Kelly, J. China: Business English: – A new wave

| December 3, 2005

December 2005 Volume 1

Article 2.

Article Title

China: Business English: – A new wave


Dr. James Kelly


Dr. Kelly has a PhD in Education and an MBA. He currently lives in Korea. He has worked for international companies including Hyundai, Daichi and the Vietnamese Government in an advisory capacity.

Keywords: Second Language Teachers in China, Business English in China, Unregulated educational mayhem, Asian Countries Business English skills


Each year 10s of thousands of foreign language teachers descend on China to teach English. The majority are unqualified. Almost all have absolutely no qualifications to teach Business English, let alone English. As China develops into an economic giant, the demand for Business English grows at an exponential rate. Yet those teaching and those providing the medium for teaching are doing the future business leaders of China a great disservice. Small professional schools are appearing – but it is imperative the Chinese government consider legislative action in the near term to develop and promote professional business English schools and to regulate the Foreign Service providers. Whilst China is the focus of this work, it should be noted that other Asian economies such as Korea, Vietnam and Malaysia are also beset by issues of grossly incompetent business English teachers practicing their pseudo trade.

1. China’s growing economy

There is no doubt that the surge of interest in English skills is consuming China. Along with this general demand is the growing Chinese economy – much of it dealing with the west. On the whole, the foreign experts1 found in China in schools and Universities are graduates from Universities who are merely out for a one year adventure and have no skills at teaching.

At the other end of the spectrum are the more elderly western teachers who in fact do have experience in Business English -many are retired from such professions as law, business or other professional ways of life – and they have gone to China in their retirement.Business english is defined as English especially related to international trade.2 However, across China, as much of Asia, age is a barrier to teaching to English. The average Asian school demands a western female in her mid twenties. Discrimination in job advertising is rife and goes on unabated, helped along by job boards that perpetuate the discrimination.

Yet the irony is that schools demand experienced business English teachers – but are not willing to accommodate those over 35.

2. The Demand for Business English

Across Asia there is a growing demand for teachers with Business English skills to teach the subject. Oxford University Press offer a variety of good text books, yet according to the company, sales of books are slow. Thus we have the unique phenomenon of the market demanding skilled teachers, the market supplying good materials, yet no one qualified to fulfill the demand. A glimpse at Korea and Vietnam shows companies sub-contracting out ‘expert business English teachers,’ yet teachers are no more than the backpacking unqualified tutor.

One case involves world company Samsung who have inhouse business English teachers. Reports from those studying at this unit show the teachers to be poorly trained in Business skills and which said positions are filled by those who fit the criteria of young age first, with reference to business skills rarely considered. One manager taught by the unit noted to the writer in a comprehensive survey form that he felt the teachers were poorly equipped to train the management, and that Samsung was wasting money on such a poorly skilled unit. This sentiment has also been found at two other global companies, one in China and one in Japan.

In Beijing three companies hire out business English teachers, yet it is clear these teachers know no more than that which appears in the text books they teach from. Fees paid by companies are high, yet the teacher receives a fraction of that payment. Invariably, the teacher teaches for one or two months and the students or company lose interest as there is no teaching structure, and the teaching finishes.

3. The Business English teachers

What qualifications do Business English teachers need to teach Business English? In Asia, the answer is none. There are various reasons for this ranging from non regulated teaching institutions to poor government legislation. Secondly, business’s themselves, whilst demanding business English, have no clear concept of just what business English is. This can reflect may reasons from business’s run by non qualified ventures, to business’s run by top heavy management, whose age is in the high 50s to 60s, and who have no concept or understanding just what Business English is or should achieve.

Japan is the jewel in the crown of thorns. Business English has take on a serious face -one of professionalism and regulation. Organizations produce business English manuals – hold conferences and training sessions – and promote the professionalism needed in such a trade.

4. Remedies

Remedies in theory and remedies in practice are poles apart. The issue is not one of just poorly trained teachers pretending to teach business skills. It is also a matter of companies accepting second best – trying to cut corners by paying poor salaries for something that needs only professionals. A look, for example, at the materials use by Samsung in Korea show they are poorly prepared, at times wrong, at times false and misleading, and at times not reflecting sound business English training skills.

Until Asian countries stop employing backpacking tourists who pretend to be a teacher for one year, the situation will deteriorate. However, as long as countries such as China and Vietnam pay mere hundreds of dollars for such teachers, no serious professional would ever consider going to such countries. Governments seem to have little interest in raising business English skills. Instead they are still grappling with such issues as how many English words an elementary student should learn at school – whilst issues that go to the economies of their countries are ignored.

5. Conclusion

Business English training in most Asian countries, with the exclusion of Japan, will, for the foreseeable future, rest in the hands of the incompetent teacher and poorly advised company manager. The time is clearly ripe for any professional well financed Educational entity to enter the market and provide professional services. It has been estimated that such a company could supply over 10,000 qualified business English teachers across China. This hypothetical company would thus be in a position to provide well trained business English teachers, and assure the Asian companies that they were getting value for their money and skills that would enhance the companies reputation.


  1. Foreign Experts is the title given pursuant to Chinese Immigration law to visting teachers
  2. Wikpedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Business English


Abell, A. (2003). Business Grammar, Style & Usage (English). NY. Aspatore

Guffy, M. (2001). Business English. OUP

Jaderstrom, S., & Miller, S. (2002). Business English at work. Lond. McGraw Hill

Mascull, B.(2001). Business vocabulary in use. Cambridge, CUP

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Category: Volume 1 Issue 3 December 2005