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An introduction to Business English

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John Hughes, co-author of Business Result, discusses the unique challenges of teaching business English. John will be hosting a webinar on this topic on 20th September.

In the first in a series of monthly webinars dedicated to teaching Business English, I’ll begin with an overview of what business English is and how teachers who are new to this field of English Language Teaching (ELT) can approach it. Here’s a brief look at some of the key issues we’ll be dealing with:

Career backgrounds to teaching business English

The majority of people entering ‘business English’ tend to be teachers with experience of teaching general English and so their concerns are that they don’t know much about business. For many, the term ‘business’ feels somewhat alien. However, it shouldn’t be since the dictionary definition of ‘business’ is ‘the buying or selling of products or services for money’. We are all involved in that every day of our lives.

A smaller but significant minority of business English teachers are those people with a work history in business or business training who move into ELT and so their need is for language knowledge rather than content knowledge. For these people, a more generalized training course in language teaching and language awareness is probably the best advice.

What makes the business English classroom different?

Perhaps the best way to contrast business English with general English is to understand that there is a shift away from the teacher or the school curriculum setting the aims of the course to a course where the business learner sets the aims in conjunction with the teacher. Throughout a course the teacher needs to know what the student needs to deal with in the language (e.g. sales, finance, logistics), how the student communicates (e.g. face-to-face, on the phone) and who s/he communicates with (e.g. clients, colleagues). Business English learners (and their bosses) tend to be less forgiving if you are teaching something which doesn’t appear to have instant relevance to these kinds of daily communication needs.

Expert to expert

In his brilliant book One To One (LTP), Peter Wilberg talks about roles in the business English classroom and identifies the importance of the relationship between the teacher and the learner as a relationship of two ‘equals’. In other words, the teacher is the ‘language expert’ but, in most cases, the learner is the ‘business expert’ – or certainly the expert in his/her field. What this means is that the teacher can’t approach a classroom with the idea that s/he will just pass on knowledge.  It’s more of a sharing process with the learner providing the ‘professional content’ and the teacher providing the ‘language’. For me, this has always been the key attraction to business English teaching. You can learn so much about other subjects. In my time as a business English teacher I’ve learnt about subjects ranging from marketing wine, helicopter manufacturing, football player transfer laws and rocket science.

That’s just a taste of what we’ll be covering in my webinar and you can also read a longer ‘Introduction to teaching Business English’ article at the Business Result teacher’s site (you need to log in to access the materials). See you online on the 20th September. Register for the webinar here.

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Author: Oxford University Press ELT

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