Monday, 17 October 2011

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ELTchat Summary by Edith Occelli - How can you teach Business English with minimal experience of being in the business world?

The following ELTChat summary was written by Edith Occelli, but as she doesn't have a blog of her own, I offered mine so she'd get the opportunity to share it with everyone. I'm sure you'll agree that she's done a fantastic job. You can follow Edith on Twitter at @EdithOccelli.

ELTchat - How can you teach Business English with minimal experience of being in the business world?

Last Wednesday's ELTchat 9pm discussion focused on the interesting (albeit controversial) topic of Business English and whether it is possible to teach BE classes having no business experience. The conversation was fast and furious and, as a newcomer, it really amazed me how much ground was covered in a single hour @_@ I just hope I can squeeze all the main points in this summary ;)

The discussion kicked off with chatters attempting to define Business English and what it constitutes. Definitions varied from the broad Communication skills for business contexts to more specific things like learning business terminology and working towards internationally recognized qualifications.

Then, after a brief "hands up" revealed that many participants had experience teaching BE classes, chatters jumped in to discuss one key question: Is business experience required to teach Business English?, a query that had no straight answer but for which everybody gave their opinions. 

Some said it "Yes, it is":

·       "advanced learners need expert in business to teach them English"

·       "Personally, when I'm the student I prefer when my teacher has personal experience in the field & learning from their anecdotes"

·     "We definitely need business skills. Some are acquired in coaching + through experience, but many we really do need to learn"

·        "I think advanced students (& co.s) are looking for more & more specialist training need ROI!"

·     "How about teaching things like negotiation, doing a SWAT analysis, or creating special docs? Doesn't teacher need that experience?"

·       "I believe that it is very difficult to truly be a BE language expert w/o direct experience of nuances of BE language :-D"

·        "If I want to learn BE I would trust a business expert rather than excellent ET"

·        "I think that those Ss who want both to stay ahead in the field will pay more for teachers with experience"

Whereas others said it was not really a requirement:

·       "I've never had that problem. They know you're not a business expert & don't expect it from you (thankfully!)"

·       "There's a common misunderstanding that bus sts need business classes. They don't, they need to improve their bus lang skills"

·       "I can see how it'd help but not necessarily"

·       "Much has been said abt business, but a lot of learners just want to be fluent"

·       "No but you need to understand concepts"

·       "No but they do expect u to be a language expert who knows how professionals communicate"

·       "I think it's going more & more towards specialist + elt but as the ELT expert in what might be a partnership it can work"

·       "I think is less about content and more about successful communication"

Still, some other thought it was first necessary to clarify what was being meant by having "business experience"?

·       "But what IS an expert in business? There are many different types of business experience as the Ss we're teaching, right?"

·      "Teachers ARE in business if they work 4 a private school - this exp can be milked too - esp'ly if u have admin responsibilities"

·       "I find it hard to believe that nobody has BE experience. If you've worked somewhere, you have experience to draw from"

And the conversation flowed all over the place with both sides passionately defending their views:

·       "Advanced Ls need expert in bus to teach them English  > really?  they want 2learn English not business!"

·    "Chances are that ss knows more abt their business than you. Your role is to help them express that knowledge in English"

·        "But you won't help them in using E if u r not an expert in bus especially advanced bus learners"

This went on for a few minutes until some people skilfully pointed out that:

·        "Different BE students can have very different needs and goals" 

·       "What do business learners need from English ?---> - a question must be asked before figuring out what to teach" 

Working in an office (St Stephens)

So that all chatters were (at least partly) right since the need for experience depends on different factors (e.g. context, level, type of class, Ss goals, company requirements, etc).

From this, a new subtopic ensued with chatters discussing different BE contexts and learner expectations:

·       "I would seperate business english from general english for business people. BEng more specialized"

·       "I find most advanced bus stds know the tech language and flounder with gen/soc English"

·       "Some customers looking for a hybrid - a kind of business CLIL - then teacher obviously needs the relevant subject knowledge"

·       "The scenario is different if we have to teach them abt doing businees w/ other cultures - we may have more experience here. "

·     "At our institution, the Business studies teachers teach Business Communication so we can send Adv. Learners there"

·       "But when bus stds arrive in the UK to work what they need is vocab, idioms, social language mostly"

·       "I find it more of a coaching role - helping sts succeed in their career"

·       "Teaching business English has become a branch of business consulting"

·    "What we have found is that in 1-2-1 the focus is much sharper on BE - in grp classes sponsored by company they want other stuff too"

Once this variety had been established, the conclusions were:

1.     The majority of BE students want increased fluency and English for social situations.

2.     Business expertise is only a requirement for some types of (specialized) BE classes. However, it is always an advantage ;)

3.   Most ELT professionals, even those without "business experience", can adequately support BE students when forming a partnership with their learners.

Later, after taking this most interesting of detours, chatters set up to share their advise on the main topic of the evening which was: … (drumroll) How to teach BE with minimal experience of being in the business world

Here is a selection of the TOP TIPS:

1.     Get a good start:  find out everything you can about the learners' roles and their companies, fish for ideas, take a course in BE, etc.

·    "if you've never been in Business but find urself teaching BE - do a thorough needs analysis and Profession analysis"

·       "Company documents extremely useful - for bigger clients we also send sb to spend a day in company "

·   "I did the IH Business English Teaching (BET) certificate. Useful, and avail to non-IH teachers too "

2.     Stay informed: take an interest in business and current affairs, read widely, join groups, etc.

·       "Reading articles to stay up-to-date, watching business channels on tv, listening to podcasts and news"

·    "I think joining in some LinkedIn groups also helps to observe the communication. A lot of business is communication"

·       "Definitely the #besig hashtag, webinars, and website are full of great information"

3.     Use your learners' expertise: ask them to explain, to give you examples, etc learn from them!

·       "Ask your students to provide as many real examples of the English they need to deal with emails, reports, brochures, calls"

·       "Get the students to show you around - ask intelligent questions - ask Ss to bring in documents they have to handle in English"

·       "A good idea to get them to teach you the processes while you feed in the language"

4.     Draw on your experience: whatever jobs you've had identify similarities, transferable skills, etc and use them.

·       "That's what I did - I used my experience as a 'worker' when teaching to the managers!"

·       "True If you can teach "How much?" in a supermarket context for GE teaching Negotiation for BE is much the same"

·       "I worked in supermarkets, shops and offices before becoming a teacher. It was very informative when I started teaching "

5.     Be humble: know yourself, recognize gaps in your knowledge and be willing to learn.

·       "Teachers shouldn't pretend to know more than they do about business"

·      "we need to know our strengths (& weaknesses), listen carefully and intelligently, spot the areas where Ss need support"

·       "whenever I taught I found myself learning lots to help my learners -  I even learnt binary math!"

Old Style Cash Register and Canned Goods in a Butcher Shop in New Ulm, Minnesota ..., 10/1974

 Chatters also agreed essential points for all BE teachers (and GE for that matter) this were:

1.      Having "face validity" (smart looks)
2.     Providing authentic practice for Ss
3.     Conducting a thorough needs analysis
4.     Tailor classes to fit in with Ss lives (E.g. mp3, online learning, etc)
5.     Promoting inter-cultural awareness

Some common problems like mismatches between learners Vs company wishes, compulsory coursebooks, and working with lower language levels were also briefly touched upon:

·       "We generally tell company shd be a balance of BE and Non BE stuff otherwise lose the Ss - in there but out to lunch in their heads"

·       "books I've used seem very vocab heavy, with little practice of it. Books were company requirement. 2 units = 1year"

·       "S/s I taught, their language was not on the level to do business expert type stuff w/ they really needed basics…"

Finally, participants suggested some wonderful Business English activities:

·     "Take me on a tour. My students loved doing that when they learned the right language. Useful for some"

·     "Take all of the numbers from a reading text & use them to describe trends / patterns etc (from Teaching Unplugged)"

·    "Crisis real time role plays. Feed information to groups which they deal with in real time. Each has an assigned role"

·       "With Skype classes you can have sts prepare, call a headhunter and practise real conversation"

·       "How about writing to an ISP re. spam or phishing email that came to their account?"

·       "Get them blogging. They can practice writing various business writing"

·       "Design a Facebook Page or website for their company? "

·       "Designing dream teams with famous business people, balloon debates etc"

·       "I use industry relevant docs, video, pdf them, and then annotate in a virtual class, record it - with courses"

·       "can give students exposure to experts through podcasts etc"

·      "Do a TED search on their subject area of expertise - try to find good short videos 3-6-9mins for authentic listening"

·       "How about case studies for business courses.. do any of you adapt some for BE purposes?? I think they made do good classroom activity "

·        "try to hooks stds up with s'one their field with whom they can discuss the role in English"

·        "Get them to do pecha kuchas if a class - or their presentations if involved in presenting"

Overall, I think it was a very productive session and I'd like to thank everyone for your great contributions.  Special thanks go to Shaun, Shelly, and Marisa for their skilled moderation and for giving me the opportunity to participate and write this summary. I'd also like to thank Berni for her endless inspiration and encouragement, and of course, James who kindly let me post this on his blog =).

Wish you all a great week!

Links to resources shared:

Thanks again Edith for your wonderful summary. If you’d like to do an ELTChat summary of your own, and you don’t have a blog to post it to, don’t hesitate to ask and I’ll host it for you.


  1. Wow, Edith. What an extensive summary. I like the comment about using all your experience in different jobs you've had to help teach and understand business and BE. Thank you, and to James for being such a good host.

  2. Thanks David, especially since I think that comment was by me! Of course, I could just be taking credit for somebody else's wisdom...



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