The business world and the world of academics don’t often overlap. The ESL exception is in the Business English Classroom. Teaching business English includes many of the same things as an academic English classroom would, namely the elements of language.
In some ways, though, the business classroom is and should be different from the academic classroom. It is a professional setting where professional people study to further their careers. The best business English teachers recognize this difference and alter their teaching and practices accordingly. Here is how they do it and how you can do it too.
Make Sure You See the Difference Teaching Business English
Consider Yourself a Colleague
In many teaching situations, the teacher is thought of as a superior to his students. He has a wealth of knowledge that he wants to impart to his students. They look to him for advice and guidance when it comes to language learning and even, at times, cultural practices. For business English students, however, the teacher is not a superior as much as he is a colleague. Like in the workplace, colleagues must work together to accomplish professional goals, in this case language learning. When you address your business students as professionals and equals rather than inferiors, they will be more receptive to what you have to share and will be more willing to work with you toward a common goal of language fluency.
Although you are in a classroom and teaching, business instruction should happen in a business environment. Your students will expect from you more professionalism than academic students would. Because of these expectations, teachers should think carefully about their dress when teaching business English. Dressing professionally sends a message to your students that you respect them and their goals, that you recognize why they are studying English, and that you can work with them on their path to professional development.
Do an Assessment
Not all business English students will start on the same footing when it comes to English studies. Some may have little to no experience with the language. Others may have studied English for years but only struggle with the speaking aspect. And still other students will fall somewhere along the spectrum in between. Because your goal is to give your business students exactly what they need, take time at the start of your instruction to determine just how competent your students are in the English language. Don’t assume what skill level your students are coming with. Give an assessment, even if it’s brief, to find out what your students really need so you don’t waste their time on material they have already mastered.
Ask Students What They Want
Once you have assessed your students’ skills, you will find it worthwhile to ask them what they want to focus their time and energy on. As a business English instructor, your students are also your clients, and business persons know it’s important to keep the client happy. If your students are able, have them tell you what they want to learn and where they need help, and make sure you spend time giving them what they ask for.
Set Specific Short and Long Term Goals with and for Your Students
Where academics often come to class with a syllabus already written, business English teachers will find that setting short and long term goals with their students is a better practice. Make sure your goals session outlines some short term as well as long term goals. And make a habit of writing specific measurable goals. Rather than saying, “Get better at speaking” be specific and say “Be able to engage in small talk with a native speaker” or “Be able to comfortably negotiate a contract in English.”
Make Lessons Fit with Their Profession When Possible
Most often, business professionals who choose to study English do so for specific business purposes. It only seems logical, then, that you relate your English lessons to their specific business environment. For example, I had a business English student who worked in the beer industry. When we were working on his listening comprehension, we did a tour of a local microbrewery. This enabled him to learn career specific vocabulary as well as experience a related business in the U.S. When you can with your business students, use real business memos, manuals, charts and proposals.
Make Yourself Available Outside of Class
When you are teaching business professionals, your job extends beyond the classroom. Your students will want you to be a resource, and making yourself available outside of class hours will show them you are willing to play that part. Set office hours, give your students your email address or give them your phone number. Your students may or may not take you up on any of your offers, but making yourself available to them shows your commitment and your willingness to meet their needs.
Use Professional Materials
We all know that teachers are not the biggest moneymakers in the world. But teachers of business English may find that their students have high expectations, and they may pay well to have those expectations met. For this reason, avoid handing out photocopies for classwork or handwriting worksheets. Make sure the materials you are using are as professional as those in your students’ working environment. Otherwise you may lose credibility for something that is very easy to avoid.
Teaching business English is a valuable but sometimes challenging occupation.
Your students’ expectations will be higher, and those expectations go for more than language studies. Making yourself, your class and your materials more professional as well as working with your students more than directing them may make the difference between a good business English class and a great one.