The idea of teaching business English is intimidating for lots of TEFL teachers. It’s a common misconception that business English classes are more challenging to teach than general English if you don’t have a business background. However, teaching business English is like any other English – you’re just supporting your learners to develop the skills that will allow them to use English more successfully in a specific context.
The most important thing to do at the start of your course is to make a detailed analysis of their language needs. Get their input on this – find out in which professional context they need to use English and what they’re hoping to achieve in the classes. Lots of big companies operate globally, or within different European countries where the lingua franca is English. Do your students need to improve their telephone skills or email language? Do they need to give presentations in English, or negotiate with clients, or chair meetings? Are they managing a team in a different country and using English to do so? Content page It’s important to get this information early on – your students will be more engaged and enthusiastic if the classes cater to their needs.
Use your needs analysis to create a clear set of learning objectives within set time frames. Business students are busy people, but they’re also used to meeting targets, so creating and sharing a syllabus with the students will help to motivate them. It’s also a good idea to do an ‘appraisal’ with your students on a monthly basis to keep them on track for achieving their aims by the end of the course.
The level of the class will dictate how business focused the material is. If you’re dealing with intermediate students and above, it’s fine to keep the focus on business English, but if their level is lower, it’s worth remembering that the fine details of business language will be lost on them if they’re struggling with general English skills. With beginners, it’s a good idea to break up the business focus and spend a part of each lesson on grammar – getting to grips with basic grammatical concepts and expanding lexical chunks of language will help them to advance their skills and feel like they’re improving quickly.
Business students are taking classes in addition to doing a full working day, so they’re sacrificing their lunch-hour to come to class, or attending class after a long day in the office. It’s important to keep the energy levels high and make sure the class is entertaining. Keep reading and writing exercises to a minimum in class – these can be completed as homework. Try to ensure lots of student talking time with roleplays, collaborative work and speaking in pairs. It’s also good to be aware of your students’ reactions – sometimes they need a break from emulating work. Why not start each class by asking what people did at the weekend? It’s only ten minutes out of the class but it can act as a refresher for students coming straight from their desks. You can also work on business skills but without business content. For example, if you’re working on presentations, get the students to do a presentation on their favourite restaurant, or something non-business related.
It’s important to recognise that, in the workplace, work will come before learning English, so as the teacher you’ll need to accept that sometimes your students will cancel at the last minute. Make sure you have a cancellation policy in place with your employer before classes begin – that way the cancellations won’t affect you too much financially. It’s also very possible that student numbers will drop off as the course continues and the year gets busier, but the tips above should hopefully make for engaging, interesting sessions so hopefully your business English classes won’t shrink too much.
Do you have any tips for teaching business English?