Some highlights of the 52nd IATEFL INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE held in Brighton in 2018

I attended several sessions about Business English at the 52nd IATEFL International Conference and I’m going to share most of what I learned there with you. Because there is a lot of content, I decided to break down the summaries into different files, to make it easier for you to read them, so I will post more about the sessions soon. The next post will be about teaching how to write emails with chunks, a very interesting talk by Rachel Lawson.

The theme of this session was: What is Business English? and it was delivered by Gregory Burrows-Delbarry. His talk was good for novice teachers, since he covered the main aspects that should be considered when teaching BE, but for experienced teachers it was also useful as a way to review their teaching practice and reflect upon areas that might require some improvements. As an experienced BE teacher I could get some insights and ideas for my own practice by attending this session.


This year, for the first time, I had the privilege of joining more than 2.700 teachers from 130 countries in the 52nd International IATEFL Conference and Exhibition. It was simply amazing. Having the opportunity of talking to people from such different backgrounds and teaching experiences was awesome! And I would like to share as much as possible of what I saw and learned there so that you can also benefit from this fascinating event. But if you ever have a chance to attend the conference, do come, as you will be amazed by all the opportunities that will emerge for you. 

I was really aiming at getting the best out of the event, so I had 3 areas of focus in mind and I chose the talks I attended based on these areas: Business English, online teaching and language retention (vocabulary retention included). In this post I’m going to talk about one of the BE sessions I attended.

As you may know, IATEFL has 16 special interest groups (SIG) and one of them is the Business English SIG, which I’m a member. They occasionally organize specific events related to BE, and at the IATEFL International Conference, there was a day fully dedicated to BE teachers, as they gathered all talks related to the subject and organized them all together to be held in the same room, all day long. I loved this format, mainly for the networking opportunities (I had the chance to meet Evan Frendo, a BE book author, I was thrilled). I was together with a lot of teachers who were also interested in the same topics as me, so this really facilitated exchanging information and growing my network.


The day started with Gregory Burrows-Delbarry clarifying what Business English is. In short, he talked about his experience as a BE teacher, how BE is taught and how people can work in it. He mentioned that BE teachers should:

  • Help learners develop communicative competence
  • Draw on ELT knowledge to help trainees in their context
  • Have some awareness of industry terminology
  • Be prepared and thorough
  • Use wider range of resources and authentic materials

My personal view on his remarks: I would say that to be a BE teacher you don’t necessarily have to know about your student’s business, because that is something they will be able to teach you, but you do have to be interested in business related topics. As a BE teacher, the feedback given to the student is not only related to language, but they expect you to keep the conversation going, really engage in the topic, and in order to be able to do so, you need to 1. listen to your student attentively and get as much information as you can about their business and try to understand how this information can be useful in your teaching and 2. ask engaging questions to provoke your student to think more deeply about the topics they bring to class, to help them practice authentic language they might have to use in real life and offer them a legitimate vehicle for language to be used.

About the students, the speaker mentioned how different they are from our regular English students, as BE students have more specific needs. So the teacher should:

  • Understand their motivations to learn the language
  • Have a clear view of their expectations
  • Know about their pedagogic needs
  • Learn about the level in hierarchy the student is, and how this affects your teaching
  • Understand the culture of the company/dress code
  • Find out the the linguistic needs of the student: specialist vocabulary? main language uses?
  • Recognise student’s intercultural needs
  • Decide if they are going to negotiate a syllabus or use a coursebook
  • Decide on how assessment will be done (placement test, progress test, end of course, performance, continuous evaluation)
  • Provide assessment and feedback (both to student and the company if necessary)
  • Know about BE exams, in case students are required to take one

My personal view on his remarks: I’ve been teaching BE for over 10 years, and BE students are really different from regular English students, mainly because they have high learning expectations, but they do not necessarily act according to their demands, not engaging in their learning process as much as they should. This is a very common characteristic among these students. On the other hand, most of them have the opportunity to use language at work, so as they learn in class, they experience the real use of language in authentic contexts, which is really helpful for their learning and retention. I also believe that the teacher should be aware of the stakeholders involved in the process, as many times the company pays for the course, so you need to know their expectations and keep them informed of the student’s development. 

Professionalism and consistency are also key features in BE teaching. Having a professional appearance and behaviour is essential for a successful career in this area. Also, being consistent is highly expected, if you say you are going to do something (like sending a file or a piece of homework by email) really do so. And avoid cancelling classes last minute, have a calendar and follow your schedule as much as possible. About negotiating a syllabus, I personally prefer to choose a coursebook to teach my students, not only because it is easier for me to prepare the classes and have a clear plan of where I’m going, but also because 1. coursebooks are developed by specialists in the area who invest a lot of time in research, so they know far more than I about the subject, and they also cover all the important aspects that should be taught throughout the material and 2. I believe it’s important for students to feel like they are moving forward, and I also think it’s a more organized way for them to know where to find information about previous content dealt with in class. But if you decide to build your own syllabus, just make sure you are providing your student with everything they need to accomplish their (and the company’s) learning goals.

The last topic covered by the speaker was how to work in BE. He believes teachers should:

  • Have a career plan
  • Have specific qualifications (CertIBET – Certificate in International Business English Training – there are some schools that offer this course online, for example, The Consultants-e:
  • Join special interest groups, such as the BE SIG from IATEFL
  • Get trainer development
  • Become a ‘business-person’, professionalizing yourself
  • Read books about the topic (How to teach Business English – Evan Frendo)

My personal view on his remarks: the best way to become a BE teacher is to be one. We are never going to be fully prepared to enter the BE classroom, mainly because the student’s specific context varies a lot from one company to another, even from one function to another within the same company. So the best you can do if you want to start teaching BE is to get some information from books (this one by Evan Frendo is great, it covers all the relevant information you need to know about BE teaching) and get yourself your first student. This is the best way to learn, because you’ll be so engaged and committed that you will make sure to do a great job. And you will learn as you go, on demand. Professionalizing yourself is essential, because companies will always ask you to provide an invoice or proof of payment, so you need to be able to offer that, otherwise students will not be able to have classes with you. This is not complicated and it doesn’t cost you anything (for example, if you become a MEI – Micro Empreendedor Individual). Check on this with your local city hall.

In my view this was a good talk for novice BE teachers to have a clear idea of the differences and also to know how to start, and for experienced BE teachers it was a chance to review the core competencies expected of them and assess their practice to see if they are delivering what is expected of them and what they can improve on. For me, personally, it made me think about creating an assessment process with regular moments for evaluation and feedback, as this is something I don’t have structured in my practice, I make sure it happens, but not on a regular basis.

Also, it got me thinking about how I can improve my needs assessment to get more valuable information from my students so that I can prepare more relevant classes for them.

This is the first part of my sharing, as there is a lot of content, I’ll be dividing it into smaller parts. Soon I’ll share with you the content from a talk on teaching BE through chunks, very nice ideas!

I’ll talk to you soon!

Thanks for reading this.

See you,

Marcela H.