100 years of Business English: teaching, students and methods

Monday 11 June 2012

As part of its centenary celebrations The London School of English is the platinum sponsor of StudyWorld London 2012. The School is the oldest accredited language school in the world and specialises in teaching English for business. It has combined forces with Oxford University Press to map the changes in our business vocabulary and to identify the factors that have influenced these developments, in the past, present and future.

How English, and particularly Business English, is taught to non-native speakers has changed radically since The London School of English was established in 1912.  

Peter Thompson, Director of Courses at The London School of English comments:  
“Over the last 100 years there has been a shift away from traditional grammar-translation methods of teaching (though these are still used around the world today) through a range of methodologies to a more eclectic approach which recognises that each context and learner may demand different methodologies.  

“There is also a recognition that much English language exchange around the world is between non-native speakers of English which has led to the growth of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF).  Generally, the emphasis is more on speaking and listening than reading and writing, and the use of new technologies which can provide a richer range of teaching and learning tools.”

Sam Thompson, Development Director at The London School of English adds: “Where once there were only textbooks we now have interactive CDs, DVDs, websites, i-books and phone apps, even virtual worlds on Second Life, to bring our language to life.

“There is no single method or format of learning Business English around the world: some people learn on their own with just an internet connection; some people have the luxury of private lessons with a tutor; other people study in classes of 600.

“While in 1912 the average student would have been male, European and either learning for pleasure or perhaps were future diplomats, students now come from all over the world: South America, the Middle East, Japan, Korea, China as well as Eastern and Western Europe. They are focussed on learning Business English which will help them with their careers.”

Peter Thompson continues: “The profile of the average English language teacher has changed in the last 100 years. Alfred J P Larke, who established the London School
wrote three books on the subject. Many teachers then would have had a degree in English or Modern Languages and while some teachers may also have had a teaching qualification, there was no formal qualification in teaching English as a second or foreign language.

“All EFL/ESL teachers are now required to have a qualification, though their previous background and experience may vary with professionals coming from, for example, law, finance or HR as well as languages or teaching. Not all teachers are native English speakers. Non-native speakers of English have a distinct advantage in having learnt the target language as students themselves and are therefore arguably more aware of the difficulties that EFL students face.”

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