Besides grammar and speaking, business communication must include writing. As I've written previously, "Rather than just learning about grammar or words, ESL students must actually use the language to learn new material related to their future dealings in the business world."

Students may be good at using English in everyday situations, but business English, like academic English, requires specific content-related skills such as business vocabulary, idioms and cultural understanding.

Pre-business and business majors may be good speakers but may be unable to transfer conversation into writing and have difficulty transferring their own and others' ideas into a written assignment. In addition, they need to be taught how to use metacognitive strategies such as planning, outlining, considering the audience, brainstorming or mapping.

Here are some sample exercises sorted by level to teach ESL in a business context. Students may work individually or in groups:

Lower levels

Activity: Insert transition signals

Job burnout may be caused by several factors. For example, a good worker in a company may be given additional work because he or she is qualified. ________this worker is overloaded and has trouble keeping up with the original task. __________, the work load becomes impossible and fatigue and exhaustion set in. ___________the worker is trying as hard as possible, the supervisor demands even more extra work while expecting the original task to be performed to perfection along with all the added duties.

  1. Soon
  2. For example
  3. Even though
  4. Finally

The target structure, transitions, is embedded in the context.

Intermediate levels

Exercise 1: Editing

Rewrite the following sentences. Correct errors of agreement, correct misplaced modifiers and participles, and rewrite fragments as complete sentences. Answers will vary.

  1. Considered part of the manager's job. The weekly report must be presented by Friday at noon. (Possible answer: The weekly report, which is considered part of the manager’s job, must be presented by Friday at noon.)
  2. Adding supporting data. Sales data are clearly presented by the report.
  3. The weekly report required by all major corporations.
  4. Sent to stockholders by professionally trained writers usually prepare these reports.
  5. Written by assistant managers, the president may request a shorter daily report.

Proofreading is a required skill for business writers.

Exercise 2: Fill in the blanks with your own ideas (by Linda Lonon Blanton).

English has become an important international language. First it is important in international communication.

  • Examples: (For example ...)
  • Airline pilots _________________________
  • TV news ____________________________
  • International newspapers _______________

Second, it is important in business and commerce.

  • Examples: ___________________________
  • World Bank __________________________
  • Common Market ______________________
  • Trade negotiations ____________________
  • International currency exchange _________

Exercise 3: Writing topic

Using your ideas from the outline above write a short essay on English as an important international language. Or you may write about how English is important in your future profession.

Exercise 4: Editing

In the following paragraphs, underline the sentence fragments. Then rewrite the passage and replace the fragments. Example: Can be corrected by rephrasing or sentence combination. Corrected version: Fragments can be corrected by rephrasing or sentence combination. Use a colon (:) before a list of items.

Business Reports

There are three categories of written documents used in business today. The memorandum, the letter and the short informal report. The memorandum and the letter forms are similar. The letter format is more formal. Which is circulated outside the company. In general. The information that the writer needs to present will be composed into a short report. No longer than ten pages.

The report will be made up of several sections; each section has its own heading to clarify three main divisions: purpose, findings and recommendations. Begins with a title page. Followed by the letter or memorandum that requested the report. The body of the report should include a clear statement of the purpose of the report. Followed by a summary of the writer's findings. The information can be expressed in the form of charts, tables and graphs. Finally the writer presents a list of recommendations to the company. Includes any materials to be bought along with the prices.

Higher levels

Exercise 1

Warm-up: Rewrite the following sentences and place the given participial phrase in the correct position:

  1. The U.S. labor force is involved in two types of industries. (divided by category) Possible answer: Divided by category, the U.S. labor force is involved in two types of industries.
  2. Heavy industry includes one third of the work force. (expected to increase slowly for the next 10 years)
  3. Service industries will increase rapidly during the same period. (reflecting new economic trends)
  4. Some companies can fit in both categories. (producing both goods and services)
  5. Workers need to be prepared for these changes in the economy. (entering the 21st century)

Now reduce the underlined clauses to short phrases:

  1. People demand increased services in order to keep up their standard of living. Possible answer: To keep up their standard of living, people demand increased services.
  2. Government, which is increasing in size every year, is a major provider of services.
  3. All levels of government will need more workers in order to meet the rising demand for social services.
  4. Higher income taxes, which are paid by all workers, are the source of funding for this increase.
  5. Workers who are looking for government jobs can take the Civil Service Exam.

The focus of the second part is sentence variety. The writing topic below allows the students to be creative.

Exercise 2: Writing topic

How will the world of work change in the next 20 years? Or you may describe your current or past job.

Exercise 3: Additional practice

Rewrite the paragraph replacing the generalities with properly developed details, unity and coherence (related thoughts).

The specific evidence presented as you rewrite the example needs to be connected in some sort of logical order. A good report needs to have a good organization and format. Time order and emphatic (order of importance) are the most common ways to organize supporting evidence.

The writer uses transition signals such as: first, second, third, for example, for instance, but, however, in contrast. Provide a title.


My supervisor's worst problem is his stubbornness. He is set in his ways and never accepts any change from the ways he is set in. He simply will not let any new ideas come into the company. In fact, he would rather continue in the way things have always been than try to find a new product or process to meet the increasing customer demand for change. He will let things go so far along that he will spend more time getting over the problem than he would have if he had had just tried out some of the new managerial techniques that have been advocated for years. To make matters worse, the new business practices advocated in the business publications have been ignored by all levels of management in this company for years. All the other similar businesses nationwide have adopted these new ideas, processes and technologies, but our company has refused to even consider their adoption.

I have written this report not to be critical, but I foresee a major problem if the departments involved do not follow some of the many suggestions that have been put forward by the division leaders and others involved in this business. These suggestions are valid and helpful; in fact, they are such beneficial suggestions that I assume that they could increase our productivity in many ways. Only then will the general health of the company improve.

Rewrite the passage beginning with the following:

The main problem with my supervisor is his stubbornness. He is unwilling to accept new ideas and processes. For example, he still uses a mechanical adding machine instead of an electronic calculator or computer ...

Advanced and college prep levels

Study this sample agreement from ESL Right Now:

2. Duration of the Contract

a) The Contract enters into effect on the date it is signed by each party and has a fixed term ending on Dec. 31, 2017. This contract may be altered at any time by the supplier to suit availability of product and shipment.

b) The contract can be terminated at any time by the supplier and any deal made heretofore become null and void, at no extra cost of the supplier. The supplier is not liable to pay any compensation to the buyer.

3. Delivery

a) Once the stock has left the supplier’s warehouse, the supplier relinquishes responsibility hereinafter and the buyer assumes full responsibility of the stock and is liable to pay for any damage caused during the loading, transportation and unloading processes. Any damage to the products cannot be held accountable in behalf of the supplier.

b) One condition is that the supplier must receive payment in full before any items can be dispatched. If supplier has not received the payment in full, the supplier is permitted to hold the items in their warehouse without release.

4. Price

a) The price agreement between the two parties, supplier and buyer, is fixed for 6 months and hereinafter renegotiated by the supplier and the buyer agrees to pay any additional costs proposed by the supplier.

b) The purchase price for the relevant office furniture delivered is to be paid net within 1 day from the date of invoice for the delivery.

Exercise 1

Rewrite the agreement and add specific details. You may use the example of office furniture given or choose another item such as carpet and instillation. You may use the following samples as starting points:

Sample 1

4b) The purchase price of $649 for the relevant office furniture consisting of a desk, chair, and two filing cabinets delivered is to be paid by certified check or company credit card 1 day from the date of invoice for the delivery.

Sample 2

2a) The Contract to provide 200 square feet of MaxNoStain carpeting at the main office of Rhodes and Rhodes enters into effect on the date it is signed by Rhodes and Rhodes and Carpet City and has a fixed term ending on Dec. 31, 2017. This contract may be altered at any time by the supplier to suit availability of product and shipment.