3 Top Tips for Teaching Business English

It's a common misconception that teaching Business English is a lot more difficult that teaching general English. Here are some tips to help.

It’s a common misconception that teaching Business English is a lot more difficult that teaching general English. Granted it will take a bit more research depending on what business sector your students are from, but preparation is the key to seeming confident and knowledgeable in front of your students. The following tips should help you feel more prepared when you take on a Business English class for the first time.

  1. English Needs Assessment

    Before you start any course I highly recommend a needs assessment session in the first lesson. Not only will it break the ice and get people talking, it’s also imperative to find out what the students are hoping to achieve from the course. This way, with the information you have collected you can pick out interesting lessons in the books (instead of following it from Chapter 1 all the way through). For example, one group I taught was mostly secretaries and admin staff so they wanted to focus on phone conversation skills and email writing.

    Another important thing to ask students is about any specialist vocabulary they need in their day to day work that you can teach them. That means you’ll be able to go back and do research straight away and find out similar terminology that they may need in their sector. This comes hand in hand with researching the company your students are from as well as reading up on their sector and finding specialist terms.

  2. Books

    If you’re asked to buy or choose books for classes I can recommend the In Company series by Macmillan. I found them really good with the audio CDs and the worksheets at the back of the teacher’s book. These worked well from Pre-Intermediate to Advanced, although if you think that your students will be moving up classes a lot, the topics tend to be the same throughout the books. Another series I have used is Powerbase by Longman – this was good for absolute beginners and elementary groups. I had my own material as well of course to complement the book, and the internet is always full of ideas and activities.

  3. Areas to Focus On

    One area which I would definitely recommend you focus on is Telephone Talk through role plays. What I found useful were role play cards where, for example, one person is a receptionist and the other wants to speak to someone in the company and leaves a specific message. Put students back to back when doing these exercises. It will force them to listen to each other more carefully as in a phone situation. Role play activities are excellent practice too which will allow them to act out common situations such as meeting someone for the first time, or what to say at a dinner party. Make sure that all these activities are as relevant to their real job as possible.

    Another very important topic is Email writing. Give your students the tools and confidence to start and end emails in a professional way. Go over phrases that they will come across and get them to practice writing each other emails that they would need to write in their every day jobs.

    It’s always more beneficial to tailor the lessons to students’ specific needs rather than follow a book too closely. I recommend you be open with your class and ask them what they would like to learn and get regular feedback about how they feel they’re progressing. During lessons also keep a note of other areas or terms which may need a bit of work on as they come up.

I hope these tips have been of use!

Nadia Zehni
Nadia has extensive experience teaching English as a Foreign Language in England, Malta and France. She is a regular contributor to English Forward.

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  1. Many thanks – I always worry about teaching business English if it is in a field in which I am unfamiliar with the terms in English. You are right that planning is the key!

  2. Thanks for the great ideas – do you have any more information on the teaching of email writing? I haven’t yet found any good resources on this and am always a bit lost about where to start when a client asks me to ‘teach them to write emails’.

  3. I can recommend the Express Series workbooks (Emails, Telephoning, etc.), by Oxford, which really give you valuable activities you can do with your students.

  4. Thanks – exactly what I was looking for! Some useful tips. I’m about to start teaching Business English and am starting from scratch.

  5. I have just accepted my first foreign student needing business English. Would be really grateful for advice re assessment and useful course books and resources please.

    • Avatar photo

      Hi Beverley – have a look at this forum post: https://www.eslbase.com/forum/viewtopic/assessment-session-one-to-one/. The reply goes into some detail about how to do a first lesson with a business student. As for course books, it depends a little on your student’s needs, but for a good general business resource book, the “Business Result” series by Oxford University Press is excellent.


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