English for business purposes
The advent of globalization and the interconnected world of commercial markets via the Internet and digital communications have changed the way business is conducted and experienced. Central to this modern business world is the use of English as a generally accepted international language, which has extended its influence via broadband and the networked business environment.
In terms of the influence and importance for business, the English language has assumed a preeminent and vital status in the world today. This is also linked to the escalating trend towards ecommerce and online shopping and commercial interchange that is dependent on communication. This is especially the case for emerging markets in the East and for Asian countries. As one critic succinctly states; “The globalization trend and the advent of e-business and e-commerce have reinforced the status of English as the international language for business communication among Asian countries” ( Baharum and Tretiakov, 2007). These are all aspects that impact the teaching and learning of business English and which have to be taken into account in order to understand and respond to the challenges of English proficiency in the contemporary business world.
The modern business environment and milieu therefore places much greater emphasis on the understanding of English as a form of communication in the commercial and business world. This reflects on the concomitant importance of English teaching for business purposes or “business English.” Courses in business English are therefore typically directed towards inculcating a practical and meaningful understanding of this modern business world; with the aim of enabling the learner to be conversant with that world and be able to function adequately in the modern business environment.
Courses offered for business English therefore generally aim to develop an awareness of the learners of Business English, their motivations and the relevant roles of the teacher and the learner,” as well as to ” & #8230; develop skills for teaching Business English on or off-site as well as developing familiarity with appropriate resources and materials for use with Business English learners” (Teaching Business English).
This paper will explore the topic of teaching business English in the context of the experience and needs requirements in Taiwan. This is a very appropriate region of the world for this type of teaching. As one commentator notes;
The importance of English as a world language, the advance of technology and education reform envisaged by the new Thai Constitution are key determinants for new developments for English language teaching and learning in Thailand in this decade ( Wiriyachitra).
Furthermore, an important factor is that English is the official language of ASEAN or The Association of South East Asian Nations. This relates to the fact that it is “â€¦the language of international business and now it is the main language of the internet” (Teaching English in Thailand). This in effect means that there is a great demand for English teachers and for increased proficiency in business English.
Contemporary Factors in Teaching Business English
The term ‘business English’ is usually defined as follows; “English in business usage, especially the styles and forms of business correspondence” (business English — dictionary). Simply stated, it refers to the fact that “English is the language needed to do business — to participate in meetings, negotiate and write emailsâ€¦” (TESOL WITH Business COURSE). However, business English is a concept that covers a wide range of aspects and variables and refers to the changing world of modern commerce and entrepreneurship, as well as to the burgeoning online e-business and networking environments. As will be discussed in this paper, the context of English for business usage is an all important factor in obtaining the necessary proficiency in language to deal with the business world.
As was briefly mentioned above, the changing world of communication and networking has had a profound impact on the business world and this must be understood and incorporated into theories, paradigms and praxis when it comes to teaching business English. This refers especially to the concept of globalization.
Globalization is a concept and a reality that has led to much debate and discussion in various disciplines, including English teaching. A common definition of globalization is that it is a term that describes “â€¦ the spread and connectedness of production, communication and technologies across the world. That spread has involved the interlacing of economic and cultural activity.” (Globalization) Globalization is also understood in the sense of connectivity in economic and cultural life across the worldâ€¦” which is also a process that has been ongoing in human history for centuries” (Globalization).
Therefore it follows that globalization open up avenues of communication, interaction and reciprocity that requires knowledge of language. However, as figure one and two below clearly illustrate, the normative mode of communication in this age of globalization is English. English has assumed the role of an international language that facilitates business and communication. This has obvious implications for those countries that are not proficient in this language.
Simply stated, knowledge of English, and particularly English used in a business and commercial setting, has become essential for the economic advancement and growth of developing counties. “[English] is the language of globalization-of international business, politics… It is the language of computers and the Internet… It is the dominant international language in communications, science, aviation, entertainment, radio and diplomacy….” (Globalization And The English Language). This view is emphasized by many educationists and entrepreneurs. As John Whitehead, director of the British Council, states, “Englishâ€¦ is an important tool for operating on the world stageâ€¦ In fact, English is so widely spoken, it is referred to as, the “lingua franca” of the modern era” (Globalization And The English Language).
There are numerous research statistics that also indicate the importance of English for business usage in the world today.
Globally, 77% of employees are using English on a weekly basis, and nearly 50% are using English daily.
Over the last four years, the percentage of employees using English daily has increased from 44% to 49%.
English as a common platform enables global teams to be productive.
Globally, a high percentage of employees are using English for internal communication. This points to the increasingly global nature of teams and organizations. (GLOBALIZATION OF ENGLISH 2007 REPORT: TRENDS IN Business COMMUNICATION AND IMPLICATIONS FOR GLOBAL COMPANIES)
Consequently, numerous reports therefore also state that there is an urgent need to improve English business skills in many countries today and it is estimated that in most companies about 74% of employees need to improve their skills within the next year (GLOBALIZATION OF ENGLISH 2007 REPORT: TRENDS IN Business COMMUNICATION AND IMPLICATIONS FOR GLOBAL COMPANIES). This obviously places a great deals of focus on the teaching of business English and they ways in which the levels of language proficiency can be improved. This point will become clear in the discussion of the importance of business English for countries like Taiwan.
( Source: http://www.esp-world.info/Articles_2/Bridging%20the%20gap%20between%20English%20for%20Academic%20and%20Occupational%20Purposes.html)
There are numerous teaching theories and methodologies when it comes to teaching English for business purposes. For instance, the behaviorist approach to teaching English as a second language focuses on repetition and language ” drills”; while the more modern tendency is to emphasize the interactive, contextual and meaning-based methods of teaching business English.
In term of teaching English for business usage, one of the most successful methods is known as scenario-based learning. This is a method that differs considerably for the “instructive” method of learning, which emphasizes vocabulary and formal grammar rules (Bin Baharum et al. 2007). Scenario-based learning is defined as “… learning that occurs in a context, situation, or social framework. It is based on the concept of situated cognition, which is the idea that knowledge can’t be known or fully understood independent of its context” ( Baharum et al. 2007). This is a more outcomes based approach to the teaching of English second language.
It is believed that using this method results in “â€¦better course completion rates and better learning outcomes can be achieved by using approaches that enhance opportunities for students” (Bin Baharum et al. 2007). This view of learning is based on the contextualization of learning and is therefore considered to be more appropriate for a business environment in which language is continually changing and adapting to meet the needs of the modern commercial environment. It focuses on “â€¦ the importance of contextualizing learning activity in real life scenarios” (Bin Baharum et al. 2007). More specifically, â€¦learners participate in a fictional context-based meaningful authentic learning environment and collaborate with other participants in completing activities structured into scenarios reproducing real-world situations. Decisions made by the learners affect the outcomes of the scenarios. Continuous feedback is provided for guidance and scaffolding.
(Bin Baharum et al. 2007)
This method of teaching has been shown to have positive results and outcomes, as it allows for a structure to be created in which the student can understand the relevance of the spoken language and its practical application. As a study by Bin Baharum et al. (2007) state;
In the case of business English, common business scenarios can be used, resulting in authentic, immersive learning environment. In such an environment, linguistic knowledge can be acquired directly as tacit knowledge, without formalizing it as grammar rules or vocabulary lists. At the same time, scenario-based learning allows learners to focus on the target context of language usage (in our case — business English communication), resulting in more student interest and involvement in the learning tasks. (Bin Baharum et al. 2007)
There are of course negative aspects to consider in this form of teaching. One of these aspects that come to the fore in many studies is that it is relatively expensive and requires small classrooms so that active participation can take place. This is a problem especially in developing counties where the number of students in classrooms tends to be large. One solution to this problem is a more extensive and intensive use of the Internet and online learning as an additional teaching and learning medium. This important aspect will be discussed in the following section.
2. Need Expectations: Teaching Business English to Second language users
Figure 2: Top language in terms of usage.
( Source: http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats7.htm
The second language student requires a different and more precise set of need expectations compared to first language learners. The situation becomes more complex when one considers business language usage. As one study notes, “Business English means different things to different peopleâ€¦” (How to Teach Business English). This implies that different groups or individuals may have different sets of needs or need expectations in terms of English language usage. For example, for some students learning business English means the learning the language that refers more to international trade and the language tools required to communicate in that environment. Other students might perceive business English as referring to their need to learn to use language that is appropriate for communications skills within a limited business context or environment. In other word, the point being made is that the learner’s predilections, aims and intentions for the use of language should be taken into account in the teaching process. As one instructor recommends; “Learn exactly what your students expect. & #8230; Ask your students how they plan to use their English knowledge in their work and business lives” (How to Teach Business English).
It is also advisable to contextualize the teaching of language for business usage. This means that realistic scenarios and examples of business English should be used to teach. Role playing of typical business situations and scenarios, such as business meetings or business negotiations should be used in order to determine the actual and realistic use of language in situations that the student can identify with — and which the student can find applicable to their expectations and needs in the business world. As one expert suggests:
Students should come away from these with a collection of phrases they’ll really be able to use. Don’t overlook small talk, either. Arm your students with the vocabulary to chat with English-speaking colleagues at business lunches and during breaks at international conferences. (How to Teach Business English)
Beside these general points, there are also some more practical aspects that illustrate the contemporary approach to the teaching of business English. For example, experts suggest that work on business presentations constitute an important need in the modern world. It is also a useful method for allowing students to hone their English skills using language that is particularly suited to the business environment. Another aspect that many educationists refer to is the importance of teaching correspondence skills. This is based on the view that .” Almost all professionals who use English for business will need to write letters, memos, invitations and short reports” (How to Teach Business English).
Another issue that comes to the fore in teaching business English is the usefulness of providing problem solving activities. This is an interesting and interactive method of teaching English. A good example of a problem solving project that can be used to involve students is how to market a new product; or selecting a new employee, and the language issues and usages that pertain to these situations (How to Teach Business English).
The use of the internet as a medium for teaching business English has many positive and exciting possibilities. This is a vast subject and one can only touch on a few important aspects here.
What makes the Internet so important for this type of learning is, firstly, the accessibility that if offers for both students and teachers in developing countries and the sophistication of applications today. As one pundit notes; “The Internet is a wonderful resource for teachers of business English. The Internet can enrich your lessons, provide you with authentic and up-to-date materials, and help you prepare for lessons as well as provide a fantastic opportunity for both your own research and that of your students” (English for specific purposes: how to teach business English using the internet).
The online environment also provides a wealth of sources and data that can be used for teaching business English. As one commentator notes,
The main difference between teaching general English and business English is setting contexts so that your students are practising language in settings they may find themselves in. The Internet is a great source of authentic materials which are ideal for use in business English classes, whatever the level of your students. (English for specific purposes: how to teach business English using the internet)
A good example of the way in which the Web can be used for teaching is the examination of business and corporate Websites. The vocabulary can be examined for instance on these sites and questions can be set that pertain to the type of language and its usage on these Websites. Another suggested exercise is a project in which students can view an airline website and scan the site for travel and business vocabulary. There are endless possibilities afforded by the Internet for various kinds of studies and exercises that can enhance business English usage. (English for specific purposes: how to teach business English using the internet).
The importance of English in a country like Thailand, and especially knowledge of business English, has been emphasized in various studies. There are a number of reasons for the importance of English in this country, which also affects the issues involved in the teaching of business English in this region.
Thailand is similar to many other developing countries, where new technology and the adoption of the Internet have”â€¦ resulted in a major transition in terms of business, education, science, and technological progress, all of which demand high proficiency in English” (Wiriyachitra). The need for English language proficiency has also been driven by the fact that the economy of the country has become focused on regional and international commerce and interaction. This is also linked to the downturn in the local economy over the past few years (Wiriyachitra). “Mergers, associations, and takeovers are common and English is used as the means to communicate, negotiate and execute transactions by participantsâ€¦” (Wiriyachitra). This tends to emphasize the importance of business English, which has become essential in order to address the specific needs of the people of the country.
However, while the need for English proficiency and communication in the international business world is very high, the general level of English proficiency in the country has been described as being low in comparison to other countries in the region. “According to the speech given by the Minister of the Ministry of University Affairs on March 6, 2000, the average TOEFL scores of Thais are the same as for Mongolians but higher than for North Koreans and Japanese” (Wiriyachitra).
This situation is exacerbated by the fact that the Thai educational system is not structured in terms of a contextual or business orientated teaching of business English. As a result there is as a great need for the application of sound business English teaching principles in the country, which can provide the necessary foundations for business English proficiency. As one expert in this field categorically states;
It can be said that up to now English language teaching in Thailand has not prepared Thais for the changing world. Thailand will lag behind in the competitive world of business, education, science and technology if the teaching and learning of English is not improved. (Wiriyachitra)
At the same time there are increasing indications that the need for English proficiency in the business field has resulted in renewed efforts to adjust educational and policy shortfalls in this regard. As a result new strategies to deal with the problem of language skills have begun to emerge. These efforts include the new Information and Communication Technology ICT programs that began in the 1990s (Nagi and Suesawaluk). This has also led to as recognition in educational circles of the changed student needs and profile in the country.
The importance of “global learning” and the necessary expertise in language has tended to emerge in education in Thailand in recent years. As a study by Nagi and Suesawaluk from the College of Internet Distance Learning (CIDE) at Assumption University, Bangkok, state, “Those who fail to recognize the student’s changing profile, from that of traditional learners to a global learner (gLearner) run the risk of failure in a very competitive global market of Borderless Education” (Nagi and Suesawaluk).
Among the many aspects of business English teaching and English teaching in general that have been found to be wanting are the following. The lack of English usage at universities and in the Thai education system has “â€¦created a huge vacuum which has been filled by practices lacking international standards and accreditation bench-marks leading to substandard degree programs, courseware and educational practices” (Nagi and Suesawaluk). This situation is also compounded by the lack of a strong English language press as well as English newspapers and media that would help to expose the individual to English usage (Nagi and Suesawaluk).
Among the other reasons given for the poor standard of English usage in the country are the following:
heavy teaching loads too many students in a class (45 — 60)
insufficient English language skills and native speaker cultural knowledge inadequately equipped classrooms and educational technology university entrance examinations which demand a tutorial teaching and learning style. (Wiriyachitra).
The above are of course aspects that need to be addressed in order to improve the standard of business English in the country. It is also important to consider certain aspect within the culture that present difficulties to the Taiwanese student in terms of English language acquisition. One imports aspect is the initial difficulty presented by the mother tongue, Thai. This language has a very different system of syntax, pronunciation as well as idiomatic usage when compared to English (Wiriyachitra). Another important factor which teachers of English should take into consideration is the lack of exposure to English in the daily lives of the people. (Wiriyachitra).
Another factor noted by educationists in the field is that the Thai students tend to be passive learners as a result of the educational system. This is possibly an important point to consider in reference to the above discussion on appropriate teaching methods for the inculcation of better business English usage. This refers as well to more interactive and as scenario-based learning. In other word, an analysis of the weak points in the Thai education system with regard to second language learning provides insight into the areas that could possibly be improved. The fact that the Thai system of language education is essentially instructive and passive is therefore an area that could be improved by a more active and interactive approach to teaching English. This is an area which could also benefit from further practical research and the exploration of methods and methodologies that could encourage as more active learning processes, which would be in line with contemporary business English usage requirements.
The importance of context and the awareness of the global business environment for teaching English for business purposes cannot be overestimated. This fact is reiterated in a number of contemporary studies. “Business today is global, and to be successful, employees must be able to communicate effectively in English” (GLOBALIZATION OF ENGLISH 2007 REPORTTRENDS IN Business COMMUNICATION AND IMPLICATIONS FOR GLOBAL COMPANIES).
Furthermore, and possibly more importantly, “The requirement for English continues to expand and increase and global companies must have a plan for how to address the English skills gap consistently across the enterprise. (GLOBALIZATION OF ENGLISH 2007 REPORTTRENDS IN Business COMMUNICATION AND IMPLICATIONS FOR GLOBAL COMPANIES). In other words, the teaching and learning of English for business requires an awareness of the context of modern business world and the technologies that operate within this context.
As has been discussed above, the present need in this field is one that tends to favor a more interactive and project — orientated approach. This can be seen in developing countries like Thailand where a more passive and instructional approach to the teaching of English still exists. As the demand for international business communication increases, so does the need for adequate proficiency in business English. This means that more effective and dynamic methods of teaching business English are needed to respond to the growing global demand for proficient communications and expertise in English.
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English for specific purposes: how to teach business English using the internet.
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