“Do I need to have a background in business to teach Business English?”

The term Business English is a misnomer. If you teach in-company, in most cases you are not going to be spending all your time with the key people who manage the business aspects of their company. You will generally need to deal with people who simply need English to do their work. So ‘English for work’ would be much more appropriate.

But from the perspective of schools, publishers, and examining boards, Business English sounds a lot more serious. They therefore think they can charge more for their lessons, books and exams than they do for General English. But ultimately, Business English is more succinct than any other label anyone has come up with.

So, Business English is intended to mean all the language needed to carry out a job effectively; for emails, meetings (face-to-face and online), telephone calls, describing processes, writing manuals etc.

But it also covers the survival skills needed for travelling abroad, and the socializing skills needed around a lunch or dinner table.

You may also find your students tend to talk more about their job – their position, what it involves – rather than telling you the English they need for specific tasks to actually carry out their job. In the latter case, they may also need to learn a specific vocabulary, so you might find your lessons verge into English for Special Purposes (ESP).

Working people generally tend to be pushed for time and need to exploit their English lessons to the full. So in my view, it makes sense to focus mainly on oral communication skills. It is also important to teach them how to use all the AI tools that can significantly boost their writing, pronunciation, and presentation skills.

So what skills do you need?

The good news is that you don’t need to know anything about business! In a way, the students will teach you about their business, and then it is your job to help them do what they need … in English. In small companies, you may even end up making suggestions on how they do their job! That said, the more you get into it, the more you might actually be interested in studying management, economics, presentation skills etc.

A key skill is showing students how the language of their everyday lives can also be applied to the world of work. For example, negotiating an increase in pocket money with your child can involve using the same kind of language of persuasion as negotiating a price rise for a product with a customer

Finally, I believe that students should be given the opportunity to learn how business works in all parts of the world. Therefore I suggest you have a strong cross cultural input. Don’t merely focus on how business is done in Anglo countries.

Below are a few insights from Angelina Novani, a Scottish teacher working in a company in Pisa, Italy.

When they come to the English lessons, they’re really enthusiastic, and it’s great to see them. The bosses have been asking me to do business English, to work on what they do in the company. In one way you get a lot of information about management and how things could be improved. But I think the enjoyment is when you talk about something that’s got nothing to do with their work. However, you’re being paid to be there to help them to be more efficient. So you have to try and do a bit of both basically you know. At the beginning they always ask for a wee bit of grammar. But what I try to do is to get them to work with what they’ve got; as opposed to trying very sophisticated CI sorts of grammar.

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 became Business English Editor in January 2022. Ruairi has 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

Angelina Novani has worked as a freelance English teacher for both young learners and adults in Pisa over the past 20 years, but has recently gained valuable insights into the  world of business and algorithms, and the challenges tech employees face in dealing with the global markets through online meetings. In her spare time she enjoys reading, baking and keeping fit.