English for specific purposes: How to teach business English using the internet
A discussion on the ways to use the internet for teaching business English.
Even if you have no knowledge of your students’ jobs or industries, the Internet is the perfect way to prepare before a course, or before meeting new students. If you are working within a company, find out a little about the company and its products and services by visiting its website. This will give you confidence and your students will appreciate your knowledge about what they do and respect your professionalism.
You may teach students who have roles you know very little about. In order to prepare, it is advisable to find out a little about their jobs in general terms. This will stand you in excellent stead when it comes to asking questions and setting contexts. When asking your students questions, you can ask in a little more detail, thereby giving students the opportunity to practise explaining their role in English. For example ‘So you are an IT Co-ordinator. Does your job involve training staff, for example in Word and Excel?’ You will feel able to prompt responses more effectively. You can find many job profiles on this website: www.monster.co.uk
The main difference between teaching general English and business English is setting contexts so that your students are practising language in settings they may find themselves in. The Internet is a great source of authentic materials which are ideal for use in business English classes, whatever the level of your students.
Corporate websites are one such source of authentic materials. Even though these materials are clearly intended for native speakers, you can adapt all types of activities to suit all levels of students when exploiting these materials. You can choose company websites that are related to your students’ work, which can therefore provide the vocabulary practice your students need. Then you can prepare questions about the content of the website you have chosen, and let your students scan the website for information (this can be timed activity if you choose). Whatever the level of your students, scanning activities are ideal because there is no need for them to understand every word. And they work with lots of types of websites. For example, you could pick 5 famous entrepreneurs and prepare questions about them (perfect for practising business-related vocabulary and structures, for example ‘Which business did he found?’) using http://www.biography.com . Then let your students create their own questions for the rest of the class, or prepare an imagined interview with a personality of their choice.
The structures that business English students have to learn are in principle the same as general English students. The difference is in context and vocabulary. Websites that are not necessarily intended for business audiences can be an ideal resource for business English teachers. For example, students could visit an airline website to practise travel vocabulary and structures.
Why not let students plan a business trip using a website such as www.britishairways.com?
They may want to plan free time around their business meetings as well, so why not let your students find out more about their chosen destinations and let them plan an itinerary? www.lonelyplanet.com and similar sites will be very useful for their research.
The Internet also offers lots of authentic writing practice. From beginner level through to advanced, your students will be able to practice their writing skills within a business context using the Internet. One of the most important writing skills your students are likely to need is writing effective business emails. The correct tone, structures and layout are all components students need to learn. There are websites that give lots of useful information in writing business emails which are worth visiting.
This website is very useful: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/636/1/
Why not set a writing task and let students email you? You can reply with your comments. This is more realistic than students simply writing or typing out an email.
Researching for projects and presentations
The Internet is an excellent research tool. By allowing your students to research a particular topic using the Internet, they can prepare either individually, in pairs or in small groups for a presentation or a piece of writing. Where books may be out of date or hard to come by, the Internet offers a host of free information that is current and relevant. Presentation skills are extremely useful, as is the ability to write concise reports, therefore you are allowing students to practise vocabulary related to their field in addition to giving them the chance to do relevant research. If necessary, pre-teach the vocabulary and structures your students are likely to need, and let them research either by giving them one or more relevant websites, or by allowing them to search for suitable websites themselves via search engines, for example the excellent www.google.com. As with any Web-based activity, the most important thing to remember is to set the students very concrete goals and achievable tasks. A presentation or piece of writing, therefore, is a perfect culmination of Internet research work.
A useful addition to any business English course is a lesson in Internet terminology. From a student being able to say their email address correctly (explaining that @ is pronounced ‘at’) to being able to understand and use English language websites with confidence, it may be worth spending some time on teaching useful Internet-related vocabulary and phrases. This website has lots of useful information about Internet and computer-related jargon: www.netguide.co.nz.
To practise this terminology why not create a WebQuest for your students? A WebQuest is an inquiry-oriented activity in which students gather information from the Web. You can see some examples on onestopenglish by clicking here. You can make your WebQuest as simple or as complex as you want. It is a good idea to choose a theme if using more than one website, or to choose a relevant website to the topic or language you are teaching. To learn more about creating your own WebQuest have a look at this online tutorial: www.teachersfirst.com/summer/webquest/quest-a.shtml.
The Internet provides a lot of materials that can be used to practise structures in a context familiar to your students. For example, most corporate websites publish annual reports and statistics (for example, www.sony.net/SonyInfo/IR/), providing you with numbers, prices and percentages in an authentic context. Students could analyze figures and practise useful structures related to statistics (‘there was an increase in sales of 5% last year’).
To practise numbers, prices and currencies, why not create a real situation by letting students use a commercial website. Your choice of website can depend on the vocabulary you want to teach or revise. You could practise office-related vocabulary using www.officeworld.com, food and drink using www.harrods.com, clothes at www.gap.com or you could find a website that sells items related to the industry your students are working in. Give your students a budget and let them choose and order goods online. They can have practice too in the ordering process in English as close as possible to the point of purchase. Again, language related to buying online will also be useful for students (‘shopping cart’).