Welcome to the BESIG World Blog. Each month we’ve got a different guest author lined up who will be sharing thoughts and experiences on teaching business English from countries around the globe.

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    Storytelling is an age-old art and one of the few traits shared across all human cultures. Stories have become a powerful communication tool used by business leaders to motivate teams and engage different audiences. In addition, stories enable leaders to connect both at an intellectual and emotional level making the message memorable.

    Following up on the excellent workshop given by Susan Hillyard this year about the use of monologues and stories in the BE classroom, Mary Sousa has gently contributed with a recorded story. It is called “The River”, from Mario Rinvolucri's book "Once Upon a Time" and he in turn attributes it to Antonis Samarakis, Zitite Elpis.


    You can listen to the story by clicking The River.

    We asked Mary what she uses this story for in her BE classes:


    “For upper level students, it could prompt a discussion about a company's relationship with its competitors, be it reasonable, shark-like, or somewhere in between. The story illustrates the futility of jumping to conclusions and mistaking friends for enemies. Students could be asked how culturally grounded the story is (ask whether there are parallels or similar stories in the students' cultures).

    I would use this story for interactive storytelling, by which I mean I would tell the story in stages, stopping here and there to elicit from the students more elaborate descriptions of the people and places in the story. Activate vocabulary, motivate learners to use rarely used adjectives, involve the group in the story”.


    BIODATA: Mary Sousa (coordinator of IATEFL Hungary's Business English SIG) is a freelance teacher of business English. Her native language is American English, but she uses her Hungarian language skills both to enhance her teaching and to appreciate the approach of native Hungarian teachers of English. Her special interests include blending traditional and technology-based teaching and interactive storytelling. 

    Blog post - Dana Poklepovic

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  • Business English and the Challenge to Become More Specific

    Business English and English for Specific Purposes have long been neighbouring fields. As businesses get more complex and specialized, Business English teachers need to address this specialization trend in their teaching content, methodology and class activities.

    Today, we welcome Shanthi Cumaraswamy Streat who has kindly agreed to share her experience as a Business English trainer in specific markets.

    Hello Shanti! It’s a pleasure to have you here today. Before we enter the Business English arena, could you tell us a bit about you?

    My career as a language teacher began in 2009 when I decided to leave the investment world after 20 years and join the ELT industry. So, I consider myself a relatively new teacher. With my previous background, the transition to teaching Business English seemed natural. I teach 1-1 online and offline via my home stay courses in the UK. I also run BE Writing and Financial English courses to small groups. My blog, English with a Twist, shares BE material with learners.

    One of the key pillars of ESP is the use of authentic materials. Do you use AM in BE and how do you work with them in class?

    Yes, I use authentic materials. Most of the material comes from my clients, whether it be their own emails, reports, training manuals, presentations and so on.

    For example, for a fluency session, I'll ask my client to prepare a presentation using their company website/brochure to describe either the company structure or the products.

    If the focus is on presentation skills, I will work with my client on a presentation they've got in English and ask them to present it to me. From there, plenty of further material will come out not exclusively related to presentation skills, correct use of tenses, specific vocabulary and so on.

    What are the advantages and disadvantages of using learners' documents to teach?

    In my experience, learners find it helpful if we can provide support with some of their documents. By engaging with their material, they are more focused and can relate to the language in a more meaningful way.

    The biggest disadvantage I've found is where the level of English found in the material they have far outstrips their level of English. For instance, the material is written for a proficient user while they have an A2 level of English and my learner wants me to help them with the material! In those cases, I need to find ways of adapting the material or putting it to the side. I have yet to work out what is the best way of dealing with this situation.

    How much does the BE trainer need to know about the learner's speciality field?

    I don't think the BE trainer needs to have in depth knowledge of the learner's speciality field. However, I think it's essential that the trainer shows a genuine interest in the learner's work and asks plenty of questions to encourage engagement. The willingness to learn about our client's professional background is a must if we are to build mutual trust and respect. I learn from them and they learn from me. It's a two-way partnership. The more we show that we are interested in our learners as people and professionals, the more they will learn. My best and favourite teachers were the ones who took a genuine interest in me, and I learned the most from them.

    Talking about methodology, what approach do you use to teach Business English?

    I suppose you could say I follow the Dogme approach. My learners run the show! I ask them questions, we discuss topics, I gauge their mood and depending on their responses the lesson takes it course. I listen to my learner and respond accordingly. That's pretty much it.

    How would you define BE in relation with ESP?

    I don't differentiate between the two terms. Practically all my clients require English for their specific purposes whether it be technical vocabulary in the engineering, reinsurance, change management sectors; presenting their company to their clients or describing their products. Whatever their background, they all need English to conduct their business and that means they need such general skills such as email writing, presentation skills, networking and so on. All BE includes ESP.

    I guess the only time I'd differentiate between BE and ESP is if the requirement is for highly specialised forms of communication like Aviation English, Military English or Legal English.

    In your experience, what is the most relevant aspect as a BE trainer?

    That as teachers, we always learn more than our clients.

    Thank you, Shanti, for sharing your experience with BESIG.

    Thank you so much for this opportunity.

    We’d love to hear from you. Do you teach General Business English or Business English for Specific Purposes? You can leave your comments below. 

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  • Testing Business English Learners: A Trend on the Rise

    There is an increasing need to measure Business English learners’ progress according to tests that are both useful for work-related purposes and valid for assessment goals.

    After her presentation at the BESIG PCE in Manchester, in April 10th, we sat down with Dr. Ivana Vidaković who kindly agreed to be interviewed for our BESIG BLOG.

    Could you tell us a bit about your academic and professional background? How did you become specialized in testing and assessment?

    Everything began with my love of foreign languages, particularly English. I had completed my BA in English language and literature at the University of Belgrade, and then specialised in applied linguistics through my master’s and doctorate degrees at the University of Cambridge. My doctorate in second language acquisition (or foreign language learning) led me to a related area – that of language assessment – so here I am now.

    It could be said that my whole career is pretty ironical. As a child, I wouldn’t allow a close member of my family to learn English because I feared she’d forget her mother tongue and I wouldn’t be able to understand her. She reminded me of that when I became a teacher of English.

    What is your current role?

    I am a Senior Research and Validation Manager and I specialise in testing English for Specific Purposes. My current research interests also lie in the assessment of reading comprehension, learner corpus analysis and the impact of English language examinations on various test users. I am also the Editor of Research Notes, a quarterly publication of Cambridge Assessment on matters related to research, testing and teaching. We publish internal and external research on our examinations as well as on research undertaken as part of government and corporate sector projects we work on. Since we support teachers in their further professional development through action research programmes we fund, several issues of Research Notes have been dedicated exclusively to teachers’ classroom research. If you would like to read more about them, you could visit this link:


    What are the most relevant aspects to test in a Business English course?

    What is most relevant will depend on the purpose of a course, a test and on students’ needs. In general, a focus on the communication and comprehension skills which are typically required in a business context would be advisable, so that students become better prepared for real-life tasks.


    Testing profession-specific writing and speaking skills may include evaluating the ability to tailor speech and writing to different audiences. For example, talking on (semi-)technical issues with a lay person is as important as taking with a fellow professional. In addition, the ability to use a range of styles, and to write in different genres, such as forms, memos and reports, is also relevant to a business context.


    Testing the relevant reading and listening comprehension skills may include focussing on reading and listening for detail, gist, careful reading, as well as skimming and scanning of appropriate business-related texts. Teachers could also consider testing the ability to extract and synthesise relevant information from multiple sources at higher ability levels.


    For people working in a business context, it’s necessary to ‘operate with’ certain language functions. So, teachers may want to determine if their students can use their English to persuade, recommend, evaluate and challenge - in spoken and in written communication.


    When testing in an ESP course, how can we differentiate linguistic performance from content knowledge? Can these aspects be validly separated in a test?

    It all depends on what your idea of separating linguistic performance from content knowledge is about.

    If you want to create a test of language ability rather than content knowledge, there are a few things you could do. Design your comprehension tasks in such a way that a test-taker can only arrive at the correct answer by understanding the language of a text, rather than by drawing on their knowledge of the subject. This means that test questions should be firmly grounded in the text itself. Also, avoid highly specialised texts as they may contain obscure terminology and concepts, thereby requiring a substantial amount of specialised content knowledge for comprehension. Bear in mind that nobody is a specialist in every aspect of their profession or academic discipline. As far as assessing Speaking and Writing performance is concerned, you should create and use linguistic assessment criteria (for example, coherence, cohesion, intelligibility, the range and accuracy of grammatical structures, etc.).

    You can avoid assessing content knowledge, but you cannot stop test takers from drawing on that knowledge when addressing ESP test tasks. In a business English test, business professionals or business students will most likely use their knowledge of terminology and concepts, phrases and text structure to process a text faster and enrich meaning. Besides, if a task requires them to speak on a business-specific issue, they need to draw on their knowledge of the issue in order to be able to speak. In this sense, language ability and content knowledge cannot be separated in an ESP test. One’s ability to use language in a specific workplace context requires both.

    Are teachers prepared to evaluate content knowledge?

    ESP teachers shouldn’t be expected to evaluate content knowledge. Trained lawyers who are also (qualified) teachers of English, for example, may be well placed to assess both content knowledge and language ability. However, ESP tests typically assess English language ability in a specific context and that’s what teachers should evaluate. Content knowledge is generally assessed by employers and Universities in dedicated cycles of a recruitment process.

    What ESP teachers should certainly be prepared to do is learn how language is used in a specific professional or academic domain. That’s part and parcel of teaching an ESP course.

    What advice would you give to BE trainers when preparing their tests?

    The same advice I’d give them for designing an ESP course: learn about your test takers and their needs; if possible, work with content specialists to identify relevant tasks and their features; last, but not least, consider how your test fits in with the course you are teaching – are you creating an organic whole?

    All of this should feed into decisions on task types as well as on the skills and abilities your ESP test should cover.

    What tests would you recommend for BE learners?

    All Cambridge English exams are widely used and recognised by businesses and universities around the world. If learners of Business English would like to take an exam that is specifically tailored to a business context, Cambridge Assessment offers Business English Certificates (Cambridge English: Business Preliminary, Vantage and Higher) as well as BULATS – the Business Language Testing Service. These examinations are designed for candidates who need to use English in their work or who are preparing for a career in international business. Both Business Certificates and BULATS are suitable for students and professionals, but there are some differences between them.


    For example, each Business Certificate is set at a single level on the Common European Framework of Reference (the CEFR): Preliminary is set at B1, Vantage at B2 and Higher at C1. Each of them assesses all four skills - Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing - thereby providing a comprehensive picture of what a test taker can do in English.


    BULATS, on the other hand, covers all levels on the CEFR, from A1 to C2. It offers more flexibility because it is a modular exam. Modularity means that separate test components can be taken on their own and have a value of their own. So, one could take the test of Reading and Listening without taking the test of Speaking or the test of Writing.


    Associated with BULATS is BULATS Benchmarking. As part of BULATS Benchmarking, a set of questionnaires are used to establish the required level of language ability for jobs and roles, after which BULATS tests are administered to assess the language proficiency of employees. The system is flexible and easy to use, and can be tailored to meet the needs of any organisation.

    Thank you Dr. Vidaković for sharing your experience with us!  

    Dana Poklepovic

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