Business, Business English, English, language, Learning & Education

Business English is Boring – Apparently

Today we are going to learn some language for meetings…..

Time for Business? 

A collective groan fills the classroom. The teacher inwardly sighs, wishing he were somewhere far more stimulating, like Lidl. The students head fall with an audible smack as they hit the table, dreading the next turgid hour and a half of ‘stuff they don’t want to learn’, ‘things they already know’, ‘words and phrases they’ll never use’ , ‘a complete waste of time’.

Ever been there? Tasked with teaching a subject that is seemingly one the students hate and indeed one you as the teacher can not get enthused to teach?

Welcome to the world of teaching Business English. A world where the Director of Studies chuckles with an evil laugh as they draw up the next week’s schedule and pencil in someone for the ‘graveyard shift’. Post lunch, Business English class. A world where eyes role and knees tremble, hoping a bout of severe diarrhea wreaks havoc upon bowels and weekends so that Monday does not arrive and the teaching of Business English can be avoided. And some other poor bugger (hopefully the director of studies – oh the irony) has to teach the class instead.

Yes, for some teachers, Business English is a curse worse than a plague of boils. It is the last thing they want to teach, the area of English they feel least competent and practiced in. The area they wish to avoid at all costs. They would rather teach a class of delinquent 15 year olds the language of politeness and respect, than step up to the task of teaching presentation language.

But why is Business English feared by some and on the other hand, embraced by a few (myself included, I really enjoy Business classes)?

The reasons are various, but I would narrow it down to the following;

  • Lack of Business Experience – Left university, partied around S.E.Asia for a year and a bit, came home, worked in Tescos for 6 months, did the CELTA, started teaching in a far flung corner of China or Indonesia, never worked in a corporate environment, nor a temporary office job. Never experienced the world of ‘work’, of meetings and presentations, of financial information, of negotiations and international business class travel….
  • A Feeling of Inferiority – You are 25 years old, a graduate in media studies and fine art. You are faced with a class of 50 year old middle and senior managers, specialists in their area of business, more experience of the world of business than you have been alive, high fliers in their company. All eyes are on you. ‘What do YOU know?’. Are YOU a fraud? What can YOU actually teach THEM?
  • The Subject Matter – The language of meetings, diplomatic language, negotiations, dealing with people, conflict in the workplace, presenting, interview skills etc etc. You start looking through the Business English textbooks and immediately feel your eyes glaze over. Soporific, somnolent, snooze inducing stuff. zzzZZZZ. And you have to make this stuff attractive, interesting, easy to follow and practicable in  application. The wolves are waiting and they are hungry. Off you go…
  • Why Me? – It is a good question. In some schools the Business English class is seen as the least preferred class to teach. It is not ‘sexy ‘ English. It is not fun. It is boring, the students are dull, unreceptive, unwilling to learn anything new, sent by their boss and not particularly motivated. Why me? What have I done to deserve this? It feels as if you are being punished. Why? I was only 2 minutes late to class last Thursday….
  • Lack of Preparedness – It is Friday afternoon. The new schedule is posted. You check and find it is your turn. Pass the poisoned chalice. Monday Business class awaits. What on earth are you going to teach them? I don’t have any materials prepared….I haven’t got any cool handouts for them. Monday arrives and blind panic has resulted in photocopying a bog standard textbook (though to qualify myself, they are many excellent Business English textbooks out there)…OK then, page 1. Saying Hello at a meeting….. The groans grow louder
  • Not Wanting to Let Anyone Down – You are a professional. You take pride in your work. You enjoy interacting with students and creating and delivering effective, fun and useful lessons. You love to see the progress your students make. But Business English feels like a step too far. You can’t deliver anywhere near as effective lessons. You will let the students down and feel a failure. You want to do yourself justice, but feel you won’t be able to meet their expectations or your own. They might even go to the Director of Studies and…..complain!!!

OK. Stop. Breathe. Relax. 

Computer Says No?
Business English doesn’t need to draw a blank…

Business English is ….

FUN, INTERESTING, EXCITING, MOTIVATING, ENJOYABLE, USEFUL, SOMETHING EVERY TEACHER CAN TEACH, SOMETHING NOT TO BE AFRAID OF

There, I said it. Business English is an area of English Language teaching that is challenging, but can be approached in a practical way and can be as satisfying to your students and yourself as any other English lesson. Over the last 21 years teaching English to adults in a variety if professions and occupations, I have specialized in Business English. It is the one area that I feel most comfortable in. I have seen friends and colleagues go pale at the thought of teaching business and have coached and mentored them in how to approach Business English. Am I strange? No, not really. Everyone has their own preferred niche, but this should not preclude you from teaching any part of English, whether that is business, exam preparation, language for specific purposes such as medicine, law, engineering, aviation etc, any age group from young children to adults, etc. 

These are my top tips for teaching Business English.

  1. No one is an expert in everything – I have 6 years experience in management. However, this was a long time before I embarked on my career as a language teacher. Was I / Am I an expert in business? Absolutely not. I have experience that has supported me in teaching Business English and has been invaluable in classrooms, but I am no expert. What I have is an INTEREST in business, but moreover, an interest in my students and what they do. This forms the basis of many lessons, discussions and classroom activities . Remember that the students coming to learn Business English do not expect you to be an expert in their industry. Nor are they expecting you to teach them their job. They are looking to you to help them do their job better in English. Equipping them with better vocabulary and expressions, a more intuitive and fluent listening and speaking ability, an improved pronunciation that makes them understood more easily and the ‘English Toolbox’ to aid them deliver better presentations, meetings, negotiations. At the end of the day always remember that the student is the expert.
  2. Business English is Real Language – Business English is just English. With a specific application and relevance. The language of meetings is specific vocabulary used to do a number of functions; suggesting, offering, agreeing, disagreeing, interrupting, correcting, clarifying etc. And do we not do those things in everyday situations? It is true there are some words and phrases with unique use as Business English expressions (to table a proposal, to chair a meeting), but these are generally easy to understand from context.
  3. Use the Experience in the Classroom – People like to talk about themselves and are naturally curious. Let your Business students be a resource. Far too many teachers fall into the trap of believing every lesson has to be teacher led for 60 or 90 minutes. Business students love the opportunity to present in small groups, to discuss their own position and industry, but moreover are very interested in knowing about their fellow students and what they do. Small group sessions / discussions which can be filmed and played back will highlight key vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, direct / indirect language which can be used in the next part of the class. 
  4. Students Often Believe They Are Better Than They Really Are – Yes, you sometimes have students who know it all. Who think they have every part of this speaking English game cracked, they are perfect. Really? In my experience, every single student I have taught, even those who I would class as Advanced or Proficient make mistakes. Or fail to understand the nuances of the  language. Or have inappropriate intonation (The Russian students are often excellent, but speak with a low, flat monotone, that sounds bored, uninterested, unhappy and creates a negative response in the listener. Their vocabulary and grammar are excellent, but they don’t realise how poor they sound). While they are the experts in their job, you are the expert in English. 
  5. Even the Smallest Areas Can Trip Up the Best Students – Try this exercise. Spellings in English. Read out (or phone students) information for the students to write down. Email addresses, complicated addresses, foreign names, names including accents and umlauts. Even the most competent students struggle because it is not often practiced. But getting accurate information is crucial (especially if you spell an email address wrong….)
  6. Take An Interest in Business – Now you do not need to read the Financial Times back to back every day for a month. But listen to the business news on the radio, go online and read a couple of articles from online newspapers, watch the news, watch business programmes such as Dragon’s Den and The Apprentice. These are excellent sources of vocabulary and points of discussion. Dragon’s Den is great for negotiation language, using conditionals (what would you do?), selling, presentation language, body language, fast native speech, product design, entrepreneurship etc etc. The Apprentice introduces creative solution finding, strategic planning (or a lack of), delegation and management, decision making, conflict and conflict resolution. Business English is everywhere around us and there is so much beyond the textbooks that you can use in lesson planning; either as a lesson in itself or to supplement textbook exercises.
  7. Enjoy Business English – I have had some of the best fun classes teaching Business English. Your students are people. They are there to learn and to enjoy themselves while doing so. They are not always deadly serious and dull (in fact in 21 years of teaching Business English, 99% of my students have found the classroom environment invigorating, fun and enjoyable. Either in 1:1 or class situations, most students relish the chance to learn English, because they are NOT at work. It is a different thing to do. Many senior managers and business owners I have taught have the best sense of humour and are the most relaxed people I have taught. They want to learn, they want to enjoy the process, they don’t want to be bored, they have expectations, but they are easy to work with, they will also be proactive in telling you what they like and don’t like, and how they like to learn. 
  8. Be Relevant and Flexible – I always spend time with a new class or a new 1:1 student discussing learner expectations and do a needs analysis. I will then tailor my lessons to the needs of the student(s). I teach the students, and maintain a flexible approach, not what I want them to learn. I negotiate their priorities and design classes that fit these requests. Not everyone will have the same priorities, but doing a needs analysis will allow every student their input into the lesson content. Always have a back up plan. Always have a back up lesson or activity available. “We have done meetings, we don’t want to do financial language (Hurrah!), can we do a conversation lesson?” Be flexible.
Example of Needs Analysis for Business English Lessons

So, if you are dreading being asked to teach the Business English class, try to approach it in a different way. It is an English class, with highly motivated and intelligent, interesting people, who are interested in you, who want you and for them to succeed and above all, want to learn and to enjoy the process of doing so. I think of Business English the other way round. For me it is “English for Business”. My job is to provide the students with the English skills and language necessary to help them do their jobs better when required to use English. 

Good luck and have fun! Business does not have to be boring. But it does have to be interesting, relevant, useful, engaging and FUN!

If you would like to know more about teaching Business English please get in touch. I would love to hear from you. If you are a student interested in improving your Business English knowledge, let me know and I would be delighted to help you. Details of my Skype Online Lessons are on this website. 

Best wishes,

Tony

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