Wrong about Business English and ESP
by Alex Case
This article is based on ideas that I had when I first started teaching Business English and ESP and later found out not to be true, as well as common assumptions by teachers, managers and textbook writers that, in my opinion, need rethinking.
1. Business English is just General English with a Business English textbook
There can be classes like this, especially ones who have no present need, no idea of their future job and no plans to take a Business English exam. For all other classes there is a completely different ESP approach based around needs analysis, deciding what language and skills they need to meet those needs, course design, and designing and adapting materials to fit in with those needs. This can be very hard for a General English teacher to get used to and very time consuming if you don’t know how to do it efficiently, so a course on teaching Business English and ESP or at least reading a book on the subject is well worth the effort.
2. Needs analysis means asking students what they need
While that is a major part of it, basing a whole course on what they do in English now would leave out a whole lot of important stuff like future needs, what they want to study that is not connected to any specific needs, and things they want to avoid due to past bad experiences in the language classroom.
3. Business experience is essential to teach Business English
More than to make you an effective teacher, schools look for experience in business (especially big and well known businesses) so they have something to show off about when they are showing your CV to potential clients- something that is much more common in Business English and ESP teaching than in general English. You can make up for a lack of this with a list of famous companies your students work for, qualifications in business or economics, and/ or teaching qualifications such as an MA or a specific Teaching Business English certificate.
4. Most students need to describe their company structure
This is one of the most popular yet most complicated and useless topics in Business English books. Most people only need to know how to say who their CEO and direct boss is, and many companies are organised in ways that are not translatable into English or not easy to explain in any language. Please skip this topic until it comes up in conversation, and then teach your students how to simplify what they say as much as possible.
5. You can’t use games in Business classes
Highly motivated Business English and ESP students might be willing to go through a class with less fun than a kids’ class, but that doesn’t mean that a little fun wouldn’t motivate them, make remembering the language easier and refresh them before they go back to work. If there is resistance to mention of “games”, try calling them “speaking activities”, “competitions”, “roleplays”, “case studies” or even “teambuilding activities” instead.
6. Business English has to be boring
There are plenty of topics in Business English and ESP books that are interesting even with General English students, e.g. business ethics, advertising (its effect on children, your favourite adverts, working out what obscure adverts are advertising etc), technology, and the origins of everyday products. As mentioned above, there is no need to avoid games either.
7. Your students will already know about business, they just need to be able to explain it in English
Virtually every book on teaching Business English and/ or ESP has this gem of wisdom in it. To be fair to the authors, it is usually just to stop scaring you off and they do go on to make this point- the more you know about your students’ area of expertise the better you can design their course and the more interesting you will find what they tell you. What is more, factors like having pre-experience students, concepts that don’t translate across cultures (e.g. the difference between “barrister” and “solicitor” or between “MD” and “chairman”) and false friends might leave you as the only expert on something that is supposedly their speciality. To avoid a classroom where no one knows what the book is going on about, make sure you always take the teachers’ book, answer key and/ or a good specialist dictionary into the classroom. If you do get stuck, research the point and get back to them in the next class.
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