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.

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ESP-ecially Interesting – Teaching English for Specific Purposes

Okay . . . not that kind of ESP

Great. You’re all set. You want to re-make your life and start a new career as an English teacher. You kiss goodbye to your old job and catch a plane, never to look back.

Hold it!

Even though choosing a career in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) often does mean a complete shift in your work life, don’t ignore the fact that a lot of your previous experience and education may come in handy in the English classroom, even if your old job had nothing to do with languages or education.

If your background means you can get a job teaching English for Specific Purposes (ESP), then you’re already a few rungs up the TEFL ladder, in terms of prestige and, (who are we kidding?) pay.

As an example, consider someone who has training in the Information Technology, or IT, industry. When she transitions to TEFL, it would be logical to start the job hunt looking for a a position teaching English in secondary or tertiary institutions that have an IT specialty for their students.

There are plenty of examples of occupational specialties at schools and institutions overseas that require English training along with their vocational or academic training. Worldwide, people need English to publish papers at university, research for said papers, study advanced degrees and to start up many businesses.

It’s in your best interest to utilize all your assets when finding a job and your background is one asset you shouldn’t ignore. If you have knowledge or training in a special area, then you will already understand and be fluent in the jargon of that businesses, you’ll understand how the business works, and you may have an enthusiasm about it that other teachers won’t have. This will make you attractive to prospective employers.

Here are some more examples—by far not an exhaustive list, either—of areas of special knowledge that come in useful when teaching English overseas:

●            Nursing

●            Aviation training

●            Marketing and Business

●            Engineering

●            Pharmaceuticals or anything else related to medicine

●            Hospitality and Tourism

●            Law

●            Construction Technology

●            Basically any other subject that you majored in at university

When looking for a job teaching students specializing in your ESP area at a university, avoid approaching the English Department first. A better tactic is to introduce yourself at the department in charge of your skill area, and then request that they recommend you to their colleagues in the English Department.

Some helpful links about ESP: Here are a pair of great examples of ESP work that new TEFL teachers may be qualified for: Hotel and Resort English and Business English. This might entail teaching a few motivated, engaged receptionists or concierges at a 5-star hotel (or maybe even at a resort on an island!). What sounds better, that or teaching 60 bored middle-schoolers all playing with their smart phones instead of listening to you, the teacher? See, ESP has its advantages!

TED’s Tips™ #1: Look within yourself to see what the BEST English Teaching Job is going to be for YOU. What will get you both maximum enjoyment and maximum pay? It just might be related to your personal skills, experiences and education. Don’t ignore your unique strengths—you might be hobbling yourself AND your new career.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Just because you may be new to teaching English doesn’t mean you have to start on the bottom of the heap. If you’ve got marketable skills, then by all means approach colleges, universities and businesses directly.

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Build your own ESP for TEFL Success

Earn More – Enjoy it More

This is one of my favorite topics to discuss. It’s a topic that newbies and especially us older teachers should pay special attention to.

A few things might stand in your way to break into the TEFL world. If you don’t fit the stereotype of a young, beautiful or handsome, white native speaker you may find yourself at a disadvantage, but don’t forget about your skills.

How can you deal with this stereotypical discrimination against older teachers and make the disadvantage an advantage? Your answer lies in ESP – English for Special (or Specific) Purposes.

You can draw special skills for ESP from your work history and experience. As you climb the ladder of age, your skills will climb too. If you are older, your skills will be more in-depth and you will have a greater variety of them.

Recently I met an older woman looking for a teaching job in a wonderful destination resort area.  As she was older, she was not likely to be picked by the local school system who liked young women to teach their young kids. Does she really want a local school job while her ESP skills are just waiting to be tested.  She had worked for and been trained by a major hotel chain.

If you compare teaching screaming kids in a hot classroom and teaching hotel receptionists in small groups in an air-conditioned corporate training room, which one do you want? Give me that hotel job! No doubt about it. So that is the future of this woman.

Her resume should focus on two things: Her hospitality training and experience plus her TEFL training and experience. It’s a match almost made in heaven, a good ESP marriage.

She can even take her job search further, beyond just hotels and resorts and apply for jobs at colleges and universities with hospitality training programs.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Take another glance at your resume before heading for the TEFL world. Identify your ESP skills and exploit them. It’s to your advantage.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Don’t forget about the colleges, universities, technical schools, specialized vocational secondary schools and all the rest who might teach and value and need your “special” skills.

Why ignore your ESP skills when it has countless advantages? It will open many doors for you, you will most likely teach people who share your interests and get a higher salary. Your ESP skills are a big bonus.

Teaching Internships in China


Teaching English at Multi-National Corporations

Teaching Business English: at the corporate level

You’ve already figured out that much of the current material on this blog comes from the great questions you readers ask and I will feature another one today.

This one we will do more as a Q and A than most others.

This reader was interested in teaching ESP and focused on the Middle East as an option and he had a specific interest in Saudi Arabia. Here we go:

Hi Richard (name changed to protect the innocent!),

You wrote:
You mentioned that you had vast experience teaching for corporate companies.

I am not sure “vast” would be the correct word, but yes, probably more experience than most teachers.

When you taught, for example, Roche Pharmaceuticals (Taiwan), did you adapt the English course to suit the pharmaceutical industry e.g. English for special purposes?

Absolutely. Yes. But what was adapted was based on a good Needs Analysis of what they felt they were having difficulty with. It was not based on a preconceived notion about what I might have thought they needed.

Would you say today, that corporate companies want specialised courses to fit their industry, so if you did teach a petroleum company, would it be necessary to study courses in geology/petroleum engineering etc.

Yes, they want a course focused on their business needs. No, you don’t need to excessively study their specialty, but it would be important to understand and have some idea about what the people you are teaching actually do on the job, when and how and why do they use/need English, and what kinds of problems they need help with. Showing up completely prepackaged is not the answer. Good needs analysis when you arrive is critical.

Also, which industry sector needs English instructors the most??

It’s a big world – I don’t know. I would say a need exists probably everywhere and in every industry. It has more to do with WHERE, rather than What. If, for example, you are teaching in the Gulf States – well, it is likely the need is in the petroleum and perhaps hospitality industries. If you are teaching in Nepal – probably tourism and hospitality, in Switzerland probably banking and hospitality, and so on.

These days many students study abroad, so their English is a higher level than students 30 years ago, so where would there be a niche market for English instructors in corporate firms?

Same answer as above. The need is Global and not always where you might think it is. It is not just about foreigners speaking to English speakers. It is about English being the only common language between perhaps a Chinese exporter and the Brazilian who needs her product. Or a Japanese construction company working with local engineers installing a high speed train in Bulgaria. Got it?

And finally, what was the most rewarding aspect of your job?

Helping people improve their career prospects. And that was a GREAT reward.

TED’s Tips™ #1: It is better to focus on teaching ESP perhaps in a an industry in which you are familiar and preferably experienced rather than looking for an industry and trying to adapt to it.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Understand that businesses want an end product. They don’t hire a teacher or pay for English classes just to take classes. They hire you to solve a language problem and you need to focus on and get to the root of what your ESP students need. If not, you will quickly be out the door.

What’s up in China? Learn what kind of jobs are on offer if you would like to Teach English in China

Teaching English for Special Purposes

Develop your own ESP

Yeah – and I don’t mean Extra-Sensory Perception . . .
This is one of my favorite topics and one that newbies and especially us oldies ought to make sure we pay attention to.

There are many ways of being disadvantaged in TEFL around the world: If you are old, black, non-native speaker, not pretty, not handsome and the list can go on and on and we haven’t even talked yet about your skills!

How to deal with that discrimination? How to create an advantage for yourself? ESP. English for Special (or Specific) Purposes.

Most people have a work history from which they can draw draw special skills. And usually the older you are, the more in-depth skills and/or the greater variety of skills you will have.

I recently met an older guy looking for a teaching job in a wonderful destination resort area. He was older and not likely to be picked up by the local school system who like younger women for teaching the younger kids. Nor did he really want that type of job.

We talked a bit and sure enough – there was his ESP – he had been through corporate management training with one of the worlds larger five-star resort chains.

Let see – teaching screaming kids in a hot classroom – or teach hotel receptionists in small groups in an air-conditioned corporate training room? Up to you as they say . . . Me? Give me the hotel job! So that is where this man is headed. Nice resume focused on TWO things: His hospitality training and experience and his TEFL training and experience. The perfect ESP marriage.

So let’s beef up his job search a bit. Not just hotels and resorts, but what about colleges and universities that have hospitality training programs?

TED’s Tips™ #1: Take a good look at your resume – before you got into TEFL. Identify what ESP skills you might have. Exploit them!

TED’s Tips™ #2: Don’t forget colleges, universities, technical schools, specialized vocational secondary schools and more who might also value your EXTRA skills.

Don’t ignore your ESP advantage. It will not only open many more doors for you, but you will also likely teach people with similar interests as your own. You’ll probably like the higher wages that ESP classes tend to pay too.