The Essentials of Teaching Business English Online and In Person

May 12, 2021
Krzl, teaching English online from Chile

Teaching Business English is an ESL niche that focuses on business terminology and related topics as well as corporate culture. It is often taught onsite to employees of large companies, but you could even teach private English classes or teach Business English online. Here, we’ll delve into the basics of teaching Business English, including where it’s taught, what activities to use in these types of classes, and some general tips to make your experience a positive one.

What does it mean to teach Business English?

Teaching Business English is quite different from teaching other types of ESL classes. Here are some of the main differences.

Business English class

Jorge, teaching adult professionals at a company in Chile 

The students and their goals

For starters, your students will always be adults. In fact, sometimes Business English is used as a term to simply refer to teaching adults rather than businesspeople, specifically. As you can imagine, teaching English to adults vs. kids is quite different. Your adult students will typically have different motivations in a Business English class than in other classes. They usually have a specific, career-oriented goal in mind and, generally, the company where they work will be paying for their classes. This means that students will be highly motivated to succeed in a shorter amount of time.

Cristina, a Bridge grad and experienced Business English teacher in Buenos Aires, says, “I have never taught children. I’m not the type of teacher for a school class setting; I feel much more comfortable with adults who have clear and specific needs regarding their language learning. I like to have a leveled relationship with my students, and watching them enjoy our classes is a great incentive for me. Moreover, adults appreciate the help I can give them and are very grateful. I have made lots of good friends among my students, which I keep to this day.”

Cristina, Business English Teacher in Buenos Aires

Cristina, Business English teacher in Buenos Aires

The stakeholders in students’ learning

Companies will often pay for Business English classes to help an employee gain a promotion, begin a new position that deals with international travel or communication, or better assist international customers or clients. As key ESL stakeholders in the success of their students, company managers may expect you to report to them every so often to check in and update them on the students’ progress. Business English classes are oftentimes more costly than regular English courses, too, which means that these stakeholders will be eager to see real, documented results. This is the case for both in-person and online Business English classes.

The classroom (Hint: not always a school!)

Apart from the stakeholder and student profile, Business English classes can differ from others in regard to location. If you teach in person, it’s typical to meet Business English students onsite where they work. This means you could be working in a large corporate building, in a conference room, or other meeting space. As such, you’ll want to dress even more professionally than you would when teaching a regular English class at a language institute, and you’ll need to be prepared with materials and flexible.

Even if you’re teaching online, your students may still be located in the office. You might teach each of them at their own desks, or they may be gathered together in a conference room. Whether teaching online or in person, it’s important to dress professionally.

A student during an online class

A Business English student in online teacher Krzl’s class

The content you’ll teach

Finally, it’s no surprise that the content you’ll teach will generally be related to the business world. This could encompass how to speak with clients, marketing vocabulary, phone etiquette, building relationships with colleagues, or giving formal presentations. While most of these topics are applicable to any company, be sure to speak with the company stakeholder to find out exactly what they expect you to teach so you can deliver the best results.

Download a free eBook: Teaching English to Adults.

How can I become a Business English teacher?

Before applying to online and in-person Business English teaching jobs, make sure you’re TEFL/TESOL-certified, as pretty much all positions in this niche will require you to have a professional TEFL/TESOL certificate of at least 120 hours. It’s even better if you can also take a Specialized Certification course in Teaching Business English, as this can be a competitive field and you can earn more if you have specialized training.

Where is it common to teach Business English?

Teaching Business English overseas

Business English is taught all around the world wherever adults have a desire to learn it. For example, Niels, a teacher from Peru, teaches technical English and specializes in the petroleum industry. While it is common to teach adult professionals in Latin America, demand for Business English teachers also exists, to a slightly lesser extent, in Asia and Europe. Regardless of the region, oftentimes, bigger companies with international clients can be found in larger cities. Therefore, you will see more positions advertised for Business English teachers in places like Beijing, China or Sao Paulo, than in smaller towns.

To browse TEFL/TESOL jobs in these regions, visit the Bridge Job Board

Teaching Business English online

There are many companies where it’s possible to teach English online to adults. For example, Voxy is an ESL platform with adult students from all over the globe. If you work for them, you can teach English for specific exams (like the TOEFL), Business English, and many other specialized courses. Learnlight is another great company that offers specialized programs to students. Their clients come from all over the world, and the company favors teachers who have a background in business.

If you don’t want to work for a company, you can also teach Business English online as a freelancer. There’s a specific TEFL/TESOL niche for freelance online teachers specializing in Business English. If you market yourself correctly, you can find plenty of interested individuals, as well as companies who want someone to teach their employees English. If being your own boss and setting your own rates interests you, then you can start by checking out this Teaching English Online as a Freelancer course. You can also read about other teachers who are starting out as freelancers, such as Carla, in the U.S.

How much can you make teaching Business English?

Like all English teaching positions, your salary depends on your qualifications, experience, whether you teach English online or in person, and other factors. Generally, you can make more as an ESL instructor if you specialize in a teaching niche, like Business English, since students and companies are usually willing to pay more for teachers who have highly-developed skills in the specific type of English they need to learn.

If you’re looking for the average Business English teaching salary, however, ZipRecruiter indicates that the national U.S. average is around $44,000/year (i.e., just over $3,600/month or about $21/hour) while Glassdoor lists it as just over $52,200/year.

Keep in mind, too, that you can charge as much as you want when you’re a freelance teacher with your own business. Some teachers offer their services at a rate as high as $40 or more hourly. And, since Business English is in such high demand, finding your own private students is feasible.

Vesela, a freelance Business English teacher in Chile, says, “I was lucky enough to get most of my students through good old word of mouth. Friends or former students have been kind enough to recommend me. Flyers work as well! I found a student who contacted me after seeing a flyer I posted on the noticeboard in the building where I live in Santiago.”

English teacher Vesela

Vesela, teaching English to adults online from her home in Chile

What are some general pointers for first-time Business English teachers?

Find out what your students and the stakeholders expect.

Just like with any class, you need to find out what outcomes your stakeholders want to achieve. This will not only help you know what material to cover and how to assess student progress, but it will allow you to manage your students’ and investors’ expectations from the very beginning, leading to an amicable and successful relationship between you and them.

Be professional without becoming boring.

While you should strive for professionalism and always keep in mind that your students come from a business environment, this doesn’t mean that classes need to be boring. You may not pull out all the same stops you would with other classes, such as loud or physical ESL games, but your adult students will still appreciate you keeping things lively.

Try to bring in interesting resources, such as current business magazines, podcasts about industry topics, or videos of market news reports, in order to diversify your activities to achieve this. If teaching online, you can easily screen share things like news articles and videos, with your students.

Business English teacher Cristina notes, “When my students have a very strong level of English, I often try to teach them something other than just English. For example, I had a student whose English was very advanced, so instead of giving her a vocabulary or grammar lesson, I created a lesson around the artist Frida Kahlo and her life. Not only was she learning English, but she was learning about art and history!”

Learn how to use podcasts and videos in the ESL classroom with Bridge’s Micro-credential courses.

Understand your students’ lifestyle.

Unlike with other ESL classes, Business English students are probably attending class just before or after work, and your hours may be either very early or late. Additionally, your students’ busy lives may prompt them to cancel or change their class hours at the last minute due to work-related problems that arise. Be understanding and flexible if you can, and remember that the higher pay usually makes up for any scheduling issues.

Find out who should be receiving your progress reports.

From the beginning of the course, it’s important to identify who will be able to answer any questions you may have and who would like to see your students’ progress, and how often. Find out if you should be contacting your supervisor at your language institute or the students’ supervisor for this. If your point of contact is the students’ supervisor, you don’t want to inundate him or her with too many reports, but you do want to keep them in the loop with progress updates. Agree upon a schedule of reporting.

What are some activities that work well with Business English students?

Practicing presentations

Almost any businessperson needs to be able to deliver presentations effectively. Go over the different terminology associated with reading graphs and charts and giving information effectively. Then, hand out actual chart samples and have students practice presenting them to the class. Or, they can create their own. If you’re teaching online, email the samples ahead of time, so students can review them before class. Students can even screen share PowerPoints or spreadsheets in order to practice giving their own presentations.

Drafting emails

Have your students read several sample business emails and discuss the important components of them (such as the greeting, subject line, or sign-off). Then, provide your students with a scenario and have them draft emails to a boss, colleague, or client. This will expand their business vocabulary and improve their writing skills through an activity they can immediately apply to their careers. Online students can work on this either in class or before class and take turns reading their emails out loud.

Mock phone conversations

Model good phone etiquette through a listening activity and discussion. Then, have students practice in pairs or take turns role-playing with you. You can provide them with scripts or have them create their own based on a scenario you provide. Scenarios could include phone calls between coworkers, an employee and their boss, a manager and someone they supervise, or a client and an employee. This activity works well for the virtual classroom as well. Students can take turns practicing a mock call with the teacher, or the teacher can have two students practice together in front of the rest of the class.

Job interview

Whether teaching English online or in-person, take turns interviewing students and asking about their job skills or other qualifications. You can also have students interview each other. If you’re teaching in a physical classroom, you can put them into pairs to do this simultaneously, or if you’re teaching online, you can pair them up but have them take turns interviewing each other in front of the other students.

Bridge grad, Jhonny, teaching Business English

Practice expressing opinions

A great way to get Business English students to practice expressing opinions is to open the class with a news article. Teachers can bring one in themselves or get students to bring in their own. Use the article to start a conversation, and get students to share their thoughts and opinions with the rest of the class. This activity works particularly well in an online classroom, as you can screen share the article and read it together.

Teaching Business English differs in many ways from other ESL teaching positions. Keeping stakeholders’ and your students’ goals in mind and incorporating relevant activities into your lessons can help you succeed in this rewarding EFL niche!

Hear from Betsy, an online Business English teacher who works with professionals at EF English First.