Many people around the world use English for work to seal deals, conduct business activities or conclude transactions on a daily basis. People use business English within a specific context, including accounting, commerce, finance, human resources, logistics, law, trade, procurement, marketing, selling, buying, purchasing, advertising, promoting, etc. Understanding business English can help achieve different occupational and professional language needs like negotiating, compromising, establishing contact, building rapport, communicating, meeting, discussing, presenting, profiling, reporting, persuading, influencing, describing, analysing, interviewing, travelling, touring, socialising, networking, exchanging and exploiting resources, exploring options, providing services, producing products, manufacturing goods, accomplishing matters, supporting, innovating, explaining things, proposing ideas, brainstorming, planning, making suggestions and recommendations, sharing information, finding problems and solutions……the list goes on!
The question is why do we learn business English? There could be many reasons for doing so, including job hunt, career development, promotion, skills improvement, etc. Below is a non-exhaustive list of common reasons:
• English for the workplace. Learners need English to be able to do their job more productively at work. They need to effectively use English to communicate effectively, read business-related documents, write professionally, understand commercial terms, handle phone calls, deal with comments or complaints, discuss issues or engage in small talks with native speakers.
• English for leisure and pleasure. Many people only tend to take a business English course simply because it is made available to them. The company or university offers it for personal and professional continuous career development and others attend without having any specific need for it.
• English for travel and tourism. People often need to use business since they travel around the world either for business or for leisure. Others may have to deal with tourists, visitors, VIPs or foreign business executives who come to their country.
• English for socialising and networking. People in business often need English to communicate with different contacts, clients, customers, colleagues, counterparts and even competitors.
• English for daily use. People in the business and corporate world often need to use English on a day-to-day basis. They need English to be able to deal with general everyday subject-matters, not necessarily specific business-related issues.
• English for for promotion purposes. Anyone who aspires to get promoted in their job knows that they need to develop or improve relevant skills. Communicating clearly in English to convey meaning is often seen as a ticket for someone moving towards the promotion gateway in their career.
• English for professional purposes. Some people will often want to attend a business English course with the aim of helping them to acquire a good knowledge and skills of the language to support them in applying for jobs with other companies.
• English for occupational and vocational purposes. Some people need training in business English to understand practical and authentic business situations or events to fulfil a specific task like writing an email, attending a meeting, taking notes or minutes, managing a project, networking and socialising with others, giving a presentation, greeting or making introductions, etc. This will highly motivate them to participate and contribute since they will learn and practice relevant business simulations or activities used in context.
• English for specific purposes. Working professionals will often need to understand and know key vocabulary terms to use in specific areas of business. For example, you need to understand key concepts in human resources whether you are applying for a job or sourcing suitable candidates like screening, shortlisting, recruiting, etc.
• English for academic purposes. Almost all schools, colleges and universities offer courses and lectures in business in the English language like accounting, business management and administration, commerce, economics, finance, human resources or trade. This requires students to have a good level of English. Also, a lot of the academic books covering these areas of business will be English because there is a vast array of literature and content on these subjects available in English.
• English for communication. People in business are expected to know key communication skills, including how to participate in meetings, read relevant documents, give presentations, listen to talks, speak to native speakers, write business correspondence, negotiate, socialise, network, interact, discuss, etc. The focus is more on accuracy rather than fluency. Can the delegate complete a task, request for information or give advice, even without using appropriate vocabulary or grammar?
• English as an international language. Even if you are not yet working or in business, you will still need to know some form of business English to interact, communicate and exchange contact with other people who are in business. This is the case whether you need to make reservations, order a meal, get a beverage, request for information, etc. This is because many businesses around the world are now relying on international trade. This means that they will need to be able to use English as the common language medium to establish contact with others in different countries.
• English as a corporate language. Nowadays, English in the business world in companies is not only used to communicate externally with those who are overseas. Many companies use English in their daily business transactions to communicate internally as well.
• English for inspirational and aspirational purposes. Many people get motivation and ambition to understand business English as they soon come to notice that it is vital if they aim to target a specific industry, sector or field to work in. Working in such areas will often require relevant language skills to communicate clearly with others. English may also be encouraged or even required as part of the training plan of these areas, so proper planning and preparation is key to prevent poor performance.
• English for documentation purposes. English is soon becoming the official language of communication in most companies worldwide. A lot of working professionals find themselves being required and expected to improve their reading, writing and vocabulary skills in English to handle different business documents, communications and correspondences, including contracts, agreements, proposals, negotiations, meetings, presentations, telephones, emails, letters, etc.
• English as an incentive to reward performance. Some companies offer such training courses to their workforce as part of their personal and professional career development plan to go up the corporate ladder. Note that companies may make such courses either mandatory or optional for their staff to attend depending on the policy the relevant company has set in place. This will impact the level of motivation that learners have.
• English for other reasons. There may be many other reasons why someone may need to learn business English. Some learners may even attend a course because they know the teacher and had enjoyed studying with them in the past or simply because someone else has recommended the course or the teacher to them. Consider what your reasons are carefully and what you intend to achieve to make the best out of your course to benefit and add value.
To learners – there are many business English coursebooks available for you to make use of and study independently. You just need to find one that fulfils your specific needs. It is quite challenging to find one coursebook that meets all of your needs. However, you can try to look for a training course that is flexible in terms of providing customised programmes that cater to and meet your specific needs.
To teachers – there are many books and resources available in print and online to help you design, develop and deliver training content and activities for business English courses. You need to select something that you can keep and refer back to as a guide. One useful source could be ETpedia Business English by John Hughes at www.myetpedia.com and www.elteachertrainer.com.
You need to identify learning objectives through a needs analysis. It is essential to understand whether learners need to learn the language of business or simply business concepts. Knowing this will help to clearly define how knowledge is to be transferred. In any event, what is obvious is that learners who attend business English courses want to learn the language that will enable them to perform their usual professional practices by acquiring phrases that they can use in context to improve their work skills to do their job well.