Recently, an eminent retired professor of English posed some interesting questions during a meeting. The meeting was to discuss the spread of English in rural pockets of India. Some attendees argued, what was needed was “Business English”. After all, the aim of the meeting was to train youngsters in English so they may acquire the necessary skills to get a job.
The questions posed were:
What is Business English?
Is it different from English for special purposes?
Should we focus on fulfilling communicative needs or good language skills?
Are we using the word “Business English” only as a marketing ploy? i.e. using these words to attract the learners in rural India?
These questions made me think.
What is Business English?
According to Wikipedia, Business English is a part of English for specific purposes and can be considered a specialism within English language learning and teaching…. Much of the English communication that takes place within business circles all over the world occurs between non-native speakers. In cases such as these, the object of the exercise is efficient and effective communication. The strict rules of grammar are in such cases sometimes ignored, when, for example, a stressed negotiator's only goal is to reach an agreement as quickly as possible.
Business English means different things to different people. For some, it focuses on vocabulary and topics used in the worlds of business, trade, finance, and international relations. For others it refers to the communication skills used in the workplace, and focuses on the language and skills needed for typical business communication such as presentations, negotiations, meetings, small talk, socializing, correspondence, report writing, and a systematic approach.
English for employability, I believe, comes under the umbrella of Business English. The focus is on imparting skills to not just get a job, but also be effective at the workplace.
To understand what “English for Employability” truly means in the rural Indian context, I carried out a survey for about 100 adults working in remote areas of rural India. Most of the respondents had been learning English for over five years. Nearly 70% of them were already teaching English to children.
The survey also indicated that they were using English in many situations for which a course in Business English would help.
We also discovered that some areas needed more attention than others.
So why did people in rural India want to be English trainers or teachers? The answer was that an English teacher was much sought after in the community and would easily be able to secure a good income. For many it meant a higher social status in their village or small town.
A diagnostic test revealed that the levels of English knowledge of the respondents were between A1 and A2 and they needed to upskill themselves. It became clear, the teaching of English, though desirable, was not possible with the current levels of expertise.
The plan for upskilling these respondents was twofold. First, a course in Business English skills with a focus on helping them effectively address situations where they needed to use English (question 7). Second, training them to address areas of improvement as indicated in question 9.
Once this course was completed, I could offer another course on higher language skills focusing on grammatical and lexical accuracy. This would help them teach English.
The following elements had to be incorporated in the course:
Emphasis had to be placed on developing listening skills as well as fluency in spoken English
Focus was on fulfilling communicative needs; hence, objectives based on ‘Can do’ statements with special attention to listening and speaking had to be set up.
Pronunciation had to be approached with weightage to intelligibility rather than correctness (Moving away from the native speaker model)
Grammatical inaccuracies were overlooked as long as the message was conveyed and understood correctly
Vocabulary building , though not the primary focus, also had to be addressed
Every BE course is based on a specific need. In this case, it was Employability; so skills required for securing job had to take centre stage. These included learning how to face an interview, writing a resume, building a simple personal profile etc.
Setting up and running such a program was a formidable task; however, the respondents were eager and willing to work hard to fulfil these objectives. And that was all the encouragement I needed.
How did we create materials for this course? Well, that is a subject for another post!
Lalitha is the co-founder and chair of BCFAI. She is a Business English Consultant providing customized solutions to communication problems faced by working professionals. She has worked in this capacity in various software companies in India. The programs she conducts have made remarkable difference and helped the workforce to interact effectively especially in a virtual workplace. Read more on her Website and LinkedIn.