Slaying Dragons & Debunking Myths: The Truth about Teaching Business English
the Dragon is a character out of the children’s EFL course book Storyland.
In one unit Danny goes to the shop and asks how much the items in the shop
are. Finally, he asks to buy something. Many EFL teachers would
feel comfortable with teaching this material to children. Strange then that
the same teachers often balk at the prospect of teaching business English
since Danny the Dragon could quite easily step out of Storyland
into the pages of a business English course book asking “How much is it?”,
“What’s the difference between the two models?”, “I’d like
three please.”, “Is there a discount for cash?”.
course business English course books do not feature Danny the Dragon but a
suited business executive negotiating a contract or placing an order and
suddenly the real world of buying and selling threatens the teacher as they
cry, “I can’t teach business English, I don’t know anything about
we claim ignorance of business is at odds with our experience. “Buying and
selling” which is one of three definitions that the Oxford dictionary gives
to the word BUSINESS must be familiar to us all. The second and third
definition includes: one's usual
occupation; profession and commercial
establishment or firm. Since
an EFL teacher’s line of business is teaching and many of us work for a
business we are anything but ignorant.
way to discover that you may know more about business than you think is to
consider a product such as can of coke. Give yourself two minutes to ask as
many questions as you can about it. From workshops I have lead, trainees have
come up with a whole range such as:
Where is it produced?
Who supplies the ingredients?
Who owns the company?
How much does it cost?
Where can I buy it?
Who designed it?
What company manufactures it?
When was the company founded?
Who invented it?
may not be able to answer the questions but the task shows that you already
have the vocabulary yourself to ask the students questions about their
business which they will be more than happy (and need to be able) to answer.
To be fair to the poor beleaguered teacher who is thrown in at the deep end with a business English course, it is true that some language schools simply do not equip teachers to deal with this new context. Often teachers receive no prior training in how to approach business English beyond listening to the tiresome, unhelpful and untrue comment “Business English is just EFL with a tie on.”
improvement on recent years is that there are many good resources on the
market to help you run a course. You may also find that much of this material
contains language that is not a million miles from what you might find in a
general English textbook. To demonstrate this, read the following tape script
taken from a business English textbook called Getting
Ahead (CUP). Underline any language which you think you would not teach in
a general English class but would only teach in a business English class. In
other words what language is not general English:
Dombradi: Dombradi speaking.
Shaw: Is that you Gabor? This is Frank Shaw.
Oh hello Frank. Nice to hear from you.
Listen. I’m coming to Budapest in October and I’d like to call in
to discuss the marketing of the XJ3.
Great. When are you planning?
Well, either the fourteenth or the sixteenth. What suits you best?
Dombradi: Let me check my diary. Right. Here we are. Er...I’m
afraid I can’t make the fourteenth. I’ve got to see a customer then. But
I’m free on the sixteenth.
What you have underlined probably comes to maybe 5% or less.
Perhaps then it is true that the chasm between general and business English is not so wide. However, to suggest that there is no need to know terminology would be flippant and therefore teachers are heard to say, “I can’t teach business English, I don’t know the terminology.” The response to this is simple. Learn it. The issue was nicely illustrated in a training workshop I ran consisting of 11 native speaker teachers and 1 non-native speaker teacher. The training session was an introduction to Business English. Having surveyed some of the textbooks on the market, some of native speaker trainees commented that in some of the more advanced level books they didn't know the business terminology themselves and wouldn't be able to teach it. Finally, the non-native teachers spoke up: "But I teach English and I had to learn all of it."
you will come across vocabulary that may not even exist in your everyday
dictionary. In such cases your students are experts in their field, will
probably know the word anyway and be able to provide you with definitions of
the more technical points that only a person in that profession would come
from what you might consider as business,
it is quite possible that much of your teaching will involve talking about the
weather, sport, the weekend, food. Because so many business English classes
include these topics you may find yourself agreeing with the statement that,
“Most business people don’t want business English, all they really want is
general English.” However, when
you consider that around 80% of your student’s business probably comes from
20% of his/her customers, building social relationships is a crucial skill.
Social English is therefore one of the key requirements of many business
people and forms a major part of the scope of business English.
you remain in search of training and support beyond learning on the job you
could participate in a teacher training course preparing teachers to run a
business English course. The course content should range from needs analysis,
course design, communication skills (which would include telephoning,
presenting, negotiating), setting up effective role-plays and simulations and
giving feedback. It should also prepare you with basic knowledge of the basic
concepts and practices in business such as how an order is processed or the
rudiments of marketing.
are various training centres now running such courses and some also offer the
option of taking an examination validated by The London Chamber of Commerce
and Industry. Successful candidates who pass the 150-minute long written
examination will receive The Foundation Certificate in Teaching Business
the idea of business in your English
teaching is still off-putting you might want to talk to teachers who have
moved into the field. Few of them began life as stockbrokers or economists but
many of them have discovered that teaching English with a real purpose and
measurable outcomes is so much more satisfactory than English for dragons.
|John Hughes is a freelance teacher trainer and author. His books include 'Lessons in your rucksack' (MEP), 'Telephone English' (Macmillan) and 'Business Focus Elementary' (co-author, OUP). Email: email@example.com. Visit his website for more articles: www.johnhugheselt.com.|
©John Hughes 2002. All rights reserved.