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How are business English teachers different?

November 05, 2006

Hello again,

As somebody who trains business English teachers, I am often asked about the skills needed to become a business Englih specialist. Business English teachers often have experience in fields other than teaching. However, although it is very useful to have experience of other domains, or of the commercial world, it is not essential. On the other hand, it is necessary to be interested in the world of business and to understand how companies are structured and to be familiar with business terminology. Regular reading...

... of the business pages of the daily press can help you build your awareness of the field and keep abreast of the latest developments.

The business English teacher needs to have an international perspective. In dealing with many different nationalities, and with clients who have to operate in the increasingly globalised business field, the teacher needs to be aware of the implications of cross-cultural communications. Clients, who have to use English—which is not their native tongue, to do business with other non-native English speakers in another country—have several layers of cultural information to deal with. First they have to acknowledge that their own national and company culture is not necessarily shared with their foreign counterparts or even understood by them, and secondly that nobody's culture is intrinsically right or wrong, better or worse.

Think for a moment about how western companies view employees. They speak of 'human resources', a term that reveals how people are considered a commodity for the company's use, as instruments to further the company's goals. In some parts of the world this way of looking at people would seem at odds with the idea that people are valuable in themselves. If these two apparently opposed cultures try to do business, it would be necessary for both parties to have an understanding of the other's view of people management. They have to work out what style of communication to adopt if they are to succeed in new environments with different values and customs. For teachers to be able to help the client gain confidence in crossing cultural boundaries, they have to be sensitive to, and take an interest in cultural norms across the world.

Many teachers see a move into business English teaching as a means of progressing in their career or of specialising in a field in which they can deepen their own knowledge. However, before making a move to business English teaching, it is essential to have a good understanding of the ways in which your approach to teaching has to adapt. The qualities needed by a business English teacher are different in many ways.
You need the confidence to play the role of instructor/trainer with people who may occupy senior company positions. You will have to be adaptable as a teacher and not have rigid ideas about how you conduct your training sessions and what the content should be. And you need to have an understanding of how English is used internationally as a lingua franca among people who may never meet a native speaker. You can see, therefore, that this is not a field for someone new to teaching—it demands a certain maturity of approach and confidence both personally and professionally.

An important part of the approach in teaching English for business is the relationship between the teacher, who is really a 'trainer' and the student, who is more accurately 'a client'. It is important not to have a 'teacherish' demeanour. Teaching implies education in a wider sense, with students involved in long-term study to acquire theoretical as well as practical knowledge. This entails a dynamic between teacher and student in which the student, as learner, recognises a certain power balance with the teacher, as knower.

This is not appropriate, however, with people who already occupy professional positions and who know more than the language teacher about their own sphere of activity. The business English trainer is more a facilitator, consultant, adviser and 'resource' than a pedagogue. The teacher is there to help clients find the most effective ways of communicating with international colleagues and partners and, to this end, the theoretical aspects of language teaching need to take second place to practice activities.

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Comments

  1. Nerida Says:

    Is it possible to train specifically in teaching business English? If so, who offers such training and where is it offered? I am CELTA trained. Thanks for any advice.

  1. Leon Says:

    In my experience of teaching (yes, it is still teaching whether it is Business English or traditional ESL). What is both exciting and challenging about teaching Business English is that each client, be they a corporate president or a class of accountants at an Big 4 auditing firm, is expecting to improve their business skills, which is not quite the same as improving only one's language skills. No firm of whatever size will spend their resources on just improving their employees language skills. Aside from the fact that the employee is taken away from his tasks if the class is during company time, the prime goal is to make the employee more business effective. Improving his business vocabulary will not suffice. Often his/her business vocabulary for his business sector is likely to exceed that of the teacher but the conversational skills in a business setting are lacking - from writing e-mails to an important business client to negotiations with foreign partners who may have even worse language skills than your client. So, you better know the business sector of your client before you attempt to teach/train him. Without respect for what you can do will not get very far with such clients. You must be ready to be more than a Business English teacher and to be flexible enough to also be seen as a specialist for a particular industry sector. More power to you if you have actually worked in your client's business sector. Remember also who is paying you. It is not your student but the company who employs him and they in the end decide whether to hire you or renew your contract.
    I doubt wherther there are any schools actually turning out effective Business English teachers and those that claim to do so need to be checked very closely. In the end, it is you yourself who will have to persuade your potential corporate client that you are the teacher for the job and this is even before you actually meet your students.

  1. jc Says:

    As usual Brenda, I find your articles excellent....... Also, thanks to Leon for his informative piece on 5th Nov.........jc

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