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The Challenges of Teaching Business English

The Challenges of Teaching Business English | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Teaching English as a foreign language presents several opportunities as well as choices for a teacher. Certainly, there are numerous teaching positions around the world in traditional, classroom settings, and most ESL teachers will spend time in those settings. For many teachers, the classroom setting is a fulfilling endeavor; however, other outlets exist for teaching English, including teaching business English.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Robert E. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

Business English teaching vs. teaching for other purposes

There are differences between teaching business English versus teaching English to a group of high school students or young adults, for example, and there are also many similarities. The most essential skill needed for any teaching assignment is the ability to understand and tailor classes towards the students’ needs.

In teaching business English, the students’ needs will likely focus on improving their English abilities for their jobs. Some students may need to improve telephone skills for talking to customers or business associates. Some students may want to improve their listening skills to attend meetings and conferences presented in English. Still, other students may want to learn to write better emails in English. It’s incumbent on a teacher to be very familiar with student needs before a class begins.

One of the important differences in teaching business English is that group lessons will often feature students of mixed levels, and sometimes the difference in levels can be very pronounced. Additionally, students will likely have different levels of seniority in a classroom situation usually designed to put everyone on the same level.

So, with different learning goals, different proficiency levels and different stature levels, how does a teacher prepare and teach under these conditions?

It’s not as difficult as it may first appear. It’s a chance for teachers to be creative and use multiple skills to satisfy the students and – in all likelihood – the company paying for the English lessons.

business meeting

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Teaching experience

I’ve had several wonderful opportunities to test my abilities in teaching business English. I taught a group class at a hospital in Okayama, Japan that was open to anyone in the facility. So, my mix of students was receptionists, doctors, nurses, nurse’s aides, kitchen staff and several people from the administrative office. It was a diverse group with diverse English abilities, but I was able to find commonalities that allowed me to put together lessons that satisfied the students.

However, I should note that based on the makeup of the class, it wasn’t possible to ‘completely’ satisfy every student. As a result, one of the most important things I did was to have a good business conversation with the hospital administrator that had hired me. I let her know that because the student levels were different there would be times when the class might seem challenging to some students, and conversely, too light for other students.

The administrator understood my reasoning and the lesson plan I present to her. This is a good reminder that although you want your students to be satisfied with your lessons, you also have to consider the company that is paying you. As a teacher, who also must consider the business aspect of teaching, it’s essential to go over lesson plans and progress with the person responsible for hiring you.

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Running an Activity

The specifics on how I handled the class included working a good deal on listening and speaking skills as that was a common goal among the diverse student makeup. I would present vocabulary to all students before diving into the activity part of the lesson, but I would give higher-level students additional, higher-level vocabulary words and phrases.

When students were paired for group work, I kept the higher-level students together, and that allowed me to make their activities more appropriate to their levels. Keep in mind, it wasn’t necessary to come up with two different lesson plans for the different levels of students.

business english

It was possible to augment the lesson plan and make it more challenging for higher-level students. For example, one lesson on location and preposition vocabulary required students to listen to an audio recording while looking at a cartoon map of buildings in a city. The speaker said things like “The bakery is across from the bank.” Or “The bank is next to the supermarket.”

All students had to show where the bakery, bank, supermarket, etc. were. However, the higher-level students also had to answer additional questions about the city drawing. For example, “where is a good location for a post office?” or “describe your neighborhood.”

Additionally vocabulary for higher-level students including things such as “a few miles up the road,” “kitty-corner to the…,” “it used to be ... the bakery, but now it’s ... the supermarket.”

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Like any other ESL class, preparation is important, and during that preparation, a teacher can work out a functional lesson plane that can satisfy the needs of students with different English levels. It should be noted, that even with the best-made planning, there were times when the higher-level students felt certain aspects of a lesson were too easy, and the lower level students felt the lesson was too difficult. However, those instances were not nearly as many as the overall successes of the class.

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