“CEO? Benchmark? Product launch? Line manager? What’s that? I don’t even know! Profit or revenue? How can I teach it? I’m an English teacher, not a Business teacher!” Exactly. Many teachers are afraid of teaching Business English and to more than that — of preparing students for the exams. You are not expected to tell them about a company structure, business strategy or dig too much into HR management and accounting. What they need is English for Business. That’s a different thing.
BEC and BULATS are two Business English certificates students can obtain to prove their English language skills for an international business environment. Students take these exams for different purposes: to work abroad, to work in an international company, to study business subjects in English or to advance the present career.
BEC — Business English Certificate
BEC consists of three qualifications: Business Preliminary (CEFR Level B1), Business Vantage (CEFR Level B2), Business Higher (CEFR Level C1). Test format is either computer or paper-based. Exam length is from 2 to 3 hours. Each certificate demonstrates certain student’s abilities and knowledge of English. For instance, at Preliminary level students can read and write short messages, interpret charts, follow short conversations, whereas at Higher level they’re expected to communicate effectively at managerial level, present materials with confidence, express themselves with a high level of fluency, handle delicate issues, engage in an extended conversation, etc. Each exam includes 4 parts: reading, writing, speaking and listening. Reading and writing parts test students’ ability to understand and write correspondence, articles, reports, requests. Listening and speaking parts test students’ ability to follow and give presentations, to ask for advice, to pass on messages, to understand factual information and requests, to contribute to meetings, seminars, discussions, conversations. You can learn more about the exam format, tasks types, assessment criteria and marking in a handbook for teachers.
BULATS — The Business Language Testing Service
BULATS is another certificate that evaluates Business English language skills. This exam doesn’t have separate qualifications. The student take the exam and get the score from 10 to 100 that corresponds to CEFR levels A1-C2. Therefore there’s no “Pass mark”, the results statement shows which level the student has reached. Test format is online. Exam length is about 2 hours. Just as BEC, the exam tests four language skills. BULATS tests students’ abilities to ask and give personal details, to describe jobs, responsibilities and a company; to arrange an appointment, to plan events, to give instructions, to justify decisions, to discuss leisure activities, to make reservations and requests and so on. You can learn about the exam format, tasks types in this guide.These are marking schemes for writing and speaking. You can find free sample tests here.
The main topics two exams cover are: buying and selling, entertainment of business clients, business travel, human resources, training and development, products and services, the office and general business environment, corporate culture, online communication, equipment, marketing, distribution, conferences, trade fairs, presentations, customer relations, competitors, sales, etc.
What can you use to prepare for these exams?
For both BEC and BULATS you can use Business Benchmark depending on the student’s level (Preliminary, Vantage, Higher). These books cover grammar, vocabulary, business topics needed for the exams; exercises to practise all four skills and include authentic listening and reading materials. Moreover there are Exam practice sections with teacher’s notes about the exam type and part (e.g. BEC, Reading, part 1).
In addition it is necessary for students to get to know the exam format well and to practise it. For this purpose use BEC past papers and practice tests: Preliminary 1, Preliminary 4, Vantage 3, Vantage 5, Higher 2. For BULATS use this book.
If you feel your students need more practice with some specific areas of grammar and vocabulary or language skills, you can look for exercises, texts, audio and ideas in general business coursebooks, such as Business Result, In Company or Market Leader. If you see the student lacks some specific business skills in English, you may use the Express Series or Successful Series to train for different work skills in English such as negotiation, meetings, emails, presentations.
Apart from coursebooks another good point is to tell your student to read business journals, magazines, newspapers and stories. The type of texts should be different: articles, written interviews, biographies, reports, book reviews and advertisements. All these kinds of things are either included in Reading papers or Writing tasks. A lot of business vocabulary consists of set phrases and expressions as a result the student can benefit from reading both for speaking and listening tasks as well as they will enrich their vocabulary. Do not forget to teach the student different reading techniques: skimming, scanning, reading for details, as they will need all of them in the tests. Always include speaking or writing tasks as follow-up activities to encourage the student to produce the new language.
The next tip is to take advantage of Internet podcasts, news, radio and presentations that are very useful and available for free. Tell the student to listen for gist first, get the general idea and summarise it in their own words; then listen again and ask for some specific information or details to check deeper comprehension. They can practise note-taking skills while doing this task. As a follow-up activity ask for the student’s opinion on the topic or tell to write a report or email for a colleague to share the information and their opinion.
Good luck with your business students and enjoy your classes!