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Wrong about Business English and ESP
by Alex Case
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8. Reading texts about their specialist area usually is the best kind of practice
This is the closest most people come to the ESP approach, but unless reading newspaper articles is a major part of their job this reduces needs analysis to just one question (“What is your exact area?”) and so leaves out even most of the things you would take into account when teaching even a General English student. To avoid getting sucked into the “What article shall we use this week?” black hole, make sure things such as what functional language, skills and cultural knowledge they need are included in the needs analysis and course design stages.

9. Lots of case studies and student presentations is what they most need
After reading articles, these are the most overused methods in Business English and ESP. Even if a case study is closely based on their area of interest, if it is a negotiation and they never need to negotiate it isn’t much use and you may as well just do some more telephoning practice or the language of requests. Ditto with presentations.

10. The needs of a low level Business English student are the same as a general English student
If they are ever going to get from False Beginner to Elementary level, they probably will need to work through the same points as a General English textbook in the same order sooner or later. If they are using English day to day already though (yes, it does happen even at False Beginner level), knowing they are going to be doing emailing or telephoning next month isn’t likely to be taken as good enough news. With such students, you need a dual syllabus of dealing with points once in the order that they need them and again in a systematic order. This can be complicated to plan, but simplified versions include alternating lessons based on the two kinds of syllabus or spending half of each lesson on the step by step syllabus and half on their most urgent needs. You can also adjust all the topics in a general English syllabus or textbook so they include slightly more of the numbers, describing graphs, meeting foreign guests etc that they might need. A couple of low level Business English textbooks now basically do this for you, but good and genuinely low level ones are still few and far between.

11. Business English and ESP students are more motivated than General English ones
It can happen, but it is just as likely that they were forced into the lesson by their boss, are just doing it because they get an hour off work, have good intentions but are tired and hungry etc. For such students, keeping their motivation up is the main and sometimes sole aim of the class. Methods include lots of games, doing the most interesting topics in the book first, sneaking in some topics based on their outside interests and giving them instant results in their work or studies.

12. Business English and ESP are the same thing
As ESP includes EAP (English for Academic Purposes, e.g. pre-sessional courses for foreign students in universities in English speaking classes and IELTS and TOEFL classes), that is plainly not always the case. Many Business English students are ESP students if they have a more specialised need for Financial English, Technical English etc, and Business English textbooks might be totally unsuitable for them as they will need the same detailed needs analysis and personalised course planning as any other ESP students. In fact, Business English textbooks are best for people who have no particular need day to day in their jobs (yet) or have had a course based on their day to day needs and now want to consolidate that knowledge and work on improving their general level.  

13. Their company paying for the lessons means that they need English for their jobs
It could mean that, but many HR departments have a training budget to spend and find that English courses are the cheapest available and the easiest to find. Alternatively, it may be offered as a “benefit lesson” to students who want to study English as a hobby and so look for companies who offer lessons for free.

14. TOEIC is a Business English exam
The exam is based around Business English- there is lots of Business vocabulary that can throw students who don't know it, but it is the kind of business vocab that any native speaker teenager would know and anyway is often not relevant to answering the actual question.

15. Business English and ESP means lots of 1 to 1 classes
I’ve had classes of 25 businessmen and 1 to 1 classes with kids as young as 3. Using an ESP approach to finding out what your students need or want does work with all kinds of 1 to 1 classes, but that same needs analysis approach can take quite a bit of adapting if you also bring it into your larger group Business English and ESP classes.


Alex Case is editor of Book Reviews and writes the blog TEFLtastic. He has worked as a teacher, teacher trainer, Director of Studies and ELT editor in Turkey, Thailand, Spain, Greece, Italy, Japan, UK and now Korea. There is a full list of his online articles at

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