IATEFL BESIG World Blog


Welcome to the BESIG World Blog. Each month we’ve got a different guest author lined up who will be sharing thoughts and experiences on teaching business English from countries around the globe.

  • Business English and the Challenge to Become More Specific

    Business English and English for Specific Purposes have long been neighbouring fields. As businesses get more complex and specialized, Business English teachers need to address this specialization trend in their teaching content, methodology and class activities.


    Today, we welcome Shanthi Cumaraswamy Streat who has kindly agreed to share her experience as a Business English trainer in specific markets.

    Hello Shanti! It’s a pleasure to have you here today. Before we enter the Business English arena, could you tell us a bit about you?

    My career as a language teacher began in 2009 when I decided to leave the investment world after 20 years and join the ELT industry. So, I consider myself a relatively new teacher. With my previous background, the transition to teaching Business English seemed natural. I teach 1-1 online and offline via my home stay courses in the UK. I also run BE Writing and Financial English courses to small groups. My blog, English with a Twist, shares BE material with learners.

    One of the key pillars of ESP is the use of authentic materials. Do you use AM in BE and how do you work with them in class?

    Yes, I use authentic materials. Most of the material comes from my clients, whether it be their own emails, reports, training manuals, presentations and so on.

    For example, for a fluency session, I'll ask my client to prepare a presentation using their company website/brochure to describe either the company structure or the products.

    If the focus is on presentation skills, I will work with my client on a presentation they've got in English and ask them to present it to me. From there, plenty of further material will come out not exclusively related to presentation skills, correct use of tenses, specific vocabulary and so on.

    What are the advantages and disadvantages of using learners' documents to teach?

    In my experience, learners find it helpful if we can provide support with some of their documents. By engaging with their material, they are more focused and can relate to the language in a more meaningful way.

    The biggest disadvantage I've found is where the level of English found in the material they have far outstrips their level of English. For instance, the material is written for a proficient user while they have an A2 level of English and my learner wants me to help them with the material! In those cases, I need to find ways of adapting the material or putting it to the side. I have yet to work out what is the best way of dealing with this situation.

    How much does the BE trainer need to know about the learner's speciality field?

    I don't think the BE trainer needs to have in depth knowledge of the learner's speciality field. However, I think it's essential that the trainer shows a genuine interest in the learner's work and asks plenty of questions to encourage engagement. The willingness to learn about our client's professional background is a must if we are to build mutual trust and respect. I learn from them and they learn from me. It's a two-way partnership. The more we show that we are interested in our learners as people and professionals, the more they will learn. My best and favourite teachers were the ones who took a genuine interest in me, and I learned the most from them.

    Talking about methodology, what approach do you use to teach Business English?

    I suppose you could say I follow the Dogme approach. My learners run the show! I ask them questions, we discuss topics, I gauge their mood and depending on their responses the lesson takes it course. I listen to my learner and respond accordingly. That's pretty much it.

    How would you define BE in relation with ESP?

    I don't differentiate between the two terms. Practically all my clients require English for their specific purposes whether it be technical vocabulary in the engineering, reinsurance, change management sectors; presenting their company to their clients or describing their products. Whatever their background, they all need English to conduct their business and that means they need such general skills such as email writing, presentation skills, networking and so on. All BE includes ESP.

    I guess the only time I'd differentiate between BE and ESP is if the requirement is for highly specialised forms of communication like Aviation English, Military English or Legal English.

    In your experience, what is the most relevant aspect as a BE trainer?

    That as teachers, we always learn more than our clients.

    Thank you, Shanti, for sharing your experience with BESIG.

    Thank you so much for this opportunity.

    We’d love to hear from you. Do you teach General Business English or Business English for Specific Purposes? You can leave your comments below. 

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