It is generally presumed that if you are a professional person and you are on an English language training course, you are going to be following a Business English course. Does this mean that the term Business English includes all aspects of English that are not ‘general’? Is there really only one alternative to Business English?
The obvious main alternative to Business English is ‘General English’. On a General English course, the delegate would be offered the choice of themes, which might be of interest to anybody outside the world of work (the environment, transportation, sports and leisure, the media, travel, etc). The functions of the language are presented and practiced in a ‘general’ way. So, for example, making suggestions might be presented in the context of a group of friends discussing what they might do that evening: ‘Shall we go to the cinema?’, ‘How about seeing the new Harry Potter film?’ Why don’t we go ice skating instead?
The term ‘Business English’ has come to mean the kind of English that professional people require in order to able to work effectively in their companies. Business English is therefore the umbrella term under which the language that is used in all the departments in a company is included. However, the language specific to different departments is generally only touched upon lightly as the main focus of a business English course is the skills required at work: telephoning, writing emails, making presentations, participating in meetings, etc. If the delegate wishes to specialize in the English required for a specific profession he/she needs to choose a specific strand of Business English as an alternative. It is therefore possible to say that alternatives to ‘Business English’ are: Human Resources English, Financial English, IT English, Marketing English, Pharmaceutical English and Technical English, etc.
In addition, there also exist exam preparation courses which are not necessarily solely concerned with Business English. All of these exam preparation courses focus on the skills that are needed to perform well in the exam. Therefore, tactics, tips and exam question practice make up an essential part of the course. Some of these exams might be more general (The Cambridge general English PET, FCE, CAE, CPE tests, for example) or professional, but not specifically business (the TOEIC). Others are more specialized, such as the International Certificate in Financial English (ICFE) and the International Legal English Certificate (ILEC); both from Cambridge.
Academic English is another alternative type of course in which the content focuses more on preparing students for studies in a university, college or school where English is the medium of study. Such a course is therefore more skills-focused as the content of the academic studies varies from student to student. Listening and note-taking skills are highly important for reaping the benefits from lectures, essay writing and presenting information are both important production skills.
Most business English courses mix in ‘social’ English so that the business person feels able to cope in travel and social situations. Therefore, the following themes might be included on the course: how to deal with different situations at the airport, how to get by in a hotel, how to feel at ease in a restaurant with Anglophone business partners, how to small talk, etc. Even though this mix of social and professional language may exist on a business English course, a true combination of business and general English does exist as a veritable alternative to a Business English course. Delegates could choose to divide the course in half, alternating business lessons with general ones. One week, the delegate might be practising the language needed to lead a meeting, the next week he/she could be discussing global warming and climatic changes. This type of course is popular as variety generally increases motivation and people also feel the need to address their personal culture. Increasingly, business is about socializing: being able to participate in general discussions and express one’s opinion confidently.
The final alternative I would like to mention is cultural awareness training for English speakers. Courses are available which enable you as an individual to understand better people from different cultural backgrounds. This type of course looks beyond language and focuses on such aspects as paralanguage and social behavior.
In conclusion, the answer to the question I asked in the introduction: ‘Is there really only one alternative to Business English?’ is ‘no’. There is a wide choice of English courses and as more and more courses are created to respond to the specific needs people have, the number of alternatives to ‘Business English’ will continue to grow.
© Communicaid Group Ltd. 2010