Students need to transfer their ESL skills to their academic subjects or careers. A study done at Arizona State University indicates that this may not always occur. In other words, it appears that being involved as a student in an L2 classroom does not automatically lead to motivation to transfer L2 beyond that classroom.

The instructor needs to keep ESL exercises interesting and relevant to the business classes the students will take. A mismatch between the language-learning activities and the academic material would mean students are just working through structured exercises. Such activity is not beneficial since the students may just store the forms away in memory and not really acquire the material.

Rather than just learning about grammar or words, a class must actually use the language to learn new material related to their future dealings in the business world. The core material should be authentic, with curriculum taken from the subject matter, so students use English as a tool to learn new information and interact with it, and the topics should fit the needs of the students.

Hands-on activities are the most effective approach. A new survey finds that getting physically involved in learning something trumps reading about it. The results paint a picture of a different kind of learning than what is typically found in most classrooms.


The business class will work together or in small groups to write an advertisement or evaluate one already written. Basing the instruction on a group project allows the students to practice a variety of integrated skills.

Task 1: Which advertisement below is more effective? Which one tells about the smartphone and which one only makes promises? Which one gets your attention?

  • Ad A: You really need our smartphone! It goes anywhere, and the leather case tells all your friends that you have chosen a quality instrument that has everything you need.
  • Ad B: Our new smartphone is 3" by 2" by 1/4" thick. It stores 16 GB of information, has Web access, includes a video camera, calculator, dictionary and encyclopedia, and it costs only $125.

Task 2: Work with your partners to write a news article about the smartphone. Use sale advertisements from the local newspaper or the Internet to help you write the article. Choose a name for the new smartphone. Here is a sample prompt:

  • "Z Industries has just produced a smart phone called the _______ . According to company president, Mr. B. ..." Now write a good advertisement for a smartphone.

This exercise assumes that the teacher and the students are familiar with smartphones. You may want to bring in the advertisements or reviews of phones currently on the market. You may also want to do this exercise with other products depending on the class: iPads, other electronics, etc.

Other concerns

Linguistic errors are tolerated, but cultural errors are not since the listener perceives them as coming directly from the language learner without being mediated by the language.

For example: Punctuality is essential when dealing with Chinese business people. Small things carry significant weight.

"A business card should be presented with two hands and a slight bow," writes USA Today's Gary Stoller. One should take the time to read the card as a sign of respect, even if it written all in Chinese.

Also business is rarely discussed during meals. It is a time for people to get to know each other and establish mutual trust. One should never eat or drink before the host does and always offer food or drink to someone else before you take something for yourself.

When negotiating, the cultural factors may be more important than what is said:

How language is used can send powerful signals when negotiating in English. Some cultures speak directly, saying what they mean and meaning what they say. Other cultures may consider this style of communication simplistic, blunt or even rude, especially if it includes a loud tone of voice.

In some cultures, there is little room for the use of humor in business, especially at the negotiating table. Others may find a bit of humor at the beginning to be an ice breaker, then get down to serious business.

It is important to note that the way something is said is often more important than what is said. Verbal strategies and speech protocols are an essential part of the language.