Teaching Business English

I was surprised recently when an application form for a prestigious language company asked what specialist areas of business english I had taught.  ‘Fair question’, you might say, what’s the problem?  Well, the problem is that on the application form there were only four lines on which to enter responses and I have now taught Business English for twelve years.

‘I don’t get it’ – I hear, ‘just note down financial, sales & marketing, industry, and logistics english.’

In fact, that’s what I did, whilst noting in my ‘supporting statement’ that I considered each and every one of my business english students to have specialist needs.  Blanket bombing these students with general areas of business english as found in most pedagogique books does not, to my mind anyway, tackle precise needs.  In fact, it simply shows writers of english learning materials to be over-generalists.  Understandably, they do this in order to reach larger markets for their books, without really hitting the ‘individual needs’ nails on the head.

I give some examples:

In my experience it is possible to be teaching english to those working in pharma-covigilance preparing files to present to a committee (eg. the FDA) to gain a vaccine patent (or to a rival company’s lawyer preparing to appeal against that decision), whilst in the same day teaching english to someone selling his company’s high precision machine tools.  Alternatively, I could be teaching english to specialists working in the aluminium or steel industry preparing to present their production processes at a conference, or to financers juggling with CDOs and credit default swaps.  Maybe I’m helping forwarding agents communicate with customs, shipping agents and transport companies, or IT geeks setting up new data base management systems.  I could even be teaching english to sports lecturers preparing to give lectures in english on the neurological aspects of sport which involves a high component of statistical analysis, or english to designers of high-tech tv broadcasting equipment preparing to attend a trade-fair to market their products on the international stage.

Yes, I could go on.  As I said, I’ve got twelve years of similar teaching experience and all these teaching situations have been personally experienced.  This is just a small sample.  And the reality is that a lot of time is spent scouring the internet sites, including TEFL sites, finding specific materials to match specific needs – and much time is spent designing such material myself.

Facilitators, we should be, absolutely, but I’m not too sure all the authors of TEFL materials have yet taken that on board.  However, I do appreciate that this more detailed approach is coming – about time!  There are now newly published books designed for ‘logistics’, ‘oil and petrol industry’, ‘law’, ‘aviation industry’,   ‘maritime industry’ etc. , and a breath of fresh air they are too. (see here!)  Personally, I find them much more useful than the ‘general business’ books, and for the moments of ‘light chat’ or ‘small talk’, similarly, I try and let the student (s) direct which way the conversations go, with prompts, be it towards cooking, football, the weather, or holidays.  And I’m sure most other business english teachers do the same.

There, I’ve got it off my chest.  But that’s ok because I know very few people are actually going to read this and if anyone does who is not a business english teacher- well, perhaps it gives a bit of an insight into the reality of teaching business english as experienced on a day-to-day basis.


2 comments on “Teaching Business English

  1. It seems u know very much about this topic and it all exhibits through this article,
    titled “Teaching Business English English13”.
    Regards -Iris

  2. english13 says:

    Thank-you, Iris. In fact, to be precise, the ”prestigous language company’ I mentioned (the British Council) were seeking applicants for posts in Marseille and Lyon. Having worked in both cities I know several, very experienced TEFL teachers (all long-term residents of Marseille and Lyon), who applied for posts at these sites. But none even received an interview. Unsuccessful candidates were told in advance not to expect any feedback on unsuccessful applications, and though I appreciate the time-consuming effort to reply to each individually, I do wonder how successful candidates were chosen. An internal affair? P.S. This is not sour grapes, just a personal query.

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