Teaching Business English


In an increasingly globalised world, being able to speak English in an international context has become an essential skill. English is the language of international business and teachers need to be ready to teach professionals who need to improve their language as quickly and as effectively as possible. Teachers need to consider some points when approaching company lessons and in this blog post we have outlined some of the most important ones.

1. Why is a company hiring an English teacher?

Students in companies are professionals who really value their time. Because of this, it is essential to know before starting teaching them what their real needs are. Companies are usually very aware of what they get back for their money and we need to bear in mind that a language school is just another provider of services. In company lessons, learning objectives can be very specific and they are related to communicative skills, rather than pedagogic objectives: giving talks to an international audience, negotiating with a company from a specific country, writing technical handbooks or just being able to take part in informal conversations after a meeting. The best way to get to know about students’ needs is to give them a questionnaire in which we can ask them about communicative objectives, length of the course, availability of time, etc.

2. Setting objectives

The next step is setting SMART objectives. They need to be Specific (both the teacher and the students need to know exactly what they want to achieve by the end of the course), Measurable (there needs to be clear improvement in their English and students need to be better able to communicate in the contexts where they work), Achievable (students need to be realistic about how much they can improve!), Relevant (company students are usually extremely busy and they don’t like wasting time) and Time-bound (always be very honest about how much can be done over the time the course lasts).

3. Choosing materials

The first decision a teacher has to make is whether they should use a coursebook or design specific tailor-made material for the course. They both have advantages and disadvantages. For example, coursebooks save time, they generally look professional and they include a lot of extra material. On the other hand, they can become quickly outdated and they might include lots of irrelevant material. Tailor-made materials can be much more relevant, updated and suit students’ needs much better, but they can also be very time consuming to produce, and they might not look as professional.

4. Using Translation

Very often using translation in the classroom resembles what the students have to do in their real job and it is therefore a very useful and relevant tool we can use in class. Students often bring their own material to the classroom to translate, for example emails they need to write or technical brochures. That’s a great opportunity to raise students’ awareness of the genre specific language used and to analyse language in context. However, it is not enough to help students translate documents; teachers also need to help students analyse texts from a linguistic point of view.

5. Role-plays and simulations

Two of the most powerful tools teachers can use in company classes are role-plays and simulations. They are not exactly the same: in a role-play, students take on a specific role and they behave according to the information they get on role cards. Simulations, on the other hand, are activities where students are themselves simulating relevant situations. In both cases they practise the language in real-life contexts, exposing themselves to the situations in which they will need to speak English in a safe environment. An essential aspect of these activities is feedback; students need to get detailed feedback on their performance in order to be able to improve. It might be a good idea to record their performance and then analyse it together with the students.

6. Using Corpora

Corpora (a collection of real examples of spoken and written language stored on a computer) can be extremely useful in company classes. One of the disadvantages of the language used in coursebooks is that it isn’t authentic; teachers can use real and relevant examples (chunks) of language to teach grammar or vocabulary by just typing what they need and analysing it with the students.

7. What English?

What English should we teach? Students need to use English in a variety of contexts and, consequently, the answer to that questions is that students should learn Business English as a Lingua Franca. BELF is a concept that describes the common language two speakers choose to use to communicate in a business setting. Effective communication is the key element in BELF and teachers need to teach that in class. That means giving feedback on aspects of language that can lead to a communication breakdown or teaching accommodation skills (adapting their English to their international interlocutor). When teaching business English, it is far more important to teach how to communicate in effective and internationally understandable ways than to teach students how to imitate a native speaker.

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