A group of business professionals engage in business english conversations.

How to Teach Business English Conversations + Topics to Get You Started

Apr 11, 2023

The 21st century has been defined by technological advances and leaps forward in the globalization of industry. Some researchers estimate nearly 60% of all business around the world is conducted in English. With the rise in popularity of adult ESL courses and the demand for specialized TEFL offerings, offering courses on Business English conversations is a great way to boost student engagement, partner with multinational firms, and have a lifelong impact on your students.

What is Business English conversation?

In the professional world, there are a host of topics, keywords, and conversational slang that are unique to the industry you’re operating in. The interactions between employees, teams, managers, and clients are all Business English conversations. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to thrive in the business world without at least a fundamental understanding of how to interact with these various working groups. But why is Business English as an area of study so important? From expansion opportunities to workplace discrimination discussions, having a firm grasp of Business English will help your students and their teams navigate the complex waters of the business world with ease.

Let’s start by taking a look at some of the Business English topics that are common across many areas of business:

  • Customer service
  • Buzzwords and jargon
  • Legal terminology
  • Negotiations
  • Proposals and presentations
  • Marketing

Each of these subjects in Business English can carry with it a brand new set of vocabulary and context for a Business English student to learn. As a Business English teacher, it is, therefore, vital to be strategic about incorporating these conversational topics into your lessons. Luckily, there are numerous courses, resources, and training opportunities to learn how to do this as an educator. A great place to start learning strategies for this is by taking Micro-credential courses in Teaching 21st-Century Skills, which offer short, targeted training in areas like Teaching Communicative, Collaborative, and Interpersonal Skills and Instilling Confidence and Leadership in Your Learners.

21st-century skills

How can I improve my business conversation teaching skills in English?

Before anyone can teach, they must learn. The best way to improve business conversation skills in English is to take a course geared toward teaching the subject. Bridge’s 60-hour Specialized Certification in Teaching Business English course introduces valuable concepts and provides resources, tutoring, and dynamic content to create a strong foundation for teaching Business English conversations and other topics.

The first step in your learning journey will be to assess stakeholder needs and your own proficiency in Business English. Being able to have students complete a thorough and competent analysis is a powerful tool for educators. Take a look at the professional fields you and your students interact with most often. Are they casual? Transglobal? Bridging cultural divides? Each of these questions provides insight into the vocabulary, formality, and direction your educational program will take.

marketing group business english conversation
Interviews, presentations, and proposals are all common events in the professional sphere. Make sure your students are prepared for them all!
Apart from taking a specialized course, here are some additional tips for improving your Business English conversation lessons:
  1. Have students browse media in English: Tell them to read the news, websites, and social media pages in English. News reports are a great way to find new vocabulary and regional subjects to study. You can also incorporate these articles and media in class activities.
  2. Play English talk radio and podcasts in class: Listening to native speakers discussing business topics will help students with the pace, cadence, and rhythm of conversations. Incorporate a short, 10-minute listening activity into the beginning of each class.
  3. Frequently update your lesson plans and routine: Set aside a small amount of time throughout the week to review new phrases or things students have been struggling with, or simply allot time to browse the internet for new resources. Updating your course materials periodically based on your students’ progress is essential to helping them master the terms they need to succeed in their careers.
  4. Make use of pair work if teaching a group of students: Having a partner who can correct errors they hear but who isn’t necessarily the teacher (and who, therefore, is perhaps less intimidating) is a great way to help students gain confidence in their Business English conversation skills.
  5. Work the script: Have students rehearse interactions that they have memorized or that you have written down for them. Customer service scripts are a great place to work from. These back-and-forth dialogues with clients have a repetitive cadence and incorporate corporate jargon and terminology.

How do you start a business conversation in English?

There is a big difference between knowing something academically versus applying it in a real-world scenario. Helping students to master terminology and vocabulary is the first step to a successful Business English conversation. The next step is to have them start one for real!

Initiating a business conversation in English will vary depending on the situation, especially on the formality of the context and the familiarity of the parties involved. As such, it is important to review how students should start conversations in different real-world contexts.

Generally speaking, a semi-formal business conversation in English will start with a greeting, a handshake, and some common courtesies, such as asking how the other party’s flight was or thanking them for joining you.

Once all parties of the conversation have been greeted, it’s appropriate to move on to the purpose of the conversation. If in a meeting setting, this can sound something like, “Thank you all for coming today to discuss this year’s sales goals.” If it is a conversation between two people, the purpose statement can also be an invitation to get comfortable and settle in. For example, your student could say, “Glad you’re here. Why don’t we have a seat, and I can get you the reports we’re going over today.” This phrasing covers a greeting, an invitation, a purpose statement, and a segue all at once.

Teaching business English online
Teaching Business English online involves working with learners who are often highly motivated and come from diverse backgrounds.
Here are some important phrases and scripts to be sure to incorporate into teaching Business English:
  • “Welcome to [insert company name]. My name is [student name]. It’s very nice to meet you.”
  • “Thank you for taking the time to meet with me. I’m excited/pleased/ready to discuss [Insert appropriate subject here].”
  • “Hello! I’m [student name], the [student’s job title/role]. I’ll be assisting you today.”
  • “I understand your concern with this matter. Let’s discuss some options that can help us come to a satisfactory solution.”
  • “It’s great to meet you. I hope you had a smooth flight. Let’s move to the board room and get started. Can I offer you some coffee or tea?”

Scripts are a great tool to get students used to the pattern many Business English conversations follow. Starting a Business English conversation can be daunting, but with practice and confidence, the discussion will flow smoothly! Remember to communicate to your students that moderating pitch and tone to match the situation is always important.

English for Specific Purposes
Eye contact and a confident handshake go a long way to establishing a comfortable rapport.

Pro Tip: It’s important to be sensitive to cultural nuance. For example, Silicon Valley is known for being very casual but extremely high performing, so they’ll use familiar language but will place a high value on their time. On the other hand, customer service in the American South will hinge on manners and small talk rather than getting right to the heart of the matter. Be sure to review these cultural nuances with students so they can understand how to adapt conversations to different contexts.

What are some Business English topics for students?

So, where is the best place to start when teaching Business English conversation lessons? Ultimately, that depends on the students and what industry they work in. Below is a brief list of potential Business English conversation topics that have a wide range of professional applications.

Interviews

Giving and participating in interviews is a critical component of Business English conversations. Interviews are a series of back-and-forth questions. The focus here will be to have prepared questions or answers, depending on which side of the interview the student will be participating in. Here are some questions you can start working on with students:

For interviewers…

  • “What makes you a strong candidate for this position?”
  • “Can you expand on your most recent industry experience?”
  • “What are your professional goals for the next five years?”

For prospective employees…

  • “What are some of the benefits of working for this firm?”
  • “I come from a [insert subject] background. Is there an opportunity for me to grow my skills in this area here?”
  • “Is there anything I haven’t asked yet that I should know about?”

Negotiation

Being able to negotiate, whether when discussing the terms of a sale with a potential client or asking for a raise from your boss, is essential in any job and requires a special set of terms. The following are terms that English learners should be comfortable discussing:

  • Benefits such as Paid Time Off (PTO), leave policies, and 401K offerings
  • Insurance plans such as health, dental, family, and life insurance packages
  • Investment options such as employee investment programs and stock option payouts
  • Signing bonuses and repayment requirements if the employee leaves
  • Education payment options
  • Base salary and growth opportunities

Leadership

Being a leader isn’t solely for managers! Being able to lead a project, working group, or small team requires a special set of skills and language. Here are some terms to start teaching your Business English students:

  • Synergy is how well a group works together to create solutions.
  • Milestones are scheduled goals teams use to gauge overall success.
  • Agility is how well a team can pivot from one goal to another when faced with unexpected challenges.
  • Vertical vs. flat organization structure refers to how the company operates in regard to leadership. A rigid approval and hierarchy structure is very vertical, whereas a flat structure is more collaborative.
  • Jargon is an umbrella term for the technical terminology, slang, and acronyms commonly found in a specific industry. Getting a firm handle on these words will be integral to smooth business conversations.

Client meetings

Knowing appropriate small talk and manners is crucial to forming successful client relationships. Here are some overarching customary subtleties to address with Business English students:

Be sure to...

  • Be friendly and open with the client.
  • Shake hands, and invite them to be comfortable in a meeting space.
  • Ask how things are going on the project or task you are meeting about.

Avoid…

  • Asking deeply personal questions such as how their health has been or what they think of recent political events.
  • Jumping right into business talk before the entire group is seated and focused.
  • Interrupting or speaking over your client.
  • Shouting, pointing fingers, or otherwise engaging in aggressive conversational behaviors.

Cultural differences are sure to arise in Business English conversations. The key is to be respectful and pay attention to the details.

Sales

Sales methods rely heavily on scripts, buzzwords, and measuring metrics with very specific goals. Here are some topics that Business English students will come across in the world of sales and retail:

  • POS: Point of Sale. This can refer to either a computer system or the moment that a sale has been made.
  • Lead: A potential customer that the company will pursue in hopes of selling them the product.
  • Pitch: An engaging and charismatic demonstration of a potential product or service.
  • Next generation: Refers to an updated product or service that has had improvements made to it. These improvements are often the selling point and focus of the sales pitch.
  • Prospecting: Methods for finding and connecting with potential leads.

Marketing

Marketing and sales overlap and, as such, need to have a close relationship in order to succeed. Here are some topics that set marketing apart from sales:

  • Target markets refer to the group of individuals who are most likely to buy a product, good, or service.
  • Product strategy is the multi-level approach to ensuring the product stands out from and succeeds in a given market.
  • Promotion in the world of marketing means making the product offering stand out and convincing the target market that it is the best, only, and ideal choice to meet their needs.

Finance

Every business, no matter how large or small, relies on finances to determine success or failure. The goal of every developed product or good is to turn a profit. Finance is an extremely broad topic that will vary greatly from industry to industry, but there are some universal terms that English learners should know:

  • Revenue vs. profit: Revenue is the grand total of all income generated by a specific item or operation. Profit is what is left over from the revenue total once all expenses have been deducted.
  • Overhead: This term includes all of the ongoing expenses related to operating a business. It includes rent or mortgages on property, utilities, office supplies, and taxes, among many other things.
  • Assets: Assets are any equipment, tools, cash, raw materials, or intellectual property the company owns.
  • Depreciation: This describes the loss of value to the company’s assets over time.

Finance is a fascinating, complex, and absolutely critical aspect of business and industry. It can range from accounting to profit strategy and everything in between!

Teaching Business English conversations should not take a one-size-fits-all approach. Each course will need to be tailored to meet your students’ needs based on their age, experience, industry, and career goals. While challenging, this course offering is exceptionally rewarding and will allow teachers to have a lasting impact on their students’ lives. From retail to consulting, agriculture, and manufacturing, Business English conversations make the modern world go ’round.

Looking to incorporate a Corporate English Training program into your company culture? Take a look at how to choose the best fit here!