Business English is no longer only about stats, margins and PowerPoint presentations!
Break those old business classroom rules, because this unique type of class has become a trending topic in the ESL world.
As with any hot topic, it is constantly and quickly evolving.
Companies and corporations, large and small, are expanding their global reach, so employees from countries around the globe are seeking ESL skills that are vital to their professional growth.
Your students may be from all walks of life, but chances are good that they are learning English to grow professionally at some stage. That being said, they are bound to have some diverse experiences in a wide variety of industries. Who knows where their English skills will take them?
That is exactly why you should introduce them to a huge spread of business topics. Then they will be prepared, no matter what!
But how can you best dig into those topics?
How to Explore Business English Topics with Discussion
Professional communication is one key skill that can shoot them straight up the ladder. So, close those textbooks and spark communication that will build confidence and key business-minded ESL skills your students crave.
Starting conversations with business-oriented questions in your ESL classroom will be a welcome break from the textbooks and worksheets they may be focused on for most of the week.
Business topics—and essential questions about those topics—will build communication into your lessons effortlessly, and it will allow students to put vocabulary and grammar lessons to good, practical use. For example, if you spend most of the week discussing customer service and sales, make Friday a day to discuss those topics openly!
To get these conversations off the ground, you will need to discern which questions and topics are important for your students. What topics do they most care about? What is most immediately relevant to their lives? What is hot in the business world? Once you have identified these kinds of topics, you can easily keep communication flowing with deeper questions.
Opening up business conversations may be overwhelming for some of your students, but keeping it fun and informative will develop the perfect atmosphere for communication. Don’t just let your students get away with yes or no answers. Challenge them to respond thoughtfully, in full sentences, and then keep it flowing naturally with follow-up questions that intrigue or expand the topic.
If you’re after a fun and straightforward way to introduce business English topics, then take some time to explore the FluentU program.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
After all, business English is not about long faces and statistical presentations. Show them a side of business English that will make them comfortable and excited to work.
Develop their professionalism through your conversations, encouraging them to speak smartly and politely, but don’t be too strict—let your students try new things without the seriousness they often get enough of at the office.
If all this sounds like a lot to do, just remember, you don’t need to have a master’s in business administration to teach business English effectively. You only need to be a diligent teacher with well-developed lesson plans and thoughtfully-crafted material that you researched and pondered yourself.
But are you going to be asking the right questions? There’s an easy way to find out. Ask yourself the questions you intend to ask your students. This does wonders for the classroom conversations to come. Do they get you excited? Do they spur creative thinking? Do they have multiple layers? What do you wish you knew about this?
From conferences to business ethics, let’s take a look at the topics and questions that will assist your students in their professional growth!
25 Business English Discussion Questions That Go from Classroom to Boardroom
English in Business Warm-up
Chances are, if these students are seeking your vast, teacherly knowledge in a business class, they already have a good concept of the importance of business English. You can build on this, since the topic of English in business is familiar.
Discussing the very nature of the relationship between business and English is an exceptional way to warm your students up for what is to come later in the lesson. Students are often asked why they are learning English, and having the ability to discuss the topic in a clear and informative way will do wonders for their confidence as well.
To get warmed up, let your students ask you hypothetical questions about what you would do as a language learner, needing to use a foreign language in business. This will get them more comfortable, learning that you too would have the same challenges and fears when speaking another language for business purposes.
You could also ask them similar questions related to their native languages. How are they important for business?
After that, dig into the questions about English usage in the business world.
Here are a few questions about how English is used in business.
- Do you think English is the global business language? If so, what does that mean in your country?
- How often do you use English in your career?
- Do you feel more comfortable emailing or calling someone in English? Do you feel that writing formal English is challenging?
- Do you think English will get you promoted? Are there any annual English tests that are mandatory for you to take in your company?
- Do you get nervous speaking to foreign colleagues or clients in English? What is your best story for this question?
Conferences are often an overlooked aspect of business English. Many students may be in your class for this very topic. Even if it is not a driving reason, they may well have an important conference in the very near future and want to prepare.
Taking some time in your lesson to explain the types of communication your students will encounter at conferences is vital. Networking, detailed job descriptions, presentation discussions, gathering information and the general culture exchange are all key areas of a professional conference.
It is also an excellent idea to take some of the pressure off your conference-goer students by explaining that conferences are usually fun and not so serious. Many business professionals find conferences exciting and a much needed diversion from the day-to-day grind at the office.
Let your students explore opening conversations and networking before breaking out your arsenal of conference questions. Have them pair up and open discussions with their partners, allowing them to continue confidence building.
Here are some conference questions for your students to mull over.
- How would you open a conversation with someone in English at a conference? Is it any different in your native language?
- Do you normally see all the presentations at a conference? What are some good and bad reasons you might miss a presentation or two?
- Do you find it more challenging making small talk or discussing business at conferences? Why do you think that is?
- Do you go out of your way to meet new people at conferences, or do you stick to your pack of colleagues? What are some great reasons to meet new people?
- Are there parties at conferences? Any good stories?
Customer Service Situations
Customer service is essential to businesses large and small. It is one aspect of business that may vary by country and culture, however, it remains the backbone in boardrooms worldwide.
Exploring customer service with your students is an important attribute to this business English topic. Ask your students what customer service is like in their country and how they think it differs from other places in the world. Get their minds moving in the right direction while addressing all questions your students might have about customer service first.
Business English customer service questions are also a perfect aspect of your student’s professional growth. Since client or consumer feedback is so important, have your students give some feedback of their own about your service as a quick warm-up. This will be enjoyable for the students and you may even learn a bit of useful information about your lessons.
- What parts of customer service does your company focus on?
- What is your worst customer service experience? What is your best, and why?
- Can you think of any companies known for their exceptional customer service? Do you support these companies as a consumer?
- How do you ensure your clients and customers get great customer service from either you or your subordinates?
- Is customer service part of a company’s culture? How is that beneficial to a company?
Creating Company Culture
What exactly is company culture anyways? This may be a question your students will enthusiastically ask and be eager for your answer.
Company culture is an essential aspect to any company and your students will need to understand the value of a good company culture versus a bad one. One way to spark this business English topic is to draw a line down the center of your classroom’s whiteboard. On one side is good aspects of company culture, while the other side is for the bad and ugly side. Let your students respond freely as you write down their thoughts.
They may think overtime is a bad aspect of company culture, but they may continue to work overtime at their current company. This would be an excellent question for those students, as to why they put up with bad company culture aspects. This topic could quickly turn negative, so keep your positives rolling in and move to your well-crafted questions after a bit of warm-up.
- Do you believe that company culture is important? If yes, how do companies steer clear of negative company culture aspects as listed on the board?
- What is the company culture of your company? Do you like it?
- Do you think your company could create a more positive, well-rounded company culture?
- What are some of the perks in your company?
- What perks or benefits do you look for in a prospective company’s culture? Why are these important to you?
Building Business Ethics
Your eager business English students have most likely studied a bit of business ethics in their native language, so why not bring it to life in English? You don’t necessarily need to crack open the Hippocratic Oath in order to discuss business ethics with your students.
However, covering the main ethics that pertain to business today is important. Environmental issues, ecological responsibilities, labor rights, health and wellness are all components of business ethics trending in the news daily.
You can use soda beverage companies as a warm-up activity before delving into your other business English questions. Ask your students what soda they drink, why they drink it and if they think it is ethical for soda companies to sell sugary drinks linked to certain health problems? This will raise an eyebrow or two, as most of your students may not have considered the ethical side of things.
- What are “business ethics” and how do they affect your community?
- Would you consider your company ethical? Are there any business practices you may disagree with on an ethical level?
- What are a few companies that have been known for bad business ethics? How about good ones?
- How often do you think about or discuss business ethics with colleagues or managers in your current career?
- What are some ways companies can improve their business ethics in the future?
As you can see, business English topics and questions are a fun way to provoke your students into thinking about the business realm in different or new ways.
Engage your students and challenge them to look at the issues in business that are important to their future.
Keeping your questions focused and having conversation building follow-up questions is an essential component to your lesson.
Not allowing your students to pass with the scripted answer or common “yes” or “no” is vital to building their confidence and exploring new business topics from classroom to boardroom.
Stephen Seifert is a writer, editor, professor of English and adventurer. With over 7 years of teaching experience to students worldwide, he enjoys the many aspects of culture and traditions different from his own. Stephen continues his search for writing inspiration, boldly enjoying life to the fullest.