What is Business English (BE)?

This morning on Twitter I came across a tweet from JALT’s BE SIG asking about thoughts on the definition of business English.

For me BE, and all ESP really, is about context. It’s about the language, skills, communication strategies, etc. people need in a specific context. The context of BE is international and intercultural business.

If the students are familiar with the context then the lessons go well. Students bring experience, expectation, and energy to the class. Some of my best classes have been BE classes.

But some of my worst classes have also been BE. If the students are not familiar with the context, the lessons go poorly and they are a struggle. It is hard to have the students role-play a business meeting when they’ve never been to one. So many tasks in BE textbooks start with, “think about your company…”

Currently the only BE classes I have are for 1st and 2nd year students in the Business Administration faculty at my university. Not only do these students have no business experience, many of them (especially 1st years) have never even had a job. They have no way to relate to the context of international and intercultural business.

This is why, for me, in my teaching situation, BE is about introducing the students to concepts and contexts of international business. For example, when teaching about negotiation I have students role-play trying to get their parents to extend their curfew or trying to get their teacher to reduce their homework. I am introducing a skill, concepts and language that they can later apply to a business situation. That’s the hope anyway.

For me BE is all about introduction.


  1. #1 by Michael Stout on June 21, 2011 - 8:34 pm

    Couldn’t agree with you more Cameron!
    But first before I elaborate, I want to thank you for the comment, and the compliment on my blog. Thank you very much. You are very kind, and your kindness proves the point you made.
    So, back to this post then. I love your idea of having the students negotiate a new curfew or less homework. A brilliant solution to a very real problem. One that I have had myself teaching Business English and even CBT courses like my Global Issues class.
    Thanks again.

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