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5 Reasons to Consider English as a Lingua Franca When Teaching Business English

A group of multinational business people discuss work.

With over 1.5 billion people speaking English, the language is now universally considered a lingua franca around the globe. Between 70 and 75 percent of speakers are non-native, making English a tool to overcome national and cultural boundaries. Considered the language of business, diplomacy, and international communication, English has evolved from a set usage to global English that embraces regional variances in vocabularies, accents, and dialects.

English as a lingua franca is an important consideration for Business English teachers, as this perspective changes their students’ needs. Teaching English as a global language will better prepare students for their interactions with non-native English speakers, who have diverse accents, dialects, and cultural norms.

Let’s look at five ways English as a lingua franca for global business communications impacts English language training needs for Business English students.

Learn how to embrace the international nature of English in your classroom with Bridge’s Teaching English as a Global Language Micro-credential.

1. Students will be communicating with non-native speakers influenced by their native language and culture.

Business English students will often be learning English to communicate with colleagues and clients who are also non-native speakers. They may have different accents, may use different vocabulary, and may use cultural colloquialisms.

Business English learners need to master English to interact in real-life situations, which will include diverse English speakers, so becoming comfortable with different accents and versions of English will amplify their communication abilities. Non-native English speakers will speak English influenced by their native language and cultural background. Some common differences include:

  • pronunciation
  • vocabulary
  • grammar
  • idioms and colloquialisms
  • cultural norms and customs (i.e., politeness, directness, conversational style)

Business English teachers can integrate activities into their classes that explore idioms and colloquialisms, as well as cultural norms and customs. They can also provide students with online resources such as YouTube, chatbots, language apps, and tutoring apps.

Looking for ways to use technology in the Business English classroom? Read about hyper-personalizing Business English teaching with AI tools.

three people talking and laughing after a business meeting

2. Students will need to be aware of cultural norms and customs.

As mentioned in the list above, cultural norms and customs are often reflected in English usage and references. When interacting with speakers from a different culture, it will be important for your Business English students to recognize how these norms and customs impact communications.

Language is a primary means of cultural expression, and much can be gleaned from a culture by understanding its linguistic peculiarities. Some examples of cultural norms and customs that may be reflected in interactions with non-native English speakers may include:

  • Politeness and formality: For example, Japanese society places a high value on respect and social harmony, emphasizing formal etiquette based on manners and proper behaviors in various social situations.
  • Directness vs. indirectness: Again, Japanese culture’s emphasis on manners and respect means indirect, polite communication is the cultural norm; whereas, direct communication is more common in the U.S.
  • Hierarchy and authority: South Korea is an example of a country where hierarchy and authority play significant roles in communications, as importance is placed on respecting age, status, and seniority.
  • Expressions and idioms: Non-native speakers may struggle with understanding expressions that are rooted in English-speaking cultures (e.g., “It’s raining cats and dogs,” a common idiom in the U.S.).
  • Non-verbal communication: Gestures, facial expressions, and body language can differ greatly around the world. For example, showing the sole of your shoe can be perceived as disrespectful in some Middle Eastern cultures.
  • Taboo topics: Some topics are considered taboo or sensitive in certain cultures. For example, discussing personal finances is acceptable in some Western cultures, while in many Asian cultures, it’s considered impolite.

For both Business English teachers and their students, this concept is important to recognize as an opportunity to grow and better prepare for cross-cultural interactions.

As many teachers have multilingual classrooms, this presents opportunities for students and teachers to discuss and explore the differences in cultural norms and customs.

Read about how to get a job teaching Business English.

3. Students will need to be adaptable and flexible in their professional communications.

As a lingua franca, English has become increasingly adaptable. No longer constrained by a narrow view of acceptable usage, the language is constantly evolving, resulting in linguistic diversity and adaptation to various cultural communication contexts.

Business English teachers need to embrace the perspective that English as a lingua franca makes it a dynamic language, so they can prepare their students to be adaptable and flexible in their professional communications.

Some examples of the ways the English language has evolved include:

  • Vocabulary expansion: Words like “sushi” (Japanese), “pizza” (Italian), and “taco” (Spanish) are now commonplace.
  • Varieties and dialects: Influenced by local languages and cultures, English has developed into numerous varieties and dialects.
  • Simplified grammar: As English is often used as a second language in international communications, the world has seen the emergence of simplified grammatical structures.
  • Code-switching and hybridization: In many multilingual environments, the speakers will blend elements of different languages within their English speech.

Exposing your students to different accents and dialects of English will help them become comfortable with the dynamic nature of English, making them more adaptable and receptive to others’ communication styles, needs, and perspectives.

Learn about the increasing demand for Business English as well as the ins and outs of this lucrative ELT niche for teachers.

A group of business people work together at a desk.

4. Students who learn English as a global language will have enhanced professional opportunities.

The need for a global language or lingua franca is rooted in the global nature of today’s economy, but the global nature of the market has not erased the individual cultures of the countries that participate in it. Learning global English means being prepared to acknowledge and bridge this diversity of cultures.

It’s likely your Business English students will interact with more non-native English speakers than native ones. Business English training in industries such as hospitality, finance, law, medicine, engineering, and many others is booming. Teachers who prepare these students to communicate effectively across cultures and language backgrounds will be setting them up for career success.

Interested in teaching Business English with Bridge? Learn more about Bridge Corporate Language Training and discover new online teaching opportunities.

5. As a lingua franca, the English language will continue to evolve.

Finally, the dynamic nature of English as a lingua franca, spoken by millions of non-native speakers around the world, means the language will continue to evolve. Business English students who learn English as a global language and embrace the cultural variances and contexts will be well-prepared to continue growing.

Students who are taught English as a global language will possess practical cross-cultural communication skills. Because they can overcome linguistic and cultural limitations, they will remain competitive in the evolving world market.

The importance of English in today’s globalized world cannot be underestimated. As English is no longer defined by fixed territorial and cultural functions, English has truly become a lingua franca. As such, Business English students need dynamic, global English language training. With today’s technology, teachers can expose their students to a variety of world Englishes, with diverse accents, dialects, and cultural evolutions. Teaching English as a global language will help your students feel at ease with cross-cultural communications, bolster their cultural awareness, and increase their adaptability in English interactions.

If you are ready to start your learning journey, be sure to check out Bridge’s Teaching Business English Specialized Certification and Teaching English as a Global Language Micro-credential.

Linda D'Argenio is a native of Naples, Italy. She is a world language teacher (English, Italian, and Mandarin Chinese,) translator, and writer. She has studied and worked in Italy, Germany, China, and the U.S. In 2003, Linda earned her doctoral degree in Classical Chinese Literature from Columbia University. She has taught students at both the school and college levels. Linda lives in Brooklyn, NY.