What is business English and what makes it different than general English?

“Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things.”
‒ Flora Lewis (1922-2002), American journalist

In most cases, learning a second language results from a strong ambition to understand and be understood in another cultural context. When considering one’s motivation for learning another language, whether it is for general use or for specific purposes, we all have the same objective in mind and that is to communicate with others. If given the choice to follow a general English course (ESL) or an English course for specific purposes (ESP), what factors should you bear in mind?

What’s the difference?

There are a number of differences that distinguish ESP courses from ESL courses. In most cases, ESP is taught to adults who already have some basic knowledge of English and candidates are usually at an intermediate or advanced level at the start of their training. The most important difference between ESP and ESL is the purpose of learning the language. Candidates have different goals at various stages of their learning. ESL focuses on developing and fine-tuning grammar and language structure, whereas ESP focuses on expanding vocabulary through the analysis of specialized content and topics.

English for multinationals

Business English, as a form of ESP, has an increasingly important role in shaping effective communication skills for multinationals. International (business) transactions mainly rely on English as a common communicative framework for bridging the gap between cultural and linguistic borders. Perhaps you once found yourself in a difficult negotiation with a foreign client and had trouble finding the right words, or maybe you were asked to take the lead during a conference call or present to an international audience and declined the opportunity due to your lack of fluency. Business English differs from other forms of ESP in that it is often a mix of specific content (for a particular sector or industry), and general content (the ability to communicate more effectively, especially in business situations).

Business English courses are unique

Business English courses are unique; they are specially designed for professionals who need to improve their communication skills in their field of work. The courses utilize various techniques of management training in combination with English language training, and the methods applied in business English trainings are most often task-based. The candidates receive a specific task with a specific objective in mind in which they have the opportunity to apply their new English skills in a practical way. This is highly motivating for the candidates. Each lesson includes relevant and authentic material (case studies, emails, reports) that is derived from real work situations (team building, problem solving, coaching). Many business English trainers have qualifications in specific business sectors, which enable them to handle specific needs and ‘speak the same language’ as their clients.

Language as a tool for business

Unlike ESL, business English is not so much about ‘learning to speak a new language’ as it is about learning to use the language we already know, employing practical communicative tools and applying them in a professional context. From an employer’s perspective, the credibility of a company increases when every employee can effectively communicate using fluent business English vocabulary and can accurately apply it to a given professional situation. From an employee’s perspective, improving your communication skills for specific purposes will undoubtedly enrich your personal development, as well as your professional growth. It’s never too late to get started.

AlmaAbout the author

Alma Omerovic is an English language trainer and writer from Canada. She is passionate about education, exploring new cultures, and creative collaboration.

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