How To Teach Business English (And Succeeding)

Types Of Business English Students

Business English? Business Teaching? what is it? Is it any different to ordinary teaching? If so, how?

When new teachers follow the CELTA programme, generally there is a short overview of one to one and business English teaching during the course, however, generally, there is not a lot of time taken on this area, probably because there is so much other information to cover.

At some point in a  TEFL teacher’s life, they are more than likely to find themselves teaching a student face to face, on their own.  It can be very daunting.

So, how can a teacher prepare themselves for the day when they will teach a one to one class or a Business English Course?

Here at LSI/IH Portsmouth, we have been running Professional one to one and Business English courses for more than 35 years, it is something we excel at, and we have an excellent reputation for running these classes.  The teachers we use to teach these Business courses, are very experienced, qualified and talented professionals. Further down this article one of our teachers has explained briefly how a typical day of his runs.  Obviously one of the things missing is the assumed knowledge that anyone who is very practised and experienced forgets that those who aren’t, won’t know, so this is an article more for the teacher who already understands teaching but hasn’t really had much experience teaching Business English or one to one classes.

There are some excellent books with instructions and information on how to teach individual classes (See below for some suggested reading).

The Basics

The basic premise is that you need to know about the student before they start their lessons, have some kind of needs analysis, know what their goals for the end of the course are and then create a course to help them get from A to B in a way that fits their personality type best. There are obviously many different types of Corporate English students, with different needs, abilities, desires and life experience so there can be no one size fits all.

When we do teacher training for Executive teaching here at LSI/IH Portsmouth, the pre-course needs analysis is one of the key points we focus on.  What is their (the student) previous learning experience, was it successful? What materials were used? What is their job? Do they use English in their job? Do they speak to other second languages users in English or native speakers? What will their future need be in English?

Where are their weaknesses? What is most important for them? Is written communication more important than spoken for example?

Which skills are most important to them? Which functions are they most likely to need? Which lexical area is the one they know best, they need the most?

Of course, as mentioned before, there are many different types of corporate student,  it may well be that although they are following a business course, their interest is really in travel or their hobby, but that is a ‘whole new kettle of fish’.

Plan the course

For this article, we are focussing on the general needs of an average business student, following a typical business English course. From the answers to the questions above, it is easier to plan their course. Depending on the length of the course and their level, this will determine how much will be covered. Obviously, a student who wants 3 hours a week for two weeks and wants to become fluent is going to be disappointed, so it is important for them to have realistic goals.

Obviously it is easier to organise a one to one business class with the details, however, the actual teaching can be a lot more intense. For example, when teaching a group of students, they will have opportunities to practice their English in groups or pair work, which when you are the only other person in the class becomes you. When you have a group of students, all with language needs and probably different interests, it is important to create a lesson that will engage all as well as have input that meets all the different requirements.

There are many who say to be a good one to one Executive teacher one needs to be; a magician, a psychologist, an expert in many fields, a counsellor, a friend, a grammar specialist, an author, a coach, be flexible, knowledgeable, creative as well as a host of other skills ;-).  There is no shortcut to being excellent, it takes time and a lot of experience.

Below is a window into a typical Business teacher’s average day.

A day in the life of a Business English Teacher

The day begins at 8.15 with a period of teaching preparation. This includes reviewing the previous day’s lessons as well as thinking about the objectives for that day’s lessons, and looking at the weekly planners (which have been agreed with the students and tailored to their needs). Based on this, materials and tasks are prepared.

It may be that the student has a particular need for a very specialised area of vocabulary, and the material for this will need to be created from scratch, or to practise a specific feature of grammar that is particularly difficult for student’s of certain mother tongues to master, again this material will probably have to be created.

The first lesson (which is normally a one – to – one lesson) begins at 9.15, the first part of the lesson being spent with a little small talk followed by a recap of the previous morning’s key language areas. The focus then moves on to the main aim of that day’s lessons which may include developing the student’s speaking and listening skills, improving their grammatical accuracy and increasing their vocabulary base. For example, there may be a lesson on the Past Simple studied through the context of the student’s career history and the history of their company. Work may also be done on any areas of pronunciation which the student has problems with.

At the coffee break the teacher will normally mingle with the other executive teachers and students. After coffee there is another lesson, which could be a completely different focus to the first lesson. At the end of this lesson there will be a review of the language points that have been covered.

Business Lunch

Lunch is often spent with the executive students at a local restaurant, giving both teachers and students an opportunity to talk with each other in a more informal situation.

The Rest of the Day

The afternoon starts at 13.15 with either a small group of students: (maximum 4 in number) or a more one to one lessons. The focus for the afternoon lessons this week is on developing the students’ skills and language awareness of a range of business functions. These could include meetings, teleconferences, presentations, and such like. For example in a meetings skills lesson, language to do with expressing opinions, making suggestions and asking for clarification is looked at followed by a meetings role play to practise this language.

There might be lessons considering making presentations, cultural awareness or a variety of business functions.  The students will have been grouped according to their English ability, the stated needs, their experience in the field, and sometimes on their personality types, for example a bombastic, loud, difficult student may not be the best classmate for a very timid, shy student hugely lacking in confidence or experience in their chosen field.

From the end of the lesson until home time is the time to analyse the day’s lessons, maybe mark work that the student prepared earlier, discuss issues with other teachers, and to begin to do some preparation for the next day’s lessons.

There is a no fast track to becoming an excellent teacher, it takes time, practice and a lot of experience. By analysing each lesson after to understand what worked and what didn’t, and by always being open to trying new things, but most importantly to understand that your student is your map, they are the key to how to have a successful lesson, which hopefully is just one of many under your belt.

Further reading:

Teaching One to One by Priscilla Osborne (Modern English Publishing, 2005)

One to One A Teachers’ Handbook by Peter Wilberg  (LTP, 1987)

Learning One to One by Ingrid Wisniewska (CUP, 2010)

Teaching One to One by Tim Murphey (Longman, 1996)