Making the shift from being a general English teacher to a Business English Teacher

Louise Potter

Many English teachers today feel terribly intimidated about teaching Business English since they are not experts in business studies and business vocabulary. I can understand their fears, however, what teachers need to understand is that their main role is to guide their students through the language skills students will need to survive in their business world. Leave the business studies up to the students and let them become your teachers in that matter. Teaching Business English is extremely rewarding for we also become our students’ student. This exchange is amazing. However, Business English teachers do need a variety of techniques and skills. As always, good lesson preparation is essential.

Indeed, there are some variations and special characteristics a Business English teacher must take into consideration when making this shift.

The first one is understanding the profile of your corporate students. A thorough Needs Analysis is essential. Clear objectives and high expectations, not only for their working lives but also for their learning is undeniable for Business students. They need to learn, and fast. Getting to know the reasons your students are learning the language is your first task as a business teacher. Business students need to be functional. Understanding what they truly need to achieve, be it chairing meetings, for written communication or conference calling is your primary goal. But then again, isn’t that our primary goal with our General English students, as well?

Business students are typically under pressure. Classes should be fun and engaging (as with any other class, again!). Teachers tend to think that, because we are teaching business students, we should act seriously. I do not expect you to act as a clown; nevertheless, engaging and entertaining your students is the best way to learn. Adults learn best when having fun, just like children. So, don´t forget to spice up your business class, too.

Having said that, do not forget you are in a business environment. Acting professionally is not the synonym of being boring and tiresome. It only means you understand dress code, punctuality, respect and social adequacy.

Business students understand teamwork. Having students work on authentic projects with collaborative decision making and team building skills as they use the language is the best way to get them involved. You give them the instrument (language) and have them give you the content. Understanding the concept of Project Based Learning will help you strive in teaching Business English. Bring the corporate life into your classroom and not the other way around. Have them bring in their real cases to work on during the lesson.

Business students need to be autonomous. They will undoubtedly have moments when they need to prepare a presentation and you will not be around. Introduce them to corpus linguistics so they can research when in need (understanding how to use corpora in language teaching is essential for today’s teachers).

There are plenty of course books available, however, authentic material is a must. Have them provide you with some material. Make sure what you are teaching is relevant to their daily context. Skipping units is no big issue. However, don´t forget to read business magazines and enter the wild world of business to keep updated.

Teaching Business English is unpredictable. You do need to be flexible and go with the flow. Your students might arrive in class one day and make you change your lesson plan altogether as they will have a crucial meeting with the CEO the following day. They might even send you home early as a meeting has suddenly come up.

The best thing about being a teacher is that learning is an ongoing process whether teaching general English or business English. Just keep going, and never allow fears to prevent you from diving into a new world, be it the business world or any other. Teaching provides you with many different paths. Follow your instincts and find your path.