Business English in
The article is an
attempt to look at the
reality of teaching English for Business Purposes (EBP)/ Business
English (BE) from a practical point of view. It approaches the term BE
as if through a funnel with English as an International Language (EIL)
at the top, English Language Teaching/General English (ELT/GE) as its
sloping sides, English as a Foreign Language (EFL)/English as a Second
Language (ESL) at the top of the funnel's narrow tube, and English for
Specific Purposes (ESP) at the very bottom, just above where BE, one of
its main arms is placed. Special emphasis is laid on key distinctions
between BE and ELT/GE, the function of BE teachers and the variety of
roles that they assume in BE, on BE teachers as connoisseurs of
specialist business expertise, and the importance of carrying out needs
analysis as it brings to light some very important information about
learners of BE.
Scripta Manent. Slovensko društvo učiteljev tujega strokovnega jezika.
More and more people are nowadays required to learn English
as the importance of EIL is still anything but decreasing. Nobody can
deny the fact that, at the present time, English is the leading
language of international communication, and the established language
of science and business in the world. Although it is only one of
several languages being promoted internationally in similar ways, its
hegemony cannot be disputed. As a result, with the spread of English a
huge demand has been created for teachers of English, and ELT/GE has
become a billion-pound business.
Curiously enough, there is another particular aspect within ELT/GE that
has been in great demand-a fast-growing activity, and already a major
one around the world today, namely the teaching of ESP.1
ESP must be seen as one of the branches of EFL/ESL, which are
themselves the main branches of ELT/GE. Although ESP has had
considerable influence on the whole field of ELT/GE in the last thirty
years or so, especially in the field of materials and syllabus design,
the relationship of ESP to ELT is still not quite clear. The consensus
nowadays is that ESP is ‘clearly a
type of ELT’ (Robinson, in Coleman 1989: 396)2.
However, the focus of the article goes even deeper into the area of
ESP, namely in the realm of EBP/BE -a major and the most
entrepreneurial arm of ESP, almost an industry in itself.3
BE is most definitely the current growth area in ESP which, in the two
or three decades, attracted increasing interest and awareness. BE
course books and other teaching/learning materials are proliferating,
and language schools offering BE courses are blossoming. Several
developments may have contributed to the expansion of BE, but speaking
from the pedagogical point of view, the demand for BE must have
originated from a particular kind of learners, often adults, who
already had both grammatical knowledge of English, and also a specific
purpose in learning English. In short, they were looking for a
different approach, one which would provide them with an opportunity to
use this knowledge more productively than had been previously possible,
and therefore approached BE courses with heightened expectations.
BE must be seen in the overall context of ESP because it relies on and
utilizes elements common to all fields of work in ESP, such as needs
analysis, syllabus design, selection and development of
teaching/learning materials, course design etc. Just like other
varieties of ESP, BE works with a number of contexts, requires and uses
specific language corpora, and lays emphasis on specific kinds of
Teaching BE is believed to be the teaching of English to adults working
in businesses, or preparing to work in the field of business, i.e. a
needs-directed teaching in which as much as possible must be made
job-related, focused on learners' needs and relevant to them.
Successful use of English is seen in terms of a successful outcome to
the business transaction. Cost-effectiveness is required by both adults
paying for themselves, and companies sponsoring their staff, so
learners’ bosses and supervisors or the person setting up the language
training in a company may expect reports on learners’ progress on a
regular basis. Business is competitive, and learners’ attendance can be
even tracked, especially if the company is financing the course.
Key distinctions between BE and ELT/GE
BE is not a clearly defined area of ESP, and neither is the demarcation
line between BE and ELT/GE. The term covers a variety of Englishes,
some very specific, others very general but is said to have much in
common with ELT/GE. This may have been caused by the fact that most BE
teachers have been primarily trained to teach ELT/GE, and therefore
have no relevant training or experience in the BE field. Secondly, BE
has always tried to draw on the key developments in the area of ELT/GE
teaching. As Brieger (1997: 3) points out ‘BE, which appeared on the ELT stage as a
course programme and learning objective in the late seventies, has been
shaped by a range of influences from both the ELT and the non-ELT world’.
To remind ourselves of an indicative example- the need to focus on
functional formulaic key language lists in BE comes from the mid-1970s
and 80s ELT/GE development (Ellis and Johnson 1994). Strangely enough,
the underlying principles of this approach are readily ascribed to BE
only by the laymen. Similarly, learners’ needs are considered equally
important in teaching ELT/GE and BE, and should govern both, not just
BE methodology.4 However, there is an
important distinction in ELT/GE where the purpose of needs analysis is
to assess the existing language knowledge and language needs of the
learners, and not to define the language required by their job.5
Another similarity is the constant attempt of BE to put as much
emphasis as possible on the general content, i.e. learners’ general
ability to communicate more effectively, usually in business
situations. Also no major differences are to be found in the area of
learners, since in BE and ELT/GE learners are drawn from pre-service
However, there are some quite important distinctions between BE and
ELT/GE. To start with, in BE general content is normally mixed with
specific content which relates to a particular job area or industry. To
turn to learners’ needs, in GE they are rarely as immediate and urgent
as in BE where the most important characteristic is the sense of
purpose, i.e. the fact that language is used to achieve an end. As
already mentioned, the aims of BE will always relate to learners’ work,
and to fulfilling their occupational and professional language needs
for English most completely, so the aims of BE courses might be
eventually considered radically different from the aims of ELT/GE
courses. The claims for BE are that it is more cost-effective than
ELT/GE, focused on learners' needs, relevant to them, and successful in
imparting learning (Strevens 1988, as cited in Celce-Murcia
Next two key contrasts arise from the area of programmes. Namely, the
focus in BE is not merely on learners’ accuracy (the correct use of
language forms) and fluency (getting the message over) but also on
developing the effectiveness of communication, i.e. the total
performance-linguistic and non-linguistic. Similarly, BE aims to
develop also specialist language knowledge and professional
communication skills, not just general language knowledge and general
communication skills (Brieger 1997).
Another important distinction is represented by the fact that the
knowledge of business content and communication skills training is
instrumental to BE trainers, not just the knowledge of ELT methodology.
The BE syllabus is likely to be defined primarily in relation to
business performance skills6 and certain
concepts, typically further broken down into formulaic functional
Finally, to turn to the two roles, the role of BE and ELT/GE teacher,
they are not be too different. However, the difference between them is,
as Hutchinson and Waters (1987: 53) claim, 'in theory nothing, in practice a great
deal'. What lies at the core of the problem of the BE
teacher's role is that in practical ways ELT/GE and BE teacher's work
differ very much. Johns and Price-Machado (2001: 46) are quite sure
that ‘Inexperienced or ‘traditional’
teachers cannot work within an experimental ESP context’.
And that brings us to the very important and quite controversial
question of the role of the BE teacher. BE teachers experience all the
challenges that ELT/GE teachers have to face, but they face also
additional roles that ELT/GE teachers may not have to assume. In
practical terms, all ESP, not just BE, teachers are above all self-made
language teachers who have trained themselves, mostly through
self-study in a specific area of ESP. According to a survey on the
Internet ‘only 5 per cent of the ESP
practitioners had a special University degree or practical experience
in the field they were practising the teaching profession’
(Master 1997, as cited by Mateva in Slavičkova 2001: 66). Knowing that
the teaching of BE brings together three areas, namely the pedagogic
skills of teaching, the knowledge of the foreign language and its
typical communication, and finally, business, it is not very difficult
to understand that BE teachers’ role consists of many parts, and
extends well beyond teaching.
In order to reflect an extremely varied scope of the BE teacher role,
some authors prefer to use terms like practitioner, monitor,
facilitator, trainer rather than the term teacher. Dudley-Evans and St
John (1998: 13) believe that BE teachers seem to have five key roles,
some the same as EFL/GE teachers, some in addition to those, namely a
teacher, a course designer and materials provider, a researcher, a
collaborator, and an evaluator.
Being ‘merely’ a language teacher, i.e. a provider of input and a
controller of classroom activities, is most definitely a traditional
role that most learners expect of BE teachers. Learners’ institutional
and cultural expectations must not be forgotten when discussing the
role of BE teachers, as certain cultures may not welcome the BE
teachers’ adoption of other, more facilitating, roles. BE teachers’
stance should constantly move on the continuum that extends from BE
teachers as controllers of teaching/learning activities at one end to
BE teachers as facilitators at the other end. Generally speaking, the
more specific the courses and the more complicated the carrier content
of the teaching material,
the more are BE teachers required to take up the stance of consultants.
Such a role is quite difficult to adopt, and depends on a number of
factors, such as learners’ culture, their existing language knowledge,
subject or professional knowledge, their status, other stakeholders’
expectations-not just learners’ wishes and needs, size of group,
timetabling, course length and type,8
available resources and physical facilities, BE teachers’ level of
business expertise, and many others.
To look at BE teachers’ roles in harsh every-day practice, they could
be quite different even from one BE teacher’s situation to another. The
only common thread seems to be the role of classroom organizers, since
this is the role that they almost always have to play. Professionals
and business people as language learners may for example place on BE
teachers the demands that differ substantially from those of tertiary
or secondary level students – the expectation of minute groups, if not
one-to-one tuition, or maybe telephone classes, tutored
distance-learning, but always short intensive courses, task-based
deep-end approach, in one word – high quality for money. As such
learners usually decide to build language learning into their busy
schedules, and not the other way around, BE teachers should respond by
providing high standard up-market language teaching/learning strategies
and approaches, and most definitely not just blurred handouts.
Similarly, in reality not all BE teachers may make the decisions about
the course design but be forced into negotiating with learners about
the most appropriate topics. A fixed course design laid down in advance
and rarely deviated from is a rare thing in BE. Many BE teachers do not
even play the role of input and materials’ providers as they have to
depend on their learners to bring job-specific materials in class,
especially if BE teachers are not particularly knowledgeable about the
subject content that is being taught. Even when in their role of
providers of teaching/learning materials, it is rarely possible for
them to just use ready-made BE textbooks without the need to adapt the
published materials, use supplementary, or even write their own
materials when no published material exists for a specific target group
of learners. The culmination of the role of a mere organizer of the
information, facilitator or consultant could be a BE teacher as a
go-between intermediating between subject specialists on the one hand,
and language learners on the other. In practical terms, this role is
quite difficult to assume by BE teachers, also because of the subject
teachers’ aversion to disseminating their greater knowledge of the
subject content to language teachers. In tertiary level situations
where subject teachers’ status is generally deemed higher than language
teachers’, such subject expert-cum-language teacher cooperation,
collaboration or team-teaching is virtually non-existent.9
However, the problem is not only that the role of the BE teacher is
manifold but also that BE teachers have not been trained as such. Given
the tradition in education of separating the humanities from the
sciences, this is not surprising. To aggravate matters, not very many
BE teachers have completed any ESP teacher training. A great deal of BE
teachers, who normally graduate from The Faculty of Arts, have been
exclusively trained for teaching literature and EFL/GE. They feel
alienated by the more specialised carrier content,10
i.e. ESP subject matter that they are supposed to teach. Suddenly,
arts-trained teachers find themselves having to teach subject content
that they know little or nothing about. Most of the time they lack an
in-depth understanding of learners' area of knowledge, and will have to
struggle to master the subject matter in situations in which they are
not in the position of being the 'primary
knowers' of the carrier content (Dudley-Evans and St John 1998:
13). The biggest challenge that BE teachers face relates to ESP
content, i.e. discerning the particular ESP vocabulary and discourses
within specialized contexts that are essential to the training of their
special group of students (Johns and Price-Machado 2001). It is
absolutely vital for future generations of BE teachers that their fear
of ESP subject matter be dispelled as soon as possible, well before
they have to be able to cope with unfamiliar business topics.
Overall, BE teachers and learners should try to build a constructive
working relationship or a partnership in which learners are, first and
foremost, clients, and BE teachers providers of language services. In
such situations, learners' level of satisfaction is very important, so
BE teachers should always try to be results-oriented.
BE teachers as connoisseurs of specialist business expertise
Knowing what the real and carrier contents are in teaching BE is of
utmost importance to BE teachers. Unfortunately, the difference between
the two types of content in BE is not always quite clear. In other
words, should BE teachers teach and then assess the learners' knowledge
of business, or should they teach a language and assess solely the
learners' knowledge of English? One of the skills, therefore, that BE
teachers have to acquire is the ability to balance content level,
sometimes quite specialized, and language level. No matter how
fine the demarcation line, the general consensus is that specialist
subject matter is only a framework through which the real content of
English is to be brought out. BE teachers are first and foremost
language experts, and should never attempt to become ‘real authorities'
of the specialised carrier content of their students’ area of work or
field of study.
How much specialist knowledge should BE teachers be able to understand
then? The answer to that question is that they certainly must know
something about the subject matter if there is to be meaningful
communication in the classroom. Many BE teachers are sure that if they
can analyze the language and discourses, and study the language use,
they ‘do not need specialist expertise’ (Johns and Price-Machado 2001:
46). However, coming up with a reasonable answer to that dilemma might
require us to look at this question in a broader context. One thing is
sure, BE teachers should not become teachers of the subject matter,
although they should be genuinely interested in the learners' subject
matter. Hutchinson and Waters (1987) point out that BE teachers require
3 things only: a positive attitude towards ESP content, knowledge of
the fundamental principles of the subject area, and an awareness of how
much they probably already know. All this can be summed up as 'the ability to ask intelligent questions'.
In order to be able to determine how much specialist knowledge BE
teachers require, it is important that we remember one more source of
information for BE teachers: BE learners. As well as being a learner,
the BE student is also a provider of information and material, if not
expertise, to a BE teacher. Unfortunately, when dealing with BE
learners who are not experts in their fields yet, i.e. pre-experience
or low-experience learners, no opportunities are provided for BE
teachers to draw on their students' knowledge of the subject content.
They simply do not have experience of the target situation at the time
of the BE course. Likewise, younger learners are not always very likely
to be experts in their field as their knowledge of business largely
comes from books. On the other hand, job-experienced learners will have
gained some practical experience of having to communicate on the job.
They will be more aware of communicating in real-life business
situations, not requiring BE teachers to train them in social
interaction, meeting skills, commercial correspondence, and other
behavioural skills. The practical use of the language will be more
important than theoretical knowledge about the language that is the
essential characteristic of BE for job-experienced learners. However,
the downside could be that some learners may be very peremptory because
of the superior knowledge of their work area.
The level of business expertise required of BE teachers is
somewhat lower with job-experienced than with pre-experience learners
or when the subject content is so specific that the help of experts is
absolutely vital. Špiljak (1999: 181) uses the term 'a seemingly paradoxical 'reverse
principle'’ to illustrate this interesting BE teaching
phenomenon. It is especially the so-called ‘hard-core ESP materials where the nature
of the business forms the interaction' (St John 1996: 9) that
are BE teachers' worst nightmares. Špiljak (1999: 180) is sure that BE
teachers need to be able to explain 'WHAT
something is and WHO does it, but not so much about HOW and WHY. How
and why should be responsibilities of other teachers’.
The BE teaching situation seems threatening until BE teachers realise
the learners do not expect the teachers to have specialist knowledge.
In a sense, the BE teacher becomes equal with the students, ‘but uses his or her greater knowledge of
the language and the nature of communication to help them interpret
what is happening in the specialist course or training’ (Dudley-Evans
and St John 1998: 150).
BE teachers as ‘knowers’ of types of needs and needs
BE learners need to speak English primarily to achieve more in their
jobs so practically everything should be governed by learners’ needs,
from the types of language studied to the classroom techniques used. In
order to achieve that, BE teachers should devote a great deal of
attention to the first step carried out before any BE course, and a
process considered the corner stone of any BE course - analyzing
the learners’ needs in the first place.11
Their needs are usually very specific, and cover a wide range of
language, from having to perform tasks typically associated with the
workplace, such as use the phone, report to superiors, reply to or
write faxes and e-mails, to surviving on business trips and negotiating
contracts, having presentations and discussing their work in English.
Although huge amounts of expert literature on needs analysis have been
made available to BE teachers setting out to assess learners’ needs,
the information obtained from the needs analysis is only as good as the
questions asked and the analysis of the information. Besides, there are
dangers in interpreting data, especially when little information has
been obtained. In order to be a good data-collector, a BE teacher has
to ask appropriate questions which is quite impossible unless they are
really knowledgeable about their special teaching/learning situation.
The way in which a needs analysis is actually approached and conducted
by BE teachers should vary according to the differing BE situations,
i.e. what type of course BE teachers are involved in,12
the number and job experience of learners, where classes are taught,13 grouping,14
type of class,15 timetabling of classes,
to mention but a few.
The concepts of needs and needs analysis have been constantly changing
for the last forty years or so. Therefore, in order to carry out a
successful needs analysis, BE teachers should be also familiar with a
number of different terms which have been introduced in expert
literature for a variety of factors and viewpoints in the concept of
needs analysis. However, this often means that they are made to work
with an unreasonable and perplexing mix of expressions through which
every inexperienced BE teacher has to know how to work their way
To establish a workable course design BE teachers usually need to
perform at least three most important types of needs analysis, namely
TSA (Target Situation Analysis), LSA (Learning Situation Analysis), and
PSA (Present Situation Analysis) (Dudley-Evans and St John 1998: 123).
To start with, before conducting needs analysis, it is quite important
for BE teachers to distinguish between the learners’ overall needs and
their course needs as no BE course lasts long enough to cover all
learners’ overall needs. A constant characteristic of BE courses is
limited time, so needs will invariably exceed the allotted time.
Briefly, experienced BE teachers know that TSA brings professional
information about the learners. To carry it out, they should include a
consideration of the learners’ objective, perceived16
and product-oriented needs17 which enables
them to find out about the tasks and activities the learners will be
using (Business) English for. The second type of needs analysis, LSA,
includes a consideration of learners’ wants, subjectively felt and
process-oriented needs18. It brings to
light personal and cultural information about the learners, exposes
their previous learning experience as well as the reasons and
expectations of learning BE. In contrast to both previously mentioned
needs analyses, PSA looks at the learners’ current language use with
the aim of assessing their lacks, i.e. the knowledge missing in present
but defined by TSA as necessary for their future language use.
According to Dudley-Evans and St John (1998), in addition to the above
mentioned, a thorough needs analysis requires also an acknowledgement
of the learners’ learning needs,19
linguistic, discourse and genre analysis, and finally a means analysis,
which analyses the environment, i.e. ‘the
classroom culture and the management infrastructure and culture’
(ibid). Although for BE teachers a needs analysis seems to be a
never-ending continuous process of questioning, checking and
evaluating, they should also take care that the feedback of the needs
analysis results is always provided for all the stakeholders by BE
teachers. A good ongoing liaison between all key stakeholders is
instrumental in maintaining a necessary dialogue between all the
Final thoughts in lighter vein
A unifying principle of BE is the fact that it is an evolving practice
born out of the needs of business people to do business internationally
in English with BE teachers as the obvious providers of language
instruction. Around the world, BE may take a variety of forms,
depending on a number of cultural and local practices. However, its
status is unlikely to be clearly defined in near future as long as it
remains an umbrella term for a wide range of course types. The fact
that seems to raise its status are also compulsory BE courses in
tertiary institutions where learners’ performance in English is
assessed and tested along with other subjects at the end of the
academic year. In the same way, there is a lot of logic in integrating
BE courses in subject courses and in team-teaching, or at least running
BE courses parallel with subject courses to prepare learners more
specifically for their professional work in English. Such
teaching/learning co-operation at tertiary institutions would exert a
beneficial effect primarily on BE learners but would also ensure that
BE is taken seriously by other subject teachers.
1 Note the emphasis on Specific, rather than Special purposes.The term English
for Special Purposes was
common earlier but is now thought to suggest special languages, i.e.
restricted languages which constitute only a small part of ESP. In
practice, the acronym ESP is used without having to clarify what it
stands for. The very term emphasises purpose or purposefulness. In
other words, it implies that the use of English is specific, and
associated with professions, institutional procedures and occupational
2 Strangely enough, it has become fashionable to
maintain that ESP does not exist and that various specialisations
within the ESP process are ‘only
degrees of general English’ (Kennedy and Bolitho 1984: 135).
Needless to say, it would be a bit premature to support such a view. In
his article, Strevens (in Tickoo 1988: 1) provides a similar
definition: 'ESP is a particular
case of the general category of special-purpose language teaching’.
Kennedy and Bolitho (1984: 135) are sure that 'Whatever the niceties of the argument,
ESP very clearly does exist’.
3 EBP/BE is a part of English for Professional
Purposes (EPP) which is itself a part of English for Occupational
Purposes (EOP). The latter is one of the two main branches of ESP-the
other being English for Academic Purposes (EAP).
4 The author of this article refers to
Dudley-Evans and St John's definition of ESP methodology (1998: 4).
5 Ellis and Johnson (1994: 10-13) summarize the
differences between BE and ELT/GE.
6 Business performance skills are vital for
holding meetings, having presentations, socializing or
report-writing in English.
7 Formulaic functional areas typically include
language for making appointments, introductions, business lunches,
confirming plans, recommending, giving opinions, showing agreement etc.
8 During intensive BE courses the learners' time
is totally committed to the course. In contrast, extensive courses
occupy a smaller part of their timetable.
9 For subject-specific work there are three
levels of cooperation, namely co-operation
(language teachers take the initiative in gathering information about
learners' subject course and their discipline), collaboration (more
direct working together of a subject and language experts outside the
classroom), and team-teaching (the actual working together in the
classroom) (Dudley-Evans and St John 1998).
10 BE teachers deal with two types of content - the real content, i.e. language,
and the carrier content or
the business. Focusing on English as the real content is of vital
importance to BE teachers.
11 The concept of needs analysis is neither
unique to language teaching nor within the latter to ESP or BE since it
has been the basis of training programmes in business for quite some
12 Combinations of types of BE course/programme
as shown on a course cline by Dudley-Evans and St John (1998:
127) are four, namely short, intensive and one-off, secondly short
intensive and repeated, thirdly long, extensive and one-off, and
finally long, extensive and repeated. Pairs of types of courses from
the cline are therefore long vs. short, intensive vs. extensive,
repeatable (courses taught again after a period of time) vs. one-off
courses (run just for a particular target group of learners).
13 BE classes are normally taught in-company, in
language schools, and at tertiary institutions. There are also
telephone classes, distance self-study on the Internet, and one-to-one
14 Learners could be grouped into homogenous
classes with learners from one discipline or profession, or
heterogeneous classes with learners from different disciplines or
15 Mixed-level classes are classes of learners
with differing test scores. Mixed-status classes are classes of
learners with both high and low professional status. (Donna 2000).
16 In contrast with learners’
wants/subjective/felt needs, which are derived by insiders and are
cognitively-affective, their objective and perceived needs are
derived by outsiders from facts (Dudley-Evans and St John 1998: 123).
17 Product-oriented needs derive from the
learners’ goal or target situation requirements. (Dudley-Evans and St
John 1998: 123).
18 Process-oriented needs derive from the
learners’ learning situation.
19 Learning needs encompass effective ways to
learn the language and skills.
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Scripta Manent 1(1)
» G. Crosling
Language Development in a Business Faculty in Higher Education: A
» J. C. Gimenez
Language of Business E-Mail: An Opportunity to Bridge Theory and
» S. Laviosa
in Advertising: Form, Meaning and Function
» M. L. Pérez Cañado and A.
» S. Čepon
in the teaching of ESP: An Evaluation Proposal
English in Practical Terms
» Volume 3/1
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