Tips for Teaching Business English
Business English teaching can be vastly different from teaching general English. With over 22 years of experience, teacher and trainer Peter Bartolomy who has taught business English in companies in Asia and Europe has some tips on how to succeed in the classroom in a business environment.
There is often a misconception that teaching business English requires the trainer to have studied a business related course at university or similar. This is not the case. It can be useful, however, though it is not essential. Your expertise is in the realm of the English language, clients do not expect you to be knowledgeable in engineering if you are to teach business English at Siemens, for example; or well versed in medicine to run a course at a Pharmaceutical company. These things do not hurt, of course, but in your preparation and while teaching the course, you will uncover any necessary information you will need to be successful in these environments. Once you understand this, the intimidation factor often disappears and you realize your role is to improve your clients English within a business context.
Teaching English in a company can be challenging at times, but it is also very rewarding and a great opportunity to learn about a new field. Here are some tips to help you prepare your first in-company lessons.
1. Do your research: knowing the company and what they do will help you tailor your lessons.
• Before your first class, you should briefly research the company as if you were going for a job interview there. What do they do? Which sector do they work in? How many staff do they have? How long have they been in business? Have they branched out into new products or services recently? The answers to these questions will give you some “conversation ammo” for the first class and will demonstrate that you have come to class well prepared, and this will give the clients a good first impression.
“Teaching English in a company can be challenging at times, but it is also very rewarding and a great opportunity to learn about a new field.”
2. Ask questions: Your students are the best resource when it comes to preparing lessons.
• Ask them in which situations they need English and to name a few concrete examples of each situation. You can then create tailored activities and role-plays. A needs analysis done on the first day will help you understand your clients’ needs. Where do they need confidence? Often clients have to take part in conference calls or online meetings with native speakers and feel anxious that their English skills are not up to par. Work on giving them confidence in the situations they face day-to-day. These days with such good automatic translators such as DeepL, clients feel that receiving and sending emails is not as much of a worry as in the past, as replying to emails or writing reports in English do not need to be done on the spot.
3. Who will your clients be communicating in English with?
• Often overlooked is the fact that clients will have to communicate in English with other non-native speakers of English. If this is the case, then working on language you might expect native speakers to use might be counterproductive. A good example here is idioms. When communicating with native speakers this is something that is very useful to focus on, as native speakers with no background in ESL often do not realize how difficult the language they use can be. For example, in a business meeting, I have overheard native speakers use idioms such as, “ The product launch ended up being a damp squib.” to learners at a B1 level then wonder why the non-native speakers have a puzzled look on their faces. With non-native to non-native English communication, it’s best to work on fluency and getting the message across in the clearest way possible. In these situations, it is also useful to learn about how different cultures work and do business, so that expectations are clear. For example, the Germans and French have a very different business culture.
4. Present yourself professionally, but keep motivation and energy high.
• How you appear to clients reflects on you and the company/school that has sent you. The impression you want to make is that of being professional in the things you say, the way you behave and how you dress. Business English learners need motivation like all learners. Their classes might be in the evening after a long day of work, or very early before work. Keeping your energy high while being professional is crucial. Lots of opportunities for conversation is useful and appropriate, as business English classes tend to fall in the B1-B2 level. Often any writing or reading can be assigned as self-study or homework as class time is best spent on listening and, more so, speaking.
5. Anticipate problems and be flexible
• Business people can be quite demanding. They may want classes early before their work starts, or during lunch hour, or late in the evening which means your day as a trainer can get quite long. Often cancellations come as, quite rightly, their work comes before their classes. Having a clear cancellation policy can help here. A common example is giving 24 hours’ notice of a cancellation otherwise, the class is charged for. Another thing to be flexible about in a group class is that you can plan for 8-10 clients to turn up, and then only two do. You have to be prepared for that as there is usually a lot of last minute meetings or deadlines to meet.
To summarize, teaching Business English can be very rewarding and requires varied skills and techniques, however a professional approach and good preparation will stand you in good stead.
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