John Hughes is an author of Business Result. The new Starter level of this series will be launched in November at the BESIG 2013 conference in Prague. John will also be running a workshop on teaching low level Business English at BESIG called ‘Communicating much much more with a whole lot less!’
As a new teacher in the early nineties I often used to hear the widely-held view from more experienced colleagues that: “You don’t teach Business English at lower levels. The students just need to learn the basics. It isn’t business.” By the late nineties this view had rapidly altered; it soon became accepted that students at Pre-Intermediate level did in fact need English to help make telephone calls, write emails, meet people and make brief presentations. Logically, it then followed that Elementary students in companies also needed lessons with work-based English that focussed on ‘getting the job done’. And nowadays, Business English courses for beginner students are the norm rather than the exception.
However, even if we now agree that Business English can be taught at any level, teaching lower level Business English still presents us with its own set of challenges:
1. Teach to your student’s real level
When your school placement test puts a Business English student at a low level such as Elementary, it’s easy to forget that this same student is at a very high level in terms of their own subject-knowledge. Your business student might not be able to talk about what they had for breakfast in English but they can often describe quite complex aspects of their work in English. Whatever course syllabus or book you are following, give every opportunity for the student to make use of his/her existing job-related English.
2. Be economical
Business people by definition are people who appreciate efficiency. They want to get the job done in the quickest, most cost-effective way. Your approach at lower levels can be similarly economical. If there’s one word or phrase that will get the student’s message across, then – in general – teach that one way; avoid spending any more time on teaching five or six other ways of saying the same thing.
3. Repackage the language
Students at this level need so much recycling and revision of language. However, when we re-present language from the previous lessons, there’s a danger that students don’t feel they are making tangible progress. The trick is to ‘repackage’ the previously taught language. In other words, make sure the language reappears but within a different form; for example, that it reappears in a business text or re-present it the second time by using video.
4. Less is more
Having repackaged the previous language, we need to introduce new language alongside it. In an OUP blog post by Andrew Dilger on a similar subject, he suggests the balance is 60:40. So 60% of the lesson is recycling language and 40% focusses on new language. In fact I’d take this further and suggest that for many Business English teaching situations the balance is more like 70:30 or even 80:20 for classes where – due to work pressures – students have limited time for study.
5. What’s the ‘takeaway’?
In business, ‘the takeaway’ from a meeting is what you learned or ‘took away’ from the discussion. Similarly, students will feel more motivated if they leave your lesson with something tangible that they can take away and use. One way to do this is to find out when your student is next using English at work and give them something to use. For example, if they have a meeting, provide some useful language – even a single phrase – for them to try out at that next meeting. In the following lesson, find out if your student successfully managed to use the new language.
Can you add any more tips on teaching lower level Business English?