Designing a Business English Syllabus
Teaching business English presents teachers with a degree of freedom that is perhaps not enjoyed by those teaching in, for example, State Schools that have curriculums set by the education arm of Government or other international organizations. Some teachers may relish having the opportunity to design their syllabus while for others it may be something rather daunting. Regardless, gaining experience in the field of syllabus design will likely prove invaluable for a teacher in their personal career development. Several considerations are required when designing a syllabus for a course in Business English and these will be discussed throughout this essay along with the methods and resources necessary for their implementation. The essay will address both the preparatory and construction stages of the syllabus as well as means of evaluation and reflection that can aid in future syllabus development.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate James M. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
Understanding the level of your students
When first encountering a group of students, the first critical juncture is gauging the level of the group you have been assigned to teach. Often, when teaching in a company, a teacher will encounter students who occupy a variety of job roles and have a plethora of backgrounds in English that may include school and university studies or experience of living and working abroad. Students can usually be placed into different levels, namely: Elementary, Pre-Intermediate, Intermediate, Lower Advanced, and Advanced. Normally this can be gauged with a General English Test and students can then be subsequently categorized. Having this information on hand can of great help when planning elements such as group work, where pairing weaker and stronger students together can aide them both in their development. This initial test is essential to ascertain “What they already know” and this is later supplemented with a Needs Analysis that will subsequently ascertain “What they need to know”, both of which are crucial to overall syllabus design.
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A Needs Analysis is a critical prerequisite for designing a Business English syllabus. This normally comes in the form of a questionnaire – either in paper or digital form – where the students are asked about their previous learning experiences of English, wherein their job they most commonly use English and which parts they feel that they need the most help with. The document will contain questions about both the productive skills (speaking and writing) as well as the receptive skills (listening and reading) that will encompass both how frequently they undertake certain activities in their jobs such as interacting with customers or writing emails, recreational activities such as reading news articles online and also the student’s self-efficacy. It may be useful for lower-level students to undertake this in their native language to express themselves to their satisfaction. Once this information is available to the teacher, then it is possible to start properly designing the syllabus for the students and in the cases of larger groups, it can enable a sensible breakdown to better address the students’ needs and desires from the course through the actual syllabus design.
When constructing the individual lessons, several factors must be considered. These include course literature/textbooks, the number of lessons available, assessment and the general philosophy of the syllabus. Firstly, it important to note that intimate knowledge of the intricacies of your client company – much of the vocabulary required is general, while specialist vocabulary can be obtained from textbooks. In recent years there has been a great increase in the number of published texts specifically written for Business English and a teacher will likely find a few of their favorites as they grow inexperienced. The number of sessions available will unquestionably have an impact on the syllabus design: the first lesson will virtually always be an introductory lesson where the teacher meets and greets the students and outlines the course aims and syllabus designed based on the Needs Assessment. Often the teacher will also wish to supplement the course with progress and/or tests, the frequency of which will depend on the number of sessions available. It may also be the case that the syllabus has to be designed to allow the students to sit external proficiency tests such as the Cambridge English Tests. When incorporating assessment into a syllabus, the students must receive proper feedback promptly so that maximum progress will be made and also it is vital to ensure that there is sufficient flexibility to address any areas of common weakness that are detected during assessments. Assessment should also be regarded as a means to show students how they have progress and thus increase self-efficacy.
Basis of the lesson
Several philosophies can be adopted when constructing the syllabus including Structural, Functional, Learner-led, and Situational. Structural syllabi are more focussed on the grammatical aspects of the language, while Functional syllabi focus more on practical usage of the language and Situational syllabi focus on the use of the language in specific situations. Normally elements of each of these philosophies will be incorporated into the overall design but the key objective should be to maximize student progress through the medium of tasks that put the focus of the lesson on the students. While it is vital to ensure that receptive and productive skills are addressed in a balanced manner, careful consideration must be given to the needs analysis to address a perceived weakness in a given area. To maximize engagement, these tasks should be relevant to their jobs and could encompass practical elements such as: presenting information to clients, writing emails or reports, telephone conversations, describing products, etc and, again, the choice of which exact tasks to create can be based on the information provided by the needs assessment. To maintain variety in lessons, special consideration must also be given to the materials and methods of learning, however, using the Engage-Study-Activate Structure to lessons will go a long way to addressing this. In short, there are several intricacies to designing individual lessons but these must also be considered when designing the overall syllabus to ensure that is effective in its objectives.
Student Evaluations can be an invaluable source of information for a teacher on how effective their lessons and syllabus have been in addressing the course objectives. Usually, these can be presented to students in the form of a questionnaire where they can rate different aspects of the course and the questions must encompass all aspects of the course such as the teaching materials, syllabus and teaching style. Students will often be very open about how they rate certain aspects of the course and it can also be invaluable in improving the syllabus or materials for the next time the course is taught. Often it will also be required of the teacher to evaluate the students as well and provide a report to the employer on how the students have progressed and the students’ comments can be a useful source of information in this regard.
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In conclusion, the construction of a syllabus for a Business English course has many considerations that may seem insurmountable at first but will become almost second nature with practice. The key to success is to design the syllabus around the students’ needs as they express in Needs Assessment and to ensure their satisfaction in lessons it is important to ensure a variety of tasks where the focus is on the student and developing their skills in a balanced and practical manner. Student Evaluations can also be an invaluable source of information for a teacher to develop different parts of their syllabus going forward.
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