How to Teach Business English ( PDF and word Drive )

How to Teach Business English ( PDF and word Drive )


How to Teach Business English has been written for anyone involved in the teaching of business English, including teachers, materials writers, and course designers, as well as language consultants and trainers working in companies. Newcomers to business English will find the book particularly relevant, but those with more experience should find that the book offers fresh insights into key issues.

The use of English as the language for business is increasingly widespread, and more and more teachers are being asked to teach it. Business English teaching is not just about what happens in the classroom; it covers a huge variety of activities, such as dealing with sponsors, gathering information in order to design a course or choose materials, and working in a wide and varied range of contexts. This book is designed to offer practical advice to anyone involved in business English teaching, and to act as a guide to some of the theoretical developments that affect the way business teachers operate.

Chapter 1 considers the people involved in learning and teaching business English and the contexts in which it takes place; it contains an overview of what makes teaching business English special. Chapter 2 looks at how to gather information about specific learning and business needs before planning a course. Chapters 3 and 4 go on to cover course design and materials development, areas which the business English teacher needs to deal with.

The next two chapters deal with the communication skills common in business English teaching. Chapter 5 examines speaking skills, such as socializing, small talk, presentations, negotiations, and meetings, while Chapter 6 deals with teaching written skills such as letter writing, contracts, reports, CVs, agendas, minutes, and writing for the Internet. Chapter 7 examines some of the issues raised by distance learning (when teacher and learner are separated by space and perhaps by time), and discusses various options which are available to the teacher.

Intercultural training is increasingly being seen as part and parcel of the business English teacher’s job, and this is dealt with in Chapter 8. Finally, Chapter 9 considers issues of course evaluation, looking at it from the different perspectives of the learner, the teacher, and the company investing in the training.

Suggested classroom activities are signalled by this icon .

The Task File consists of photocopiable sheets relevant to each chapter. They can be used for individual study and reflection, or for discussion and review in a training context. A Task File Key, with guideline answers, is provided. Additional chapter-related notes and further reading suggestions are provided in an appendix.


Author’s acknowledgements

This book was largely inspired and influenced by the countless articles and books I have read over recent years (some are listed in the further reading list), and courses and conferences I have attended. Business English teaching is an exciting field, and there is so much happening. Also, of course, inspiration has come from the hundreds of business English learners whom I have had the privilege to work with. I remain convinced that I learn more from them than they do from me.

I would like to say a big, personal thank you to a number of friends and colleagues who worked through early versions of some of the chapters in this book, and very kindly made suggestions and comments. They are Sabrina Gerland, Connie Parks, Pete Sharma, David Smith, and Mike Sneyd, all business English professionals with years of teaching experience. Also, I wish to express deep gratitude to my mother, Avril Frendo, who, as a journalist of many years standing, was able to offer advice from a different perspective. And a special thank you needs to go to James Schofield, who invited me to join him on this project, but who was later unable to continue and very generously suggested that I carry on alone.

Thanks too to my editors, David Lott and Jeremy Harmer, both of whom demonstrated immense knowledge, experience, and also patience, as they guided me through the whole process. Rosamund Bell, as content editor, continued to ask pertinent questions, while tweaking the text to make it more readable and user-friendly.

Finally, as is so often the case, it is the long-suffering members of a family who contribute the most. In my case, thank you to my children, Oliver, Emily, and Edmund, and most of all to my wife Christine; it simply would not have been possible without their unfailing support.


What Is special about business English?

  • The business English learner
  • Business English teaching contexts
  • The business English teacher
  • Language in context
  • Teaching business communication

The business Every day millions of people all over the world use English in their business English learner activities. Business is about buying and selling or, more broadly, exchanging and exploiting resources and capabilities. It uses the language of commerce, of finance, of industry, of providing goods and services. It is about people coming together to accomplish things they could not do as individuals. It is about design and innovation, traditions and values, about the exciting and the mundane. It is about cooperation, negotiation, and conflict. It is about persuading and understanding, power and control, explaining and finding solutions to problems. In short, business English is communication with other people within a specific context.

What do people want when they decide to study business English? For some it is a necessary part of their job. For others it is an investment which brings status and possibly financial reward. Some people have very specific needs, and some people just want their English to get better. Some people may be near the end of their working lives, and others may just be starting a new job, or career, or project. Despite this wide variety, it is possible to group learners together in generally accepted categories:

According to experience

Pre-experienced learners have little or no experience of the business world. Typically, they are learning business English because they intend to follow a business career; they may be university students, for example, or even secondary school students. Because of their lack of experience they wiU often need the teacher to provide a window on the business world. Job-experienced learners know a lot about their business and their own jobs, and often have very precise notions about why they need business English. In contrast to pre-experienced learners, they do not need or expect the teacher to help them understand the world of business. A third category, which might be called general business-experienced, falls somewhere between the two. It comprises learners who may already have a certain amount of
work experience, but who are learning English in order to move into a new job, or for a specific purpose.

According to level in the organization’s hierarchy

Very often learners at different levels in a company have different approaches to business English learning. Senior managers, for example, may wish to focus on specific skills like presenting or negotiating, or may wish to have 1-to-l lessons because of their status within an organization, whereas more junior staff may not have such precise needs, or may not be able to influence how their training is managed. So a company might arrange separate classes for senior managers and other sessions for clerical staff.

According to national culture

Different national cultures have different traditions and values regarding training and education. Sometimes learners need to be split into different groups in order to cope with this. A private language school in, say, the UK, the US, or New Zealand, might elect to teach separately its Asian and Hispanic learners, whose different styles of communication might otherwise interfere with the learning process.

According to need

Some learners have very specific needs which they want the teacher to help with; for example, they may be about to join an international project team, or need help answering a company telephone hotline, or want to describe their company’s products to a new customer. Other learners have a general aim to improve their English because it seems the right thing to do, and they need a less focused course. A third category might be learners with particular roles or functions, such as secretaries, accountants, or technicians. They may work in different firms, but share job characteristics they can all identify with.

According to language level

Sometimes learners are grouped together because they have roughly the same language proficiency. So learners might be called ‘beginners’, or ‘advanced’, or ‘level three’, depending on how well they can pass a test or fit in with a set of predetermined criteria.

Business English teachers normally work within one or more of the following teaching contexts:

Education institute

Young adults are typically taught in an institutional education environment, such as a school, university, or apprenticeship scheme. If they are in a tertiary education environment, it could be that the teaching will require a lot of work with written texts, and perhaps the preparation of oral or written assignments so that grades can be given. Sometimes such assignments bear little or no relationship to future working contexts, but are heavily influenced by the needs and traditions of the educational establishment. In some cases, the students will also attend other (non-language) classes in English.

Learners in such institutes normally start with certain expectations or feelings about the class. They may expect the teacher to be an expert on the business world as wed as a language expert (he or she may be neither). They may feel that learning English is not as high a priority as other subjects. And the classes, often relatively large, may contain learners with widely disparate language levels and skills. Because such groups usually do not know exactly how they will be using their English in future, it can be difficult to focus on specific target needs. The great advantage, of course, is that it is often easier for teachers to cover areas which may not be possible in a more constrained in-company group.

Private language school

Private language schools exist in most major cities of the world. Sometimes they are part of franchises or chains, and sometimes they are small organizations run by one or two people. The teaching may take place in the school’s own premises, or the teacher may be expected to travel to the customer’s location. The customers may be anything from private individuals trying to improve their English in order to apply for a job, right up to large corporations with employees all over the world. In some countries, schools are required (or can volunteer) to submit to outside inspection; such schemes are designed to ensure that certain standards are maintained. Teachers planning to work in language schools are well advised to find out about pay and conditions before they sign a contract.


In-company teaching involves working at the client’s premises, and can vary from a couple of hours a week to a full-time job. It offers a very different experience from working in an educational establishment, for at least two reasons: the learners are not only operating in their workplace already, but they wiU often have a much better idea of why they need English.

Teachers who work full-time in a company will get to know the company’s needs very well. They will normally be given their own training room (as opposed to the use of an empty office or meeting room), and will also have access to resources such as the company intranet. Sometimes the trainer will be invited to attend meetings, do work shadowing (accompanying an employee doing their normal job, and giving feedback as necessary), or help out with written documents. After a few years, the trainer can become indispensable to a company, even saving money: for example, one trainer designed content-based training which reduced the employees’ induction time (new employees learned about their new company in English).

In-company trainers are normally required to do many other tasks besides teach. Administration is particularly important as there is often no one else to do it for them. Rooms need to be booked, stationery ordered, fire practices need to be attended, and so on. One of the tasks of the in­company teacher is to walk about and meet people in all parts of the organization; this gives the teacher a feel for what is going on inside the company, and it also ensures that people in the company are aware of the teacher’s presence. The teacher should maintain an intranet presence if possible, giving times and locations of classes, information about learning English possibilities, and useful links.

In-company teachers are normally expected to use materials that are relevant to the company. This can be hard at first, as the new teacher normally does not have such a bank of resources available, but one will soon build up. The new teacher is advised not to overload his or her teaching schedule. There is usually much else to do, and many distractions {Teacher, can you just help me with this letter?, Teacher, can you do a quick placement test on these new job interviewees?, and the like), so 20 hours of scheduled teaching is probably realistic (assuming a 40-hour working week).

1-to-l (private lessons with one teacher and one student) is quite a common arrangement in business English teaching. It can involve preparing a learner for a specific project, coaching over a longer period, checking or helping with presentations, correspondence, reports, and so on. Sometimes a person joins a company without sufficient language skiUs, and needs to be brought up to speed very fast. Sometimes a learner at a management level prefers the idea of 1-to-l. 1-to-l learners are normal highly motivated (they would not be prepared to find the time or pay the money otherwise).

Normally a teacher manages a group of people, whereas in a 1-to-l situation, not only is the teacher able to focus entirely on the learner’s needs, but the learner also becomes the main resource. The teacher’s task is to reformulate the learner’s language, working towards an improved version, either orally or in written form. It is not merely about focusing on grammatical or lexical errors, although these should be addressed. For example, let’s consider the case of a learner who wants to give a presentation and who starts with an introduction, offering an initial attempt at it. The teacher and student work together to reformulate it by, in effect, going over the whole introduction and improving it. This may mean correcting some mistakes, but it might also mean starting from scratch about what to include in an introduction (see Chapter 5 for more about presentations training). This focus on a single learner and his or her language is what makes 1-to-l teaching so different. Sometimes learners expect the teacher to provide the content, largely because they have no other experience, but this is rarely the most effective way to do 1-to-l teaching.

The new teacher can easily fall into the trap of assuming that the learner wants maximum effort and input (after all, 1-to-l learners may be very important people who have paid a lot of money for the course). However, 1- to-1 learning is already intensive enough, and such keenness may add to a stressful situation. Teachers are well advised to remember the value of silence, and the need to vary the pace and intensity of activities. In some cases, the teacher and learner strike up a personal relationship, or build a special rapport with each other. A 1-to-l situation is far less contrived than a classroom situation, and it can feel much more like real communication.

What about the teacher? In most other fields of teaching the teacher knows more about the subject than the learner, but in business English the relationship can be more symbiotic: the teacher knows about language and communication, but the learner often knows more about the job and its content. Business English teachers need to be able to make informed decisions about language and language learning. They also need credibility, professionalism, and an awareness of the business world. Above all, they must be able to adapt to a particular teaching context and be willing, themselves, to learn.

Within the field of business English, many teachers call themselves trainers, coaches, or even consultants. There are very good reasons for this.

Teacher as trainer

The business English teacher works in the world of business, where trainers are common. There is a fundamental difference in approach: a teacher is traditionally seen as someone whose task is to educate someone so that they can have more chance at succeeding in life (the exact objectives may be fairly loose). A trainer, on the other hand, is someone who is required to change a person’s behaviour or ability so that they can do a specific job. Training is job-oriented, while teaching is person-oriented. Thus, whereas a language teacher is helping a student to learn a language for a variety of (often unspecified) purposes, a trainer is training them to behave – both linguistically and pragmatically – in a certain way.

Teacher as coach

A coach is someone who can help the learner take advantage of the learning opportunities in their own working environment. It involves helping the learner to better understand his or her own strengths and weaknesses, and plan accordingly. This is related to the concept of learner autonomy, where the learner takes full responsibility for his or her learning.

Teacher as consultant

A consultant is an expert who is brought in because his or her skills or know-how are not available in the organization. In business English, this expertise can cover a wide area; it may include the ability to analyse communication and communication needs, it may require the teacher to recommend a training supplier, or it may involve the teacher negotiating with a number of hotels to choose the best location for a course, for example. Many freelance teachers operate as consultants; they market themselves in order to gain access to a potential client, they discuss contracts, they carry out needs analysis, they interact not only with the learners, but also with those who make the decision to pay for language training services, and they evaluate training delivery and outcomes. They are often in a privileged position, in that they may well be the only person in a company with direct and open access to everyone at every level.

Language in The language of business English includes what some people might call context everyday English. Consider the following exchanges:

A: Excuse me.

B: Hi. Can I help you?

A: I hope so. I’m looking for room 235. Mr Jenkin’s office.

B: Yes, of course. It’s just round the corner, over there.

A: What d’you think?

B: Yes, alright.

A: By Friday?

B: I said yes, ok?

Both these exchanges could be described as everyday English. The first exchange could take place within the context of visiting the headteacher at a school, for example, and the second could be between husband and wife discussing when the painting of the garage is to start. But if they are used by a business person within a business context, they become business English. So the first exchange might be a business person visiting a supplier’s factory, and the second might be two colleagues discussing an important deadline.

But some groups of people use language in other ways too, ways that are not as familiar to outsiders. They use specialist words to make communication, within the group, easier and more efficient. Every profession does this (indeed, one defining feature of a profession is that it has its own linguistic identity). People use specific language to communicate in specific contexts. Business communities are no different. Accountants use the language of accounting (specific lexis) to talk about accounting matters (specific context). Sales engineers use specific language to discuss their product specifications with their customers. These are both business communities, but they probably wouldn’t understand each other’s specialist vocabulary. English for Specific Purposes (ESP) is a term often used to describe language that is inaccessible to people who are not members of a particular language community. Here are some examples:

Can we talk about gearing after lunch? I’m hungry, (in accounting)

We’ve had some SF5 leakage, (in the power industry) Maybe we need to revisit the escalation clause? (in real estate) It’s OTC. (over the counter, in e g. retail pharmaceuticals)

There is also language which is clearly business English, but which can be understood by most proficient users of English. Consider the following:

Sales have fluctuated since we introduced the new sales strategy.

The team is responsible for the China project.

Has everybody had a look at the minutes?

They’ve terminated the contract.

This is sometimes described as general business English, and is the sort of English found in general business English coursebooks or in business magazines.

So, business English is an umbrella term for a mixture of general everyday English, general business English, and ESP. It is not limited to words or phrases that only appear in some special business world. For example, a quick glance at the language of advertising soon shows a wonderful variety of metaphorical language, such as the health drink with more muscle. And popular business books borrow from a wide variety of literary sources, including Winnie-the-Pooh and Shakespeare.

Yet there are some other things which make business English distinctive. Firstly, business people do a variety of things with language; they socialize, predict, analyse, negotiate, buy, write, persuade, compromise, telephone, compete, market, seU, produce, interview, train, travel, plan, investigate, deal, advertise, explain … the list is endless. These are done in a specific business context, and for business aims. But skill in using business English is not limited to the words and language used. Presenters use certain techniques to get their message across. So do negotiators. So do telephone operators. Business English users need to know the words, but they also need the skills in order to do their job (that is, the skills they need to do the job in their own language). So business English is used together with business communications skills.

Secondly, the English used in international business is not necessarily the same English that native speakers use. It is a lingua franca. It may even be considered a new type of English which has developed and is developing to meet the needs of its users. People whose first language is English do not necessarily speak this language. There is much discussion among academics about what such a language might be like (Is it less idiomatic? Does it use different syntax? How many varieties are there?). No one really knows. The important thing to remember is that the language the learners need may share only certain characteristics with the teacher’s own version of English.

Thirdly, although we know a lot about how people interact and the sorts of things they say to each other, there are many areas of business English or ESP where there is not much reliable information on what people actually say. (There are various reasons for this lack, such as the difficulty in recording natural discourse, people’s reluctance at being recorded, and business people’s ■ concerns over issues of confidentiality.) A good example of this relative lack,’ of information is in the matter of small talk, which often seems to have a’ relationship-building function, rather than direct business content. Small I talk is the simple throwaway line we might offer when we meet someone in the corridor, or the seemingly banal discussion about the weather when we bump into someone in the car park. Such conventional, polite exchanges might be vitally important to the business English learner who needs to build good business relationships, but not much is known about how they work. There may well be certain parts of business English teaching that rely on (the teacher’s and the learner’s) intuition.

Learners might need to learn everything from general English, to general business English, to a particular type of English (British English, US,

International), to an ESP, or a mixture of all of these. And they need to be able to use this language successfufly across a range of different cultures and alongside a range of different business skills, and in a wide variety of contexts, and with a wide variety of interactants (some of whom may not speak or write particularly good English themselves). They need English to do business, not just to talk about business.

The teaching of business English has been influenced by a variety of disciplines, including linguistics, general language learning and teaching, and management training. Because business English is not only about language, but about language use, it is worth first considering the issue of communicative competence. Perhaps the most influential models have been based on work done by Hymes in the 1960s, Canale and Swain in the ’70s, and Bachman and Palmer in the ’80s. The basic argument, which arose out of dissatisfaction with earlier teaching approaches which tended to concentrate on linguistic items (such as written grammar rules), is that there are various components which need to be considered when discussing language skills, of which knowing about language is only one. Language learners also need to be able to use the language in real-life situations. Various ways of dividing communicative competence into its component parts have been discussed over the years, with teachers being particularly interested in the teachability of such components. Business English teachers need to focus on three key components in particular: linguistic competence, discourse competence, and intercultural competence.

Linguistic competence

Linguistic competence is shown in the use of the basic elements that go together to form a language, such as vocabulary, grammar, phonology, and so on. One of the key influences on business English teaching in recent years has been our deepening understanding of the role of lexis (words and patterns of words) and its relationship with grammar (the way the words and patterns follow rules). Traditionally, vocabulary and grammar were seen as separate aspects of language, but the distinction between the two is becoming more and more blurred as we find out more about how the language system works.

The Longman Grammar of spoken and Written English divides words into three types. Lexical words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs) are the carriers of meaning. Function words deal with the relationships between lexical words, or indicate how they are to be interpreted. Examples are determiners (the, a, some, any), pronouns (it, they), modals (can, should), prepositions (in, to), coordinators (and, but, or), wh-words (why, whose). The third type are inserts (yeah, well, ouch). These categories may overlap.

Multi-word units (also called lexical phrases, lexical bundles, or chunks) consist of two or more words, which act together as a unit. In a sense they behave like a word. So nevertheless is one word, but How do you do also acts like a single unit. Indeed, studies on how we memorize language show that it is easier to store ‘chunks’ of language than several individual parts. Note that most multi-word units are not complete utterances, however. What’s the matter with … and I don’t think it’s… are examples of sentence headers, and start off and bring up are examples of phrasal verbs. We also know that certain words tend to co-occur with certain other words, a phenomenon known as collocation. So we say small print, rather than little print, or have a meeting rather than do a meeting. At times there appears to be no particular logic to such matters; it is just the way it is. Idioms are a type of multi-word unit where the meaning is not clear from the individual words (e.g. It’s going to crop up, or We’ve missed the boat, or He’s in the driving seat).

Words do not only collocate with other words, they collocate with other semantic word families (i.e. groups of words with related or similar meanings). For example, letter collocates with verbs which show what you can do with it {write a letter, post a letter, read a letter, open a letter etc), and adjectives which describe the function of the letter {covering letter, follow-up letter). Market collocates with adjectives denoting place {European market, French market, South East Asian market), and adjectives denoting size {huge market, large market, big market, small market). Finally, words tend to occur in particular grammatical patterns (colligation). So, for example, we can say letter of application, letter of complaint, letter of enquiry, but we do not normally say market ofEurope, market of France, or market of South East Asia.

Another fairly recent development is the appreciation that spoken and written grammar can be very different. Forms which are acceptable in one type of grammar are not necessarily acceptable in the other. Learners need to understand that when they use written grammar rules in conversational speech, their language may sound unnatural and stilted.

Spoken grammar is normally used in real-time interaction. It has different word-order rules, uses contractions {cant, won’t), hesitations {erm, uh), repetition, ellipsis (words left out), and is often vernacular. Utterances are often left incomplete, or change their form halfway through. Other common features include fronting and tags. For example, in the utterance, The tape. Yeah we got it erm yesterday I think it was, the I think it was at the end is a tag which qualifies what has just been said. Also common in spoken language are discourse markers, which often occur at the beginning of an utterance (e.g. OK. Erm what Td er like to do today is …), backchannels {mmh, uh-huh, to signal feedback), and expletives.

It is not only what is said, but how it is said that is of interest to business English learners. Phonology is about how we use our voices to make the sounds of utterances. We use stress, rhythm, and intonation (sometimes called prosody) to convey meaning. Chunking involves grouping words together, with a pause, or a change in pitch, or a lengthening of a syllable to signal the end of the chunk. Combined with stress, intonation, and rhythm, chunking can alter the way the listener understands the message.

Discourse competence

Linguistic competence deals with elements of language at a basic level, and tends to focus on language out of context. Discourse competence, on the other hand, deals with language in use, although it is important to note that the word discourse can be used in a variety of ways by language professionals. For the purposes of this book, however, discourse is used to describe how people interact with each other within context. Typical examples of this include negotiations, correspondence, presentations, service encounters, meetings, and so on. In this sense, business discourse refers to the spoken and written communication that is found within the world of business. By way of analogy, if linguistic competence refers to the building blocks of language, discourse competence refers to the whole house Like the occupants in a house, who use different rooms for different functions, the participants in the discourse have to communicate within different contexts; it follows that different discourses require different strategies.

One strategy involves the use of register (the degree of formality, or the degree of specificity, especially of topic vocabulary). So, for example, a chat in a pub would use a colloquial, everyday type of lexis, and would therefore have a different register from what we would expect to find in a meeting of international consortium partners about to sign a major contract, which would probably have more formal language and specific lexis. Another aspect of discourse is that often one of the participants may hold more power than the other participants, and this is also reflected in the types of language used. Thus discourse can reflect relationships between individuals, and can even be seen as a tool for manipulating others. Related to this is the concept of genre, which seeks to distinguish between different types of texts (for example, what makes a memo different from a letter of complaint, or a telephone conversation different from a presentation?).

Discourse can be spoken or written. Spoken discourse is often covered in business English training because it is more immediate; a learner may have time to look something up in written discourse, but the demands of spoken discourse tend to be more urgent, and so it is sometimes seen as more important in the business English classroom. The converse can also be argued: that written discourse provides a more permanent record, and so mistakes might be less easily forgiven.

There are many ways to analyse spoken discourse. One of these is conversation analysis, which is a sociological approach used to analyse the way people interact with each other in talk. Interaction is seen as a dynamic process which develops by taking into account what has already happened. Conversations have certain characteristics, and these can be used to help understand what is happening and how it is happening. Spoken interaction has a structure. Participants in a conversation take turns to speak, and there are rules which govern what is and is not allowed. For example, it is normal for participants to listen to each other, and to stop talking when another participant is talking. This is known as turn-taking.

Often utterances come in pairs, such as a question and answer, or complaint and an apology, or a greeting and a responsive greeting.

A: Hi, how’s it going?

B: Fine thanks. How’s it with you?

A: Tea?

B: Yes, please.

Conversations also have opening and closing sequences. For example, a telephone conversation often starts off by using some or all of the following components:

(ring ring)                            Hello.

Schmidt.                               Hi, it’s Andy here …

How are you?                     How’s things?

What can I do for you? I’m ringing to see if

you can …

Note that the language used depends not only on the standard sequences, but also on the relationship between the caller and the receiver. The language and the tone will be very different if the call was between a buyer and seller, or an employer and employee, or two colleagues who were good friends.

Intercultural competence

I attended a language teaching conference in Korea a few years ago. At one point, another delegate came up to me, looked at my name tag and said, ‘Ah, Evan Frendo. So young!’ I was a bit taken aback by this remark, and muttered somewhat disparagingly that I wasn’t actually that young. I did have a growing family, for example, and I had been in the teaching business for a while. ‘So young’, she said again, smiling. I pointed out that if she looked closely she could see my grey hair. And anyway, she looked a lot younger than me. ‘So young’, she said again. I was beginning to struggle at this point, because I really did not know what to say. I had never been approached by someone this way before. Then I noticed her name tag, which said ‘So Yung’.

This anecdote is an illustration of what can happen when people from different cultures meet. In this case, it was a simple case of a conversationalist from one culture hearing an unfamiliar name and mistaking it for a familiar, if surprising, judgmental comment. Even the simplest things can be difficult, and what can be worse, we often have no idea that there is a problem. We seem to operate on different wavelengths. Geert Hofstede describes culture as the ‘software of the mind’, or ‘the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another’. Fons Trompenaars defines it as ‘the way in which a group of people solve problems’.

Culture has to do with attitudes, behaviour, beliefs, and values. It is influenced by a multitude of factors including environment, gender, family, age, and ethics. It is learned, not inherited through genes. It manifests itself in interaction between people, and is continually changing. Some cultural differences are superficial, and are relatively simple to deal with. It is easy to see that people may dress or eat differently, for example. But cultural differences are not always so obvious. The iceberg model is often used to demonstrate how much of culture is hidden. Like an iceberg with most of its bulk unseen below the surface of the water, these hidden aspects can cause problems if we are not aware of them and don’t know how to deal with them.

There are different types of cultures. National culture takes as its reference point the concept of the politically bounded nation state. This is not the same as ethnicity, which is used to refer to groups having the same language, history, religion, or race. A nation may be composed of different ethnic groups, and ethnic groups do not always observe national borders. Organizational or corporate culture describes the specific behaviours and values found in organizations. So, for example, a young company with twenty employees which sells groceries via the Internet is likely to have a very different way of doing things compared to an older, more traditional engineering company which has been in existence for over a hundred years, and which has more than 300,000 employees scattered in different parts of the world. Professions also have their own distinct cultures. We might expect doctors and musicians to behave in certain ways, even when they come from very different national cultures. Even members of the group of people who use English as a lingua franca share certain characteristics with each other, because they have something in common. People can belong to different cultures at the same time; for example, an engineer in an American company may share many of the values of other employees in the same company, but in some ways has more in common with an engineer in a German company than, say, a secretary in the American firm.

Stereotypes are generalizations which are often used to simplify and categorize other cultures, and by extension the people in those cultures. We often use them to try and understand a new situation or unfamiliar behaviour (for example, it may be useful to know about the importance of‘face’ – i.e. people’s feelings about their own worth, self-respect, and dignity — in Asian countries), but there are limitations to their usefulness. One major problem is that stereotypes do not allow for exceptions to the norm. So we think that (and act as though) all members of a particular group behave in a certain way, and make no allowance for individuals in that group.

Intercultural competence, then, includes the ability to deal with, and be sensitive to, differences in how other cultures do things. From a business point of view, the aim might even be to recognize and utilize those differences in order to create something which adds value for the business or its customers.

Communicative language teaching

Teachers have used such models of real-world communication and perspectives on society to inform what happens in the classroom. The theorists’ emphasis on communication has led to a widespread enthusiasm for the approach known as communicative language teaching (CLT), which aims to develop learners’ ability to use language to communicate. CLT is not a precise term and can mean different things to different people. However, there are some underlying principles commonly shared. First of all, language is seen not just as a set of linguistic items to be learned, like words or grammar, but it also involves language in use via functions such as interrupting, or agreeing and disagreeing (functions are ways of describing what a speaker is trying to achieve at each stage in a communication activity). When considering functions, we are focusing on how we use a language, as opposed to what we know about a language. Another key aspect of CLT is that languages are learned while using them, with an emphasis on real-life situations. Meaning takes precedence over form. Fluency can take precedence over accuracy.

It is often argued that there are two basic forms of CLT, a weak and a strong one; both forms are used in business English classrooms. The weak form of CLT focuses on what is to be learned. A typical approach here is PPP, where language is presented, practised using a variety of different activities, and finally produced through some sort of communicative activity. A variation on this is the deep-end approach, where learners are asked to perform a task that makes demands on their competence in using language, and then their performance is diagnosed, leading to a focus on specific language items. Another alternative suggested by Michael Lewis is to create a learning cycle which starts with observation, followed by hypothesis and experiment (OHE). Harmer’s ESA model suggests that a teaching sequence can be divided into three components where the learners emotionally engage with the situation, study the language, and then activate it. All these approaches focus on what is to be learned.

A strong form of CLT focuses on how learning takes place, in other words it argues that language is learned via the negotiation of meaning in real communication. People learn by using the language to achieve a specific outcome. The main theoretical argument is that people do not learn in a neat, pre-ordained fashion, so deciding what language items to focus on is not an effective way to teach. It may be much better to provide the right input and atmosphere, which allow learning to take place at the individual’s own pace and in response to their needs.

In the business English classroom this is often done via tasks, which are activities where the focus is primarily on using language to do something. It is the outcome of the task which is important, just as in the business world the language is a means to an end, not an end in itself (compare this to traditional language exercises, where the focus is primarily on learning language rules). The theory is that language is learned via the interaction; the learners learn by doing the task. Many researchers claim that task-base^ learning, coupled with judicious feedback which allows learners to pay somq attention to form (that is, the linguistic item which needs to be improved), is the most productive way of learning a language. The great advantage for/ business English learners is that the language produced while doing a tasly/ can be immediately relevant. The disadvantage is that it is often difficult to predict exactly what will happen during a task, which can make them difficult to plan or assess. For the less experienced teacher there may also be a feeling of loss of control. In addition, some tasks can be completed with a minimum of language input from the participants, which makes them not necessarily the best way to provide maximum exposure to useful language.

Yet even though CLT in one form or another is used worldwide, there are some problems with it. It is by no means certain that CLT always works well anywhere and everywhere. For example, the requirement to use the language in real communication may not work well with a very large group of learners

or with learners whose own educational and cultural background presupposes that the teacher is the only one who speaks. Likewise, not all non-native English teachers feel comfortable with a method like CLT that can at times require native speaker levels of competence. Classrooms and cultures across the world may have their own, more appropriate way of doing things which takes into account local expectations and needs. The reality is that teachers pick and choose the approach best suited to their own experience and teaching style, what resources they have available, and the particular learning needs of the learners. Such an eclectic approach typically works well for the more experienced teacher, but perhaps less well for the newcomer.

In this chapter we have:

  • looked at various types of learners and teachers, and also considered a range of common teaching contexts.
  • noted that the language of business English depends on the general and specific contexts where it is being used, and that other factors, such as communication skills, also play a role.
  • seen that business English is far more than talking about business or about language; it is about communicating and doing business in English.
  • looked at the concept of communicative competence, and seen that business English learners need to develop linguistic, discourse, and intercultural competences.
  • discussed approaches to teaching English, particularly communicative language teaching, and noted that there is no single best method; business English can be taught in many ways.

In the next chapter we will look at ways to gather information about our learners and teaching context, which is often seen as the first stage in the process of teaching business English.

Assessing needs and preferences

  • Needs analysis
  • Communication needs
  • Pedagogic needs
  • Business needs
  • Three examples

Needs analysis Before we can start teaching a course there is a certain amount of information which we have to gather in the form of a needs analysis. A needs analysis helps the teacher to understand the difference between where the learners are, in terms of communicative competence, and where they need to be to meet their business aims. Sometimes this needs analysis is minimal, and simply consists of a series of brief questions which give the teacher a rough idea of the needs of the group. But at other times a needs analysis can be a more substantial proposition. A large-scale needs analysis’ (sometimes called a language audit) can be designed to look at an I organization and work out its strengths and weaknesses in terms of! communication in English. All levels of the company will normally be involved, and the aim will be to build up a picture of the current situation, and balance that against strategic goals as well as short-term needs. The process may include gathering information about future markets, customers, suppliers, and even competitors. Clearly in any company there will be major budgetary implications, in terms of the expense of data cohection and analysis, and of interpreting it to decide the way forward. Issues to be addressed could include the level of language competence certain post­holders should have, how language competence might figure in recruitment policies, the evaluation of current language training providers, and so on. The language audit might be a key stage as an organization develops and maintains a language strategy, allowing it to deal effectively with language problems in various markets and supply chains.

The basic aim of a needs analysis is to collect, and examine critically, information about the current situation, in other words where the learners are before teaching begins, and the target situation, which is where they would like to be at the end of the teaching. Understanding the difference (the training gap) between these two situations leads to the course design (syllabus, methods, constraints, learning strategies, and so on).

First, we need to be clear whose needs we are talking about – the learner’s, or those of the company or organization which is paying for the training. Sometimes the school, university, or training provider is also a factor. Also, there is often a difference between a learner’s perceived needs and felt needs. The former represent the view of the other stakeholders in the equation, such as the teacher, the sponsor, the co-workers. In a sense, these are the ‘experts’, who can identify needs based on their own experience and knowledge. The felt needs are those needs which represent the learner’s perspective. Here is an example:

Perceived needs Course participants should be able to take part in negotiations with foreign partners.
Felt needs I would like to improve my speaking and my grammar.


Another way of looking at needs is to think about them in terms of what and how we might teach. Can we translate needs into a list of products which we as teachers deliver to the learner? This could be a list of language items, for example, or a list of skills, such as giving presentations or asking questions in meetings. Or should needs be seen in terms of the process of delivery, with the emphasis on how the learning takes place? Here we are talking about the training as seen from the individual learner’s perspective. How does a particular learner learn? What affective factors need to be considered? What methods should I be using? As ever in language teaching, the answer probably draws on both perspectives.

There are several possible ways of looking at needs analysis, but what is important is to appreciate what a needs analysis does. It does not produce a sharply defined list of things to do in the classroom. Indeed, the more we find out about our learners’ needs, as inevitably happens as a course progresses, the more difficult it can seem to meet those needs. What a needs analysis does is offer a chance to focus on those areas which are more relevant to the learner or the company. It provides a series of snapshots, none of which gives the complete ‘truth’, but all of which contribute to understanding. The more snapshots we take, the better our understanding. The needs analysis differentiates a general English course from a course for specific purposes. On certain courses it can also be used as a justification for what happens.

A needs analysis is unique to a specific training situation. There is no standard model of needs analysis, and there is no ‘single best way’ to do it. A needs analysis is not an objective exercise; it entails exercising judgment and finding compromises to make the best use of resources in a particular teaching context. It is about working with learners to decide on the best way forward.;At the end of all this effort, it is still inevitably vague in parts.

This vagueness can be a problem with a sponsor or learner who is paying for something well defined, and is getting something that looks a little bit rough around the edges. A teacher working with companies must be aware of this, and must be able to produce a needs analysis which is businesslike and efficient, while at the same time being realistic and not making promises that cannot be met, particularly regarding what language teaching is and what it can achieve. Tied to this is the problem of using ELT jargon; part of our job as teachers is to make sure that we are speaking the same
language as those paying for the training (sponsors). Learners and sponsors may have other views of what the teacher’s ‘role’ is, for example, or what the word ‘grammar’ means. Conflict can be avoided by regular consultation, clarification, and negotiation.

During a needs analysis teachers gain access to some often quite private or sensitive information, which might need to be handled with care. Indeed, business English teachers are often required by their customers to sign some sort of confidentiality agreement, and teaching institutions may be subject to regulatory constraints on how they manage information (such as Data Protection Acts and privacy laws). There may also be ethical questions to consider. Is all the information gathered really necessary? Who has access to the information? What will the department head be told about their employee? And was the employee made aware of this at the time the data was collected? Is the teacher competent enough to use this information in order to make decisions which could affect people’s careers? And so on.

Needs analysis, then, is rarely a clear-cut thing: a tidy needs analysis, the result of which prescribes course design, which in turn dictates materials design, is more likely to be encountered in textbooks than in real life. Real needs analysis is dynamic, and messy. It doesn’t end until the course is over, and even then decisions have to be made about what to do with the information gathered. But it is also the best way we have to produce a focused course J A needs analysis in its most basic form is essentially a blend of information-gathering activities which use a variety of different perspectives. However, simply collecting data is not enough – it is in the interpretation and use of this data where the needs analysis really makes its power felt.)The rest of this chapter considers different types of needs, and offers ways of meeting the challenges, before examining three example scenarios.

Different types of communication inevitably give rise to different types of communication needs. One of the aims of a communication needs analysis will be to find out as much as possible about the different areas and styles of discourse that learners might engage in. This will not only give a better idea about the target situation, but will also address the teacher’s own need to understand what the learners actually do with the language. As discussed in Chapter 1, communicative competence has several layers, of which language is only one.

The first part of analysing communication needs is to find out as much as possible about what the learners on the course will need to do in English. For example, they may need to be able to use the telephone with English­speaking clients, or they may need to travel to other countries in order to sell their product. For this part of the needs analysis, a variety of tools can be used, including questionnaires, interviews, and observation.

Many commercial materials and schools provide teachers with a brief needs analysis chart or form to use with learners (see page 18). These have the great advantage that they are easy to run off on a photocopier shortly before a lesson, and provide a useful insight into the learners’ communicative needs. Information gleaned by forms like this provides one


ABC School Needs Analysis Form





Telephone number:


Previous language learning experience:

Brief Job description:

  • I need to improve my English in order to better:
Urgent Not urgent
deal with visitors
understand presentations
give presentations
take part in meetings
chair meetings
read reports
write reports
deal with emails
speak on the telephone
socialize with business partners and/or customers
deal with suppliers
deal with customers

2 My main priority is to:


of the snapshots that go to build up a composite picture of the learners’ current situation. However, a possibly serious disadvantage is that the learners are being asked to complete the form in English, which is the language they are intending to learn, so the teacher may not get as much (or as accurate, or as clear) information as might have been gathered if the learners had answered these questions in their own language. For some learners, it may be worth the effort of translating the form. If the teacher is engaged in in-company work, then such questionnaires can also be adapted to suit that specific teaching context.

Relatively brief, standardized forms such as these may be convenient, but they are rarely sufficient as the sole source of information. Further details will need to be sought either by interview or during lessons. It can also be very helpful for a teacher to get direct access to the workplace of prospective learners. However, conducting a needs analysis in this way can have its pitfalls, as shown by this example:

Jason Smith works for a small private language school as a teacher – his school has been asked to help a small sales department (five employees) improve its English language skills. His boss has had an interview with the sales department head, and has gained permission for Jason to sit in the office for half a day in order to analyse the communication needs of the employees. This is a rare treat – most of his time is spent in the classroom.

The first thing Jason finds is that the people in the sales department are only speaking English for a tiny proportion of the time. Nobody really knows what to do with him, and after his tenth cup of coffee he begins to get bored. The phone rings and one of the workers starts speaking English. But all he hears is Hi… Speaking … urn, yes … Yes, OK … Of course … Bye.

He decides to ask for some written examples and he is given four printouts of one- or two- line emails, and a copy of a three-year-old computer handbook, hardly used. There is, of course, more, but the person he asks does not have the time right now to find copies of letters or contracts, and anyway, she is not sure if she can give Jason confidential information. At that point the boss comes in, sees what Jason is doing, and asks if materials for the course are included in the overall price. Jason has no idea, because that sort of thing is handled by his boss back at the language school.

This apocryphal account can yield a number of lessons. What went wrong? Firstly, there were no clear aims. Jason received no guidance from his boss, nor did he know much about the client company. Secondly, the day chosen was not particularly useful; it would have been far better to find a day when the salespeople were involved in some sort of activity that called for real English language use (a meeting with clients, a presentation, or suchlike). Jason should have been equipped with some sort of audio recording device, and should have had permission to use it. The issue of confidentiality should have been cleared. Written examples could have been obtained beforehand, or at least requested. There were only five people, so why did he not interview each one? He could have found out their needs and perspectives first-hand by using a structured questionnaire like the one at the top of page 20.

Depending on the level and the language competence of the interviewer and interviewee, such an interview can be in English or another language, or a mixture of both. If direct observation is not feasible, then it is normally possible to get a good idea of what is required by asking detailed questions about the target performance areas, and analysing the skills needed. The answers to these questions can later be used to design classroom activities, which can be used to further diagnose target language. For example, when finding out about typical meetings, the teacher will need to know about what sort of things are discussed, how many people attend, their relationships, typical agendas, how long meetings last, whether any native English speakers are present, what other nationalities are present job types,




Contact details:



Department role:

(Job description:

Length of time in job:

Previous jobs/experience:

Examples of English use

(where, when, who, how, why): Perceived problem areas: Language learning history: What he/she thinks they need:

whether the discourse is formal or informal etc. Such questions will help the teacher to get a feel for that type of meeting and aUow the creation of realistic simulations, which will mirror some of the language used.

If the teacher is observing a meeting, or some other face-to-face interaction, here is some of the information which might be worth noting:

Attendees (names, roles):

Type of discourse (e.g. formal, relaxed):


Topics of conversations:

Interlocutors’ relationship (who holds the power?):

Areas of conflict:

Was it a typical conversation, or rare?

Did your learner get what she or he wanted?

Intercultural aspects:

Communication problems:

The other main part of a communication needs analysis is finding out how good the learners’ language use is; what is their current communicative competence? One common tool for this is a placement test, which is a test designed to provide a comparison with other learners (or with known standards or benchmarks) so that learners can be placed with others having similar needs and ability.

As well as suiting the requirements of the learners’ specific situation, a good placement test needs to have certain characteristics. It should be quick, and easy to administer. It should have validity, in that it should test what it is designed to test. It should also have face validity or be credible to the learner; if we give a grammar test to someone interested in improving presentations skills, the prospective learner may start to question our judgment. Tied in with this is the issue of authenticity (see Chapter 4’s
discussions of authentic language and materials), in the sense that the test should reflect the target language, and the way it is used (this is why a placement test should, ideally, follow the target situation analysis). It should be reliable so that, if different testers do the same test, the result should be the same; likewise if the learner took the same test two days later, they should get the same result.

There are a number of commercial placement tests available for purchase and on the Internet, but a potential problem is that many are tied in to using a particular coursebook or doing a particular course (they check the point at which the person can join the course). Others test with reference to guidelines and standards, such as the standards provided by the CEF (Common European Framework) or ACTFL (American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages). These tests are often adequate for assessing receptive language skills such as listening and reading, and can be used to get a rough idea of level, but will not test people for specific job requirements. It is arguable how well they test productive skills (that is, where the learner has to produce language). Most language placement tests ignore intercultural competence completely.

One way to get past these problems is to carry out a task-based assessment. This uses knowledge gained from the target needs analysis so that a task can be designed which reflects the real-life situation. For example, if people need to give presentations, they can be asked to give one. An accountant might be asked to explain a balance sheet to her boss, a manager might have to discuss changes to a project schedule, and a secretary might have to use the telephone to change an appointment. It will normally be necessary to produce a list of points which need to be looked at during the assessment. So, if the learner needs to take part in meetings, he or she probably needs to demonstrate ability to:

  • Read and understand the points on an agenda.
  • Take part in real-time interaction, including putting forward a point of view, explaining a course of action, asking for clarification, and dealing with unpredictable language.
  • Produce a set of minutes summarizing the key decisions.

Such a test is sometimes called a diagnostic test, because the intention is to diagnose any weaknesses.

Once tests have been carried out, the results can be checked against a list of proficiency or can-do statements, such as those used by the CEF or ACTFL. Sometimes they may be specifically drawn up for the company or organization involved. An example extract from the CEF is given on page 22.

There is a summary taken from the ACTFL on page 23 (similar guidelines exist for reading, writing, and listening).

These charts are useful because they allow teachers to compare their subjects’ current communicative ability and target needs, and thus find the gap. They also help in placing learners in the most appropriate group.

Table 1. Common Reference Levels: global scale

Proficient User C2 Can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read. Can summarise information from different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation. Can express him/herself spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in more complex situations.
Cl Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognise implicit meaning. Can express him/herself fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions. Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes. Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organisational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.


B2 Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialisation. Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party. Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.
Bl Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. Can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. Can produce simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest. Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes and ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.
Basic User A2 Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment!. Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters. Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.
Al Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type. Can introduce him/herself and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people he,’she knows and things he/she has. Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.


Pedagogic        Pedagogic needs refer to those needs which exist as a result of the teaching

needs       context. There are three main aspects to consider: the teacher’s needs, the

learner’s (learning) needs, and the means to do the course.

Teacher’s needs

If ten experienced, competent business English trainers were given ten identical groups to teach, would they come up with identical approaches? It is highly unlikely. They might do similar things some of the time, but what happens in the classroom is influenced to a very great extent by the trainer’s ACTFL PROFICIENCY GUIDELINES – SPEAKING (REVISED 1999) from Foreign Language Annals • Vol. 33, No. 1


Superior-level speakers are characterized by the ability to:

  • participate fully and effectively in conversations in formal and informal settings on topics related to practical needs and areas of professional and/or scholarly interests
  • provide a structured argument to explain and defend opinions and develop effective hypotheses within extended discourse
  • discuss topics concretely and abstractly
  • deal with a linguistically unfamiliar situation
  • maintain a high degree of linguistic accuracy
  • satisfy the linguistic demands of professional and/or scholarly life


Advanced-level speakers are characterized by the ability to:

  • participate actively in conversations in most informal and some formal settings on topics of personal and public interest
  • narrate and describe in major time frames with good control of aspect
  • deal effectively with unanticipated complications through a variety of communicative devices
  • sustain communication by using, with suitable accuracy and confidence, connected discourse of paragraph length and substance
  • satisfy the demands of work and/or school situations


Intermediate-level speakers are characterized by the ability to:

  • participate in simple, direct conversations on generally predictable topics related to daily activities and personal environment
  • create with the language and communicate personal meaning to sympathetic interlocutors by combining language elements in discrete sentences and strings of sentences
  • obtain and give information by asking and answering questions
  • sustain and bring to a close a number of basic, uncomplicated communicative exchanges, often in a reactive mode
  • satisfy simple personal needs and social demands to survive in the target language culture


Novice-level speakers are characterized by the ability to:

  • respond to simple questions on the most common features of daily life
  • convey minimal meaning to interlocutors experienced with dealing with foreigners by using isolated words, lists of words, memorized phrases, and some personalized recombinations of words and phrases
  • satisfy a very limited number of immediate needs

© ACTFL, Inc., 1999 own style, experience, and needs. An important part of a needs analysis, then, is for the teacher to consider questions like:

  • How do I think people learn best?
  • What are my strengths and weaknesses?
  • What experience do I have?
  • What do I know about my own learning style?
  • How much of what happens in the classroom is a result of my personality?

Learning needs and styles

Teachers have long recognized that learning success depends on a number of factors, one of which is the learning style of the learner. There are a number of different ways to look at learning styles. One broad categorization is based on the findings of research into brain function, that the right and left sides of the brain play different roles in how we process information. Thus, two main types of learners can be identified, depending on which side of their brain is dominant. ‘Left-brain’ learners tend to analyse, and to be logical and objective. They may prefer traditional lectures, reading, and clearly structured classroom activities. ‘Right-brain learners tend to be more impulsive and informal, and may appreciate the use of graphics and role-play activities to enhance their learning.

This perspective on learning styles is related to NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming), which is a collection of techniques, models, and theories based on how the mind works and how people behave and communicate. ‘Neuro’ refers to how we perceive the world through our nervous system, and draws attention to how we use our senses; thus, for example, we talk about learners being visual (they think in pictures and respond most readily to visual stimuli), auditory (they think in and respond most profoundly to sounds), and kinaesthetic (they think in terms of touch and smell and learn best when some kind of physical activity is taking place). ‘Linguistic’ emphasizes how language allows US to perceive the world around US, and how we influence that world. ‘Programming’ refers to the idea that we can train ourselves to behave in certain ways, and become more precise in our use of language, to help US achieve our aims. NLP has been useful to some business English teachers because of the insight it gives into various communication skills such as building rapport, non-verbal communication, active listening, and so on, but it can also help our learners understand how they perceive the world, and what affects that perception.

Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligence theory provides another way to compare learners’ learning needs. It suggests that there are eight different types of intelligence, but that each one of US possesses each intelligence to a greater or lesser degree. These intelligences, which can be developed, are summarized as follows:

  • Bodily-Kinaesthetic – the ability to control one’s body in order to do things or solve problems (coordination, physical speed, balance etc).
  • Intrapersonal – sensitivity to one’s own feelings, strengths and weaknesses, values.
  • Interpersonal — sensitivity to others’ moods, ability to interact with others.
  • Verbal-Linguistic – the ability to use oral and written language to express meaning and remember things.
  • Logical-Mathematical – the ability to deal with problems in a logical way, numerical skills, cause and effect, concepts.
  • Musical — sensitivity to rhythm, pitch, melody.
  • Visual-Spatial – the ability to deal with forms, space, shapes, colour, and visually-based activities.
  • Naturalist — the ability to recognize and classify things in the natural world.

Teachers can look at their learners in terms of these intelligences, and draw conclusions as to what learning styles and strategies might be most suitable. Of course, trainers will develop their understanding as the course progresses. So, for example, a learner who appears to function well in intrapersonal intelligence might benefit from activities which allow time for quiet self-study, and a person who is strong in logical-mathematical intelligence might benefit from activities which analyse language structures. It is rarely practical to carry out psychological or psychometric testing as part of a needs analysis, but the trainer does need to be sensitive to the fact that learners have different needs, and that something can be done about it (after all, in any group of students there may be several different styles among the individuals in the group).

Learning styles are also influenced by the culture of the learners; in many Asian contexts, for example, the teacher is seen as an expert, whose job is to tell students what to do or what ‘the right answer’ is. This can cause problems when a teacher trained and experienced in Western learning environments sees his or her role as a facilitator, encouraging learners’ autonomy, whereas the learners expect something completely different.

Finally, it is important to remember that needs analysis is about making ongoing evaluations. So teachers should continually be asking themselves questions like ‘What worked well today, and what didn’t, and why?’.

Means analysis

A means analysis is a description of the training environment: what is available in terms of equipment, facilities, and time, and perhaps more importantly, what is not. One significant aspect is what materials are available (this is covered in more detail in Chapter 4).

Means analysis normally produces lists which have an important bearing on the cost of the course. For example, let US assume that the teacher has been asked to run a course on presentations skills for a company. The training is to take place in a hotel. Questions such as who is going to provide the camera and multimedia projectors, what materials to use, whose photocopying facilities to use, and so on, have a direct impact. Here is a list of points that should be thought about during the means analysis:

  • What facilities are available (e.g. rooms, seating, location, refreshments)?
  • What equipment is available (e.g. board, flipchart, cameras, projectors)?
  • How much time is available to design the course and prepare materials?
  • How much time is available for training?
  • What is the availability of suitable materials?
  • What time of the day will learners be available?

Understanding business needs is of critical importance. A provider of language training must consider the needs of the sponsor, who may be a company, or a head of department, or the HR (Human Resources) manager. These will all have certain perspectives on what the learners will need to cover on a course. It is important to make it clear to sponsors that their needs are recognized and will be addressed, while remaining realistic about what is promised. And it is equally important to remember that businesses are interested in getting something worthwhile for their money. A company pays for training because it feels that the investment will lead to some sort of profit, be it more motivated workers, more effective negotiators, better presenters, managers, or whatever.

One way to understand business needs better is to learn as much as possible about the company. This means doing some research. Ideally, this is done before starting to meet people. Corporate clients are normally favourably impressed if the trainer or language school they are dealing with knows something about the company’s product, the market, its size, and so on. With the Internet this is relatively easy to do. But there are also limitations; reading an annual report will give one perspective, but remember that such documents are designed to tempt would-be investors. Similarly, websites which are open to the public may not have all the details a teacher needs. What we are looking for at this stage is some basic information so that when we go into the company and start talking to people we can demonstrate our professionalism and ask the right questions. There is a difference between asking a manager what the company’s main product is (which we should know already), and asking about how the company is organized (which might be information not available to the public).

We will also need to understand the various business functions of those involved. If we are analysing the engineering department, for example, its perspective will be very different from that of people in the financial department. We should find out a little about the product if we can, and try and look at it from a production point of view. The engineers who build mobile phones will have a very different perspective from the one we may have as a user. They will be interested in materials, technical specifications, and so on. The financial people will be more interested in the last auditors’ report, and next week’s balance sheet. The commercial clerks may be more interested in the process (and paperwork) of actually getting a product to the customer, with all the terms of payment and delivery which that involves.

As has already been pointed out in Chapter 1, the level of the person in the company hierarchy is also relevant. A high-level manager in a multinational corporation will not have the same needs as a person on the shop floor, even if they both have the same marks in a language placement test.

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