Do you need business experience to teach Business English?

Have you thought about teaching Business English?

Don’t you need business experience to teach Business English?

Is it possible to be an effective BE teacher without having a business background?

Do you think your teaching skills and experience can prepare you for teaching Business English?

In this post, I’m going to look at whether teachers without a business background can teach business English?

What is Business English?

Broadly speaking, Business English is the field of English language teaching related to helping learners use English effectively for their work.

As you may have noticed, that is a rather general definition. If your learner is an accountant, will they need the same lessons as an entrepreneur running a small marketing company? What about doctors running their own private practice?

This has always been one of the problems with selling Business English classes. Professionals interested in improving their English at work have varied and specific learning needs.

Examples of learners who ask for Business English classes:

Pedro has a B1 level of English and wants to set up his own travel agency.

Maria works for the Human Resources (HR) department of a company with many English-speaking employees.

Juan is a lawyer looking to find clients in his town (home to many English-speaking inhabitants).

Carmen has just graduated from university with a degree in Marketing. She wants to move to the UK.

Pablo is the CEO of a firm with many international clients. He needs to give presentations and chair meetings in English.

Paloma has just passed her C1 exam and is interested in working for a multinational.

Guillermo teaches Economics at a university. From next year, he will be asked to give his lectures in English.

Pre-service vs In-service Business English classes

When I worked in London, it was common for higher-level learners to enrol in Business English classes. These learners were often typical EFL students in London, being young adults with little or no professional experience outside of working in service jobs (waiting staff, cleaners, shop assistants) in London.

They were pre-service (or pre-experience) Business English learners.

Teaching Pre-service learners

Pre-service Business English learners have very little experience of actually doing business in English. That means they need to learn:

  • Business-related vocabulary (stocks and shares, appraisal, VAT etc.)
  • Business concepts (marketing, human resources, projections, project management)
  • Business texts (reports, memos, minutes, articles, contracts etc.)
  • Business events (meeting, interviews, presentations)

As your learners are not likely to have much knowledge about the world of work, you will have to teach them about business concepts.

For example, they might not do how to analyse sales figures.

When I first taught BE to pre-service learners, I bought a subscription to the Economist magazine and a few books on teaching Business English. I had some experience working in offices, so I had an idea of how most businesses worked, but I needed to teach myself the basics about business.

The good news is that there are lots of BE course books available. They deal with topics such as:

  • Company structures
  • Starting a business
  • Management
  • Advertising and Marketing
  • Recruitments
  • Sales
  • Training
  • Branding
  • Legal Issues

They also provide lots of activities to practise skills such as:

  • Talking about your job
  • Participating in meetings
  • Being interviewed
  • Writing emails
  • Solving problems
  • Dealing with customers

Even teachers with little or no business experience should be able to teach in-service learners effectively. However, you should prepare for these classes by researching these topics.

In Company is one of my favourites.

Teaching in-service learners

While pre-service classes are similar to general English classes in many ways (syllabus, coursebooks, lesson structures), teaching in-service learners (professionals) can be very different.

Types of in-service classes
  • Individual learners
  • A group of professionals from the same sector (Construction, Media)
  • A group of professionals with the same profession (a group of accountants)
  • A group of employees from the same company
  • A varied group of professionals from different sectors

Unlike pre-service groups, your learners will have either:

  • Specific needs related to their sector
  • Specific needs related to their profession
  • Specific needs related to their company
  • Varied needs depending on individual learners.

Analysing the needs of your learners is essential when teaching in-service groups.

What is surprising, perhaps, is that your learners’ needs may not be what you expect.

An example of an in-service class

I was asked to teach a group of accountants a few years ago. What did they need?

  1. Vocabulary and concepts related to accounting
  2. Skills related to doing their job effectively in English (writing invoices, contracts)
  3. Conversation skills.

Before their first lesson, I met them and asked what they wanted and needed to study in their English lessons. I assumed they wanted specific language related to accountancy.

I was wrong.

What they actually wanted and needed was to practice speaking on the phone to their clients. They knew all of the job-specific vocabulary better than I did.

However, they lacked confidence and skills when speaking with their international clients on the phone. They weren’t able to understand their clients’ questions about their accounts and had no small talk skills, which made the conversations awkward and uncomfortable.

Now, this was just an isolated case. Your learners may need you to have specific knowledge about their sector. They may have been assigned to the London offices of their company and have no idea about British accountancy regulations.

In which case, you may be required to teach them about accountancy regulations and best practice in the UK.

What could you do in this situation?

Well, if you are an accountant from the UK, you would probably be a good option for them. If you’re not a British accountant, you would have to take a different approach.

Firstly, you would need to be honest about your lack of professional knowledge. Secondly, you would need to think about how you could help them.

Let’s think about what this group of accountants would really need.

  • Learn about British accountancy practices and laws.
  • Learn how to work as accountants in the UK.

You wouldn’t really be able to help them much with the first need. But, you could help them with the second one.

If they are working as accountants in offices in the UK, they may need to:

  • Write emails
  • Speak to clients
  • Participate in meetings
  • Give presentations
  • Attend social events with colleagues
  • Write reports.
  • Learn about UK cultural aspects.
  • Develop intercultural communicative skills.

You would need to find out what they need to do in English for their job.

Being able to work in an English-speaking environment requires learners to develop speaking and writing skills to become effective communicators.

Which you, as a good EFL teacher, should be able to help them with.

In conclusion, having business experience obviously helps when you are teaching Business English.

You have an awareness and an understanding of corporate practices and working environments. You can draw on your own experiences to develop an authentic context in which to explore the real linguistic needs of your learners.

However, teachers without business experience can still perform a useful role. You may need to study business-related concepts and lexis, learn about the structures and features of business texts, research areas such as interview techniques and giving sales presentations.

If you study these areas and are willing to keep learning, you could probably teach Business English in lots of different contexts.

So, as in many areas of life, a teacher without a business background or experience in business can become an effective Business English teacher as long as they are motivated to acquire the relevant skills and knowledge.

Useful sites for Business English teachers

English for Business (British Council)

Business English site

Macmillan In Company

Business English Pod (Audio lessons for learners)

OneStop English

Professional Development Courses and Organizations

One option for teachers wanting to train to become Business English trainers is to take a course such as the Cert IBET (Certificate in International Business English Training).

Another option is to join a professional organisation such as BESIG (Business English Special Interest Group).

There are short courses available to train you in the basics of Business English teaching.


One thought on “Do you need business experience to teach Business English?

  1. Hi Dylan,
    A well-written informative blog as usual. I teach a lot of Business English and I agree that one of the main requirements is helping business people gain confidence in speaking and listening in English. I have utilised the Macmillan IC3.0 books on a few BE projects and IC3.0 is certainly full of information. They do take some initial in-depth reading to locate, organise and manage the additional Teacher resources, especially the digital book called the “presentation kit”. However, if you can master them, they are a professional way to present a variety of BE topics at all levels.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s