How do you teach ESL business English?

Many international companies abroad, who do business with English speaking countries, will want some of their employees to be able to converse in English. With a large company with a very large workforce they may be able to find volunteers for this. However, many companies, with a smaller pool of workers, may wish that they are all able to converse in English. As such, your classes may well be made up of workers who have not chosen to be there. So the first point is to be aware of the different motivations the students will bring to the classroom. Try to find out:

  • Why they are there
  • What they need English for
  • What they are interested in

From these answers you should be able to tailor your lessons to make them useful to all.

Secondly, be aware that students will not always be able to attend your lessons. It could be that they have other meetings somewhere else within the company. They may be away visiting clients somewhere and so attendance may be erratic. You will need to be aware of each individual student's knowledge and the gaps they may have due to inconsistent attendance.

Next, it is not unusual for companies to send a whole department over at the same time for their English lessons, as it is easier to schedule that way. If this is the case then you are likely to find a class with a whole range of English language levels and your class will be 'mixed ability'. Obviously we cannot present the same information in exactly the same way to all of those students. As such you will have to take techniques such as differentiated activities, which have varying levels within them, into consideration when planning the lessons.

Finally, and this is very important, we need to bear in mind that our students will probably have been working all day (or part of it) before they come to their English classes. You will need to make allowances for many of them being tired and possibly wanting to go home. It will be up to you to make the lessons enjoyable for your students.

Taking the last point into consideration, when teaching business English classes, we recommend the following do's and don'ts:

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  • It is very important within the business English setting that you be professional at all times. Start off conservatively and if it appears a more relaxed style is acceptable you can move towards that.
  • It is also very important within a business English setting that you keep records. Employers will want to know about their individual workers' progress and you should be able to provide documentary evidence of attendance, progress test scores, etc.
  • Finally, it is very useful to find out what they actually do in their jobs, so perhaps ask the employer if you can shadow your clients and see what they do. If you know exactly what their job involves then you are going to know how to tailor their English language learning to that particular job.


  • The first thing we would recommend that you don't do is to expect them to bring everything that they need for the class. There are a number of reasons why they might not. They will often be tired and secondly their motivation may be low. So bring all the materials that you are going to need.
  • Secondly, don't use their native language if at all possible. Whilst it is ok every now again to let them explain to each other in their own language points they are having difficulty with, you as the teacher should avoid it.
  • Finally, do not talk about people within the company. If there is any internal discussion about people within the company, you should not join in. Keep your personal opinions to yourself and this would also include opinions about political issues.

Also read: What are specialized TESOL courses?