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Business English v General English?

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What Distinguishes Business English?

English is the language of international business, and Business English can be defined as the use or application of English language skills as a global business communication tool. A general English course for business people is not the same as Business English. Likewise, it is not just about learning lots of business vocabulary. Of course, it does involve this, but it is a great deal more than that. It is, in effect, all about the acquisition of an international communication skill-set, using the medium of the English language.

Most people using Business English in the global workplace are non-native English speakers, from a variety of cultures, languages and nationalities, all using what has become, in effect, the ‘nationallanguage of planet Earth. Therefore, a very important aspect of Business English is that it is cross-cultural; whereas language-learning normally involves acquiring some knowledge of the culture that the language represents, Business English by its very nature transcends cultures while at the same time respecting them. A good Business English trainer will have an acute awareness of this, and will adapt the use of English to the trainee’s culture rather than the other way around.

There are a number of other important differences between Business English and general English.

  • Business English is not so much about learning ‘to speak a new languageas it is about learning to use the language we already know, in a practical business and professional context.
  • Business English is not just about using a second or foreign language; many of the skills used are also skills that are required to be learned by native-speakers, such as being able to write a good business letter.
  • In a general English group, all the learners should be at the same level. While useful, this is not always necessary in Business English, because the focus is on acquiring specific communication skills which can have application at different levels (it does, however, assume that all trainees are at a given minimum level – and they should not be too far apart)
  • Time is a more important factor: the business English trainee must acquire a given set of language-based skills quickly, and does not have the time for prolonged courses that more often than not include skills that he will never need or use. Someone who needs to develop their English skills for making presentations does not necessarily have to learn how to write an essay in English. Likewise, a hotel receptionist, for example, who greets guests and takes reservations, does not need to know how to use vocabulary associated with marketing or finance.
  • While various teaching approaches and methodologies can apply in general English learning, the approach in Business English is essentially a task-based one, i.e. Learning-by-doing. The learner is given a specific task as an exercise, e.g. write an email with a given objective in mind, in which he has the opportunity to apply his new English skills in a practical way.
  • Business English includes a number of disciplines known collectively as English for specific purposes (ESP). These include Legal English, Technical English, and English for various other specialized areas of work such as tourism, oil & gas, banking & finance, accounting, the construction industry, the military, and aviation.