I hear that quite a lot actually: why did you decided to teach Business English and not General English? I am pretty adamant myself: when I say that I am teaching English, I always specify. So, why teaching Business English?
When I made a transition from being an executive in real estate to becoming an English teacher, I already had a clear idea in mind: I would teach EFL in a business school, in my home country, France. It all made sense after all: I graduated from a French business school myself, worked in the business world for a few years and I loved teaching English. But following my CELTA, I realized that despite my knowledge of the business world and my qualifications, it would not be enough to get hired in a French business school. My case was quite simple really: my CV was interesting, but my citizenship, my mother tongue, French, was not.
I went to teach EFL in business schools, but in the US; when I came back to France, I finally got hired in a business school in Lyon. There, I realized that I was the only non-native speaker EFL teacher. The situation changed since then, but non-native speakers are still outnumbered by natives.
Business schools in France, and in Europe in general, are not hiring non-native speakers, or sporadically. Despite the anti-discrimination legislation voted by the European Union, business schools are putting job ads asking for native speakers only, and do not even bother responding to non-natives. We can then ask ourselves: are business schools’ students destined to work only with native speakers of English? Of course not.
Actually, as Lowenberg (2012: 84) observes “among 80% of the worlds’ English users are non-native speakers of English”. In other words, there is a bigger chance for a non-native speaker to discuss in English with another non-native speaker: a fact which is not acknowledged at all by business schools, where the only English model provided come from native speakers, and rarely from a non-native. Most schools are actually proud to say that they have ONLY natives, who are teaching their mother tongue.
But does this native teacher know anything about business? One of my colleague was a former police officer in Glasgow, how is that relevant to business students? Indeed, he was a native speaker. But he was no teacher, he was a native. Students complained about him the entire year, and his contract was not renewed. The following year, a young London girl, with no teaching qualifications whatsoever, but who had worked at Primark for a year, arrived. She quit within four months. None of them knew enough of French to communicate with the students.
But the school was happy to have natives. It is clear, in this context that having a monolingual teacher cannot be the proper way, as the students are by definition multilingual, and are confronted to situations a monolingual cannot properly understand or anticipate. At the end, the learners’ specific needs of English are not meet, as they rely, sometimes heavily, on their mother tongue, French, which the teachers do not speak, or do not know enough, to use it efficiently in the classroom. At the end, nobody is satisfied.
It will be a mistake to say that the students wish to attain native-like competence, their main goal is to communicate effectively. McKay (2002: 40) even points out that “many learners of English do not want and may even reject a native-like target”. French learners first and foremost: the old rivalry between French and English is still around.
Still, being a non-native speaker is often synonym to bad accents, limited vocabulary, in overall, “bad English”, and this cliché remains alive in business schools. Numerous students there openly prefer to have native speakers because they consider that the foreign accents of non-native speakers teachers have somehow an impact on the quality of the language, despite the fact that the NNSTs have an extended knowledge of the language while the NSTs are relying on their instinct. I had a NS colleague who tried to explain the present perfect by saying ‘it’s like that, don’t think too much about it’ to students who had numerous questions about the tense and could not use it properly. My colleague ended up asking me, a NNS, to explain the present perfect, as by his own terms, he ‘never learned’ grammar, therefore, could not teach this specific tense.
Personally, I have been welcomed quite warmly by my students as a NNEST, as they tend to see me as a linguistic model, a language ‘success story’ and are less afraid to make mistakes. My career path, which they all know of, gives me a legitimacy to teach them and as Seidhofer (1999) notes “the greatest strength of a bilingual English teacher is to provide a model of good language learner is relevant to their own social and cultural experiences”.
Lowenberg, P. (2012) ‘Assessing proficiency in EIL’ in Matsuda, A. (ed.)
McKay, S. L. (2002) Teaching English as an International Language. Oxford: OUP
Seidhofer (1999) ‘Double standards: teacher education in the expanding circle’ World Englishes 18/2: 233-45