Thursday, February 26, 2015

Business English syllabus for English speakers

Teaching the English.........
                                      Business English

The other day a student of mine mentioned that she was dreading talking on the phone to an English business associate. Although she has improved as a learner, she is a low B1 level student, so I do understand were this insecurity may stem from. She then had another lesson with me and was very enthusiastic because she had spoken on the phone and had understood almost everything (the learner's words). She also mentioned that the English associate also offered to send a summary of what he talked about in an email and I thought, " Hmm!! How nice!!" Then again, is it?

This blog post is not about accuracy vs fluency or ELF, international English or any other  buzz term. My question and thoughts derive from a simple question, "Should native speakers receive some sort of training when doing business with non native speakers?' For me, the answer is "Definitely, yes!!"
In business, communication is everything, and whilst very often non native speakers are putting in all the effort and receiving training in Business English, what are most native speakers doing? We teach our German and French  learners how to negotiate in English, we teach them the tenses, we talk about cross cultural communication and so on, but if you are a business person and also a native speaker do you receive any training on how to be aware of the difficulties a non native speaker may have? Do native speakers assume that because their English is accurate and they are fluent, what they say is and should be crystal clear? Do they assume that they are doing good business because they are using English? I hope not. So, therefore, why not train them? I know it sounds a bit weird and you may be rolling your eyes right about now but bear with me, will you? If you ask me, business people who are native speakers need to learn a lot in terms of how to conduct business with their non native speaking colleagues.

Suggested Business English Syllabus:

Learner Profile: English, American, Australian or any other NS

  • Paraphrase and simplify
This is a very important skill. NS need to learn how to simplify what they are saying instead of repeating the same phrase 5 times (if he didn't get it the second time, he won't get it the 5th fellow NS).
  • Speak slower
No need to be in a rush. NSs need to learn how to take a breath, pause a bit. Listening to someone in real time is not easy, and a NNS only gets to listen to what you have said once, so NSs need to keep that in mind especially when doing business as every detail counts!
  • Tone down the heavy accent
Yes, when native speakers are talking to other native speakers it is OK to use a heavy accent but when you are doing business, it is essential to speak a bit clearer, toning down the heavy accent.
  • Avoid using too many phrasal verbs/ idiomatic expressions
The English language has an endless number of phrasal verbs and idiomatic expressions. Using colloquial language when talking to those who understand it is a great way to communicate in an informal context. In international business communication though, non native speakers often feel perplexed by the nature of this talk. This is why native speakers may require a bit of training on what other words expressions to use when talking. It is possible that a NNS will know the word mention and not the phrasal verb bring up.

  • Summarise
Summarising points is something that people often neglect or forget to do (in my experience). In this case though, I think that emphasising the importance of summarising and training NSs on how to summarise is very important. When attending a meeting, making a presentation and in general talking for quite a while, the listener may get a bit disracted, summarising and using other words to point out the key issues is necessary.
  • Cross cultural communication
Wherever you come from you need to be aware of what is acceptable, polite or professional in one culture and comply with that. An English person may be aware of how the brits do business but does that necessarily mean that the Spanish or Chinese do it in the same way? Of course not. This is why cross cultural awareness is essential. True story: I showed a picture of an American CEO not wearing a tie to my French learners a while back and they commented on how badly (unprofessionally) dressed he was!
  • Presentation skills
Everybody in business would benefit from a few sessions on how to present. There are so many strategies and skills that go into a good presentation. It is not just about language!

I am aware that some companies do train their employees on how to conduct business with other nationalities but I think this is not enough. More training needs to be provided.

Most of these thoughts came as a result of a very long talk on Facebook in the Busines English Teachers group. Feel free to share your views in the comments section below.

Picture credits: Marina's pics

Till next time.....

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Thanks for all the support so far

See you soon.....


  1. Great post. This seems to open up a whole new area for training possibilities I would think, however, working in a German-speaking environment I don't work with those who speak English as their first language. Would be interesting to know if those teaching in countries where English is spoken have come across this type of approach.

    1. Thanks Marjorie! I too do not teach in an environment where English is the first language but like you, I , too would be interested in knowing what is going on in that area. I think it was Evan (not 100% sure though) that mentioned that he has trained a few NSs on some sort of international English. Some info from teachers who have this kind of experience would be interesting and v. appreciated : )

  2. hi nice list of points, do you know Matt Halsdorff's blog which focuses on this issue? though he has not been posting recently


  3. Good post, Joanna. and I absolutely agree that native speakers need serious training on how to deal with non-native speakers. As you say, some companies do provide this, but unfortunately the cynic in me sees two major problems:
    1) Time and money. Learning English communication is a case of "needs-must" for non-native speakers. Native speakers will almost always find more pressing issues to spend their time and resources on.
    2) Power. As long as English is the global language, native English speakers will have the advantage - why would they want to give this up?

    These are not my own views. I know of well-meaning native speakers who seem to get so nervous in the presence of non-native that they actually speed up or get more idiomatic. They would benefit from such training you mention.

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