Published 15th November 2020
The thought of teaching Business English is enough to strike fear into the hearts of even the most experienced English as a Foreign Language teacher. Thank goodness we’re super heroes who can accomplish anything given a few hours’ of prep time! Teaching Business English is no joke considering the importance of the lessons and the nature of the content, so Business English teachers have a responsibility to take these lessons seriously. Considering that not all of us have actual experience in a corporate environment, we thought we’d share with you our top tips for teaching Business English like a professional – because that’s what you are, right?
1. Fake it til you make it
Before we say anything, we need to say this. Many EFL teachers feel they are not adequately qualified to teach Business English. We wish to disagree. There are any number of English for Specific Purposes classes which we might be asked to teach and there is no way we can be qualified to teach all of them. Business English is the same.
While it is obviously beneficial to have worked in the same profession as your students or worked in a corporate environment, this is not to say that you can’t teach Business English (just like you don’t have to be a doctor or nurse to teach Medical English). There are coursebooks to help you and endless online resources and there’s no doubt you’ll get the hang of it after your first lesson.
2. A needs analysis is essential
In a Business English class, it is highly likely that your students will need to use the language they learn in your lessons in real life. After all, that is why they are taking Business English lessons, to prepare them for their working environment. As such, it is vital that you do a thorough and effective needs analysis with your students. Find out exactly what it is they will need for their jobs, as well as what they are already capable of doing in English. Make sure you know their work experience and their learning experience. Lastly, ask them what they expect from your lessons, how best they learn, and what they would and wouldn’t do in your lessons. Personalising your lessons like this will help your students improve their English and also help them notice their improvements, which is important. After all, happy students makes a happy teacher!
3. Be professional
Because of the context, it is more important than usual for the EFL teacher to be professional in a Business English lesson. This is in terms of dress but also behaviour. While your students definitely need opportunities to collaborate and work together during the lesson, Business English lessons are often not the place for the usual fun and games we are used to.
Business English lessons are a serious matter and need to be treated as such. Of course, you can be light-hearted and crack a joke or two, but make sure your lessons are focused and on-topic. There is no room for fluffy lessons or doing activities just to pass the time. Activities need to have a purpose. Also, make sure you communicate clearly with your students and follow up with the appropriate assessments and feedback.
4. Be motivational
Bear in mind that your Business English students might only see you after a long day at work, or they may be taking time out for your lessons. Consequently, they may be tired or distracted. Even worse, even though they may have a lot of extrinsic motivation to learn Business English this does not necessarily translate into intrinsic motivation – they may be in your lessons purely because they’ve been told they need to be. It is part of your job to keep the energy levels in the class up and make the lessons entertaining and engaging enough to help your students focus on the lesson at hand.
5. Use authentic texts
Because our Business English learners are in the classroom for their real experiences at work, it makes sense to use authentic materials in your lessons. Coursebooks are quite general in their topics (so as to appeal to a wide audience) but this means that the topics may not appeal to your Business English students. Rather than use a coursebook (unless it’s a Business English coursebook), find authentic materials which relate directly to your students. The best way to do this is to actually source the materials from your students themselves, in the form of emails, Powerpoint presentations, leaflets, company papers etc. Just make sure it’s not confidential information that you’re dealing with!
6. Teach language as an afterthought
This might sound counterintuitive but when you think about it, Business English students are there for a very specific purpose, be it to write emails or speak on the phone or communicate with customers. Of course there are language elements to all of those but focus on the outcome rather than the language and your students will better feel they are accomplishing their goals. If you teach a lesson on expressions of purpose, your students may feel demotivated because they cannot see the relevance to their work, but if you deconstruct an email and introduce expressions of purpose to be used in the email then you are killing two birds with one stone.
7. Have fun!
Even if you find the topic boring, fake it so that your students are none the wiser. Engagement and participation are key to success in a language learning situation, and if your students see that you are bored they will be bored too. You are by and large responsible for the mood in the classroom, so suck it up and put a smile on your face! If you loosen up and do what you do best (teach English) you should find yourself genuinely enjoying it anyway!
Let’s face it, in the EFL world you never know what is going to be expected of you, and there’s actually quite a good chance that you will end up teaching some sort of English for Specific Purposes class – and it could very well be Business English! If this is the case for you, hopefully these tips will help you be the best Business English teacher you can be.