Pre-course pedagogical considerations for
teaching business English in Japan

by Damian John Rivers
- 1

Business English as a specific genre of language teaching within Japan offers a number of context specific challenges which differentiate it somewhat from mainstream EFL teaching and learning. Despite this, one can argue that quite often corporate funded programs are constructed with little attention paid to factors such as curriculum design, course objectives, teacher evaluation and other forms of reflectivity in practice. This article highlights one potential practical framework for assessing and preparing for a corporate English language course through an analysis of student and teacher beliefs, attitudes and knowledge using the SBAK+ and TBAK+ models of Woodman (1998).
Within most Business English classroom environments there are basically three distinct components which must interact in a productive manner in order to reach a desirable outcome for all parties:

The student population, comprising of many individual differences in:
                - Learning objectives
                - Previous language experiences
                - Motivations for study
                - Areas of strength and weakness
                - Preferred learning styles and methods
                - Beliefs about what they need to progress

The teacher, an individual who brings to the classroom:

                - Their own teaching beliefs
                - Their own expectations for the course and students
                - Their own preferred teaching methodology
                - Their own experiences teaching
                - Their own areas of strength and weakness
                - Beliefs about what students need to progress

Finally, a number of situational variables act as factors which bind together the teacher-student in their mutual pursuit of goals related to language proficiency attainment. With a focus on learner and teacher centered classroom dynamics, Woods (1996) proposed the term BAK (Beliefs, Attitudes, Knowledge) as a means of capturing the connected aspects that inform teacher perceptions and behaviours within the classroom asserting that the traditional categorization of “teachers into pre-determined groups hides the dynamic aspect of BAK, and oversimplifies our understanding of the concept and the process of teacher and curricular change" (p.246). Woodman (1998) later elaborated on the BAK proposal to form the SBAK+ (student) and TBAK+ (teacher) survey instruments. The following analysis focuses on the construction of a SBAK+ and TBAK+ diagram prior to a 3-month intensive 'Intermediate Business English' course at a major Japanese electronics’ manufacturer in which the teacher was provided with limited information concerning the course structure and corporate objectives. The SBAK+ and TBAK+ instruments (Woodman, 1998) used are shown below: 

- 2

SBAK+ ‘ Student Questionnaire’
All answers are roughly based on a scale of : (Strongly agree 5< -> strongly disagree 1)


1. Age

2. Number of previous visits to English speaking countries

3. Number of languages spoken

4. Number of years English language training

5. Education

6. Major


1. I came to Canada for a vacation

2. I came to Canada because I want to work in a job that requires English

3. I came to Canada because I'm interested in Canada and Canadian culture

4. I came to Canada as a course requirement.

Section 3: KNOWLEDGE AND PERCEPTIONS OF *CANADA (*e.g., target culture)

1. I have studied about Canada in school

2. I have been to Canada before this summer

3. I have met Canadians in Japan

4. I have had a Canadian teacher in Japan

Section 4: PERCEPTIONS OF *CANADIANS (*target culture)

1. I think Canadians are friendly

2. I think Canadians are polite

3. I think Canadians are honest

4. I think Canadians are helpful

5. I think Canadians are considerate

6. I think Canadians are superficial

7. I think Canadians are rude

8. I think Canadians are similar to Japanese people

9. I think I know how to behave appropriately with Canadians

10. I feel confident speaking English to Canadians

11. I feel comfortable socializing with Canadians


1. In this program, I expect to learn about Canada and Canadians

2. In this program, I expect to learn more English

3. In this program, I expect to practice my English

4. In this program, I expect to learn about Canadian youth culture

5. In this program, I expect to be given opportunities to meet Canadians

6. In this program, I expect to to have my beliefs challenged by new experiences


1. I think learning languages is

2. I think learning English is

3. I think learning to read English is

4. I think learning to write English is

5. I think learning to speak English is

6. I think learning to understand spoken English is

7. I think learning to understand Canadian culture is

8. I think making friends with Canadians is

9. I think speaking English to a shop clerk in a store or bus driver will be

10. I think speaking English to a teacher is

11. I think speaking English to Japanese people is

12. I think that having an accent in English is

13. I think understanding English television or movies is

14. I believe having good Listening/Speaking skills in English is


1. I think the teacher will want me to be polite

2. I think the teacher will want me to sit quietly until asked a question

3. I think the teacher will want me to volunteer answers

4. I think the teacher will want me to co-operate with other students

5. I think the teacher will want me to compete with other students

6. I think the teacher will correct my English pronunciation and grammar


1. I think the teacher will use music in class

2. I think the teacher will use games in class

3. I think the teacher will have us work in groups

4. I think the teacher will have us work in pairs

5. I think the teacher will have us read in English

6. I think the teacher will have us write in English

7. I think the teacher will give us homework

8. I think the teacher will give us tests


1. I think I learn best by reading

2. I think I learn best by listening (e.g, lectures, TV, radio, cassettes)

3. I think I learn best by writing out notes (eg., organizing information)

4. I think I learn best by memorizing words and/or lists

5. I think I learn best by practicing by myself (eg., repeating words)

6. I think I learn best by practicing speaking with native speakers

7. I prefer to study in a group

8. I prefer to study by myself

9. I speak with native speakers outside of class

10. I listen to English radio/music

11. I watch English TV

12. I read English magazines, newspapers and/or books

13. I read Japanese magazines, newspapers and/or books

14. I write letters/essays/reports in English

15. I write letters/essay/reports in Japanese

16. When I write in English, I have problems with grammar/spelling

17. When I write in Japanese, I have problems with grammar/spelling

18. I believe having good reading & writing skills in English is

The Woodman, (1989) questionnaire has specific strengths in its ability to function effectively without the student answering all of the questions. The teacher can choose to include or exlude those questions which he/she believes to be appropriate or inappropriate depdening on the specific situation. The TBAK+ questionnaire functions on the same principles as those of the SBAK+ questionnaire.


TBAK+ ‘ Teacher Questionnaire’
All answers are roughly based on a scale of : (Strongly agree 5< -> strongly disagree 1)


1. Age

2. Sex

3. Country of origin

4. Annual income

5. Languages spoken

6. Education (e.g., College, university, diploma)

7. Teacher training


1. I have taught: ESL/EFL

2. I have taught other subjects/languages

3. I have taught for approximately...years

4. I have taught in the following country(s) and/or institution(s)

5. I have taught *Japanese students before (*target culture)

6. I have taught English to *Japanese students before

7. I have taught English to *Japanese students in...programs/years

8. I have taught English to (similar age/gender/culture) students before

9. I have taught English to students (in this program before)


1. I think the most important influences on language acquisition are...

2. I think the goals of this program are

* Language development

* Speaking

* Listening

* Reading

* Writing

* Language practice

* Speaking

* Developing awareness of Canada

* Developing awareness of Canadian culture

* Students having fun

Section 4: PEDAGOGICAL PRACTICE (Class activities)

In general (i.e., not only in this program), I use the following techniques

* Group work

* Individual production

* Teacher controlled activities

* Student centered activities

* Co-operative activities

* Competitive activities

In this program, I expect to use the following techniques

* Music

* Games

* Drills

* Dictation

* Pair work

* Group work

* Writing activities

* Reading activities

* Tests

* Homework


In this program, I believe I will emphasize

* Fluency

* Accuracy

* Student participation

* Pronunciation

* Spelling

* Grammar

* Reading

* Writing

* Communicative competence

* Survival skills


I believe a successful student will be one who

* Volunteers answers

* Speaks frequently

* Is enthusiastic

* Is polite

* Sits quietly

* Co-operates with other students

* Consults with other students before answering

* Competes with other students


I believe the goals of this program are to help students to

* Learn about *Canada (*target culture)

* Learn about *Canadians

* Learn more English

* Practice their English

* Learn about *Canadian youth culture

* Meet *Canadians

* Challenge their beliefs by new experiences


1. I believe the adjective best describing my personality in the ESL classroom is...

2. I consider myself a good ESL teacher


1. My favourite ESL level to teach is

2. My favourite age group to teach is


1. I think learning languages is difficult

2. I think learning languages is different than learning other subjects

3. I consider myself a good language learner

4. I think I learn language best by listening

5. I think I learn language best by reading

6. I think I learn best by writing out notes

7. I think I learn best by memorizing words and/or lists

8. I think I learn best by practicing by myself

The first step in the construction of the SBAK+ was to meet with at least one of the prospective students for a discussion based on the SBAK+ questionnaire (Woodman, 1998). After meeting with the designated course leader I was able to create my own SBAK+ and TBAK+ diagram based on the survey/discussion outcome. In addition to being useful in identifying and selecting classroom pedagogy, the SBAK+ produced identified a number of motivational factors. According to the class leader, the students had a combination of both integrative and instrumental motivations. The single most dominant motivation for this particular student group was career-progression as shown in the SBAK+. An additional instrumental motivation was that if the students could obtain a TOEIC score of over 600 then they would have an increased chance of being selected for overseas deployment which is considered very favorable in terms of life experience and career advancement.

With the TBAK+ analysis I believed that I had two core motivations for providing a satisfying course. The most prominent motivation was that of financial gain. If the course was judged to be a success by the students then the company would offer me subsequent courses and extend my contract. This unfortunately meant that as a teacher I tended to pamper to the students' needs and requests a little more than my professional beliefs would have liked to. This method of student feedback concerning the teacher’s performance is commonplace within Japan and must be a consideration for all teacher behaviours within the classroom. The second teacher motivation was the desire to assisting the students in their quest for a greater degree of English language knowledge. I had a good understanding of the students' problems based on previous experiences and truly believed that I could offer a number of practical solutions to them.
Based on my previous experiences within this particular company I found that the classes tend to prefer learner-centered approaches and materials, this is in part due to the students high level of proficiency. From observing both the SBAK+ and the TBAK+ diagrams there was a strong consistency between student and teacher with regard to preferred classroom activities. Although there are other areas of similarity and difference I feel the following points are vital:
The TBAK+ is not a static entity and the English language teacher will often have to renegotiate their own beliefs, attitudes and knowledge in response to classroom learner behaviors and challenges presented. The SBAK+ is more entrenched and has been constructed over many years. Educating students in the classroom learning process is vital. Viewing the student population as a partner rather than a passive subject void of expertise in teaching theory and knowledge is favorable. If the teacher can assist the learner in identifying their own learning strategies and thinking of ways to maximize them then the SBAK+ will take on a much more dynamic form which can be used with the TBAK+.
Felder (1996) comments that when mismatches exist between the learning styles of the students and the teaching style of the teacher, the students are liable to become bored and inattentive in class, do poorly on examinations, get discouraged about the course, the curriculum, and themselves, and in some cases change to other curricula or simply dropout. The SBAK+ and TBAK+ aim to solve these problems by providing the teacher with one possible practical solution.

Felder, R.M. (1996). Matters of styles. ASEE Prism, 6(4), 18-23.
Woodman, K. (1998). Teacher factors and teacher achievement. Paper presented at the Canadian Association of Applied Linguistic conference, Carleton University (Ottawa, Ont.).
Woods, D. (1996). Teacher cognition in language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Damian J. Rivers has been living in Japan a number of years and is interested in social issues connected with language development. <>

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