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Teach Business English: How to Get Started Online and Abroad

For experienced ESL educators and those with real world business experience, teaching business English is a natural fit.  In addition to being an incredibly fast growing sector of ESL education, it also allows teachers to work with older students, incorporate their real world experience into lessons, and partner with some of the most globally-minded companies in the world. 

If you are in the market to teach business English or want to learn more about this specialized field of English as a second language, you’ll want to read on to discover the general requirements, what sort of content you will be teaching, and steps you can take today to land a high-paying job.

Here is everything you need to know about teaching business English and how to start your career both online and abroad.

What Is ‘Business English’?

“Business English” is a specialized discipline within the broader field of English as a second language (ESL). The purpose of business English instruction is to equip the learner with the language skills he or she needs to conduct everyday business activities across languages.

Why would an English learner necessarily want to specialize in business English? Let’s look at an example:

On my first trip to East Asia in 2011, I found myself in a Taipei, Taiwan hotel. The Taiwanese are native Mandarin Chinese speakers. Sitting in the lobby, I observed a Japanese couple walk in. For ten minutes, I watched them struggle to attempt to communicate in English, the “international business language,” as I sat in awe of two East Asians relying on a totally foreign language — originating half a world away – to attempt to bridge their lingual divide.

At that moment, I began to understand the vital importance of English to international business.

What Content Does Business English Curricula Cover?

The crucial difference between business English and other forms of English learning is, as the name suggests, its focus on terminologies and scenarios unique to the business world. 

Business English curricula tend to cover:

  • Food, tourism, and hospitality terminology and scenarios
  • Economic terms like “demand,” “supply,” “GDP,” etc.
  • Presentations
  • Negotiations
  • Email and letter writing in business-specific contexts
  •  English-language social media lingo for business
  • “Water-cooler” small talk
  • Cultural norms of native English-speaking countries

As in the example of the Taiwanese hotel staff earlier, there is a significant bleed-through between “business English and “travel English,” sometimes called “English for tourism.” Both are useful for practical, everyday communication in a native English-speaking destination.

What Are the Requirements to Teach Business English?

Each company/school tends to have its own qualifications for teachers who deliver ESL instruction – some have more stringent standards while others are laxer.

In general, the requirements that you must meet to find high-paying ESL work in the adult business sector include:

  • University degree: If you are teaching English to adults, chances are that they have already attained some form of higher education. Accordingly, many business English students expect their instructors to be similarly well-educated. As a result, many companies require at least a bachelor’s degree (often with a business major) before hiring a teacher.
  • TEFL certification: Teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) is the “gold standard” in ESL certification. An accredited, high-quality TEFL certificate will open up English-teaching job opportunities far and wide.
  • Business experience OR business teaching certificate: Business experience, especially in the industry that you will be teaching, is a definite plus on any resume.  However,if you don’t have experience, the next best thing is a business teaching certificate via an online course.
  • Experience working with adult learners: Again, experience is highly valued in the ESL industry; employers are more likely to take a hard look at a candidate who has previously demonstrated success in the ESL field. Everyone has to start somewhere, so don’t worry if you don’t have experience yet – there are plenty of opportunities to get your feet wet.

Keep in mind that these are general requirements – as we’ll explore in the next section, you don’t necessarily need to have all of the above to find lucrative business English work.

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Where Can You Teach Business English?

Before we get into the best ways to break into the industry, let’s take a look at where the business English jobs are.

Teach Business English Online

Even before COVID-19, online formats for English instruction were increasingly popular. Now that entire industries have had to rethink their business models to adapt to the current climate, ESL providers included, the trend has accelerated.

Here is a smattering of the top online business English-learning platforms in 2021:

English First (EF)

Founded in 1965, EF has long been a household ESL name and has a presence in over 115 countries. If you’ve spent time abroad in Asia, in fact, you’ve likely seen the familiar EF logo plastered on billboards and office park signs. In addition to standard ESL education, EF also hosts online business English classes on its platform. To qualify as an online EF contractor, teachers must be native speakers, possess at least a bachelor’s degree, and pass a background check (provided by the company). English First (EF) has a 3.4/5-star rating from previous teachers on Glassdoor.

Preply

Ukrainian entrepreneurs Kirill Bigai, Serge Lukianov, and Dmytro Voloshyn founded Preply in 2012. It quickly gained national and then international attention. Now, Preply’s active user base is approaching 100,000. Preply has a 4.8/5-star rating on Glassdoor. Among the many languages and specialties that Preply covers online business English is one of its most popular.

Cambly

As an up-and-coming industry leader in no-frills online ESL education, Cambly’s model is built on access – the only qualifications for teachers are a stable internet connection and native English-speaking status. The ESL for business teachers who deliver lessons to Cambly users come from all walks of life – some with deep ties to the international business community and decades of business experience and some dental therapy professionals who earn money online as a side hustle.

Cambly made our list of the 21 Best Companies to Teach English Online to Chinese Students.

Freelance

If you don’t want to work for someone else and give away a piece of your earnings, the freelance option is always available. Doubtless, it’s going to entail more legwork (building your platform/profile, chasing leads, day-to-day business operations, etc.) but the highest income earners in this field are the ones who work for themselves.

If you are brand new to teaching online English, you likely want to hold off on striking out on your own until you gain a better working knowledge of the industry – instead of going solo right away, consider first getting your feet wet with one of the online platforms above.

That said, connecting one-on-one with paying clients is more convenient than ever – it’s even possible on non-industry-specific sites like Craigslist.

How Do Teachers Get Business on Online Business English Platforms?

Among the many differences among online ESL providers is how teachers land paying clients (students).

English First and similarly large companies hold onto their client rosters and assign students to teachers at their discretion. Preply, Cambly, and other startups have pioneered a new model: the site acts as an “agent,” connecting students and teachers together.

Your preference will likely depend on:

  • How much control you want in deciding whom you teach
  • How much effort you want to put into building your online profile to attract students

Teaching Business English Abroad (In-Person)

Online education certainly isn’t for everyone – it necessarily involves long hours of screen time, occasional rude students (being unkind is much easier in cyberspace than in person), and the lack of opportunity to explore a new environment.

The good news is that business English jobs in physical, brick-and-mortar operations are not going away in the foreseeable future. Here are some of the top destinations and companies hosting foreign instructors throughout the world:

China

Rapidly evolving into a global superpower, China’s immense 1.4-billion-strong population has an insatiable appetite for learning the international language of business. Wall Street English has over 4,000 physical schools – with a large proportion of those in China and throughout East and Southeast Asia. The company has won multiple awards for the quality of its English instruction and currently has a 2.9/5-star rating on Glassdoor. Check out Wall Street English’s teacher openings page for updated listings of available positions. 

Japan

Aeon English schools offer business English positions in most major cities, including Tokyo and Oksana, as well as positions in the more remote enclaves of the island archipelago. Many Japanese schools fall into a local category called “eikaiwa,” or private language center. Aeon provides business English instruction to adult learners as well as more standard English curricula for younger learners.  Take a look at Aeon’s available jobs to find opportunities of interest. Aeon has a 3.4/5-star rating on Glassdoor.

South Korea

Like China, South Korea has come a long way and is now very much a roaring economic powerhouse in the East Asia region – with an accompanying rise in demand for business English training. However, unlike other countries, there is not a single dominant chain of business English schools in South Korea. Browsing leading ESL job boards, you are sure to come across ads for business teachers.

What Is the ‘English for Business’ Teaching Experience Like?

Teaching “business English” to adults is different from standard language instruction for kids in a few noteworthy ways:

  • It’s generally easier to control the classroom with motivated adult learners because they have a vested interest in learning, more so than younger students whose parents dragged them into the classroom.
  • Teaching schedules for business English fall later in the day/evening to accommodate working professionals.
  • The students are typically more demanding – depending on how you look at it/your personality type, that could be a benefit or a drawback.
  • The dress codes for teachers in business environments are stricter than those who are teaching children.
  • You have more opportunities to “spice up” the lessons with adult themes (in the right contexts).

One of the bigger misconceptions about teaching English to adults, business or not, is that the lessons must be dry and “academic” in their orientation rather than the type of fast-moving and interactive teaching style generally associated with younger learners. This is not true; adult learners enjoy games and fun as much as younger students.

First Steps to Becoming a Business English Teacher

Taking the leap into teaching (whether online or in-person) might seem like a Herculean task when you’re starting from scratch. Here are the steps you can start taking right now to make yourself an attractive candidate for business English schools:

  1. Ensure you meet the general requirements (or are on track to meet them) which are: accredited TEFL certification (emphasis on accredited), 4-year university degree, a valid passport with at least 6 months until expiration, and native English-speaking status (not much you can do about the last one – you either have it or you don’t).
  2. Get out there and get teaching. Even without full qualifications, you can still get valuable teaching experience. For example, to teach on Cambly’s platform, any native English speaker with a strong internet connection can qualify to join the team.
  3. Build up your experience teaching business English OR sign up for a business English certificate (BEC).
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