TEFL Problems encountered teaching Business English

The study of business is a study of communication. The most important goal a graduate business student can have is to acquire good grounding in the principles of business and finance, sufficient technical knowledge and an adequate understanding of the role of an M.B.A. to serve as a bridge for communication between the strategic decision-makers and the science and management people who implement the strategic plans.

Just as students in a formal business education program have the goal of acquiring a base of knowledge to make them better able to function in the business environment, most students of business English seek to acquire tools to function in a business setting. Learning English for a special purpose results in a dual focus, development of language skills and learning content. In the study of business English, where the student is improving command of English as well as becoming familiar with business-related vocabulary and content, there is the danger that the development of language skill may suffer if too much emphasis is placed on the business vocabulary and content when course syllabuses and lesson plans are designed. The optimal solution is to devote adequate time to language skill development and not to be pressured by the fact that it is the business-related content and vocabulary which is driving the students to take business English courses. There are two difficulties to be overcome. First is a long-term one of developing a knowledge base that will be efficient in combining the acquisition of language skills and learning of business content for students who have limited English proficiency. Another, and more immediate problem, is recognizing tools and techniques a teacher might use when currently teaching a course where adequate provision has not been made for language coverage to deal with the level of content material. Some useful techniques can be adopted from business education as it has been taught to native/fluent speakers of English.

Lau confronts the issue of teaching students where there is a mismatch of language competency and level required for the content material. He takes the position that, in spite of a limited time- frame, the teacher should not neglect the grammatical and linguistic issues and suggests that feedback obtained by e-mail from students concerning problems they are having can be an important tool in recognizing where problems might lie and revising lessons plans prospectively to address those problems. He also suggests using transformation drills of reported speech in the business environment. Another technique he has used?although it might of limited use in most business English settings?is giving his students lessons in note-taking in their native language to develop skills to be applied in the English medium.

Adamson suggests using a tool called frame-working, which is a method commonly used in making oral presentations. Two boxes are framed to use key words and phrases to describe a situation as it was at some time in the past and as it is today. Arrows are drawn between the two to explain the changes between the two points in time. This enables the students to break the process down into simple conceptual steps and may make it possible to absorb the content with more limited language proficiency than might have otherwise been possible. This technique can be useful in more general English classes in eliciting specific verb tenses.

There is often a mismatch between level of language competency and language required to cover the content material. There are techniques that may be adapted from business education that can help bride that gap and which can even be of use in general English classes.

References cited:

Adamson, John, Frame-working in Business English Classes. frameworkingl

Lau, Ken, Teaching Business Communication to LEP Students. BusinessCommunicationl

Author: Marc Lang

Date of post: 2006-07-21