Learning how to use your English ability to successfully communicate in a business environment could be very specific to your particular industry, although there are certain approaches that are universal, regardless of whether you are a project manager, an engineer or any other professional who needs to make an impression or convey an idea.
Many of you will want to approach an English Teacher, either in person or online to help you with your specific business English needs, but it could be difficult to explain exactly what your requirements are, so that the teacher knows what you need from your lessons. This article is about how you approach learning specific business English and what your teacher needs from you in order to meet your expectations.
As a busy working professional, taking time out of your schedule to attend a class filled with other professionals is a risk, not everybody has the same objectives as you and you might end up feeling that you wasted your time. One-on-one lessons could be pricy but I can take you through certain approaches that you can discuss with your teacher, to get the most of your sessions.
1. Be clear about what you want out of the lessons
If possible, make a list of your objectives and what you want to achieve at the end of the course or even at the end of each lesson. This usually involves breaking things down into skills like:
- Using the telephone more efficiently
- Writing better emails and using proper formats
- Chairing meetings
- Presenting proposals
2. Be clear about the context in which you’ll be using your English skills
Your expectations will differ based on whether you want to simply improve your fluency or whether you need to communicate with employees working in foreign countries, some of which might not even be native English speakers either.
3. Provide business material (if possible)
It is a very good idea to provide your teacher or tutor with actual business material, depending on how confidential it is. Getting the teacher to explain certain aspects of reports, graphs or presentations that you might have difficulty in understanding, might help you in formulating follow up questions in an email or meeting the next day or later in the week. (Jones, 2014).
Be aware that your teacher or tutor might not have practical experience in your particular industry, so he / she will need you to explain certain terms related to your industry in order for them to help you formulate the appropriate response to co-workers, clients, or managers. They don't need to know the details, just a very basic idea of the concept of what you would like to say.
Business as you know, isn’t always ‘smiles & giggles’ (not always polite or fun). There is a vast array of subtle hints, insults, demands, threats, and compliments business people need to understand if they are to give or take orders the right way. Being subtle is a skill which very few native English speakers have mastered themselves, but I can tell you, if you’re in business, knowing how to ‘read between the lines’ (saying one thing but meaning something else) is essential, especially during meetings or negotiations. So your business English lessons should cover ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’ (good business, bad business and how not to do business).
As a senior software developer and IT project manager, I have years of experience in having to stand up in-front of colleagues during meetings, discussing briefs with clients and giving project status updates to clients and top management through both email and internet video conferences. Therefore, I understand the need to communicate clearly and efficiently in order to minimise confusion or misunderstanding.
Make sure that your tutor understands the subtleties of conducting business. He / she needs you to be clear about what you need, so give them as much information as you can on your day-to-day office routine, your colleagues and clients, the good ones and the bad ones. Tell them about situations that you’ve found yourself in, where you couldn't properly express yourself in English or where you couldn't understand what someone meant or required from you in an email.
Your English teacher’s objective would be to get you to communicate your message to staff or colleagues in the best way you can. His / her objective is not to teach you your business or tell you how to run your business, but to guide you in how to connect with people using English as a medium. At the end of the day, what you get out of your business English sessions depends on you. Be specific, don't be afraid to offer up materials which could help your tutor prepare lessons based on your needs and allow him / her access to your day-to-day office life, make him / her a colleague with whom you share office politics and gossip with.
Jones, G (2014) ‘Five Tips For Teaching Business English’ [Online]. Available from the British Council: Click here (Accessed: 14 July 2016)