Does Business English exist?

<b> Forum for those teaching business English </b>

Moderators: Dimitris, maneki neko2, Lorikeet, Enrico Palazzo, superpeach, cecil2, Mr. Kalgukshi2

Post Reply

Does Business English exist?

Poll ended at Fri Nov 08, 2013 1:45 pm

Yes, Business English is out there!
No votes
There's no Business English.
Total votes: 1

Posts: 8
Joined: Mon Jul 08, 2013 11:34 am
Location: Prague, Czech Republic

Does Business English exist?

Post by MartinHejhal » Mon Sep 09, 2013 1:45 pm


I really think the answer is no. There's definitely Business English Vocabulary, and maybe some set phrases, but the rest is good old General English. Negotiating, presenting, etc. is done in normal life in general situations, like negotiating your weekend off with your family. What do you think? Is there Business Grammar, Business Phonetics, etc.?

Posts: 12
Joined: Mon Sep 22, 2014 5:14 pm

Business English DOES exist

Post by FrankS » Wed Sep 24, 2014 12:27 am

I am disturbed by other teachers who seem to think that business English is just an addition of vocabulary and context.They have no idea of what a business student needs. Unfortunately, all of the textbooks I have seen for business English perpetuate this concept.

A business user is not merrily working towards perfect structures and successful exams once every few months. They need something they can use in a very specific situation right now. Business students have an exam every time they try to communicate in English and it is strictly a pass/fail system. Each day the class must advance their capacities to communicate and often very significantly.

Often I am given near beginners or even beginners who must go to an international job and communicate in English in six to eight weeks. They know their business very well and you are not going to fob them off with a little vocabulary and a few structure drills. The students are almost always a respected professionals, white or blue collar, who are vital to the job. they are often fronting a team , including with the communications with the other teams. The job of the business English teacher is to do a triage and then build a course into the time allotted. You are not teaching grammar rules and rare is the time you have a prepared syllabus, let alone a proper needs analysis.

Let me give an example. I recently had an intensive class. four hours a day for ten days. the students were a near beginner with a good few years of failed general English coursework behind them. They failed because work kept them from the classes. In forty hours they had to be capable of going to a work site and spending six months working with dozens of other teams with English being the lingua franca. The students came in with standard English textbooks and grammars and were eager to show me past exercises. This class was well on its way to being a disaster. Situation normal.

The first thing to do was to determine what the professional communication would consist of, the relationship with colleagues, and he job itself.. The class was not happy with this, they wanted to get right down to grammar rules. Many thanks to the industry moguls who sell one form of English and denigrate all others.

I determined that with the existing knowledge, the only course that would succeed was to break everything down into communicative chunks and use substitution for those chunks, sort of a quick and dirty Lexical Approach. Yes, business English teachers have to know all the theory as well. We may not teach grammar rules, but we have to be intimately aware of them. This was all standard practice and grammar and vocabulary went right out the window. They already had all that was needed on those fronts.

I told them how they could cover the six basic question words and how to predict what was being said in reply and what the key indicators of meaning would be. I did not know their vocabulary and had only a vague idea of their work. They told me and I worked it into the course. Also standard operating procedure. I also used raw video of related situations where real people in related fields had made documentaries of one sort or another. Unsimplified, uncut and untranslated it did wonders for their confidence in their own skills and their confidence in my methods.

I turned the class around, from antagonistic to very supportive, but that is the job that a business English teacher is asked to do. That is the job a business English teacher trains to do. If you walk out of a CELTA or even a DELTA course and think you are even beginning to understand what a business class requires, you are very much mistaken.

If you say: "Well, yes, but what about a normal scheduled class with higher levels? It is exactly the same then!" No!

Just because a business class has more time to work does not detract from the same imperative. They have a practical application each and every time. A lawyer, architect, accountant, or clerk all have far more on their minds than what the rule is for the verb tenses that end in "s." When they go away from the class, if you have given them something that they can use, and remember to use, right now, they are very happy. If you have developed more sponaneity in their usage, no matter if their pronouns and verbs agree every time, as long as they communicate successfully, you have succeeded.

I have been to no end of business classes that are completely demotivated and advising the company to cease the classes because they are learning nothing practical. They are taking time out of a very long day and they are heartily sick of going through another class on the verb"to be," be it present, past, contiuous or auxilliary. A little understanding of the needs and wants of the class and their situation goes a very long way to improving the situation dramatically.

Of course the average academy is not interested in a professional approach when they can load up any warm body with a useless book with "business" on the cover and then charge a premium and pay a cut rate for the teacher. T'were ever thus.

Posts: 8
Joined: Mon Jul 08, 2013 11:34 am
Location: Prague, Czech Republic

Post by MartinHejhal » Wed Sep 24, 2014 7:05 am

Hello Frank,
thank you for your input. I agree with most of what you've said.
Business English classes need to be focused on real communication in the real world. There must be a practical takeaway from each and every class. Less is definitely more if the "less" become active knowledge and is immediately usable. We do usually get students who've been "studying" for years but are just false beginners because they've only done gap fill all this time.
Still, I think all this should be done in General English classes as well. Yes, the stress is usually lower, yes, the students have limited opportunities to practice outside class and yes, teachers usually get more time for teaching.
But the rules should be the same - find out what they need, look for their motivation, make the lesson content personal and teach the language in usable and practical chunks.

Martin @ LiveTEFL/SPEVACEK Languages ... rel=author

Posts: 12
Joined: Mon Sep 22, 2014 5:14 pm

Post by FrankS » Wed Sep 24, 2014 8:31 am

I disagree.

Just because it is the same language does not mean it is the same process, no matter what the Cambridge Busines exams want to tell us.

First of all, structure in a business setting may have no relation to the logic and progression established in general English orthodoxy. A perfectly adequate business user of English may, in fact, fall very low in the general examination situation but perform very highly in a very complex work situation. More importantly, a high levelof exam results does not in any way mean they can perform even adequately in a business situation. I sometimes pick up those pieces as well. The tweaked general exams that are supposed to show progress in business situations are one of the biggest wastes of time and money I have ever seen and most executives that have been exposed to them, personally or within their organisations, agree and are slightly more cociferous on the subject than I am.

If we are talking about long-term, usually subsidised classsesthey tend to haveno real direction, they are the favoured hunting ground for schools who use the general approach. If they are being done in the employees time, usually after the working day has ended,, there are problems with attendance and rebellions against exams. They really are not motivated by another year of tweaking their verb tenses and adding a subtle layer of meaning that has no meaning in their lives. They are not going to the corner shop or pub and using English. It is all a sham to them. they have reall needs and if you meet those needs they respond very well indeed.

Let us face the fact that this industry is based on motives of profit that have little or nothing to do with the teaching of English, and certainly not with the improved professionalism on the part of the workers at the chalkface.

The publishers, with very few exceptions and none in the large houses, produce countless varieties of the same book created so that the school can send any warm body into the classroom and claim their fees. The examinations have multiplied greatly over the years I have been in the business. It is based on producing a (false) sense of progress and motivates the student to stay in the system another term. Great for the schools! Great for the publishers!

Has the level of English resulting improved? I see no sign of it at all, however I should think the examination boards have statistics that show incremental increases that justify their products, but I have not spoken to any veterans who see any such thing.

The "real" industry does not encourage professionalism. Books and exams are often in a lock step march to the next artificial level and teachers that stray from the "true path" are damaging to industry incomes; not the teachers income, but the rest of the industry. It is self evident the books and courses are written so "any idiot" can do the job and that is what the schools aim to hire, any idiot. No that is not true. they hire any idiot willing to work for far less than they have any right to expect.

Teaching English is not a four week course where everybody passes. It is not a four month diploma or two years in a shady graduate school. It is a hard, practical discipline that is not encouraged. That is why the books are wrttien as they are. Now, and this is also since I began this profession, there are books with "Business" on the cover that are slightly altered copies of the general texts that are presented as a panacea for the real needs of real businesses and that is dong its very best to kill the goose that lays that golden egg. Many intrernational businesses would rather station their employees in an english speaking office for a year or two than pay for classes in the country. It is quickly becoming cheaper and far more effective.

Business English teaching by its very nature cannot use the same orthodoxies as general English. It is not the poor cousin of the "academic" branch just as engineering is not the poor cousin of science. Who would claim that any scientist can be an engineer? Who would say they can use the same methods and styles? They are both disciplines of physics, aren't they? The thought is absurd from the start, but the very practical end of English teaching is being given exactly that analogy and for much the same sort of reasoning.

Can there be cross pollination? Of course there can, but before you can actually use the different techniques and approaches you must realise they are different.

Let me repeat we do not say science includes physics and engineering uses physics therefore science = physics any more than we can say TEFL uses English and TESP uses English therefore TEFL = TESP

For that matter TESL does not equal TEFL nor does TESP medical equal TESP business. Saying it is so does not make it so.

Posts: 12
Joined: Mon Sep 22, 2014 5:14 pm

Business English: a little clarification

Post by FrankS » Sun Sep 28, 2014 3:14 pm

First of all, I do not think I made as good a case as I might have, not having spent much time composing my answer. Let me try to be more clear.

General English is having a student coming ito the English tent and everything is based on the language, English. This allows us to use all sorts of orthodoxies and methods in tried and true ways. The language is being imposed upon the student.

Business is somewhat different. In business English it is the English being brought into the student's tent. What they want is always a subset of English and with objectives that are usually far divorced from any standard English class.

In the general English course, the student is the "guest" and complies with the rules of our house. In business English it is the English that is the "guest" and it must comply to the rules of the business. This is true of most TESP

The approach must be far more flexible and probably dynamic. None of the basic rules of treaching can be counted on in this discipline. It becomes a function of time, need and interest. It can be argued that that is also the case in regular English, but it is an extraordinary teacher that applies those rigours so often.

It is also of note that almost all business course texts are simply general English courses with some business vocabulary and contexts thrown in. They are useless in a true business course. The objectives the book works to are just about never the objectives the business student needs. The courses that can use these books are not really business courses at all, but general English courses in a business setting.

To recap, general English the student is the servant of the language but in business English the language is the servant of the business.

Post Reply