TEFL Teaching: Business English

This article is about teaching business English. From a personal point of view, this has always been my favourite form of teaching English. My experience is in Madrid, Spain but this advice covers most countries with teaching Business English.

I was lucky to have a strong business background in law and HR so it felt like a natural route for me to take. However many of my graduates get very nervous about teaching business English, especially if they are new graduates with limited experience in the business world

What are you teaching?

The first thing to remember is that you are teaching English in a business context, not teaching business in English. Many of the directors I have taught have talked about how patronizing they find it for a college graduate to walk into their office and start teaching them how to give a presentation! They know how to give a presentation, they need help with the tone and terminology in English – ensure your classes are never patronizing. Many of the teaching text books do fall into this trap so make sure you adapt your classes to your audience.

On the other hand, even with limited experience of business it means that you can be a good teacher to any student who needs business English. If you are teaching finance English for example, the majority of the help they will need is the English you already know, for everything else there are specialist books and dictionaries. Don’t get me wrong, there are always students who need people with specialist knowledge and skills but it is the exception not the rule. When I was teaching at the Banco de España (The Bank of Spain), I knew very little about finance English and I was very honest about this to my students. They had no problem with this as they needed help with emails, presentations, small talk, grammar etc. They already knew their finance terminology but needed helping putting it all together so it sounded right to the recipients.


Business English classes tend to fit around the ebb and flow of business hours. Classes are normally early in the morning 7-9 or 9.30, lunchtime 1-4 and evening 7-9. The more senior the student, the more flexibility they have with their schedule but this is a double edged sword as they also have busy lives, constant meetings and often travel a lot which means they cancel more classes. I once had a student who I actually taught for only 21 hours in a whole academic year! Luckily enough his secretary was really friendly with an endless supply of croissants.

Whether you have got your hours directly with a Company or through a teaching agency, make sure you find out what the cancellation policy is. Whilst it may seem glamorous to have lots of senior executives as your students, they are more likely to have one-2-one classes and as stated above, have higher than average cancellations. In Madrid, many of the agencies now have an 80-85% cancellation policy which means that you get paid 80-85% of the classes regardless of how many they cancel. If you do have a large amount of one-2-one classes, it is very important to check this out in the contract to make sure you can still earn a decent living despite what goes on in your students’ business lives.


When teaching business English, the internet is your new best friend. If your client works for a bank make sure you look at their internet site and the sites of their competitors. Do a search and find out what articles have been written about them which you can then use as reading material in the classroom. Check out finance reports on the BBC that you can download onto your iPod. YouTube is another excellent resource for videos on meetings, presentations and negotiations (for both the right and wrong way to do it!).

Whenever you go back to your home country or have friends and family visit, get them to collect all the pamphlets they can. One man’s junk mail is another man’s teaching resource!

The text book industry has really stepped up the pace in the last couple of years and there are a range of books to suit the most junior to the most senior employees. Lots of influential newspapers and magazines (the Financial Times, the Economist etc) have joined up with the publishers to produce some very comprehensive business text books with real articles, interviews and up to date news. Make sure you do a proper needs analysis with your student to see what they need before making the choice about a text book.

Finally, stay confident and calm. Students need to feel that you are in charge and know what you are doing. Read up on what you are teaching the night before and plan ahead. Do a comprehensive needs analysis and level test and stay one step ahead.

EWH Team