Teaching Business English

English Language in the Work Place

Students who are learning English for primarily business purposes will come up against different language demands from someone learning only for social use.

The needs analysis in business language teaching

It is very important to conduct a needs analysis for a business English student in order to get a sense of their requirements from their English lessons, their background and likely future usages of the language, as well as their current level of language ability.


Useful questions to ask business language students

Another way to aid a needs analysis is to ask certain open ended questions to ask at the beginning of a business English class. Questions that could be useful to ask:

  • Are there any particular aspects of the English language that you find difficult?
  • Where do you work?
  • What is your job title?
  •  what are your main responsibilities?
  •  What do you like to do in your leisure time?
  • What do you want to achieve from your English language lessons?

Other useful work-related questions

  •  How long do you plan to stay working for this company?
  • When do you want to retire?
  • Have you ever worked part-time? Why was this?
  • Did you go to university before starting work? What did you study and why?
  • Where do you want to be in 10 years time?
  • Which activities do you like and dislike at work?

Teaching business English

The benefit of this exercise for the learners is that they will learn how to phrase questions, especially open-ended ones, in order to instigate conversation.

The teacher will also benefit from this activity as they will find out how advanced the students’ English language skills are, as well as find out about the students backgrounds and needs in language learning.

Teaching politeness

In business situations, politeness is often particularly important. Learners will benefit from having a good stock of phrases that they can draw on when asking questions, interrupting, accepting or declining an offer, or requesting information.

All of these are necessary in business meeting situations and for general business usage.

Useful phrases:

Declining an offer or invitation:

  • No, thanks.
  • Thank you for asking, but no, I’d rather not …
  • Thanks, but I’m afraid I can’t come.
  • I’m afraid I’m otherwise engaged.
  • I’m sorry, but I’ve made other arrangements/plans.


  • Can I / Can you…?
  • Would you check this again, please?
  • Can I suggest an alternative?
  • Would you mind if I suggested an alternative?
  • Could you repeat that point, please?
  • Would you mind repeating that point?


  • No, sorry, you can’t…
  • No, sorry, I don’t want to…
  • No, I’m afraid you can’t sit there, sorry.
  • No thank you, I don’t want to add anything else to the discussion.
  • No, I think I’m finished, thanks.


  • No, I’m afraid I don’t agree.
  • Sorry, but I have to disagree with you there.
  • I’m sorry, but I don’t agree with your argument.
  • I have a different opinion.
  • I see things differently.


  • Excuse me …
  • Sorry for interrupting, but …
  • Excuse me, I have something to say.
  • Excuse me, may I say something here…
  • Could I just interject there …

Business Vocabulary

Learners may face problems with business specific language and vocabulary which they may not have come across before.

Certain verbs go naturally in English with particular phrases. Below are listed a few common phrases and combinations of words.

Word partnerships/collocations:

to hold a meeting

to turn a corner

to form a partnership

to give a speech

to take a pay cut

to be made redundant

to make/strike a deal

to place an order


Confusing words

Words related to business with more than one meaning:


to form something (out of something else); an official question sheet that you fill out.


a free-flowing, non-solid material such as water; financial assets which are available as cash and not tied up in property or business.


when something is blown up with air; the rise in the cost of living/goods per year.

business english words

Using tenses in business English

Business language learners need to be familiar with all kinds of tenses in order to talk about their routines, responsibilities, achievements, arrangements and plans.  

1. Routines and responsibilities.

‘I get up at 7 O’clock’

‘I arrive at the office around 8.30’

‘I am responsible for interviewing new applicants’  

‘I schedule appointments in the diary’

‘I always have a meeting at 2 o’clock’


2. Achievements

‘I helped my company to win the national award’

‘We have been a market leader so far this quarter’

‘I have been the most successful salesperson this year’

‘I won the Best Employee annual award last year’

Achievements make a perfect topic to help students practice the present perfect tense, as achievements are often referred to using indefinite times and unfinished activities linked to the past or present.

The present perfect can be contrasted with the simple past using definite times frames and activities that are already finished.


3. Arrangements

‘I will meet you outside the meeting room.’

‘We will decide all the final details on Friday.’

‘Please could you post the letter tomorrow?’

‘We are giving the presentation later this afternoon.’

‘I’m seeing him tomorrow.’

‘I’ll let you know all the arrangements later this afternoon’

The present continuous tense is used in the last two examples. This tense usually uses a time reference.


 4. Decisions and plans

‘I’ve decided to attend the meeting alone tomorrow.’

‘He will have the whole presentation ready for Tuesday’.

‘I plan to talk to the manager about that matter soon’.

‘She is going to be the general manager next year’

‘I’m meeting the contractor tomorrow morning’

‘I am planning on postponing the upgrade until later in the year’

Exploring more business English teaching ideas

Explore more about teaching business English with our learning business English page.

We have also created a page dedicated to language and vocabulary for business meetings.

What advice do you have for teachers preparing to teach a business English class? Share your thoughts in the comments box.


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