introduction to business english


Business English – Introduction


More and more ELT professionals are teaching business English as an increasing number of learners prepare to use English in their current or future working environments. Business English is a particular type of ESP (English for Specific Purposes). It shares with other varieties of ESP a focus on a language corpus and particular kinds of communication in specific contexts.

Business English courses tend to be based on the needs of specific groups of learners. Learners want to learn business English for instrumental reasons. Some are preparing for future jobs in which they will use English, whereas others want to learn it to improve their current job performance in dealing with particular partners or customers.

Business English focuses on the language of business that learners need in the workplace. This can take the form of:

 

*                               Everyday language which is used in social situations

*                               General business language which can be used in a variety of business contexts

*                               Context specific language used by a particular industry or profession.

 

The precise mix of language taught in courses will depend upon the needs of particular groups of learners.

Business English courses also focus on business communication skills, for example, making presentations, taking part in meetings, writing reports. Courses tend to give learners the vocabulary and structure to develop these skills and the chance to practise using them.

Business English teachers work in a variety of contexts. They can teach in schools, colleges or universities or they might train employees in-company. Group size can vary from one-to-one teaching to small or larger classes.

Teaching Business English

Apart from teaching young learners , one area in which many people find work is in teaching business English. Like young learners, it’s an area in which – at least in Spain – there’s a demand, and it’s a demand that is not always met by a ready supply of teachers with business qualifications.

For some, it is possible to find sufficient in-company work to be able to do it all privately. Many one-to-one private classes are also with business people. And for others, the language school they work for also sends its teachers out to companies they have contracts with – as is the case, for example, with IH Barcelona, which has an entire “Company Training” department.

No business experience?

In fact, however, having no business experience is not necessarily an impediment to teaching business English, as we found out when we talked to some of the teaching staff here at IH Barcelona.

Liz Wootton did business as part of her degree and worked for a large business news company for 5 years so that the entries on a balance sheet, for example, hold few mysteries for her. But she says that she knows a lot of people that teach business English that don’t have a business background. In other words, if you’ve got the experience, it helps – and definitely put it on your CV -but if you don’t, don’t think that rules you out. Abi Watson , who has no business background to speak of, says “I can see how it would help, but it doesn’t necessarily hinder you”.

Learning the jargon

If it really is a “proper” business English class you are teaching the chances are that you will be following a course book and syllabus, and there are some excellent books on the market which, apart from anything else, brief the teacher on the business background to each unit. Following a course book also means that you can research the topic in advance – and, thanks to the Internet, that shouldn’t prove too difficult. If you also start to take an interest in reading the finance pages of any good newspaper (perhaps again on the Web), then you’re well on your way to at least learning the business jargon.

In some cases, clearly, you may find yourself teaching business English. Celta-course.com webmaster Tom Walton taught business English to Fourth Year Business Management students at one of Barcelona’s universities, doing things like case studies and had students writing business plans – but that’s not the experience of the staff we talked to at IH.

Business – or general English?

In fact in many “business English” classes they actually want general rather than business English. “They know the technical terms already,” says Harpreet Kaur . “What they want is greater fluency, to be able to use it socially and so on.” In the large Internet firm Harpreet worked for last year some of her students also wanted to be able to put English on their CVs – so that they could move up or, in some cases, on.

One thing that makes a business class different from the average language school class, says Liz, is that the students are “studying English because they need it for work – not for an exam”, and so it’s the teacher’s task to give them that language.

In Abi’s experience, there was “not that much difference” between the business and “normal” classes she has taught. “You may do slightly different tasks but the real difference that I’ve found is in the group dynamics.” In language school classes you will probably find more homogeneous levels, and everyone is equal – whereas a business class could involve very different levels within the class, and perhaps the boss and the secretary and so on, which you have to deal carefully with.

Liz always goes to her company classes “with completely different lesson plans” as you sometimes turn up to find most of them away at a conference. “You don’t know if there’s going to be one or five, the strong people or the weak ones, the ones that want to do speaking or writing… You have to go prepared to adapt to who’s there, the mood on that day,” Liz says. Things like that can make teaching a business English class more difficult than the actual business English itself, Abi and Liz agreed.

Teaching Business English

Apart from teaching young learners , one area in which many people find work is in teaching business English. Like young learners, it’s an area in which – at least in Spain – there’s a demand, and it’s a demand that is not always met by a ready supply of teachers with business qualifications.

For some, it is possible to find sufficient in-company work to be able to do it all privately. Many one-to-one private classes are also with business people. And for others, the language school they work for also sends its teachers out to companies they have contracts with – as is the case, for example, with IH Barcelona, which has an entire “Company Training” department.

No business experience?

In fact, however, having no business experience is not necessarily an impediment to teaching business English, as we found out when we talked to some of the teaching staff here at IH Barcelona.

Liz Wootton did business as part of her degree and worked for a large business news company for 5 years so that the entries on a balance sheet, for example, hold few mysteries for her. But she says that she knows a lot of people that teach business English that don’t have a business background. In other words, if you’ve got the experience, it helps – and definitely put it on your CV -but if you don’t, don’t think that rules you out. Abi Watson , who has no business background to speak of, says “I can see how it would help, but it doesn’t necessarily hinder you”.

Learning the jargon

If it really is a “proper” business English class you are teaching the chances are that you will be following a course book and syllabus, and there are some excellent books on the market which, apart from anything else, brief the teacher on the business background to each unit. Following a course book also means that you can research the topic in advance – and, thanks to the Internet, that shouldn’t prove too difficult. If you also start to take an interest in reading the finance pages of any good newspaper (perhaps again on the Web), then you’re well on your way to at least learning the business jargon.

In some cases, clearly, you may find yourself teaching business English. Celta-course.com webmaster Tom Walton taught business English to Fourth Year Business Management students at one of Barcelona’s universities, doing things like case studies and had students writing business plans – but that’s not the experience of the staff we talked to at IH.

Business – or general English?

In fact in many “business English” classes they actually want general rather than business English. “They know the technical terms already,” says Harpreet Kaur . “What they want is greater fluency, to be able to use it socially and so on.” In the large Internet firm Harpreet worked for last year some of her students also wanted to be able to put English on their CVs – so that they could move up or, in some cases, on.

One thing that makes a business class different from the average language school class, says Liz, is that the students are “studying English because they need it for work – not for an exam”, and so it’s the teacher’s task to give them that language.

In Abi’s experience, there was “not that much difference” between the business and “normal” classes she has taught. “You may do slightly different tasks but the real difference that I’ve found is in the group dynamics.” In language school classes you will probably find more homogeneous levels, and everyone is equal – whereas a business class could involve very different levels within the class, and perhaps the boss and the secretary and so on, which you have to deal carefully with.

Liz always goes to her company classes “with completely different lesson plans” as you sometimes turn up to find most of them away at a conference. “You don’t know if there’s going to be one or five, the strong people or the weak ones, the ones that want to do speaking or writing… You have to go prepared to adapt to who’s there, the mood on that day,” Liz says. Things like that can make teaching a business English class more difficult than the actual business English itself, Abi and Liz agreed.

Do you need a business background to teach business English?

“No,” says Bob Flory, head of Company Training at IH Barcelona. “Having one is an advantage,” he says, “but unless you’re working in a very particular area of business, requiring specialist knowledge, or teaching business skills such as giving presentations, it’s not really necessary to have been in business in order to be able to teach business people language skills.”

Partly that’s because a lot of teaching ‘business English’ in fact involves teaching English in companies to people who use English for work, rather than for ‘business’. “You’ll often find you have quite a range of people in different jobs in the same group and you’re teaching them to communicate effectively in English rather than providing them with technical terms they are probably already familiar with,” Bob says.

 

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