“How should I teach business English to beginners?”

It can seem like a challenge to teach business English to beginners.

Potential conflicts of interest

If you dive straight into teaching business English vocabulary, this is likely to be counterproductive because students need to learn the core vocabulary appropriate for their level before moving on to more specialized terms. At a beginner level, it is essential for students to learn common adjectives, verbs, pronouns, and prepositions, so that they have a good foundation in the language. This is often in conflict with very business-focused learning objectives, encouraged by some course books, which focus the lessons on more specialized terms that are not considered part of the core beginner vocabulary. The risk is that the students may fail to gain any level of competence in the language because important knowledge gaps are being ignored.


This leads to further problems, as learners will want to learn the language used in their particular work context and may not be motivated to learn the basics. I have come across students who feel like it is a waste of time to learn basic grammatical structures or core vocabulary. The opposite is also true, as some students will wonder why they are learning more advanced business concepts, but they still feel they cannot express basic ideas.

What can you do to overcome these challenges?

Firstly, explain to students that they need to learn the basics in order to be able to communicate effectively in the workplace. Mastering the basics will boost their confidence levels and lead to a lot more communication opportunities at work. Secondly, if you feel that your course book is not aligned with your students needs, then set your own objectives for the course so that students do not have any false expectations. Lastly, make sure that authentic work-related scenarios are used to practice core content. For example, if you are covering food, you can easily use the context of a business lunch to give it that much-needed workplace relevance.

The pay-off

Ultimately, the key to success lies in finding the right balance between business-specific content and language fundamentals, while ensuring relevance and practicality in the learning process.

Ruairi Braddell is a CELTA-qualified English trainer. He was born in Cobh in southern Ireland, but spent a large part of his childhood in Donegal. After completing a bachelor’s and master’s degree in music in 2001, he moved to Germany in 2003. He has worked for corporate customers in various economic sectors, such as plastic and steel production, pharmaceutical, finance, and insurance. Ruairi started working full time for Learnship as a content writer in 2021 and was promoted to the role of Business English Editor in January 2022. Ruairi also taught business English at the University of Applied Sciences in Düsseldorf, and specialized in English for the Fashion industry at the Mode Design College Düsseldorf. Check out his blog: www.englishexpert.de

Photo AW: Workshop in Sausalito, San Francisco