Why isn't there more demand for business English courses in Thailand? Well, most of the available textbooks are as dull as dishwater and are far too generic. If they were designed for international markets then most of the countries in Southeast Asia didn't appear on the list.
The delivery of courses can also be sub-standard. Some people have a bee in their bonnets about teachers that don't have degrees. I feel the same way about people who teach business English and don't have commercial backgrounds. Why? Because they can't bring any empathy to the role or add any real value. They're not teaching a subject, they're teaching a textbook.
While we're on this touchy subject, I can tell you that none of my academic qualifications, with perhaps the exceptions on an English Language O-Level and an English Literature A-Level, have helped me to be a better teacher.
My Trinity TEFL was only a starter and I am so far removed from it now having developed my own teaching style over the years.
I also have professional qualifications from the marketing communications industry. These have marginally helped where teaching business English is concerned. More importantly though, I held middle and senior management positions for big-name direct marketing agencies in London for over ten years and this experience has definitely come in handy.
I taught the Business English Certificate [BEC] in Cambodia about seven years ago. As a newbie I was asked to observe some experienced teachers. One had clearly mastered the teachers guide and was managing to deliver the bare minimum to get students to pass the course. The other two were barely out of university and didn't have a clue what they were talking about. And this was in front of an audience of senior managers and successful businesspeople. I wasn't impressed either.
Many people teach business English because they have to because the private language centres where they work offer it alongside their general and conversational classes. But don't get me wrong, I'm not writing this to criticise or wag a finger, but to add a profitable solution to the equation.
I teach businesses privately. And I offer them specific courses that match their needs to the letter. An economic downturn is when businesses need to invest more carefully, and generic courses just don't cut the mustard.
If you work for a private language centre it is unlikely that you will be able to use any of this. Your employer has far too many overheads to go around changing things; the costs of their offices and classrooms, stocks of textbooks, marketing initiatives and staff salaries, to name but four.
If you do work like me though, then the following should be of interest to you. Please let me know how you get on if you decide to run with it.
Preamble over, what I'm talking about are weekend seminars and special evening courses. And there's not a sniff of a textbook here either because the courses use real life simulations and role-plays throughout.
If you don't have a commercial background, then you'll need to revert to the Internet, Amazon.com and the big bookstores for industry specific content. And you may not find what you're looking for either.
If you do have a commercial background however, here's what I suggest. Draw-up a hit list of industries that you want to target. Banks with foreign exchanges and Western Union services for example.
Consider all of the touchpoints where English is required; face-to-face, telephone, email, fax, website and paperwork, etc.
Then create a list of scenarios, good, bad and indifferent where banking staff need to interact with foreigners. Make the list as extensive as possible and don't leave anything out.
Then create some sample simulations and role-plays. Write them as scripts. Set the scene and provide some dialogue. It'll need to be everyday English that staff can retain and that foreign customers who are also speaking English as a second language can understand.
When you know approximately how long your sample would take to deliver, i.e. 2 hours, you can then tally up your other scenarios and have a good idea of how long a weekend seminar or special evening course should take. And from there you can work out your costs; course creation, materials and actual teaching time.
Get a local business directory and you're ready to go to market. Make appointments to see senior managers, and try to go for regional rather than local headquarters. Give them copies of your sample and outline your costs. Explain that they can't buy anything similar from private language centres and that if they can the costs will be considerably higher. Tell that you have no overheads beyond course creation and delivery and that your courses are also more realistic because they are actually held at the place of business. You can even offer prospective clients a free trial class.
If, after reading this, you want to see a sample simulation or role-play, then teaching business English probably isn't for you. I stress again the need to have a commercial background and if you can't understand the benefits of the approach I've outlined above it's because you don't have one. Sorry!