What You Should Know about Teaching Business English versus Teaching General English

So you know about teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL), but do you know about teaching Business English versus teaching General English? After all, TEFL teachers need to be flexible when it comes to their teaching and you never know when you might be tasked with teaching Business English. 

English is fast becoming the global language of business. More and more international companies are mandating English as their corporate language – like Nokia, Renault and Samsung – to ensure they can communicate and compete in the international market. In fact, all the way back in 2010, Rakuten – Japan’s largest online marketplace – required their employees to display competence in English within two years, or face demotion or dismissal. 

In fact, research from the University of Chicago found that people make more rational decisions when they consider them in a second language. This is because we think more rationally and less instinctively in another language. In other words, speaking English as a foreign language can be beneficial in a business context not only in terms of communication but in terms of strategy too.

So it perhaps shouldn’t be surprising that Business English teachers are in high demand. Which is where you come in! Have you ever considered teaching Business English?

teaching Business English

What is Business English?

Business English falls under English for Specific Purposes. It was designed for professionals who need to communicate in English in the workplace. Business English includes:

  • writing emails
  • giving presentations
  • taking minutes
  • taking notes
  • preparing reports
  • negotiating
  • making sales. 

Read more: What is English for Specific Purposes and How Do I Teach it?

Business English can be necessary for employees at all levels of a business, from salespeople to managers to call centre agents to CEOs. Students who take Business English lessons might do so in-company during office hours, or privately after-hours. Sometimes, companies sponsor their employees to take a sabbatical specifically to learn English. Often teaching Business English lessons will involve one-to-one lessons.

What’s the difference between Business English and General English?

Business English includes very specialised language related to the particular field of business, and a more formal style than General English. Business English is used in meetings, on the phone, in emails, and at networking events. 

On the other hand, General English is the English we use in our daily lives. It is the English we need to communicate in everyday situations, whether that is ordering a pizza, asking for directions or making small talk.

Business English and General English differ in vocabulary, but also in nuance, tone and expressions. Business English vocabulary in the classroom can be more advanced than General English vocabulary. 

For example, you might end an email to a friend:

Lots of love


In contrast, an email to a colleague would rather end:

Kind regards

Mr Smith

teaching Business English

Tips for teaching Business English

Usually, an English language student who wants to study Business English is at an Intermediate level of English, or higher. Because of this, there isn’t a need to deal with elementary or basic English language structures. Instead, when teaching Business English, time will be spent on any specialised language in the field (also known as jargon), and more formulaic language.

Activities in a Business English classroom tend to be more serious than in a General English classroom. While we are not saying businesspeople don’t have senses of humour (!), they do approach their English lessons seriously, as they are of immediate importance. 

Consequently, while you’ll still do different activities within the lesson, you won’t be playing as many language games as you usually would in a General English classroom. But, as an added benefit, your students won’t expect the lessons to be all fun and games and you can push them to focus on more in-depth tasks.

Resources for teaching Business English

Because of the need for Business English lessons, there are a wide range of resources available to you. 

The Bloomberg Youtube channel – a great resource for videos on interesting topics. You can choose videos which are relevant to the field of business of your student.

Twitter and LinkedIn – find thought leaders in the field of business for your student to follow. 

The Tim Ferriss Show podcast – regularly rated as one of the top business podcasts in the world. 

Market Leader – a popular Business English coursebook from Pearson/Longman. It includes authentic materials and case studies to add more interest to your lessons.

Business Builder – another excellent book, with modules dedicated to different aspects of business, and photocopiable materials for your Business English lessons.

Authentic materials – ask your students to bring in materials they are actually using during their workdays. This might be Powerpoint presentations, emails, manuals or videos. 


Teaching Business English is the way forward when it comes to teaching English as a foreign language. There is growing demand for Business English teachers and now is the perfect time to get qualified – and start earning! Contact us to sign up for one of our TEFL courses and soon you could be teaching the next Carlos Slim Helu!


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