Home > Linguistics > Does BEC do the Business?

Does BEC do the Business?

I got in trouble last week. I’ve been sharing a learner in a group ‘young business’ class with a colleague doing one to one preparation for BEC higher.

On Thursday, the colleague came to find me with a rather large bone he had to pick. In a practice test, the learner had constantly tried to use ‘you needn’t have’ to discuss mistakes made in a project. When corrected to ‘you shouldn’t have’ the learner replied ‘Ed said ‘should’ is bad and to use ‘need to’ instead’.

He’s right, I had. Of course, the context was different. I was looking at using modals to delegate and give responsibility and in that context, the order like quality of ‘you should call the suppliers as soon as possible’ is quite rare in business speech as managers are often trained to leave orders implied, suggest them or make requests.

Therefore, phrases expressing collaborative necessity followed by requests are much more common such as: ‘we need to call the suppliers as soon as possible, could you take care of it?’

A valuable lesson for me is that I need to demonstrate the context more carefully and illustrate the limitations of the language

However, when discussing the use of ‘shouldn’t have’ to give feedback I claimed that no decent manager would use even a mildly directive phrase such as ‘you should/shouldn’t have’. They would be much more likely to make weak suggestions using something like: ‘wouldn’t it have been better to..?’ or ‘couldn’t you have thought about…?’

That is, if they were to dwell on the past. The fact is, most international management training programmes suggest that negative feedback should take the form of future advice, making something like ‘so, going forward, we need to think about….’ The most likely way the phrase would be delivered.

Although my colleague agreed, he still pulled a face. He’s a very senior BEC examiner and he was concerned that language like that doesn’t fit the BEC mark scheme. I find that extremely disconcerting.

This is the way managers talk, critical language has been removed from their lexicon by countless books and training programmes. If BEC is encouraging language use that does not reflect corporate discourse, does it do the business?

  1. March 15, 2012 at 12:51 pm

    Well Ed I think you’re right. There does seem to be a gap between what BEC thinks business English is and what is actually used in business today. In addition there appears little or no awareness of what current management concepts are considered to be important and what impact this has on the actual language used by managers in companies. However, I would also add that the attempts to remove negative comment structures from the mouths of managers is also ultimately unrealistic. As for your colleague, he needn’t have reacted like that, or perhaps in the spirit of mutual cooperation he shouldn’t have acted like that..
    Very interesting post though.

  2. March 18, 2012 at 8:42 am

    Thanks for you comment, Loxton. Sorry it took a while to reply, I’ve been on holiday. I’m pleased someone else finds BEC a little limiting. I would counter though that while negative comments cannot be entirely removed from a manager’s lexicon,. It is common practice throughout corporate discourse to reframe past failure in future development needs. For example, three of the most common chunks in the CANBEC business English corpus are ‘going forward’ looking ahead’ and ‘we need to’. I should also say that maybe the post doesn’t reflect the light hearted nature of my colleague’s interaction.

  3. April 19, 2012 at 1:03 pm

    Hi Ed good post. BEC is limiting. I still feel BE exams and BE teaching still don’t do enough to include management, business and intercultural skills. Maybe because its still dominated by EFL teachers with neither a business or business training background. It’s the achilles heel of the profession. Here in Spain people think English teachers can do it all from kids to international presentations. We focus more on English as the lingua franca, where professionals need (English lang + man,biz, intercultural skills).

    • April 20, 2012 at 12:52 pm

      Hi Chris, thanks for you comment. I agree 100%. This attitude that teachers can do everything still exists in the UK. I think there’s a serious issue how we market market ourselves as BUSINESS trainers and agree totally that we should be making more of the language + management + culture factor. But, this becomes very difficult from a recruitment point of view as the trainers available to provide those skills are limited. It’s an old discussion and probably won’t disappear soon.

      Thanks for reading


  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: