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ESP and Business English

ESP and Business English

When teaching ESP (English for Specific Purposes) or Business English, the teacher simply continues teaching all the English that they already know how to, but incorporate vocabulary, examples, topics and contexts that are relevant to the students particular needs. The term “specific” in ESP refers to the specific purpose for learning English. This may include EAP (English for Academic Purposes), which prepares students at tertiary level for further academic studies where English is used as the medium of instruction. Students approach the study of English through a field that is already known and relevant to them. This means that they are able to use what they learn in the ESP classroom right away in their work and studies. The techniques are fundamentally the same as those used when teaching general English course. If you do not have the appropriate texts, tapes etc, then it may be possible to get the students or corporate client to provide them. There are also many course books designed for ESP and Business English. These specially designed courses benefit the corporate client as they provide a flexible and responsive approach to the changing client needs, ensuring a high quality and well-balanced course.

The client also receives individual attention from a highly qualified and experienced ESL teacher. Businesses usually require custom-made courses specially designed to suit their specific requirements. Clients may include banks, government agencies, hotels and multinational companies. These ESP or Business programmes are either offered at the school, university /tertiary institution or on the company premises. These specially designed courses should be suited to new recruits, middle management, top-management executives and company front-line staff. A good starting point for an ESP (English for Specific Purposes) course is a “needs analysis” or a “client map.” It is impossible to teach a student’s specific needs until it is ascertained exactly what they are. A typical “needs analysis” might be a questionnaire that the client and teacher discuss and complete together. This may include an analysis of the client’s English usage profile, their expectations and needs, what it is they exactly want and what it is that they don’t have. The process of providing a custom-made course for a corporate client is as follows:

• Initially, on first contact with the client, a detailed interview is set up to establish the client’s specific requirements

• The students’ levels are then established through the school’s placement testing system

• The course outlines, method of instruction and materials are then designed in consultation with the corporate client

• A custom-made course will then be designed making careful use of both core textbooks and other supplementary materials

• A schedule is then negotiated with the corporate client

Needs Analysis

There are essentially two different types of needs analysis and syllabus design. The first is product oriented which is primarily concerned with what the learner should know or be able to do as a result of instruction. The other is process oriented which is concerned with the processes by which learners will learn. A needs analysis can be very informative and:

• will allow you, the teacher, to determine the course content and methodology

• will identify certain needs and deficiencies

• will assist the teacher in assigning students to different groups

• will help in determining the course length and intensity

• can provide more accountability

• can help you to market the course as a sophisticated and necessary product

There are, however, a number of related problems:

• there may be conflicts between the perception of needs (the student, the sponsor, the teacher) that may be difficult to accommodate

• there may be a conflict between preferred teaching and learning styles

• are students able to articulate their needs and expectations?

• can set up unreal expectations and learners’ needs may not be met

To acquire information for needs analysis, you can:

• look at records (documentary evidence)

• provide questionnaires

• conduct interviews

• conduct observation in the classroom

Business Communication Courses

In today’s business climate and with the advent of globalisation, communicating well in English means gaining a competitive advantage in ever changing and expanding world markets. Offering high quality courses to individuals seeking to get ahead in their careers is an important and expanding market area. Business success rests to a large extent on the ability of individuals to communicate effectively in English. Business writing skills and communication will help students to understand the changing nature of business communication and pinpoint and eliminate errors in their Business Strategies. Business Communication Courses may be offered at Pre-Intermediate, Intermediate and Upper Intermediate levels and should provide a balance of English for Business and General English.

The courses should further aim to improve and expand students’ vocabulary, increase their grasp of Business phrases and functions whilst giving them a good grasp of grammar, writing and vocabulary. In addition to offering Business Communication Courses, a school can also provide one day Business Communication Workshops. These workshops are aimed at getting students up to speed with the English skills required to perform at the highest levels in their careers. The workshops may cover a range of topics and skills for business people from negotiation skills, to effective presentations, to customer relations. These workshops could include:

• Business Writing Essentials

• Successful and Effective Business Presentations

• Managing Your Time Effectively (Time Management)

• Telephoning Skills for Reception and Front Line Staff

• Success: For Secretaries and Administration Professionals

• Communicating with Confidence

• Writing and Preparing Effective Business Reports

• Customer Care Essentials

• Business Writing for Managers

• Holding Effective Meetings and Discussions

Ideas for the Classroom

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

• Business Letter Writing:

For this activity you will need a book of model business letters in English. These are often available on the internet. Make one copy of 10 different letters (depending on the number of students in your class). Make enough so that each pair has one. You may wish to concentrate on a specific type of letter, such as cover letters or letters of complaint, or else mix the different types of letters. One student can look at the letter, the other cannot. The student with the letter reads it to the other student, who takes dictation. The reading student should not look at the writing student’s written work. At the end, have the student compare his or her written work to the original, looking for mistakes and correcting them. This can be a good lead-in to writing business letters, and is a nice way of including dictation without them always doing dictation from the teacher or a tape.

• Crazy Resume:

For this activity bring a resume to class, and discuss resumes for a few minutes. Ask the students what goes on a resume. Next, have all students quickly (10 minutes) write a resume in English. Encourage exaggeration. Next, have them work with partners taking turns interviewing each other for jobs. Choose the jobs: possible (fun) choices are McDonalds, KFC, Gas station attendant, NASA Astronaut, CIA spy, Military General, Model etc. Review frequently asked interview questions beforehand (the students will know the questions in their native language for the most part). After everyone has been interviewed and been the interviewer, query the class on their success: did the applicant get the job? How did they do?

• Telephone Phrases:

There are many phrases and idioms used when talking on the telephone. Print a number of these on blank business cards, such as: “Please hold and I will ring Mr. Bizet’s office”, and “I’m sorry, but Ms. Albina is not in her office right now. Would you like to leave a message?” The students are then grouped into pairs. Each student gets about five cards depending on the size of the class and the number of cards printed. In turn, they turn over the top card and have to initiate a telephone conversation with their partner, somehow and somewhere working in the idiom / phrase on their card. The partner does not see the phrase. This means they have to think of a situation, and steer the conversation in such a way as to be able to slip in the idiom / phrase. The first team to use up all their cards is the winner.You will have already introduced telephone idioms and they will have done some conversation practice before playing the game.

• The Replacement:

Ask your students to imagine they have to interview a candidate who will do their job while they will be away on extended leave. They have to come up with a list of questions related to their job. Divide the class into two groups, the interviewers and the candidates. Each interviewer now asks his or her questions to all the candidates and has to choose which one would be able to do his or her job best. Then the interviewers become the candidates.

• Forming a Company:

For this activity, divide the students into groups of five to six. Now ask them to open their own company. They have to decide on what kind of goods or services they are going to produce or provide. The students also have to decide on the company structure and what departments are needed to run the company. Furthermore, they should outline the different duties of each department in product manufacturing and sales. After the discussion, group representatives do a presentation in class. This activity can be developed to include written work such as reports and business plans. This may well become an extended project!


Tutoring is an extremely beneficial approach to education. Students who work one-on-one with a professional teacher have positive learning experiences, improved attitudes and self-perception, leading to increased confidence, and better grades. Students report feeling more confident and enthusiastic and parents feel more relaxed and secure knowing their child is receiving professional one-on-one support. Tutoring can also be extremely rewarding on both a personal level and financially. Here are some guidelines for tutoring:

Get to know your student

When meeting your student for the first time, it is important to take some time to get to know your student on a personal level. Try and establish some common interests and initiate positive communication. Make sure you are able to say your student’s name correctly and that your student knows your name.

A constructive learning environment

Ensure that your tutoring takes place in a relatively quiet location with little or no distractions. Check that you and the student have everything needed for the lesson to avoid interruptions.

Establishing an appropriate level

It is a good idea to begin tutoring at a level your student can cope with and one that provides a certain degree of success. After listening and observing your student for some time, you will be able to establish his / her level. Be prepared to be flexible in your teaching methods and approaches to suit the particular student’s personality and learning needs. It is important to assess the students’ strengths and weaknesses to formulate an approach which will best help them improve. It is also important to remember that some students are quiet and reserved and may take some time to open up to you so take heed of the subtle ways in which they may try and tell you what they are thinking, how they feel and whether they really understand.


Once you have established areas of weakness and have formulated a step-by-step plan for helping the student, ensure that the student understands what needs to be done. This will give you and your student clearly defined objectives to work towards and will provide the student with a sense of progress and success every time one of the set goals has been accomplished.

Motivate your student

It is essential that you attempt to keep your student motivated. This will involve a certain measure of creativity and imagination. Furthermore, try and divide your lesson into a number of short sections to maintain interest and change the pace. You may wish to begin with a “warmer” to set the tone and transition into your lesson. This may be followed by ten minutes of reading, ten minutes for a fun communicative activity, then 15 minutes for writing etc.


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