Business English Course

English Courses for Business: 8 Most Important Features

What features do the most successful English courses for business have in 2023?  Here are 8 features of successful business English learning experiences I’ve observed from the almost 20 years we have been offering them to our corporate clients. 

Table of Contents

1. It Starts with the Teacher

This might seem self-evident but a lot of people don’t truly understand how vitally important the teacher is in determining how engaging and effective the learning experience for an English course for business is.  There is a secret ingredient the best ESL teachers have and it’s not what many people think it is on the surface.

The Secret Ingredient (Hint: It's not their degree.)

The secret ingredient is creativity.  Most people tend to believe the better teachers are the ones with master’s degrees in something like TESOL or applied linguistics but after having worked with hundreds of teachers in the nearly twenty years we’ve offered English courses for business, I can report that I have found zero correlation between the students’ enjoyment and success with the learning experience and whether or not a teacher possesses an advanced graduate degree in an ESL related field.  Zero correlation.  The best teachers I have ever had, with the exception of only a couple of teachers, have possessed a humble bachelor’s degree (often in unrelated fields of study).  The best and most popular teachers I have worked with–the ones who maintain the most consistent attendance and positive reception–are the ones who bring a tremendous amount of imagination, curiosity and wonder to their teaching practice to a degree that is just plain infectious.  They naturally animate their lessons in a way that fascinates their students.  Because they themselves are truly fascinated with teaching.  Creativity is a fountain of vitality that has a multiplier effect.  If you’ve ever been around a truly creative person, their presence is magnetic and vitalizing.

It's About Human Connection

What I’ve noticed with my experience is that the best teachers have a special gift for connecting to other humans.  That’s what teaching is about.  No degree can do that nor compensate for an inability or lack of ease with connecting to others.  A great teacher is almost akin to a great comedian in that great comedians are astute observers of human beings.  I remember a quote from Jerry Seinfeld that really resonated with me that went something like “In order to be funny, you have to know what’s going on in the world.”  I feel there is a corollary to being a great teacher I could make that goes; “In order to be a great teacher, you have to know what’s going on with your students.”  That requires a capacity and interest in connecting with them in an intimate way in the classroom; to notice the body language of each student and to discern their unique learning styles. 

To be honest, I have paradoxically never paid much attention to degrees, including my own.  Everything I need to know about whether a prospective teacher for business English will do a great job is observed in my initial encounter with them.  Great teachers are interesting people outside of the classroom.  That’s not to say that an advanced teaching related degree can’t help.  I certainly do not dismiss their value.  My point is simply to say that no degree can replace natural talent.  It can only support talent that was already there.  I once hired a man over ten years ago who had a bachelor’s degree in a non-teaching field with no teaching experience to teach ESL to elementary and middle school children.  He ended up being one of the most popular and beloved teachers among the students I’ve ever worked with.  I just knew he had a special talent for teaching and connecting to others and over ten years later, he still has former students who stay in touch with him.  Such was the long lasting and meaningful impact he had on them.  This is what happens (and I might go so far as to say “what should happen”) when a student has a learning experience with a great teacher.   

In order to be a great teacher, you have to know what's going on with your students.

boss supporting english course


Having a management team that actively supports and encourages participation in an English course for business is essential.  We have implemented ESL (English as a Second Language) courses where the management was enthusiastic about the prospect of offering the program to their employees but in practice, once the course was underway, they were unable to translate their enthusiasm to day-to-day support and encouragement.  In one particular case, we had a client spend a surprisingly large sum of money on dedicated classroom facilities and classroom equipment but once the program started, they never actively encouraged attendance or checked in with the participants to see how they were doing.  It was as if they felt that giving them material support was enough but their lack of active encouragement really undermined the success of the program unfortunately and it was definitely had a negative impact on the program’s success.  Conversely, we have another large client who was incredibly engaged in actively keeping tabs on the participants of a large group business English training course we delivered on-site at one of their large facilities and the attendance as well as the success of the program were outstanding.  Their support synergized nicely with the efforts of one of our most outstanding teachers.

3. Prioritize English Over Business English

This may seem counterintuitive but business English should paradoxically not be the priority in English courses for business.  Improving their general English should be the priority with a secondary focus on the particularities of English in the context of a business environment.  Why?  What I’ve noticed in my twenty years of teaching ESL is that students who are interested in improving their English in a business context are almost always deficient in many fundamental areas of English communication competency such a grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. 

Master English Fundamentals if You Want to Sound Professional

Before an ESL student can start focusing on the nuances of English in the professional business environment, he must first master the basics.  One of the primary objectives that participants in business English programs have reported over the years is wanting to sound more professional when communicating in English to their native English speaking colleagues and clients.  Many of these students are what I would classify as solid intermediates in their competency with communicating in English.  They have a wide vocabulary and can understand fairly sophisticated interactions in English but they paradoxically (almost universally) make the most basic mistakes in syntax, grammar and word choice.  They will often omit articles and incorrectly conjugate verbs.  How many times have I heard a very competent ESL speaker who is an executive say something like; “Yesterday my coworker send me email to say me he having problem.” rather than; “Yesterday, an my coworker sent me email to tell me he was having a problem.”  So our teachers always prioritize shoring up English fundamentals and then integrate specific business related English into the lessons in support of their foundational English skills.

English courses for business

4. ABC--Always Be Communicating

The best English courses for business are focused on maximizing language production and oral communication.  This is where students are most challenged and where they need to most repetition, reproducing language as much as possible during precious class time.  This is the best use of the limited time during the week students will spend with an ESL teacher in a classroom so it’s best to not waste the opportunity spending too much time doing cerebral activities or writing activities.  Oral language production should be a priority and when students have confidence in their ability to speak, all of the other linguistic skills are supported and encouraged.

The Practice Outside of Class Fantasy

The best English courses for business are focused on maximizing language production and oral communication.  This is where students are most challenged and where they need to most repetition, reproducing language as much as possible during precious class time.  This is the best use of the limited time during the week students will spend with an ESL teacher in a classroom so it’s best to not waste the opportunity spending too much time doing cerebral activities or writing activities.  Oral language production should be a priority and when students have confidence in their ability to speak, all of the other linguistic skills are supported and encouraged.

5. Maximize Exposure

For participants to have the best chance for success in a business English class, it’s critical they have as much exposure to the classroom environment where they can be placed in an environment that is exclusively dedicated to producing English communication.  This is why our standard recommendation for class frequency is at least twice a week spaced out at least a day apart.  There are some specific arguments for why.

The Practice Outside of Class Fantasy

In an ideal world, we would like to imagine that business English participants will diligently allocate a reasonable amount of time every day to studying and reviewing the previous lessons and doing homework assignments.  In the almost twenty years I’ve been involved with business English courses, the reality is quite the opposite.  Even students with the best of intentions have to deal with the same issues the rest of the working adult world struggles with; tiring work days, long commutes in rush hour traffic, family demands, and the understandable desire to want to unwind at home.  Homework is frequently not complete if assigned so we’ve had to more or less give up on assigning it or assign very light homework.  So class time becomes increasingly precious as practically the only place participants are going to have meaningful opportunities to practice English in a focused manner.

Exposure to a Controlled Practice Environment Crucial

The reality for most participants is that they are either in a situation where there position at their job doesn’t always afford them the opportunity to interact with English speaking co-workers or if they are working and interacting with English speaking co-workers, their English exchanges are stuck in repetitive patterns that don’t serve to advance the student’s progress.  There is also the issue of being exposed to English speakers who use a tremendous amount of slang and reductions that can be incredibly confusing for non-native English speakers to grasp.  Instead of saying, “What are you going to do this weekend?,”  people often say, “Whatcha gonna do..”  This is incredibly confusing to the student (although still quite beneficial).  What also happens is that an English speaking co-worker is not going to offer to correct mistakes in grammar, word choice or pronunciation out of politeness but also because many people don’t understand the grammatical rules behind their own language.  A controlled classroom environment is going to allow the student to have dedicated attention from a trained ESL teacher that can understand problematic communication patterns and correct them in a constructive manner.

6. Don't Mix Levels

In the interests of efficiency, it can be tempting to lump business English course participants into one large group class but this does not serve the learning needs of the students if there is a substantial disparity in English communication abilities among the participants.  In any class, there is a reasonable amount of difference between the abilities of students but when the disparities become too great, the learning process for the entire group is undermined. Lower level students become intimidated by the more advanced students while the more advanced students become bored having the class slowed down to accommodate the lower level students.  The entire experience descends into an exercise in frustration.  For this reason, it’s best to do an assessment prior to classes commencing and then segregate the population of participants into leveled groups of complimentary abilities.  This enables the class to progress much more evenly and uniformly.

small business English class

7. Smaller Class Sizes Are Better

Another temptation of the desire to be efficient is to group students into larger classes.  This is understandable but once a class size starts to exceed ten to twelve students, the personal contact and attention from the ESL teacher becomes greatly diminished.  When possible, class sizes smaller than ten students are ideal because they allow the teacher to have a more personal relationship with each participant and to more intimately learn each participant’s unique learning needs and challenges so as to address them more directly and with greater frequency.  Easy access and contact with the teacher is incredibly valuable and smaller classes best support that opportunity. 

8. Manage Expectations

Group Expectations

There can be unreasonable expectations for the kind of progress gains hoped for among business English course participants.  First of all, there are so many factors that influence learning outcomes.  How many hours per week are allocated for class time?  Are the participants actively and regularly practicing outside of class?  What kind of pressure and work load is a participant dealing with on any given day?  What are the demands and claims on their time and energy in their personal life outside of work?  Also, each student has a particular style, pace, and approach with learning unique to him or her.  For this reason, I have found the best approach to be a student-centric one where the learning pace of each class is based on the teacher reading and adapting to that class’ unique needs that are ever evolving so that participants don’t feel drug toward a finish line.  The more the students’ unique learning needs are considered and accommodated, the faster the pace of learning is inclined to naturally accelerate in an unforced and organic way. 

Individual Expectations

Individual participants also need to manage their own expectations of their linguistic goals.  I have always told my students that the aim should be proficiency rather than perfection.  I can’t tell you how many business English students I have encountered who mistake improving their pronunciation for “losing their accent.”  The objective with improving pronunciation is for students to avoid mispronouncing words in such an unreasonable manner that the English speaker they are speaking to cannot understand what they are saying.  However, one can pronounce an English word correctly and have an accent.  The accent is no problem as long as the word is pronounced correctly.  It’s very rare to meet an ESL student who started learning English seriously as an adult who possesses a native-like English accent.  Very rare.  It’s also an unfair objective of an ESL student to expect to speak English with no grammatical errors.  Even native English speakers frequently use incorrect grammar!  So we ask the students to aim for becoming proficient.  Once a certain critical mass with proficiency is achieved, progress toward greater levels of refinement will occur organically. 


The most successful business English class experiences are set up in a manner that support an optimal learning environment to give each student the best chance to thrive.  It starts with a great ESL teacher who exudes passion and creativity but there are also a whole host of other measures that can be taken from a management team and class organization perspective that can have a tremendous impact on cultivating a sensational experience and outcome for all participants.  After all, isn’t that the ultimate goal?

Frequently asked questions

Absolutely.  Formal business English courses are far more engaging and adaptable to ever changing individual learning needs because of the natural benefits of live human connection.

Business English is a distinction of English for the benefit of speakers of English as a second language that specifically refers to the type of English that is used in a business environment.

Business English is a specialized area of linguistic focus within English as a Second Language where business specific vocabulary, structure, and register are given greater emphasis.

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Chris Franek
Chris Franek

Chris Franek is the owner of Premiere English. He has been involved in teaching English for over twenty five years. He is an avid lover of travel and foreign culture.


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