General Business English

The GBE Publisher

Most major ELT publishers have a line of BE coursebooks to complement their line of regular ELT training. These programs provide about 100 hours of classroom instruction at the intermediate, upper intermediate, and advanced levels. Like the regular ELT coursebooks, the lessons are short and variable, such that any learner not finding a particular lesson to his or her liking would know that the lesson is going to be changed to something different shortly.

While the BE coursebooks have business topics, most experienced and trained business people would find these topics very simplistic, not too realistic of the business world. And this brings an important point about the coursebooks: they are mostly about language acquisition, modeled after successful formats for regular ELT coursebooks—and not about real business.

Despite its shortcomings for truly effective business communications, GBE has a very important place in the BE profession. In particular, GBE is great for:

  • ELT training with general business topics
  • low training budgets
  • large classes
  • learners of differing business interests
  • and learners who don't have confidence for a technical challenge in the classroom.

Because GBE classes are still about language acquisition, GBE classes should be segregated into differing language abilities: intermediate, upper intermediate, and advanced.

In the GBE/SBE/PBE paradigm, many BE teachers would classify most BE coursebooks somewhere around 90/5/5 or perhaps 80/10/10. Please note the first number represents GBE (general language acquisition), the second represents SBE (language for a specific aspect of business), and the third represents PBE (the extent the learners are required to “perform” in the classroom with their English).

In essence, the BE coursebooks could be represented in the paradigm as follows:

The GBE Teacher

Because the GBE business topics are quite comprehensible to most non-business people, most experienced ELT teachers should be able to present GBE effectively in class. And like successful ELT coursebooks, GBE coursebooks really don't require a lot of prep work from the teachers. They need only brief themselves 10 to 15 minutes before class starts to provide an effective presentation of this material.

With very little business knowledge and little prep time, the BE coursebooks from the mainstream publishers really don't require a higher level of teaching skill than regular ELT training. Most competent ELT teachers could present the BE coursebook just fine without any additional training or significant increase in their knowledge of business. Hence, these teachers really shouldn't be paid that much more for BE teaching than they are paid for their regular ELT teaching. This opinion is perhaps not what many BE teachers may not want to hear, but the marketplace seems to have already provided an acceptable pay for this level of teaching skills.

The GBE Learner

BE learners who are satisfied with their GBE training are mostly concerned about language acquisition. While the material does provide some basic business vocabulary and scenarios, learners from many cultures and backgrounds also feel comfortable in the classroom. Part of this comfort comes from not being all that technically challenged in a business sense.

While language acquisition is quite important, the BE profession should also consider that learners have been conditioned not to expect too much technically and culturally in their English classrooms. This conditioning may have an impact on the kind of material a SBE and PBE teacher can present.

DVBE and GBE

DVBE has three activities that are mostly GBE. Here is a brief description:


BIG NUMBERS ONLINE (Part 1 of The Grocery Store 1): This is a large gap filling activity where learners converse 3 to 7 digit numbers back and forth for about a half hour. It is quite simple to present and could be used as a pre-intermediate regular ELT activity. There is very little about business in this module and hence does not rate high in the SBE and PBE.

GBE/SBE/PBE rating: 95/0/5


INCREASE & DECREASE (Part 2 of The Grocery Store 1): This DVBE module was inspired by the lack of grammar lessons for these two very important words for business, science, and engineering. This grammar is quite complicated when compared to topics such as the present perfect tense or conditional sentences. It is irregular grammar when moving from active to passive verbs and each synonym has its own grammatical quirks that must be memorized. Most ELT teachers, if they follow the ELT coursebooks from ELT publishers, don't have much experience in teaching these words. To appease these teachers, the ELT publishers have given these two words very low priority in the grammar/vocabulary exposure. This leaves most learners to learn the English language for describing numerical changes outside of their classroom.

Some BE teachers have commented that Increase & Decrease really isn't necessary because either learners have already learned this grammar in their pre-intermediate and intermediate levels (and they haven't) or can learn it better as they gain exposure with English in the workplace. These are just cheap excuses not present this difficult grammar lesson in the classroom. While most business and technical people will find this one-hour grammar lesson very important, most BE teachers will prefer to avoid this grammar because it is not easy to teach.

Similar to Big Numbers, there isn't much SPE and PBE with Increase & Decrease. However, the grammar examples use these words in a business context, so we can raise the SPE a little higher for Increase & Decrease.

GBE/SBE/PBE rating: 90/5/5.


BRAG, BRAG, BRAG (Part 1 of The Grocery Store 2) is the performance extension of Increase & Decrease. It provides the practice to use numerical changes in a conversational setting.

To provide a conversational setting with a high density of numerical changes to describe, the conversation emanating from Brag, Brag, Brag became artificial and contrived. But if the students can master communicating the numerical changes in Brag, Brag, Brag, they should not have any problems describing numerical changes in the real business or technical world. Brag, Brag, Brag is perhaps the most difficult DVBE module for both teacher and learner, but worth the effort—especially for the very ambitious learners.

Unlike Big Numbers and Increase & Decrease, learners must process information rather quickly to communicate their position in this simulation. So there is a larger component of performance with Brag, Brag, Brag, but is still predominately a language building activity.

GBE/SBE/PBE rating: 75/5/20.

NEXT: Specific Business English (SBE)

 
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