Teaching English for Specific Business Purposes

Developments in Business English teaching parallel those encapsulated in the Kachruvian trichotomy. The field has been informed by two main traditions, which originated in two different “circles” and, in line with the developments described in Section 2, have subsequently been adapted by, and transplanted to, other English- using communities as demand for Business English continued to rise.

The first tradition, the teaching of Business Communication, originated in the inner-circle setting of American business schools, where it was viewed as an integral part of management and organisational behaviour studies, themselves an outgrowth of classical management theory and business administration programmes. From this perspective, Business Communication inheres in the management process itself and thus serves a primarily managerial function. Being anchored in the curricula of management programmes, Business Communication was originally designed to offer general communication training to American business students. In what Du-Babcock (2006: 254) refers to as the “formative period”, “the focus was on teaching Americans how to exchange business messages within the context of an American communication environment in which the communicators shared a common background context (economic, linguistic, social, political, legal, physical, and technological)”.

The second tradition, the teaching of Business English, is integral to the English for Specific Purposes (ESP) movement, which is very much an outer-circle phenomenon thriving in post-colonial settings. ESP teaching also caught on in post-Second World War Europe, part of the Expanding Circle, driven by the twin objectives of enhancing international understanding in a war-ravaged Europe and accelerating politico- economic transformations (Starfield 2012). Theorising in ESP frequently appears to have been guided by dichotomous thinking, which includes what is perhaps its most important defining characteristic, the specific purposes served in ESP language instruction. ESP has focused on the learner’s specific, chiefly utilitarian purpose of learning English, contrasting it with the “general, education-for-life, culture and literature orientated language course, in which language itself is the subject matter and the purpose of the course” (Robinson 1980: 6).

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