Business English

Business English

Business English intimidates some instructors who don’t have a business background. Instructors have told me they feel it’s making language “fancy” or “putting on airs” unnecessarily. Where there is a certain amount of posturing in business, that’s more business culture than the language itself. So, to try and demystify some of the ideas around teaching business English, I’ll share some of my favorite worksheets here. 

To start, let’s answer a really basic, but important question; What is business English?

What is Business English?

Topic

When we say "business English", we often just mean we are talking about work; what we do, where we work, how it's going, and the challenges we face.

Vocabulary

The words we use in a workspace depend a lot on our industry. Compare the terms used by doctors to those used by bankers for example.

Formality

Some languages are more clear about the difference between formal, and casual speech, but levels of politeness definitely exists in English as well.

Business English Example Mechanic

A mechanic is a great example. In his case, it would be a little strange to use very formal language. Of course, he runs his own business, and makes a lot of money. He uses special words related to ordering parts, supply chain, inventory, billing, scheduling, etc. He probably also hires an accountant to help him with payroll and taxes, and likely a lawyer too because people are always suing people. He’s a business person.

Business English Example Banker

Now think of a banker. This is what most people think of when we say “business”. In this case, the banker needs to use more formal language. When I give this guy all my money, I want to be sure he’s going to be serious and take good care of it. I expect him to speak politely and professionally, and so do the people around him. His level of formality is high, but he still uses lots of special terms related to his work, just like the mechanic. 

How do you teach Business English?

Identify the students’ needs
Many students take a class because they need English for work, or for a special purpose. Find out if they need English for regular communication with coworkers, email correspondence, a trip abroad, or a special function. By “special function” I mean one particular thing. For example, a taxi driver may need English for taking and giving directions and charging fares. A sales person might want to perfect a presentation. That’s where you come in. 

Business English for Meetings
Business English for Engineering
Business English for Accounting

Go beyond the book
There are tons of books out there and most of them are a good start. Remember, books were published to appeal to a general audience. Bring in your own ideas and more importantly rely on your students’ experience. 

Remember: You’re Not Teaching Business
A common concern for teachers is that they don’t have experience in the topic at hand. “I don’t know about banking!” Are you teaching banking? No. You’re teaching English. Do not confuse teaching the language for teaching the topic. Your students already know about business, just help them with English. 

In my case, I’ve taught English for adults here in Tokyo for a long time. 99% of the time students don’t actually want to talk about work. They mostly just want to communicate. So relax, get to know your students and enjoy yourself. 

Teaching Business English

Resources
There are lots of books and training programs out there. This book helped me get started: Teaching Business English. It gave me some great ideas and templates. 

Materials: Teleconferences

Other

Most of the materials and programs I design, I’m not able to share here as I’ve made them for specific clients. However, I am currently developing a course on negotiations that I’ll be sure to share with you soon. 

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