situations that are identical to the students’ real-life work circumstances. Work during class time is important as homework may sometimes not play a significant role in student advancement. Business English coursebooks (and any original material you use) ought to be selected very carefully to satisfy both the language and skill requirements of the participants. Finally, you can use authentic materials from the students’ own business work, for example their reports, emails etc.

Useful Business English resources from Macmillan

Business English Online

Business exams practice

Business English basics

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