Risky Business: An ESL Teacherís Guide to Teaching Basic Business English

Risky Business
An ESL Teacherís Guide to Teaching Basic Business English

Susan Verner
by Susan Verner 4,456 views |

In over a decade teaching English as a second language, I’ve had my share of business English students.

They’re like other students in that they want to learn English, but they’re different, too. They have specific goals – to learn the language for use in business, often international business. They tend to be goal oriented. And while some students might welcome games and creative activities, other business students want all practical all the time. So how does a teacher best meet the needs of his or her business English students? Here are some tips to help you out.

8 Components of  ESL Teacher’s Guide to Teaching Basic Business English

  1. 1

    Keep Activities Student Centered and Interactive

    Odds are if your students are learning English for business, they are go getters. They are movers and shakers, and they take initiative in their work life. That means they will also want to take the initiative in their education, too. They will be happier being involved in an activity, figuring things out rather than just taking in information you want to present to them. To engage your business students, make your activities interactive. Get them involved. For example, rather than teaching the pattern for first conditionals, give them a worksheet that practices first conditionals, but give them the answers along with the questions. Then see if they can figure out the rule on their own. This is known as the Discovery Grammar Method. This and other student centered activities like it will keep your students engaged and happy with what and how they are learning.

  2. 2

    Keep Things Focused on Business or What It Will Take Your Students to Get There

    What exact English language skills will your students need in the business world? They aren’t the same skills they would need if they were studying English for academic purposes or if they just wanted to use English for travel and adventure. Take some time to really think about what your students will have to do with English in their careers, then focus on those skills. Since they are studying for a specific purpose, you aren’t shortchanging them if you focus on a specific skill set to the neglect of another. After all, how often will your business students have to talk about pets in the business world? Remember, they have specific intentions for the language they use. Teach them what they will need to get there.

  3. 3

    Get Students into the Context of Their Real Jobs

    I once had a student who worked at a brewing company in the Dominican Republic. He was studying English so he could market his brew internationally. One of the best activities I did with him was to take him out of the classroom and to a local microbrewery to meet with the manager there. I like beer as much as the next person, but I know next to nothing about its production. By bringing my student out of my classroom and into his business context, he was able to learn vocabulary that I was not equipped to teach him. Also, he made a good business contact and got to compare notes about his product and the one the microbrewery brewed on the spot.

  4. 4

    Make Your Activities Practical and Goal Oriented

    Your business English students wont’ have to have perfect English in the business world, but they will be expected to do some things well. Whenever possible, keep your activities focused on things they will have to do in the future – product presentations, writing memos, conference calls, etc. You want your students to feel they are learning practical things, useful skills they will need in the business world. Because your business students are studying for a specific purpose, the more you can relate what they learn to that purpose – the business world – the more satisfied they will be. That doesn’t mean you can’t do traditional exercises with them. Just give those exercises a business twist. Use business magazines when you want students to read and summaries an article. Have them write a product review rather than an essay on which movie they like best. Do roleplays with a business setting. When you do, your students will see that everything they are learning has practical application to their career goals.

  5. 5

    Stress Communication Not Perfection

    Do all language learners want to achieve fluency? It’s a good bet that they do, but that’s not necessary for English use in the business world. Perfection is trumped by communication every time. So frequently remind your students that their English does not have to be perfect. It is okay to have an accent or to make errors when they write or speak. Imperfection isn’t your ultimate goal for them because it will never be as important as successful communication. And since business English students often have limited time to devote to language studies, emphasizing communication as their ultimate goals will help them feel more accomplished and successful.

  6. 6

    Teach Field Appropriate Vocabulary

    While your students may not need to know the vocabulary for the top one hundred household pets, they will need vocabulary specific to their field. Teach them this business vocabulary. You don’t have to come up with it on your own, either. You can find plenty of websites that list business vocabulary that you can then use in your classroom.

  7. 7

    Teach Business Etiquette

    Not all cultures have the same business practices. In some countries, gifts are appropriate and expected for certain meetings. In other countries, they are inappropriate or considered a bribe. That’s why it’s important that you teach appropriate business culture along with business English. You can teach business culture several different ways including discussing with your students what is appropriate in their cultures, inviting members of the business community near you to your class to talk to them about how they conduct business, or by using a reference book that talks about business practices in different countries.

  8. 8

    Teach What They Will Need for Business Trips

    Even if your students don’t plan to conduct business in a foreign country, they will probably end up on a business trip to where English is the go to lingua franca. Though it may seem strange to talk about hotel practices in a business class, it is actually quite appropriate. Don’t forget to also talk about booking travel arrangements, navigating airports, and English used in restaurants.

Teaching business English is a unique and rewarding experience.

When you take the time to focus on the specific needs and desires of your business English students, you and they will feel productive, practical, and prepared for life in the English business world.

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