Business English – What is it and Who is it For?

Find out more about what a Business English course is about and who it is for. We also explain how we structure the business English course at ELC, and why we do it this way.

business_english-UCT English Language Centre

Often, students wonder if a business English course is a course that could help them with their future career prospects. This may or may not be true, depending on your own background, or current level of English.

Martin Luther King, Jr said “before you finish eating breakfast this morning, you’ve depended on more than half the world.”
Or, to put it another way:

“Your car is Japanese.

Your beer is German.

Your wine is Spanish.

Your democracy is Greek.

Your coffee is Colombian.

Your tea is Chinese.

Your watch is Swiss.

Your fashion is French.

Your shirt is Indian.

Your shoes are Thai.

Your radio is Korean.

Your vodka is Russian.

And then you complain that your neighbour is an immigrant?”

I think there is little doubt for any of us that the world is getting smaller in many ways. Things that were once taken for granted, like relying on a friend to bring you back some original Swiss chocolate from their holiday to Switzerland, are at the touch of a ‘buy online now’ or ‘add to trolley’ button, if not already available in your own local supermarket.

Who brought that chocolate to your supermarket? Who went to Switzerland and had those meetings and set up the importing of that chocolate. Or which Swiss decided to grace the world’s supermarkets with readily accessible and original Swiss chocolate? More importantly, for the purposes of this blog post – what language was everyone communicating in when they set up and had these meetings? There is a very good chance that the answer to this last question is English.

Now, it’s one thing to be able to speak English on the street, greet people and order a meal and a drink at a restaurant in English. It is quite another thing to be able to discuss financial risk or mergers and acquisitions at a business meeting with people you may have never met before, and often from very different cultures!

This is one reason why, at the UCT English Language Centre, we only allow students who are already at an upper intermediate level or higher to join the business English class. It can become very frustrating for business English students, who are usually under a fair bit of pressure from work to get back into the office, and the business English teacher, if a student at a lower level of English is asking basic questions related to the English language, and not necessarily to the function of English in a business context. At the same time, for students who are not quite at the level of upper intermediate or higher, they may find that the course is far too difficult for them and are struggling to keep up. This could result in in a student becoming not only unhappy, but also despondent and discouraged.   This is also the reason we only offer business English in the afternoons, which must be taken in conjunction with either general English or exam preparation in the morning. We believe that it is important to address the basic functions of the English language, and this is done in the relevant environment for this, i.e. general English. Thereafter, the focus is on business English.

Business English courses are typically only for those preparing for a career in business, students of business, or those already working in a business environment. The content should not necessarily be new to students as it is not the English teacher’s task to teach people about business. Rather, what is presented in class are all concepts and content that are already understood by a student in their own language – now they are learning how to produce what they already know, in English. Imagine you are not a pilot, but decide to join a Pilot’s English class!

Another interesting aspect of a business English course is the topic of doing business cross-culturally, in a global context. Many cultures and countries will differ in how they conduct business. Operating in an international context and conducting business with people from other countries means understanding different ways to conduct business, or that different actions have different meanings or repercussions in different contexts. For example, when receiving a business card from a Chinese businessman/woman, it will always be handed over with two hands and should be accepted with two hands as a sign of respect. You can read more interesting things about Chinese business meetings here

AT ELC, we don’t use one workbook for the course. Why not? Apart from the fact that we are learner-centred and drive lessons based on learner needs, the business English course may be filled with students from many different sectors in business. For example, we may have a class comprised of sales people, CEOs and banking administrators. The course will need to ensure that it covers things relevant to all of these different student needs. On the other hand, it may be comprised of people from the same sector at any one time. For example, everyone comes from a marketing background, which means the teacher has the flexibility to source materials from the wide range of business resources available to them which focus on marketing content specifically. 

One such coursebook our teachers will refer to is ‘Market Leader’. The contents of this course book include the following:
Communication
International Marketing
Building Relationships
Working Across Cultures
Success
Job Satisfaction
Risk
Management Styles
Team Building
Raining Finance
Customer Service
Crisis Managment
Mergers and Acquisitions
As you can see, this covers a broad range of topics and usually a good guide for mixed classes. However, similar needs may drive a teacher to focus on just one, or a couple, of these topics for a longer period of time. 

If you are interested in joining a business English course at the UCT English Language Centre, we welcome you to get in contact with us to explore the options and let us guide you in finding the right option for you.  

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