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.

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