What’s your Business Background?

Use your Real-Life Skills to Teach English for Specific Purposes

After a long day at work, you might find your class full of sleepy and tired students. You’ll need to energize them.

Once you’ve been around the block a time or two teaching English as a Foreign Language, you’ll probably want to branch out into ESP.

No, I don’t mean you should hire yourself out as a psychic.  In our industry, ESP stands for “English for Specific (or Special) Purposes” and encompasses teaching English for business people, hospitality, airline staff and for other “specific purposes.”

The reason most seasoned EFL teachers lean toward business English or other ESP classes is that these teaching jobs usually pay more than conversation lessons and they’re often more enjoyable.

Past Jobs Might Help You Teach ESP

So, I can imagine you thinking right now, but what do I know about marketing or machinery or whatever else my students will want to talk about in ESL class?

Don’t panic.

All of us have some kind of employment history, and most English teachers have some experience outside the realm of TEFL. Even if you just reference that lonely summer you spent in school as a convenience store clerk, you have a background in business. Or, let’s say you moonlighted as a waiter or barmaid—that’s the hospitality industry.

Every field has a niche vocabulary: specific stresses, tactics for dealing with customers, and unique products.  If you had some work experience in retail, for example, you’d know more about the language of cash registers and refunds than might another English teacher. These things can give you a edge when you’re looking for work giving courses in ESP.

And, if your work history prior to teaching English is extensive, then perhaps you might even apply to a business school.  I have a background in business and as a result I taught, for example,  business courses to English teachers and at business colleges. My foot in the door was my skills as an ESL instructor; my edge was my business experience.

Business English is More Than Just Vocabulary

Now, teachers who don’t have any business experience and teachers who have been English teachers since their first day after university may believe that all you have to do to teach a business class is change up the vocabulary some and then—hey presto!—you have a business English class.

Sorry folks. It’s not as easy as changing the sentence, “I have a phone, a book and a pencil in my bag” to “I have a calculator, a report and a USB drive in my briefcase.” Vocabulary alone does not a business class make.

When you teach ESP, you usually focus on teaching functional things. A functional lesson is one that has a specific target and some clearly defined language. For example:

•             describing the products your students sell

•             asking and answering questions about those products

•             dealing with complaints about your students’ products

A ESP class wouldn’t have a lesson solely devoted to a grammar topic like the past perfect, or to an irrelevant topic like hobbies and families. (Unless, I guess, you’re teaching English to hobby shop owners or kindergarten teachers!)

Your ESP classes will be about the specific product, process, service and business related to your students’ aims and needs.

To teach business English, you need a focused idea. Businesses don’t waste money on English lessons.  They’re careful to hire English teachers who have a specific idea about the kind of language and functions their employees need.

There are many countries and even international companies where workers must pass different levels of English tests to be promoted. This makes for highly motivated students who have very clear ideas of what they need when they are sitting in your class. This student motivation is another way business English classes are different from general English courses. You may also find that your students come to class before or after work—or fit it in on their lunches—and are therefore tired. You may be sleepy too, if you have to teach 6 a.m. classes like I did for a while.

ESP pays better

If the thought of working weird hours seems like a deal-breaker to you, let me assure you that often  teachers often earn 50 to 100 percent more for ESP classes than for general English lessons. Now, doesn’t that sound worthwhile?

Another perk of teaching ESP, besides the pay, is that your students are likely to be better, more motivated learners. You’re almost always going to be teaching adults in this situation too, so if you prefer teaching mature students, then that’s another reason to look at ESP over general English.

Analyze the Students’ Needs

Now, before you teach any kind of ESP to students, it’s important to do a needs analysis.

Go to your client (usually this will be your students’ supervisor or an HR manager) and ask them to tell you very clearly what they want the students to be able to do in English when they finish the course. Examples of this kind of goal might be:

•             Describing products

•             Selling products

•             Helping customers with common complaints

•             Giving presentations about the products

When I was working in Taiwan, I once taught at a bank training telephone customer support staff. They had to help clients who would call the bank when they had trouble with their credit cards. As you can guess, the students had some very specific needs as to what vocabulary and language functions they needed to master for their job and keep their customers happy.

Another time, I taught at a pharmaceutical company where my students needed English skills to help them communicate with their bosses in a different country. The company language was English, so my students needed to polish their email writing and reading skills, master understanding and compiling reports in English, as well as general communication skills.  So, you can see how important it is to get a strong sense of exactly what a business—and, therefore, each student—wants and needs before you step into the classroom.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Do a needs analysis before you start teaching any ESP classes. Your client and your students will thank you later.  Ask for specific details about the language they students use on the job every day and where they seem to be having difficulty or in what areas they wish to improve.   If possible as more than one person.  The person hiring you might even have a different idea about what the students need – than the students.  Then you need to balance both, not always an easy task.

TED’s Tips™ #2: You can pick up an excellent needs analysis form for Business English over at TEFL Boot Camp HERE.

TED’s Tips™ #3: Even if you don’t have a formal background in business, you still might be an effective business English teacher. Look at your prior job history and figure out what niche markets you might be able to successfully teach.  This niches can often be much more fun and interesting than general English.

Teaching Internships in China




Lesson Up! How to Plan an Effective Lesson for TEFL

Fitting it all together

Teaching job? Check. Class schedule? Check. Lesson Plan? Uh oh…

If you find yourself ticking off items in the checklist above and groaning when you get to “lesson plan,” read on and relax. Lesson planning is an important part of being a good teacher, but it doesn’t have to be worrisome.

Today I’m writing about the big picture of lesson planning—the what, why and how.

The Why

Let’s start by looking at why you want to have a lesson plan. First of all, let’s say your colleague falls desperately ill after a poorly judged meal of street food. Your boss, in a panic, asks you to go to fill in for your co-worker as a substitute and class is in fifteen minutes. If your fellow teacher was diligent enough to prepare a legible lesson plan, then you can read that plan and be ready to teach his class in five minutes or less.  You might also write a lesson plan for a class you teach, so you don’t forget all the details.

The What

Now for the what . . . What do you need to have in it? Everything someone else needs to be able to go and teach your class and everything you might need to remember if you wrote the lesson more than a few days ago.

A solid lesson plan will include these points:
• board work sketches
• handouts for the students
• what the students will work on in their textbook
• your elicitation questions for the beginning of the class (that alone is worth thinking through and writing down)
• the steps you will go through in your lesson

Also, a lesson plan should include the structures of what you want the students to learn and how you plan for them to learn them.

Even if you are never ill and never asked to substitute for someone, having a lesson plan will help you make sure you include all of the right points in your lesson and don’t skip any important steps or exercises.

Lesson plans can be used no matter your methodology. You could use PPP or ESA or a hybrid of both (or more!), but in your lesson plan you need to be clear on your target language for the day.

The How

How you write up that target would depend, then, on methodology.

Using PPP, you’d make sure you outline the “presentation” part of the lesson. And in ESA, you’d highlight the elicitation for the “engage” portion.

After presenting or engaging, usually, the next step would then be putting some structure (what the grammar or important parts of the lesson look like) to the language point for the day’s class. Show this structure in your lesson plan.

For the practice portion of the lesson, identify very clearly what kind of practice the students will be doing and how you will begin to remove the structures shown in the middle of the lesson so they can learn to work with it on their own.

Include details of the activities you will have the students take part in for each section of the lesson.

Then, for the final bit, you need to show in the lesson plan how the students will practice the language point and use it in a personal way. Show in the plan how you will foster the students’ motivation to learn.

Ask yourself

It’s good to ask yourself these questions while you prepare the plan:

• What language will we present?
• How will we present it?
• How will we practice (PPP) or study (ESA) in the middle part of the lesson?
• And how will we gradually remove the structures?
• What are the details?

Don’t forget to include your wrap-up activity at the end of the lesson plan. It’s nice to have a game or fun activity at the end that serves a dual purpose of reinforcing what was learned in class and enticing smiles from students as they walk out the door.

The real point of the lesson plan is to know what steps you’ll take as you proceed through your lesson.  Simple enough? You know it is!

TED’s Tips™ #1: Lesson plans should be very detailed. Always have the goal that another teacher could look at your lesson plan and use it as effectively as you would if they were teaching the class.  That helps you too if you, in the midst of a busy week, forget some of the details of your lesson (happens all the time!).

TED’s Tips™ #2: Lesson plans are useful no matter which methodology you use. The important thing is to include all the steps you’ll need to teach a good lesson.