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Top tips for overcoming common challenges when teaching Business English

Are you worried about starting to teach Business English (“BE”) because you have mainly taught Young Learners so far in your career? Or are you feeling a little jaded and need some inspiration to keep your in-company classes fresh? This article considers some of the challenges commonly faced by new and experienced Business English teachers and suggests some possible solutions.

  1. Our own self-limiting beliefs

Perhaps you have been offered some Business English work but you are thinking something along the lines of: “I can’t possibly go and teach some software engineers, I know next to nothing about the tech sector and I’ve only ever taught children!” Most of us have these moments of doubt from time to time and it’s helpful to remember that what we are considering is an opportunity to learn something we don’t yet know about, to expand our horizons, to gain varied experience and to meet new people. Don’t be discouraged, and remember the maxim: never accept a job you think you can already do. You’ll learn – by doing it.

Before you start, try talking to colleagues who are already teaching Business English. If this isn’t possible, expand your personal learning network and seek out an online Business English community where you can share ideas and look for support.  Check out the company’s website and social media to find out as much as you can about them, plus the main competitors, and sign up for their newsletters.  These will give you lots of data, help you keep up-to-date going forward and provide you with a source of short texts for class. You don’t need to be an expert in AI to teach at a tech company or understand criminal court procedure to teach lawyers. You will however need to understand your learners’ jobs well enough to know what their English needs are. Our students are always our best guide, our greatest resource and we learn both from and with them, every day.

  1. Course planning in the absence of a coursebook

“But there’s no book! What on earth am I going to do with them?” Don’t panic. Your new best friend is the needs analysis.

Be careful though – needs analyses can sometimes fail because the learners themselves are unaware of what they need to work on. We need to dig deeper with them to understand and define their needs, both in terms of their business and language skills. From all this information, we’ll be able to put together a comprehensive course plan.  This will also come in handy when we’re asked to justify what we’ve been doing on Monday mornings for the last twelve months by the HR Director. Or worse, the new Head of Finance.

If you are an experienced Business English teacher, you will already know that finding enough, quality, commercially-produced Business English materials which are both genuinely interesting and adjusted to learners’ real needs is indeed a challenge. Creating materials is time-consuming and we constantly need to come up with new ideas and topics and to offer our learners a range of activity types.

So how can we source these? Start by asking your learners for their go-to text, video and audio sources within their sector and use these. Investigate the wealth of content available on industry leaders’ social media accounts and websites, as well as other business-oriented platforms such as LinkedIn. Find more ideas here.

Try marketing blogs like this one and podcasts like Worklife. For audio, the BBC World Service Business programmes are helpful. For example, for listening practice, try the clips section of “World Business Report” (you can quickly create a transcript with Google docs). Try the Instagram and Youtube channels of Business Insider and the major English language news outlets from different continents. These help us bring a variety of Englishes to our classroom.

  1. Maintaining motivation over time

Learners’ – and our own – motivation levels fluctuate over time. We need to vary tasks and topics to maintain interest, but also to reconcile this with the fact that the learners will need to practice and recycle specific language. If we stick to “work-related” issues as requested by management, learners may soon complain about the classes being boring!

Positive psychology and the productivity-happiness connection are definitely “a thing” in the business world. They are also a key element in engaging and maintaining interest in class. There are super videos and quizzes on this subject that we can make use of here and here. Reviewing learning goals and making progress visible to learners is also vital to sustaining motivation over time.

  1. Tricky issues

As with any class, a common challenge in Business English is the range of levels in the group. We should think about how we can differentiate tasks we prepare to take account of this, for instance, according to pace, outcome, resources, grouping and scaffolding. Even if participants have a similar level, they may apparently have little else in common and time spent on developing a harmonious classroom dynamic with team-building type activities will be worthwhile. The boss may pop in every fifteen minutes to make sure no fun is being had, or may overshare or vent in their one-to-one classes. Discretion is an essential part of trust, particularly, though not exclusively, in a business environment and our jobs depend on it. Finally, learners might not want to be challenged or corrected in front of their peers and we need to respond sensitively to the clues we detect while observing them in class.

  1. A final thought

Whether you are starting out or have been teaching Business English for years, make sure you periodically take time to analyse your own teaching. You will likely have no observers while working off-site. Your students’ evaluation of your teaching and the course quality may help, if you seek regular detailed feedback from them. You could also try recording a class (with their permission) and then listen back to it.  Finally, a short, professional development course can boost your confidence as a relatively new teacher and offer you inspiration if you are an experience one. 

To find out more about our Teaching Business English course and how Charlotte can help you develop your skills and compete for some of the best jobs teaching business English, visit our course page here.

Charlotte Giller is our Teaching Business English tutor and is a teacher and trainer based in Valencia, Spain. She previously worked as an employment lawyer and has taught Legal and Business English for many years. In her spare time, she teaches English via Skype to female members of the judiciary in Afghanistan with the Alliance for International Women’s Rights (www.aiwr.org).

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