Business English students have a high level of English and require lessons for a specific purpose. With this in mind, it is vital for teachers to find out what the students’ needs are as early as possible, preferably before we even start teaching. The best way to do this is to conduct a thorough needs analysis.
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Start with wh- questions
The best way to get started is to brainstorm a long list of possible questions. Here are some examples:
- What exactly do you do in English in your job?
- When do you need to speak English at work?
- Which things do you find most difficult about speaking English?
- Who do you speak English with? Is it native or non-native speakers?
- Where do you speak English in the workplace? Is it in meetings?
- How much time do you have to study English?
- How often do you watch English language programs on TV?
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Focus on skills
A natural next step is to ask questions that focus specifically on skills. Here are some examples:
- What you need to write in English at work?
- What kind of writing do you need to do?
- Do you need to write for more emails, for example?
- Do you need to write structured to reports?
In addition to asking questions like these, you can inquire about the frequency with which the students do these things. You might find that they need to write in a number of different ways, but they specifically use one style at work much more frequently than others. This will give you an idea of the types of activity you can do more often in class.
Take a similar approach for the other skills. For instance, find out how often the student has to speak on the phone in English. Moreover, ask how often the student will have to listen to people speaking English in meetings. These questions will give the students the opportunity to evaluate themselves at this stage. Although they may not know exactly what their strengths and weaknesses are, they will be able to give you a reasonably good idea of the skills they need to work on the most.
Where will they speak English?
Another approach you can take to analyzing your students’ needs is to ask questions about the places in which they speak English. You might want to do this by dividing between inside work and outside. Do they work with native speakers, for instance? Do they travel to English speaking countries as part of their work or on holiday? Such questions will also give you an idea of their opportunities to use English outside of your lessons.
Past, present and future
A final technique is to ask students to reflect on their past, present and future times.
- How much time have they spent studying English in the past?
- How would they define the need to use English in the present time?
- To what extent will they be exposed to English in the future?
Questions like these will help give you a fuller picture of your students and more of an idea of what to do in your time together.
Carrying out your needs analysis
There are two ways to conduct the needs analysis. Firstly, you can do it before class. Secondly you can do it during class time in your first lesson. The advantage of doing it before class is that students can do this independently and it doesn’t waste class time. However, doing it in class will give you the opportunity to ask and answer questions if anything is unclear.