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English became the predominant language of business during the second half of the Twentieth Century for various reasons. The USA became the world’s most important economic power and was also one of the ‘victors’, alongside Britain, of the Second World War. The increasingly international nature of business made moving towards a ‘common’ language a necessity. English was a perfect candidate as it was already spoken as a first or second language by many people around the globe (partially as a result of British colonialism). It is now spoken by over 500 million people in a vast number of territories, including Britain, Canada, the United States of America, Australia, India and Southern Africa and has truly become a ‘global’ language. Business English is therefore considered as being essential for all people who wish to work in any area of business, aviation, computing, etc. As the economy becomes increasingly global, the importance of Business English continues to grow.

‘Business English’ is the wide-embracing term that is used to describe the type of English that is used by people to do business. ‘English for Business focuses on the English language skills necessary to communicate in an increasingly global business environment.’ The range of different subject areas included under the umbrella term ‘Business English’ is wide. The Oxford Business English Dictionary includes the following areas : accounting, commerce, e-commerce, economics, finance, HR, insurance, IT, law, manufacturing, marketing, production, property, the stock exchange, (international) trade, transport. Does this mean that everything which is not considered to be General English is in fact Business English? The answer is no. There is a wider term for English which is not considered to be general: ESP (English for Specific Purposes). This acronym includes all the different areas of ‘Business English’ and more (English for hotels and catering, English for Science, English for Academic Purposes (EAP), etc).

What is generally associated with a ‘Business English’ course are the skills that most people need to be able to do their jobs well: writing e-mails and reports, making presentations, doing negotiations, using the telephone, attending and participating actively in meetings or telephone conferences, receiving visitors, etc The big difference, therefore, is that Business English focuses on the delegate’s job whereas the aim of General English is to improve all the four skills, regardless of the language content.

Consequently, Business English courses need to be carefully planned. The delegate or delegates (if the course is not one-to-one) should initially have their needs and objectives, as well as their language level, analysed before the specific training programme is drawn up. A delegate usually does not want to waste valuable course time learning skills or practising language which are not relevant to his/her professional requirements. Business English training courses are normally paid for by companies and the delegates are therefore in some way accountable for what is achieved. As a result, some sort of agreement needs to be established between the training organisation and the delegate’s company before the training course begins Answers to questions such as: ‘how many hours of training will the delegate require in order to achieve his/her stated objectives?’ or ‘What can the delegate expect to be capable of doing at the end of this course of X number of hours?’ need to be taken into consideration

Company English language training budgets are spent almost entirely on Business English courses. It is therefore imperative that language training organisations fine-tune their service and put themselves in a position from which they can respond rapidly and effectively to this ever-increasing demand.


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