Home > Intercultural Communication > How long left for English in London?

How long left for English in London?

At the Business English UK conference yesterday, Evan Frendo gave an excellent talk about Specicifity in business English and ESP. As usual, he blended cutting edge research and everyman charm to deliver a well thought out and ultimately simple message; simple but worrying. The business English market is fundamentally shifting.

Evan showed a lot of evidence that companies and L & D managers are growing dissatisfied with the results from traditional classroom training because the trainer does not really know what the clients need and takes a guess. Even when the trainer is highly skilled, which, sadly, many are not, he does not have the specific knowledge of the clients’ target discourse to deliver the training really required. See Evan’s slides here

Companies are responding to this in two ways:

  1. Increasingly looking to researchers to investigate the language used in the specific discourse community and work directly with that community to deliver training, increasingly ‘on the job’
  2. Rejecting training altogether and sending delegates to spend time living and working in the target discourse community. For example, sending a German manager to Japan to learn how to work with the Japanese.

This idea is backed up by Chris Bowie, an embedded trainer at PWC China. At IATEFL Glasgow, Chris talked about the 70, 20, 10 rule where multi-national companies are increasingly expecting 70% of employee’s training to be delivered ‘on the job’, 20% to come from working with colleagues and only 10% from formal training. Watch Chris’s talk here.

This means that an ever increasing number of providers will be fighting over an ever shrinking number of clients in the future.

In my opinion, this makes intensive immersion UK based training particularly venerable. If clients are turning away from training where all delegates are from one discourse community, why would they send delegates to the UK to sit in a room with a trainer who maybe has never even been to their country and a group of people from wildly varied business and cultural backgrounds. Where’s the value?

If we continue to teach more traditional business English skills, I feel the UK global market share will continue to decline and the ‘immersion’ argument is no longer enough. We need to start selling our competitive advantage better and more clearly.

So, what do we have that no one else does:

  • Immersion in English
  • Variety of delegates
  • Escape from the office

Immersion is attractive and will remain so but I strongly believe that this isn’t enough. Our key advantage, and one that you can only really find in the UK market is this: people from everywhere come to study here. This is such an advantage because it gives a real need for clients to pay attention to cultural awareness, requires people to revise their communication strategies and teaches people how to build relationships across cultures.

Compared to this, immersion is a side show. Nobody in London speaks to them anyway.

So, what should we be selling? The fact is, yes, I can sit in on your meetings, record your discourse, use concordance to produce an accurate list of the language you will need to use and ‘find your gap’ more accurately by being embedded with you in your community but, for anyone who has to deal with more than one other culture, the benefits of a week in the UK is immeasurable.

Only here can you really test your ability to conduct a meeting with a Japanese and a Russian at the same time.

Only here can you argue politics with a Brit in the morning and argue about how to cut the budget with 4 Brazilians in the afternoon.

This is a major competitive advantage but are we selling it? Most marketing departments I’ve worked with still talk about immersion and the training techniques we use. Everyone uses the same techniques it’s not better in London.

How can we make the sales people change their pitch? Well we have to change the way we teach. Currently, I spend almost all of my time teaching cultural awareness and soft skills, embedding language inside these skills. This gives delegates something they can’t get anywhere else.

What do you do in class and how can we same executive training in the UK?

  1. May 3, 2012 at 4:52 pm

    Hi Ed,

    Very interesting arguments.

    Sounds like you’re suggesting that BE teaching becomes Business Consulting and Business Training specializing in Business Skills, Communication Skills and Intercultural Communication.

    Not sure the EFLs will let go of BE.

    • May 3, 2012 at 5:59 pm

      Hi Chris, thanks very much for your comment. I would go further than suggesting and say we must, particularly in the UK, make the move into international skills providers. Any less will mean we struggle to survive. If English does go on to be the true business Lingua France and we market ourselves correctly, I strongly believe that we have an undeniably strong position in the global market place. However, we must become more professional and adopt more business consulting approaches.

      As for the EFLs, fortunately p**s up in a brewery springs to mind so I really don’t think we need to worry about them. They’ll keep doing what they’ve always done and will slowly disappear. It’s the researchers and business consultants who are beginning to take an interest in language and cultural training who are the competitors of real professional business English teachers.

      I believe firmly that the market’s changing and I’d love to hear more from you on how we can respond to this change.

      Thanks for reading

      • May 4, 2012 at 8:23 am

        I agree the market is changing. We tried to change the market here in Spain but companies still want bog standard English classes.

        As you said its a question of good marketing and positioning your company.

        So we created two companies, a language company and an international business skills training company. This helps companies to see the difference. One uses teachers and the other business consultants.

        It’s a slow process as companies have cut training budgets so language classes are a lot cheaper. However smart companies that want to compete internationally can see the value added.

      • May 5, 2012 at 9:09 am

        Thanks for coming back again Chris. What you’re doing in Spain sounds extremely interesting. Could I ask though, are you employing business consultants with or without teaching qualifications/experience and how do you balance business skills and language input. In my own work, I’m trying to balance the two but this often means that what I produce is still quite generic. Any ideas on how to overcome this hurdle would be great.

        Thanks again


  2. May 5, 2012 at 11:03 am

    Hi Ed,

    We look for people between 10 to 35 years biz experience with either training or BE teaching experience.If not we train them if they have the right character and attitude. The key is to make full use of their biz experience which language teaching doesn’t. We charge more and pay more for that business experience.

    You need to avoid offering a generic one size fits all training, you need to specialise. U-Int and Adv get Business Skills and lower levels BE or GE classes.

    For non natives the biz skills training needs to be practical and experiential (case studies, roleplays, group dynamics, dilemas, group discussions and all with feedback from themselves, colleagues, and the trainer)

    You also need to provide reports to clients showing how higher performance in these Business Skills hits the bottom line with e.g.s as ROI is difficult to prove.

    Hope this helps or email me at cwright@thepracticeoffice.com

    • May 14, 2012 at 6:21 pm

      Hi Chris,

      Sorry I didn’t reply sooner, to be honest I just missed this comment, hope you’ll forgive me.

      I agree completely that non natives need practical/experiential training and do similar things myself. I’d be curious to know why you set the cut off for business skills at Upper Int though. Many lower level learners still need business skills, maybe more so than higher levels.

      Think this might be a question of context though. Working in Spain I guess you have more time, on intensive programmes we can’t build people up with general English and need to go to business skills immediately.

      I often wonder when I’m teaching low level courses professional communication tough ‘how much impact am I having?’

      Recently though, I’ve started questioning the distinction between general and business English. Should we just not be teaching ‘communication skills and applying it to different contexts?

      After all, similar coaching courses qualify life and business coaches and child and organisational psychologists do similar training. What do think?

      Again, sorry I missed this post and thanks for reading.



      • May 15, 2012 at 4:37 pm

        Hi Ed, it should be a combination of language, business communication skills and intercultural communication as that´s what clients need to work globally.

        So we need to ask ourselves why it isn´t.

        If you study the business model of TEFL you´ll find your answers.


  3. May 13, 2012 at 11:02 pm

    Hi Ed,

    Great post – and you are spot on. I also think that folks like me and folks like you could work together to provide amazing value to our clients together. That is that both English and Business Skills together – from people who specialise in one or the other (and have an understanding of both), would provide way more than twice the impact.

    I am exploring a lot of this with our mutual acquaintance, Duncan and Kate at Lydbury – and I am sure that all of us would welcome you joining this conversation. Found you on Twitter, of course – and delighted to be starting to get to know you further through your blog!

    Warm regards,


    • May 14, 2012 at 6:14 pm

      Hi Emma,

      Thanks very much for your comment. I’d be very interested to learn more about what you’re doing as you’re the first person from a non English teaching background I’ve met taking an interest in this. Hope to talk more soon.


  4. May 14, 2012 at 9:49 am

    Hi Ed, was my last reply what you were looking for?

  5. May 15, 2012 at 5:00 pm


    Working with clients we found that they preferred our business training for higher level learners and used Language Academies to provide language classes for lower levels.


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