There was, in the early 20th century, an American bank robber by the name of Willie Sutton. Upon his eventual capture, he was asked, quite simply, why he robbed banks. His rumored reply – “because that’s where the money is”- will doubtless strike a chord with anyone who has ever tried to learn Business English. After all, English dominates business deals and boardrooms the world over. Even people from Cairo and Kinshasa, though relative next door neighbors in a global sense, communicate not in Arabic or in French but in English. Nor are they alone: in addition to the 500 million people worldwide who speak English natively, more than a billion more speak it as a second language – a cohort which, taken together, accounts for fully a quarter of the world’s consumers. Thus English-speakers enjoy special status as members of the ever-expanding English language and stand a make a lot of money because of it.
Just because it makes sense – or should we say “cents” – to learn English for business, though, does not make it easy; even the best international students cannot accomplish such a challenging task on their own. Fortunately, a wide variety of English language programs exist to help would-be international businessmen (or, women) learn business English. Though such programs vary widely, here are some of the most important things to look for:
The overall goal of any Business English course should be to help students develop the kind of essential English language skills that are necessary to communicate effectively in business contexts. On any given day in any job around the world, workers are asked to speak, listen, read, and write. Thus any course should cover all four of these principal English language skills and, more importantly, how they are used simultaneously in the business world.
Indeed, as any international student can attest, few language skills are used in isolation. As a result, the best courses cover topics which provide students with the opportunity to practice multiple skills at the same time. In addition to an overview of everyday business vocabulary, then, students should also receive guidance on participation and presentation in meetings – an activity which requires good listening and speaking skills. Likewise, in addition to covering the distinctions between resume, correspondence, and technical report writing (a wholly written skill), a program should also prepare students to make appointments and take messages (a skill which relies, again, on both listening and speaking).
Meanwhile, more advanced Business English courses may address specific aspects of effective English communication that include the following:
Once you have completed your general business English studies, you may want to sit for the Business Language Testing Service exam. More commonly known by its acronym, the BULATS exam is the gold standard for business English proficiency and, as a result, many Business English courses provide optional study modules to help their students prepare for this assessment.
Because English language courses vary from place to place, the BULATS exam provides employers with a standardized benchmark against which to measure the language abilities of potential non-native English speaking employees. It is widely used by employers to assess and compare job applicants. That having been said, because the BULATS exam is designed to simulate real-life situations that are relevant to everyday situations, a business English course is a key component of proper BULATS test preparation.
In any case, given the wide array of business English classes, courses, and programs available, whether your sights are set on the boardroom or the back office, if you want learn Business English you can rest assured that there is a program out there for you.