Business English Classes that Don’t Suck

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My feelings about business English.

Business English was never an area that really attracted me. When I taught it in Korea it was a private class for two businessmen who had to be there, but didn’t really want to be. They frequently missed class, but when they did come they wanted to focus on textbooks. All in all I had a really miserable experience teaching it and it put me off business English. This semester I’ve had to teach 5 business English classes. I’ve actually really come to love teaching these classes. I think the classes themselves have also been prettay prettay prettay good. I wanted to share for things I’ve tried to do to make them work. 


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My students’ feelings for the negotiated syllabus.

1. The Negotiated Syllabus

In theory, negotiated syllabi are my cup of pedagogical tea. The idea is that you talk to your students and figure out what their needs are. You continue to work together on what is covered in class. I spent my first class with each group getting them to discuss ‘What is business English?’, ‘What do you want to cover?’ and so on. The main thing my students negotiated with me was that I never try and negotiate a syllabus with them again. The whole experience seemed very awkward and confusing for them. I can’t really say why, but I think some kind of combination of large class sizes, it being my first ever week at a university and 15 years exposure to very didactic education was to blame. If anyone has any ideas for making it work, I’d love to hear them.


2. C.R.E.A.M

This is probably very cynical, but it’s effective. I teach at a university specialising in finance and economics; lots of my students want to learn English to get a well paying job. I’ve found it really useful to remind them of this as often as possible. We spent time talking about English being an international language. When they do a role play, it’s always a role play between two non-native speakers doing business in English. I try and frame tasks as ‘If you can do x well, you’ll make y amount for your company.’

Different students have varying degrees of response to this, but no one has responded to potentially making money badly.

3. Give Them Some Firsts

When I did my first class on holding a meeting in English, about 25% of my students had held a meeting before. For the rest of the class they got to have their first formal meeting in my class. For all of them it was their first meeting in English. For a lot of them it’s quite exciting to do these things for the first time. Not every class can be a super interesting ‘first’, but they’re very motivating for students. These classes also teach some useful skills so it’s win win.


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An actual task we’ve done. 

4. Tasks Tasks Tasks

This is a big one.

The classes I teach are two 45 minute sessions with a 10 minute break in the middle. This kind of class is hard to teach and from what I remember of university, hard to pay attention to. These tasks replicate real world business English as closely as possible. One of my favourites went like this:

  •  15 minutes discussing job interviews and looking at some job descriptions.
  • 20 minutes brainstorming ideas for interview questions, feeding back and discussing them.
  • 20 minutes looking at some ‘tough’ interview questions and their answers. For each one practice asking and answering with a partner.
  • [break]
  • 30 minutes doing mock interviews. We could squeeze in a change of partners three to five depending on various things.
  • 15 minutes discussion and then feedback on what interview questions were easy, hard and useful for finding a good job candidate.