Why are Business English Teachers paid so badly?

What is the difference between Business English Teaching and Business Skills Consulting? Business Teachers get paid about £25, 000 a year and Business Skills Consultants get paid about £300, 000. There must be something that differentiates these two services.

I attended Pete Menzies’s closing plenary for the English UK Business English Trainers’ Conference 2011, where he addressed this question that I’ve been asking myself for quite a while. After workshopping and discussing this with several conference delegates, these are what I gathered the differences were. (The opinions on this blog are my own…so feel free to disagree with me.)

Business English Teachers have language objectives. Business Skills Consultants have business-based directed objectives.

There is the belief that teachers go into class aiming to teach the present perfect, the first conditional for negotiations, or a list of agreeing/disagreeing phrases for meetings. The overall objective is to get their students to improve their grammatical and lexical abilities. Consultants, however, try to enable better communication so as to avoid wastes incurred in businesses.

Business English Teachers correct. Business Skills Consultants troubleshoot.

Teachers mark papers and deal with grammatical, syntactical and lexical mistakes, as opposed to looking at the language used by members of a firm that is causing breakdowns in communication. Consultants are aware of the linguistic impact on interactions and how shifts in the way we use language can contribute to waste management.

Business English Teachers rely on coursebooks and materials. Business Skills Consultants use students as a resource.

The multitude of Business coursebooks available seem to perpetuate this idea that Business language learning is about moving through the chapters of a coursebook usually defined by topics such as Global Trade, Marketing, Human Resources and Finance, each featuring different grammatical and lexical areas. Global Trade teaches us the 2nd conditional and functions of negotiation, while Finance teaches us the present perfect and trend vocabulary a la IELTS Writing Task 1.  Teachers are seen to rely on a syllabus.

But our clients already work in business. In specific areas of businesses. And they are not likely to have the need for Global Trade, Crisis Management AND Human Resources in 3 successive lessons. Instead, consultants analyse the areas they work in, the way they use English and who they use English with. They look at how their use of English affects the way they communicate. They work with emergent language. Consultants focus on needs analysis.

Business English Teachers know about language. Business Skills Consultants know about businesses.

One of the maxims that has kept me sane and prevented me from being reduced to a state of panic in my business English lessons has been ‘I am not an expert in their business. I am an expert in language.’ But how much business knowledge should the business English teacher have? Can a teacher with no business experience teach Business English? Should a teacher research their clients’ business models before a lesson? Is it important for a teacher to know their client’s area of specialty? Surely, it will not be possible to know a client’s business better than they know it? So how do consultants do it?

Arguably, it is the knowledge of general best practices in business and in management that consultants draw from when analysing a client’s communication techniques and business skills. Questions like ‘What is your business objective?’ ‘How are you going about achieving those objectives?’ ‘What is your best way forward?’, coupled with some fancy mnemonics commonly seen in management textbooks, gives consulting the value-added edge that teaching lacks.

But could one claim that such best practices are really about having common sense?

Business English Teachers teach. Business Skills Consultants coach.

Teachers teach. Surely that’s logical. They go into class and tell students what is right and what is wrong, and instruct students as to what they should do or not do. We say things like ‘That’s impolite in English. It’s not what we say.’

Consultants, on the other hand, help direct their clients towards arriving at decisions about the way they use language. They say things like ‘Would you like to add value to your organisation?’, ‘What impression would you like to create?’, ‘How can you rephrase that to make the impact you want it to?’ Like life coaches and psychiatrists, they don’t make judgements. They listen and ask questions to enable clients to make the improvements needed. Sawyer, in the US TV series Lost, says that the best conman leads their victim to think that the idea was their own. (I’m in no way implying that consultants are conmen.)

But are these descriptions fair of Business English teachers? Is this really what we do? Sure, we tell teachers to define their language aims on teacher training courses like the Celta, but in Business English teaching, don’t we analyse our clients’ needs, use our clients as the main resource, and deal with emergent language? Aren’t we already aware of the use of English as a lingua franca in business environments and don’t we prioritise communication and intelligibility over the mastery of the English tenses? Don’t we understand best practices in businesses from watching countless episodes of The Apprentice and Dragon’s Den, coupled with the reading of some management books and a good dose of common sense? Aren’t we already curious about our clients’ work and business environments? Don’t we already use questions to encourage classroom interaction and to determine our clients’ issues with language?

As a Dogme practitioner, the above definitions of a consultant seem to resonate with the principles of Teaching Unplugged. The traditional idea of what a teacher does, on the other hand, seems to be precisely what Dogmeticians are trying to avoid.

Perhaps these differences are in the expectations of what a teacher, as opposed to a consultant, does. Perhaps the differences are in the associations that these two labels conjures in the lay person’s mind. Perhaps the difference is in the way we package and market our product.

So what’s the difference between a good Business English Teacher and a good Business Skills Consultant?

Nothing. Just the rhetoric and £275,000.


Author: Chia Suan Chong

I am a writer, communication skills trainer and a teacher trainer based in York, UK. I have been English Teaching Professional's resident blogger since 2012 and have a regular feature in their bimonthly magazine. My book Successful International Communication was published in Dec 2018.

56 thoughts on “Why are Business English Teachers paid so badly?”

  1. Thanks for the post Chia, I completely understand what you’re saying. However, I think you missed the central issue as to why the pay divide is so large. The reason consultants are paid so much more than BE teachers is not because o what they know but because of what they’be done.
    A teacher recently left my institution for a much higher paid consultancy job, teaching ‘communication for auditors’. We teach a similar course that I shared with her but the consultants would nevet had employed me. We can both teavh English for auditors but she was an auditor for 15 years. I wasn’t. It seems to. me that the only people complaining about pay are those least aware of business, in a real, bottom line sense. If you don’t like your pay, retrain and get another job.

    1. To answer this question in the simplest form. Consultants are paid more for their expertise and the risk of offering that knowledge. Case in point if a consultant was to advise a business deal the owness is on them should things go awry. A teacher does not have this responsibility to the same degree.

  2. Very good discussion point, Chia. In my opinion the reason why things don’t change is because we, teachers, simply accept it or see so many people in the profession that simply give up or “get another job”. It’s very simplistic to say that “the ones complaining are those least aware of business”, edpegg.
    There is no real heavy investment in Education- period. The money is not there, let alone in TEFL- and again, people just accept it.The market is capped and so is the hourly rate.
    Last Friday, the deputy centre manager asked a teacher to take students on a field trip to Canterbury because the Social Programme Leader was sick. She didn’t feel very confident taking the students on her own and asked if another teacher could go with her. I asked how much they would pay per hour- £8.53/ hour on a Saturday. It’s not much money, but to help her, I said I might go- even though I know that a cleaner can make more than that per hour. Anyway, it turned out that they said they could not pay for two teachers to go and suggested we split the pay??!! The other teacher asked me if I could do that because she was feeling bad. I said: if we say yes, we would just be helping propagate the idea that we can just accept anything unreasonable because we are “nice”. Sorry, I’m not nice. It turned out they cancelled the trip.
    Teachers are constantly afraid of saying no and because a lot of the professional relationships involve some degree of personal involvement. People just feel they are helping others through their work- which is true and a rewarding part of the deal, but are we so in love with teaching and idealisms that we can’t afford to get well paid??? We should not get another job, we should stop taking crap- pardon my French!

    1. well put Renata. We really ought to start appreciating ourselves first before asking our employers to do so…

  3. Both of these comments are very valid.

    And I really enjoyed the reference to sexySawyer’s advice… it reminds me very much –possibly a more positive take on saying the same thing– of LaoTzu’s “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”

    I actually think one of the chief problems in Business-English materials (rather than teachers or coaches) is actually that there can be a presumption of knowing more about business than the students… a sort of patronizing feel if you know what I mean – look at most units of presentations (yi-gads!) but I’m not going to materials bash at the moment as undoubtedly next year when my own’s out I shall face a multitude of like criticisms… anyway, distracting –

    One problem not mentioned or not explored enough… is psychology: the teacher-self-worth… it’s very difficult for many BE teachers to turn around after years of being paid like crap and to ask for more money – double, as in your example – and/or a heck of a lot more.

    Sometimes there’s also the question of security… being employed at really poor wages but knowing you “have” a job at the end of the day, everyday, sometimes keeps folks from going freelance and risking being “not paid.” (and that happens)

    Plus, of course, there’s always the general psychological resistance to change.

    Sometimes – I see this so much – a very, very highly specialized (often female) marries into a new country and obviously, upon arrival, she can’t speak her husband’s language and winds up becoming an English teacher … once out of her “real” profession for a number of years… her ego takes a nose-dive, she gets used to being paid like crap and thinks the hassle of going out to find a better paid job as a skills coach will be… not worth it.

    And it’s understandable, writing pitches and selling yourself as it isn’t, to be honest, fun.

    It can be very disappointing, it can be a right pain in the neck managing the timing of the contracts and some months a contract falls through completely and you’re left in shock, with a massive gap in your schedule with absolutely zero income coming in.

    So, I can’t and don’t want to pretend by any stretch of the imagination that it isn’t a hassle being a freelancer. However it was my route to getting out of the “hamster-wheel” and being paid ridiculously.

    About 4 years ago or so, I can’t rightly remember exactly when, I started requesting and focusing in on only getting IT groups from the schools (not always – I do still have some banking and automotive) but I really stressed how much I liked these groups, made sure the DOS could see that I was making material for this sort of group (vocab sheets… that sort of thing) and even when they weren’t many IT companies with the schools then tried to get IT people within other business fields so that as much as possible I could hone my “own” language while “fixing” their English…

    Dogme, obviously, not only helped them but taught ME and eventually I could very much stand to conviction when pitching against general /business language schools to any IT company soliciting for teachers and be able to say, truthfully, it’s better to hire me directly at the same price as the lang.school or (sometimes even more) because I actually “know” what your students need to learn/ talk about – whereas basically, honestly, no…. the average teacher teaching general business English really doesn’t.

    This is not to crow, or brag, or whatever –

    it’s meant to be solid advice for any teacher who wants to earn more –


    and work at constantly being specialized

    even if you don’t have past experience “today” in a specific field. Make it a priority to read EVERY DAY the top books in that area of business from Amazon, the blogs, websites, figure out what the students like talking about, need to discuss and also obviously get them to micro-explain every nuance of what’s going on in their companies and projects working on – by allowing the emergent language need to arise, one can easily build a bank of vocabulary for oneself… and then work at how to make sure this is repeated and learned and taken on board, ingrained as, let’s face it, the product of creating successful language learners – is THE best viral marketing you’ll ever need!


    1. You are absolutely spot on, Karenne. There is indeed a huge psychological aspect to it and you’re right…I am one of those insecure teachers who prefers the security of working at my school and have absolutely no confidence in going out there to market myself as a free-lancer. You are also right about the fact that the onus is on the teacher to learn more about their clients’ fields, may it be through a Dogme style curiosity, or through reading up and researching the area…
      In case other readers take me too seriously, my comment on watching the Apprentice and Dragon’s Den was meant to be a half-joke…
      In a sense, like General English, the term Business English might be a misnomer…because the specific fields and niche markets within Businesses are what we need to be specialised in and that would be our USP.

      But I still think that the common perception of what a teacher does (as opposed to a consultant) does constitute a big reason why businesses are unwilling to pay for business English teaching. Edpegg talked about the bottom line, and indeed, businesses will pay for what they perceive as generating a return, they will pay for a value-added proposition. And to them, learning English itself is not of that much value. It is certainly of value, but not to the tune of £300,000. In contrast, a consultant helping that manage the billions of pounds of waste through refining their communication skills seems to be a much more sensible business proposition.

      So Edpegg, I’m not sure I entirely agree with the fact that Business English teachers hope to get paid more because they don’t understand the bottom-line perogative of businesses. I believe it might be the businesses themselves who don’t understand how Business English classes can make a huge difference to their balance sheet.

  4. What it boils down to is, as others have suggested, teachers get paid badly because we allow ourselves to be. You’ve inspired me to write a blog post about this. I’ll let you know when I’m done.

    Nice to have found your blog, by the way.

  5. Chia,
    You have initiated good discussion and have given valid arguments also. Language is a tool. A tool to communicate and get things done. The problem with English teachers is that they concentrate too much on the tool and thus are not able to touch upon core issue, i.e. Business. People in business want to do business… and get their things done. Consultants exactly does so.
    I would suggest:
    1. English teachers must have experience of business and
    2. They should ‘think’ like consultants, ‘act’ like business man…… and ‘teach’ like teacher.

  6. I think there is a problem with the industry as a whole. Speaking from my experience in the UK, ELT is not as well regulated as it could be. The British Council takes no stand on teacher pay, which I find absolutely ludicrous. How can the BC a certain level of quality from teachers, facilities and a school during an inspection and then say absolutely nothing about the renumeration the teachers who are expected to provide such quality?

    While I respect Ed’s perspective (And think I know you from working with the numpties at a large London language school some years ago! Hello!) I don’t entirely agree. Something needs to be done to make the ELT profession as a whole more valued. This is a problem both from a training perspective – we all know there some ELT jobs that require no training at all, just a degree and English competency, AND is complicit between management and teachers. So your social program pays you less than I pay someone to clean my flat – but why is it set at that rate? I can assume the answer must because there are some teachers who will accept that rate – as your friend was ready to do Renata. In fact she was ready to TAKE HALF that rate. A rate which, I might add, brings you down to less than the UK minimum wage.

    I absolutely agree in specialization and with freelancing. It does sometimes mean harder work as you have to hustle for jobs and less security but overall it absolutely means higher pay. However the problem we are discussing is endemic within the industry. While we may be able to personally benefit from specializing and going freelance, this will not solve the problems in the industry as a whole.

    1. I was writing my post at the time you posted this MJ. As you’ll see, I echo many of your thoughts. Fairly sure I know the numpties of who you speak, any clue as to who you might be?

  7. This is certainly an interesting discussion but it seems to only be focusing on the teachers’ point of view. It’s absolutely true, Chia, that the company’s don’t value language training. In fact, many of the courses I book are only commisioned to meet staff development criteria. For many, attending the course is a clause in their. appraisal feedback, improving your language is not. Many training officers only think about the course, they give toffee to the results.

    More about bottom lines. When, theoretically, anyone with a Celta can teach a business English course, and the delta’s really quite easy to obtain, we can all be replaced tomorrow. Even the delta’s easy when compared to professional qualifications like CMAs.

    I accept that u can become an expert yourself but, without having been there and done it at a senior level, your salary will always be capped.

    For those of us without the experuence, academia is a much more likely prospect if a decent salary.

    1. It’s good to see that this discussion has gone beyond Business English teaching and addressing the wages of English teachers on the whole.
      MJ and Edpegg have both brought up an issue that could be crucial to why we are paid so badly. The training up process is indeed short and the Celta is relatively easy to obtain. There is the misconception that simply being able to speak the language qualifies us to teach it, and so many do the Celta simply to travel the world and do not see English teaching as their career path. Added to that is the fact that everyone has been a student at some point in their life and have fixed perceptions and expectations of what ‘teaching’ and ‘learning’ means to them, thus making it even more difficult for clients to trust our expertise.

      However, I’m not sure I can agree with Edpegg’s comment about the Delta though. I don’t think the comparison between the Delta and other professional qualifications like CMAs is fair. The nature of the both processes are significantly different, and I know of many Delta trainees who originally came from Business backgrounds who would claim that the Delta was the most difficult thing they have ever done…But perhaps a mere comparison of difficulty isn’t suffice…Recognition of such teaching qualifications outside of the TEFL industry is vital in making our Delta-qualified teachers more credible. Despite carrying the same (if not more) clout than having an MA in Applied Linguistics, the lay person would still perceive an MA as being more valuable.

      Considering how English is now the global lingua franca and how English language teaching is becoming more prominent in most countries, perhaps it’s time that the workings of our industry are known to more people than just ELT professionals.

  8. Always enjoy a good polemic, and this was one, Chia. I think the otheres have basically made any points I would have: the disconnect in business (and society at large) that education is the biggest “value-added” out there, and that this does include language education.

    But increasingly, as David Graddol’s research suggests, language competence (particularly competence in English) is being seen less and less of a skill and more of a given. OK, you can speak English well enough to do this job: so what?

    So why should we expect industry to perceive business English teachers as valuable and therefore remunerate them accordingly?

    1. That’s precisely it, Anthony. We are perceived as simply teaching people to speak English, not as professionals who can improve their communication skills. Although these seem like similar things, the rhetoric seems to make a huge difference in the lay person’s mind. And therefore remuneration gap…

  9. Wha..? Did somebody mention 300k? Where?

    I’m reminded of the old Two Ronnies sketch that they did with John Cleese, about the British class system and who ‘looks up to’ who, and likewise who ‘looks down on’ whom. (It’s good for phrasal verbs!). Therefore, the Business English version:

    (John Cleese voice): “I’m a Business Communication Skills consultant. I wear a pinstripe suit, and offer bespoke One2One coaching to CEOs and senior management. I have highly developed business bingo-speak and I flatter convincingly in cut-glass public school tones. My organization charges a premium rate for bespoke services, therefore I can afford to look down on these two.” (Looks down nose)

    (Ronnie Barker voice): “I’m a freelance Business English trainer. I have various qualifications beyond a CELTA, and these appear on my business card. I used to be in business myself, and I’ve some good anecdotes about Life in Bahrain. I like a good natter with business managers; in fact most of my classes are quite informal, jackets off and laptops to the fore. Now that ‘conversation-driven’ teaching is all the go again, I’m thinking of upping my hourly rate! (Beams with satisfaction)

    (Ronnie Corbett voice): “I’m a business English teacher. I look up to both of these types, who I see striding around at annual BESIG conferences. They never take any notice of me. I know my place. And you lot, you know your place too! Turn to page 46, Unit 5, The Organization. Let’s start with Exercise 2a: Complaining to Management.” (fades)

  10. Before I add my tuppence worth (… all I can afford!), just a couple of questions: When you say ‘Business Skills Consultants’, do you mean the sort of people who offer their services to native speakers? The UK Society of Authors, for example, advertises courses for its members in negotiating skills. Or are you referring to language teachers who have branched out into skills training for non-native speakers?

    I’m also curious about the £300, 000! Was that a figure quoted at the plenary you attended?

    1. Yes, we’re talking about communication skills training for non-native speakers.
      The figure of £300,000 was quoted to me by the plenary speaker in a conversation prior to the conference, but the figure quoted at the plenary was £2500 per day. Adds up to nearly the same thing…i.e. a lot!

  11. Where I work (a German state university), all freelance teachers are paid a standard rate of €70 (about £60) for a 90-minute class, regardless of whether they teach general Business English, Business Communication Skills in English, or any of our ESPy-type courses. I think this rate is not enough, and as language coordinator I do what I can to bring my pester power to bear. If the institution wants to attract the best teachers, I argue, it should pay a more competitive rate.

    But what exactly is a ‘competitive’ rate, and is this the same as a ‘fair’ rate? Market forces determine the former. Qualifications and track record would have to come into any discussion about the latter.

    One option would be to pay teachers according to the nature of the course they teach, for example a higher rate for courses that require teachers to be specialists as well as generalists, or for long-haul courses that culminate in a ‘high stakes’ exam where students don’t get their degree if they fail the Business English component. From my experience, teachers tend to prefer the short-haul ‘communication skills’ courses: no exams to mark, no discussions about grades, no specialist vocabulary, but the same pay!

    The teachers seem to accept the idea of a standardised rate, and we’re all aware of how divisive the issue of differentials can be. On the other hand, it’s harder to recruit suitable teachers for the ‘tougher’ courses. So… could financial incentives make the difference? If so, what do others here think would be fair?

  12. Hello All, I agree with Dilip Barad where he (she?) writes : Business English teachers should ” ‘think’ like consultants, ‘act’ like a business man…… and ‘teach’ like a teacher”. Honestly speaking, I think it’s difficult to teach Business English if you haven’t a clue about what doing business in English is all about, I mean if you haven’t got any kind of experience working in a company in whatever role. If you just follow the books you’ll end up doing a lot of theory, missing the point altogether of what your students really need to improve their business skills (which include their language or better, their communicative competence in the world’s lingua franca). So of course if you introduce yourself as “just” an excellent language teacher but because of lack of real life experience you cannot include the precious added value of “what you can teach so that the course participants leave the class with some useful tips for improving their everyday business when using English”… then of course they’ll never even think of paying you more than the good old school round the corner. I’m back to teaching now after a decade spent as an executive secretary and export area manager and find teaching Business English thrilling because I have so much “authentic material” in my mind that I can almost walk in a class without a lesson plan and just do it without getting panic-stricken. I’m shocked however, I must say, at the ridiculous wages that are offered to teachers working in language schools and have already decided that “No Sir, I won’t do that!”… after having had several successful job interviews. One guy rightly said : “Pay peanuts? Get monkeys!!” … and that’s something we as teachers should bear in mind when we offer our product on the market. Because at the end of the day… you’re basically selling your services, aren’t you?, so it’s really how you market yourself (and behind that, what you really think you’re worth, down inside) that makes the big difference in what your lessons are worth – in terms of the money you’re getting for taking the trouble.

    1. It’s true, Monica, that having experience in the business world can really help one’s understanding of what the clients need language for. Yet at the same time, if a teacher actively listens and is curious about what’s goes on in the business world and in their clients’ lives, I think they can learn a lot too.
      I’ve had quite a varied range of working experience prior to teaching, selling all things from furniture to flowers, interning for what used to be called the Ministry of Information and the Arts in Singapore, forex trading, promoting and marketing books for a chain retailer, and translating and interpreting for Sony Music, Ponycanyon Entertainment, AT&T and Texas Instruments. But they weren’t careers as such, and if anything, I’ve realised that 1. many people in business don’t actually communicate well and 2. a lot of it is really common sense and there’s no big mystery to it.

      Yet, I still feel secretly insecure when I meet business executives, and I always worry that they may mistake me for some young inexperienced English teacher…
      One thing I have come to realise is that, using this ‘insecurity’ I feel and turning into humility and curiousity and letting them ‘teach’ me about their businesses has taught me so much in the past years, and through them ‘teaching’ me, so much language emerges, and i’m able to really see their discourse strategies and issues with their communication processes in their everyday lives.

      It’s amazing what asking the right questions can teach me…

  13. PS: Stephanie, … well if € 60 for a 90 minute lesson seems not enough to you… well… you know… here in Italy the average a language schools pays you (for whatever you’re teaching and however fantastic your CV) is a miserable 18 Euros per hour… GROSS !!!

  14. Sounds familiar. I started as a BE teacher and then got moved to ESP and ended up teaching a Business degree with students who expected an MBA. They definitely paid for it but none of the money got to me. After years of experimenting I figured out that the students just wanted business knowledge in English and expected it from business experts.

    In some schools there are no BE teachers just English teacher who teach BE. I’ve seen many places get rid of their ‘consultants/BE teachers’ and just replace them with CELTA graduates and a copy of Market Leader.

    There’s also more foundation/pre-MBA courses around but again some are run by general teachers.

    Money talks and hiring cheap labour saves money.

    1. Sigh…you are right…it’s about hiring cheap teachers for some schools at the end of the day…and that really shouldn’t be the way. Ultimately, the teachers you get represent the policy of the school, and that represents what the industry can contribute to the way we communicate in English…Ok I’m sounding ambitious now, but we really shouldn’t stand being underpaid anymore…!

  15. A great discussion. And some excellent comments.

    I recently worked in a company with a trainer who was earning significantly more than me, and I tried to analyse the reasons for his high income (and yes, it was around 300 k). As far as I could see they boiled down to five points:

    1 real competence (he knows what he is talking about),
    2 credibility (he has a doctorate and lots of in-company training experience),
    3 excellent marketing (he believes in himself and radiates confidence about his own abilities),
    4 focussed networking (he makes sure he knows the right people – he doesn’t attend teacher conferences, but HR and management conferences),
    5 a very hard work ethic (he normally sees his kids and his wife only on weekends).

  16. Hi Monica, €18 does sound miserable! But even €35 for 45 minutes (what our freelance teachers get) is hardly a princely sum. In Germany, freelance teachers who don’t have a private pension scheme are obliged to contribute 19.9% of their income into the state pension fund. After deducting tax and other contributions, there aren’t many euros left. This is an old law that was rescuscitated in 2001 (or thereabouts), driving many freelance teachers into other jobs. I know some who have since rebranded themselves as coaches or consultants simply as a way of getting around this law.
    Freelance teachers who come to Germany on short term contracts can also avoid paying social contributions, possibly even tax. They may be more inclined to work for lower pay.
    I’m with Chia on the need for fighting against low pay (united we stand!), but there needs to be some sort consensus on what low pay actually means.

  17. This issue about low pay has been around ever since I can remember. Making a stand won’t necessarily help because there will always be people prepared to teach English just because they speak English. Languages have always been taught this way, and probably always will be. And as Stephanie rightly points out, different people are prepared to work for different rates. What is barely adequate for one teacher is riches for another. I can’t afford to work for low rates because I have a family to support, but I don’t blame the teachers who can. I just offer something different.

    I recently discussed this with a business English teacher I know. He was adamant we should be paid more, yet he himself was only prepared to pay minimal rates to learn German. Naturally he chose an untrained teacher because all he wanted was to “brush up” his German. Sound familiar?

  18. Coming in here a bit late – but that’s what happens when one goes away for the weekend and does something “unwork-related”, so the only thing I want to add is on the “standard rate” issue. £60 for 90 mins? 18 euros an hour? You guys should be so lucky!!! One of the “standard rates” here in the UK for CELTA plus 2 years experience is a princely £12.60 – for 1:1 and WITH a DELTA, more than 2 year’s experience and over 1 year’s service – drum-roll – £16.00. And we wonder why we have such high staff turnover…..
    I am about to get really angry!!!

      1. Oh yes! I think we need to start a crusade, or a mission, or a protest or whatever it’s called tday!

  19. Interesting examples, Evan, and a salutory reminder of the importance of drive and confidence.

    An observation that springs to mind: Nurses’ pay in the UK was given a boost when men started entering the profession. This could be because employers, rightly or wrongly, still regard men as breadwinners with a family to support. Or it could just be that men don’t take as easily to the “angels-of-mercy” label. I dunno.

    Anyway, it has certainly been my experience as a recruiter of teachers that men tend to more upfront when it comes to talking about money. I have this theory that as more men enter the ELT profession – as teachers, that is – the pay might creep up.

    A plausible theory, or just wishful thinking? But in the meantime, ladies, don’t be coy!

  20. just to let everyone know…in Greece with 15 years of experience we get paid 12 euros per hour.And on top of that we have to give about 17% for health insurance…by law…

    1. Hi Evi – wow – I have to say 12 euros sounds low to me – and in spite of 15 years’ experience! But what are you measuring this against? When you say “in Greece….we get paid”, are you referring to a standard rate for business English teachers in Greece, or a particularly exploitative language school? It’s so hard to make comparisons, especially without knowing what your learners pay, how much of a cut the institution takes, and the general cost of living.

      So… what DO people think would be a fair minimum? Is it possible to agree a eurozone rate at least? Or are there too many variables?

      1. Taking into consideration factors like the current BE teaching market, the experience, training, skills and preparation time that a BE Teacher has to bring to the lesson, the benefits our clients get from the skills we help them with and the average standard of living in most European countries, based on my own judgement, and solely my own, I’d say a minimum of 40 Euros an hour should be implemented. But then again, we don’t even get that much in London…

  21. I know I’m a bit late with this great BE discussion. But I’ll just offer my insights.

    “Teaching Business English” has been associated with the BE coursebooks provided by the mainstream BE publishers. These coursebooks are, in my opinion, more for the benefit of the average ELT teacher, not the learner. Such a teacher, without much business experience, can easily present these lessons and do a great job with the material. Not much prep work or acquiring of business knowledge is required if a teacher follows these programs.

    The customers can easily see that not much extra skill is required from the teacher if he/she moves from general ELT to BE with these coursebooks. Hence there is no need to pay a lot more to get quality instruction from these BE programs.

    I know that many BE teachers have moved on from the coursebooks and are providing better learning experiences. Yet the mainstream publishers are still selling their coursebooks, so there has to be a lot of BE training done with the inferior coursebook format. This still gives the impression that teaching business English is an easy skill to acquire. Hence when one markets oneself as a BE teacher, there is a cultural assumption that this teacher only has the skills for the coursebooks—even when the teacher obviously goes beyond this skill level.

    And of course, it doesn’t help the BE profession’s cause if customers can easily acquire another BE teacher if a teacher who has proven to be effective starts charging too much. Like it or not, the services provided by many BE teachers are looked at a commodity, which usually means the lowest price wins.

    1. Sorry for the late reply, but Dave, I couldn’t agree more with that comment you made about coursebooks! Teachers often rely on it to ‘teach’ them about the different areas of business and they walk into class trying to teach what they’ve just learnt to their learners…a bit like teaching Granny to suck eggs…Our clients want us to help them communicate better, not teach them about their progession or the jargon they already use…
      Business teachers or General English teachers, seem to then become mere conduits of the coursebook/syllabus, thus cheapening our existence…
      Thanks Dave for the spot-on comments!

  22. I just stumbled upon this post and wanted to add a few thoughts. (Great post, BTW.) My company provides communication skills training in Silicon Valley. I have noticed a few trends over the years:

    1. Results are king. If you can show improvement and quantify it, you can usually command higher pay. Better yet, put your client in touch with a reference who can testify to your ability to get results.

    2. Know when to use the word “English.” Like it or not, using the word “English” in your marketing may cheapen your services, but not using the word “English” may confuse your market. We use a variety of phrases depending on the target.

    3. Most business English textbooks are a waste of time. I believe that Dave’s comment that “these coursebooks are more for the benefit of the average ELT teacher, not the learner” is spot on. We have developed all of our own content based on the needs of our trainees precisely for this reason. Many of our clients would be embarrassed to carry around a business English textbook. If anyone is interested in comparing notes, we have released some of our content for free here: http://lessons.ovient.com).

    Finally, figuring out how to set yourself apart so that you are not viewed as a “commodity” or as “just another BE teacher” is key. What experience, skill or value can you offer that others cannot? What is it worth? How can you market it in a way that will highlight its value?

    1. Marc, it’s good to hear from a communcations consultant and your perspective on things. As I said to Dave, becoming a mere conduit for the coursebook cheapens the teachers’ existence, and our focus should be on getting actual results of how our teaching improves our clients’ communication and thus saving them money. Thanks for the link.
      However, there’s also the issue of job security for teachers, I believe. Many teachers are comfortable working for a school and being paid monthly salaries. Becoming a consultant often means going freelance and having to take responsibility for managing and marketing ourselves, a prospect that quite a few teachers don’t relish.

      1. Agreed. That is why I started SelfEmployedTeacher.com to help teacher who are interested in becoming self-employed make the transition. Recently, I have been working with a number of teachers to help them start their own businesses. Of course, the hardest thing about starting, is starting:-)

  23. Hi Chia

    I don’t think we should downgrade the coursebook approach too much. It serves a valuable purpose, especially when many English students are mostly in a language-acquisition mode. If they are looking at cheaper lessons and are learning English for business reasons, the coursebooks serve these two objectives quite well. When a school is faced with a large class, the coursebooks may be the best way to ensure most learners learn something.

    The problem is when the market (our customers) perceives the “business English” from the coursebooks as an equivalent skill level as the “business English” from those teachers who develop specific material for clients’ needs. Hence, in their minds, they don’t need to pay more—especially when a few competent BE teachers are willing and happy to work for regular ELT wages, despite the much greater effort to put together these more effective lessons. Because these specific lessons are very possibly to be a one-time curriculum development, these creative people really don’t get paid for their creative efforts.

    With the exception of a few BE professionals, I sense that most BE instructors who ones don’t rely on coursebooks are not paid what they are worth (if we were to compare them to regular ELT and BE coursebook teachers). While on one hand, we can claim that the free market is giving them the appropriate wage. On other hand, these low wages are reflecting the quality of training the BE profession is providing for the world.

    This quality is reflected in the profession’s attitudes. A year ago, I conducted a market survey. See http://davevolek.org/dvbe/contacts.html and click “Survey” ‘(Sorry I couldn’t figure out how to make this link work or show up properly, so please excuse my primitive HTML skills).

    In Question #13, I posed two possible paths for a BE learner: (1) continue with current BE training methods, and (2) attain intermediate ELT levels with regular ELT, then start taking business courses in English. Here is the result: 87% of BE teachers agreed with #2! (but please see the entire question to get its full meaning). In other words, even the BE profession is admitting itself to be somewhat redundant! With this attitude, our low wages are justified.

    If the BE teaching wages don’t rise, the quality of BE training is likely not to improve as even those creative and low paid teachers have their limits to the kind of material they can develop mostly for free. If the BE training does not improve, then the BE profession will be deemed redundant as many learners already seem to be choosing the “intermediate ELT to business courses in English” approach. In other words, the BE profession seems caught in a whirlpool that cannot escape its own oblivion.

    Chia, you have started an excellent discussion. But I think its roots go much deeper than what you originally thought.

    1. Thank you Dave for the really in-depth look at the issue. As with everything, things never look as simple as they seem, eh? It’s true that a lot of BE teachers themselves don’t see their work as deserving of say, a banker’s pay, and wouldn’t expect students/clients to pay it either. Perhaps we’re just a bunch of liberals who love people and the idea that we can help them in some way, and although we take pride in what we do and many of us like to do it well, we are also a generally humble bunch (except me, maybe…*wink*) who don’t think what we do is rocket science. Alright, I’m kidding but don’t you think there’s some truth in it? After all, this profession used to be occupied by women with rich husbands who wanted to work part-time for a sense of fulfilment and self-actualisation… Okay, I’m going to have offended some people now…like I always do…oops…

      1. Hi Chia

        You are quite right. I think many professional business English teachers have a very creative side to them. When they are faced with a “specific need,” they happily dive into this kind of project and putting their creative talents and energy to a practical use. They have, at a subconscious level, made the decision that if they can be more creative, they need not get paid for that creativity. To them, this is better than teaching regular English or BE with the coursebooks.

        I know this from personal experience. I have developed an innovative business English program. It doesn’t fit the “special needs” approach. And it is too much work for those BE teachers using coursebooks. Both sides of the BE profession has deemed it not even worthy of a classroom trial. After a significant financial and time investment, I have not yet had much reward. Despite my disappointment, I still have to admit that I got a great deal of satisfaction putting it all together. I was happy while developing my business simulations to generate lots of great English conversation.

        So when I hear of BE teachers spending lots of time preparing specialized lessons for their clients, knowing they neither will be likely to be compensated for their prep work nor likely not be able to implement these lessons elsewhere, I understand what drives these teachers to this kind of financial suicide. It is the need to be creative–and BE teachers have lots of opportunity to be creative.

        While not paying for creativity is ostensibly a good deal for the customer, this situation has—in my opinion—created a profession that is both stale and moribund. A good example of this lack of robustness is this particular discussion thread. After two years of watching and participating in various BE groups (trying to figure out clever ways to promote my product), your original post has, by far, created the best thread I have ever seen!

        Other professions are using discussion groups in so many vibrant ways to make the profession better; these kinds of threads are very common and often longer.

        Just go to other BE teacher groups and see what is happening! (Or most likely, what is not happening). There is very little of a provocative, controversial, or cerebral nature to the few discussions that are happening—despite some of these groups having 100s of members.

        Not paying for creativity has had a big price on the effectiveness BE training!

  24. I too add kudos to you for a worthwhile thread.

    Here’s my 2 cents after 19 years of E for B & Skills Courses training in Japan.

    a) If you want the big moolah you need to “fix” headstrong executives a la Marshall Goldsmith. Serious coaching on a needs analysis in consultation with HR with specific goals and outcomes.

    b) If you have credentials in Media e.g. you know how to prepare an executive for a TV interview on say…options you can charge accordingly.

    c) If there is a cross cultural snafu in a Blue Chip acquisition e.g. Mercedes taking over Chrysler your Golden if you have a team with bespoke materials.

    d) while the future of business English should be based on cross border interactive business “games” like Capstone only a very few companies like GE have the vision to take it up.

    e) with new tools like wiki & Brain Shark there should be a future in specialized online/offline team communication training. Team training is a big racket with all kinds of pedagogy and antics like outdoor survival thrown in to the mix.

    f) finally there are “opportunities” in allied communication disciplines like critical thinking, argumentation, constructive criticism, appreciative listening but after a
    while this degenerates into crass manipulation.

    Here in Japan we have to struggle with a listening culture. First, many participants can’t really understand business tapes so we have to spend hours on that. As for grammar, well there are plenty of high TOEIC scorers who fall apart easily when speaking.

    That said at best only about 10% of the people studying English here really need it or have to use it more than 2% of the time at work.

    Best to go to China where they are really keen if you hunger for job satisfaction.

    Best wishes to all,


    P.S. for Japan related Business English see Todai’s (Tokyo University) Mike Handford’s Discursive Strategies in Workplace Meetings…..Mike’s a Pro

  25. What will the market bear, i.e. what is the maximum that a school could sell a BE course for? How is the turnover allocated to the cost heads and what is the margin? Maybe someone from one of the school finance departments could give us some figures so that we can see if our share is fair or at least justifiable.

  26. Interesting thread. I found it by accident as I was trying to find out what freelance business english rates of pay are. I have a pitch coming up and didn’t want to oversell or undersell myself. I’m in Italy so maybe money won’t be mentioned for the first few meetings! Rates of pay in general in the ELT profession are appalling though and it would be appropriate if the British Council, Cambridge ESOL, teachers’ associations took the lead to try to improve them. Does anyone know of any initiatives out there to improve the lot of the well-qualified, proven track-record EFL teacher? I would be interested in supporting/agitating/contributing to them?

    1. Hi Sophie,
      Thanks for taking time to comment.
      This is an ongoing topic of debate, and is certainly an issue that is hard to simplify. There are many factors at play here, and even if certain teaching associations attempted to increased our pay, economic forces are still at play here, and if clients are only willing to pay a limited amount for our services, whether it be because they do not see value in the service we provide or because they know the going market rate, we are directly affected.
      The best we can do to improve our lot is to take the initiative to develop ourselves, both in terms of teaching skills and specialising in certain niche markets, and in terms of the way we brand and market ourselves.
      At the end of the day, teaching is also a business, and it is those who are able to obtain the clients and maintain them who are able to start pricing themselves in a way that they feel they deserve.


  27. Interesting comments all round. I am a Presentation Skills Consultant with over 20 years experience as an actor with voice and movement. I also teach BE. What I’ve found is that foreign companies allocate different budgets for English Language training ( usually in company lessons by the successful/ cheapest school ) and in company specialized training like a 4 day accountancy refresher in Zurich. As an earlier comment by the Californian guy pointed out, using the term ” English Language Training” automatically puts you in the underfunded, often bribe- driven budget, whereas,” Business Skills with Presentation and media Skills” ( in English) puts you in the better funded budget. Doesn’t always work, but it does avoid some stereotyping by the client. Great blog.. Intelligent discussion… keep it up..

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