Am I an English teacher or a business trainer?

Some BESIG related questions for you to muse over/comment on below. And remember to mouse over the images!

Last week, I gave a 60-minute online lesson to one of my long-term, Advanced-level business students (or should I say ‘clients’?…. we’ll see later) who works in the tax consultancy industry.

As usual, I tried to give a very professional and hopefully interesting Business English lesson. But afterwards, I was feeling a little bit perturbed as I felt that I went far beyond the jurisdiction of English teacher and definitely crossed into the realms of business training; the problem being that I didn’t receive the far better remuneration of the latter.

Very Quick Lesson Summary

We opened with a discussion about group taxation, which led on to my lesson content of CFCs (Controlled Foreign Companies).
The aim was for my student/client to explain the concept to me in his existing active vocabulary, then we would examine a text with an appropriate Business English register and extract the vocabulary that the student should be using in this context. Finally, we would attempt to answer further questions on this subject, which was an opportunity to recycle the target vocabulary. There were other elements too, but that is the

All standard TEFL stuff, I would say.

But here comes the rub…

At the opening of the CFC section, my student said, “Well, I can’t tell you anything about CFCs because I don’t know anything about them. When I’m in meetings, the lawyer often mentions them, but I never know what he’s referring to.”

Later, after I had explained to him what CFCs are with the guidance of my prepared text, he added, “This is really great. I need to know this”
Also, “This is exactly what my company does”

Sooooooooooooooo, for me, it’s clear that this far exceeded the remit of English learning.

  • I was training this businessman in an atmosphere of professional training.
  • I had studied up on the ESP subject beforehand with a clinical focus on the needs of the student’s specific profession.
  • I was able to answer all the student’s questions relating to background on this topic which is key to his business practices.

It was a great lesson, don’t get me wrong. We covered the topic so the the student had full understanding and he also vastly improved his output to contain suitable BE vocabulary.

I have excellent rapport with this student, so in the closing moments I cheekily asked, “So how much are you going to pay me for teaching you about your job?”…. to which he laughed heartily!

I could have reframed the question as, “That was clearly valuable corporate training for you, so what are your company’s business training rates of pay?”


I have been with this student for around 2 years and have managed to…
a) Keep his interest and more importantly
b) Progress him along the tricky path of Upper Intermediate to Advanced

Now that we have cleared up grammar issues (with the occasional L1 interference error now and again, of course), we concentrate on very specific business topics to do with tax consultancy. I don’t want to lose this student, but shouldn’t I enter into discussion re the fact that my lessons go beyond TEFL class now and we have clearly entered the realm of Business Training, which needs to have a higher price per ‘training session’ (note that I didn’t say ‘lesson’)

I have seen BESIG sessions where practising business trainers have stated that simply changing your language in this way (lesson > training session, English teacher > business trainer) and the way that you package and/or present yourself is sufficient to start charging top-whack for essentially CLIL Business English lessons, but I think that I have surpassed that with this particular student and to be honest with 3 or 4 other of my BE ‘customers’.

I have also taught BE in lots and lots of corporations, such as SIEMENS, Ernst & Young, PWC, KMPG, BNP Paribas, Max Planck Institue, Empa etc, so it’s not like I am inexperienced in this field.

BESIG Questions about Business training/English teacher

  1. How does a TEFL teacher go about stepping across to the other side (with a bigger pay day)?
  2. As English teachers, do we just have to accept that we will be underpaid for quality business lessons?
  3. Is there, or should there be, a clear defining line where it is accepted that training is defined as such (and not English lessons)?
  4. Have you successfully bridged the gap from teacher to trainer?
  5. Have you been in the situation where you clearly felt that you were underpaid/unrecognised for giving corporate training under the guise of English teacher?


Bren Brennan

About Bren Brennan

Bren initially trained here at SGI and then joined the staff in 2005. Since 2006, he has taught abroad in Budapest, Berlin and now at Mondragon University in Spain. He returns to teach at SGI London every summer and completed the SGI Trinity DipTESOL in 2011. He also regularly writes posts for students here.
This entry was posted in Business English, Reflecting on Teaching and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Am I an English teacher or a business trainer?

  1. Tim Harrell says:


    I can sympathise with your experiences, as I’ve had numerous occasions myself where I was effectively teaching my students knowledge within their own field.

    I have a background in derivatives analysis (I used to develop software for this) and there’s quite a few times where I’ve explained to a student how derivatives or credit markets actually work (Credit Derivatives were my speciality – the ones that blew up in 2008!). The most interesting example was when I explained option pricing (with graphs and P-L calculations) to the vice president of the Warsaw Stock Exchange! And what did I get for this expertise? Just the same as for any English lesson.

    I also explained the fundamentals of credit analysis to someone who had just started working in Citibank’s corporate treasury department. I remember her scribbling notes furiously as I set out the key concepts involved. The questions she asked me indicated her knowledge of this field was very partial.

    • Bren Brennan Bren Brennan says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Tim.

      Yes, it looks like you bring a great deal to the BE table. It’s a shame that you don’t get financially rewarded for it. Why is it totally acceptable for a lawyer to dish out 5 mins advice and charge through the nose for it, whilst an English teacher that gives twofold training (Business knowledge and expert English advice) gets practically zilch.

      People may argue that a lawyer has years of training, but a dedicated English teacher can have an English degree, PGCE, TEFL certificate, Diploma and a TEFL masters – slightly deserving of some recognition methinks!

      Do you see anyway for the profession to become recognised in this way, Tim? Is the answer to try to outlaw any unqualified ‘traveller’ TEFL practitioners? If that is too radical a suggestion, should language schools have a distinction between unqualified native-speaker, and well-qualified and experienced teacher (not necessarily native-speaker) and charge accordingly?

  2. Conor Power says:

    What is underpaid? If you want more money, why not just charge more? Surely clients will pay as long as they believe they are getting fair value. Business English trainers command relatively low wages because that is the perceived value of their service.

    • Bren Brennan Bren Brennan says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Conor.
      After I wrote this post, I changed the lesson prices for my private online lessons with a raise of 20%. We’ll see what happens. I truly believe that my students will still be getting excellent value for money.

      The truth of the matter is, when I worked for a language school in Berlin which played their marketing very well on the business angle, they were charging the students 47 EUR for 45 mins. I am charging well below that price, but it’s still the same teacher. In fact, a better teacher these days (that was 5 years ago) taking into account my further experience, broad CPD and higher qualifications. BTW, that school would employ any native speaker who walked in off the street, regardless of holding a teaching qualification or not. They also paid the teachers 13 EUR for 45 mins!

      So, if German students are willing and €47 for 45 mins, perhaps we should all just go for broke and charge that amount – what do you think? If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. Should that be the effective, experienced and qualified Business English teacher’s motto?

      • sv says:

        47,00 Euros you would go hungry round here. The so called language schools are paying 21 Euros for 45 minutes and getting paid about 50 I think. The companies do not want individual trainers only companies who can supply all there needs at a cut price. Quality teachers its a joke. see!/groups/eltaowl/

  3. Eric H. Roth says:

    Thank you for posting your reflections on an often overlooked aspect of the teaching game. Framing matters and both content and context count. As somebody who has taught writing courses for native and non-native speakers in an elite business school, privately consulted with business professionals, and regularly teaches business communication skills in an English classroom, I appreciate your questions. Many English teachers are, as we know, chronically underpaid and the same content with different wrapping can pay much more.

    Having said that, we should also acknowledge that many English teachers have little training or genuine experience in the business world and can be imperfect navigators to corporate etiquette and best practices. I would, therefore, suggest it behooves English teachers who want to teach Business English or become corporate trainers to possess the real world background and/or receive training. I’ve known many fascinating English teachers who have extensively trekked across the globe that simply should never, ever teach Business English because their style, ethos, and attitude toward money simply undercut their plausibility as informed guides to corporate communication. It’s also vital to recognize the limits of one’s own expertise and experience.

    May I also add that I strongly suggest that English teachers include many real world materials and exercises from the business world. I regularly include mock job interviews, elevator speeches, product reviews, and informational interviews in my advanced oral skills classes. After sufficient experience and practice, English teachers can make the job to business English or business communication expert – and enjoy a significant pay increase. Helping executives refine their speaking skills will certainly pay more than helping the typical ESL or EFL class develop basic speaking skills.

    Pick your pleasure – and your paycheck.

  4. Andy Hockley says:

    I have this problem from the opposite direction. I’ve moved from being an English teacher, through teacher training into management training (in ELT). What I train is explicitly management skills, and if I were doing it for corporate clients I would, I imagine, be charging a lot more. But working in the realm of ELT, I am constrained by the pay rates that exist in our profession as a whole. I know schools/managers cannot pay vast amounts, and so my pay rates reflect that. I did once talk to someone who does what i do but for corporations and he was shocked at how little I charged/got paid. (Actually if I analyse it deeper I actually provide management skills but specifically tailored to the ELT context, which is probably even more “valuable”).

    This sounds like I’m complaining, when I’m not, because I feel that it all works for me and those who get trained by me.

    But I guess what it does reveal is that corporate clients can and do expect to pay higher rates for services – and you perhaps shouldn’t feel constrained by the lower rates that are prevalent in the ELT world.

  5. Cleve Miller says:

    Eric’s right when he emphasises that “Framing matters and both content and context count.” The challenge we face is that we’ve framed ourselves as “teachers”, and even if we go beyond the average BE lesson into what you describe Bren we’re still thought of as teachers, and at that pay grade.

    I did BE teaching and consulting for over ten years before I was able to successfully make the jump to consultant fees (and I was only able to do this with new clients, never once convincing a company to pay me more when I had started with them in the “teacher” frame!). Every situation is different, and every teacher/trainer/consultant is different, so what works for some may not for others – but in my (very) personal experience this is what worked for me:

    1) After a few years of teaching for schools, then freelance, I started and ran a language school. So I became a business guy, and I took the business seriously. If you are a freelance teacher think of yourself as a “business of one” and dive into how to grow that business. Running a business was new to me and I became obsessed with learning about it, and about my customers’ business. After I sold the school I worked as an independent consultant, but maintained the business attitude.

    2) I changed my teaching approach to what I call “performance-based teaching” when talking to co-teachers, and “performance-based training” with clients (if interested, google “performance-based teaching” plus my name to find some articles and presentations; the Cambridge article is a good start). The point was, I directed every coaching session towards improving the actual workplace communicative performance of the person or group, focusing on a series of specific “performance events” (in other words, Dogme plus an emergent syllabus). That way I could show HR that my work had a direct impact on business results – the results of a sales presentation or negotiation were improved through my work. I did a TON of language work in these sessions, but I hid it!

    3) I tried when possible to avoid selling my services to HR and went directly to other senior managers – they immediately understood the difference between hauling out Market Leader vs. what I was doing, and they wanted that difference for their team. Then, I would have them introduce me to the HR folks (because you always need HR on your side). HR managers get a dozen language school brochures a week it seems, and they are numb to school claims – but if the finance director introduces you the HR folks, you have a huge advantage, and HR is less likely to question your fees. I never had any HR person even blink at €150/hour when one of the senior directors made the intro, partly because it often came out of the director’s cost center).

    4) You have to truly be a consultant, not just call yourself one – the attitude, knowledge, confidence, attire, approach, etc. This was the hardest part for me – it took years before I really “was” one. Now, this still means you have to use a different vocabulary: I “coached” “sessions” with “managers”, I didn’t teach classes with students. Our goals were based on business results, not the CAE and not the 2nd conditional. I didn’t say I “used to be a teacher” – I was a business consultant with a background in second language acquisition and applied linguistics.

    Of course I was (and am) still doing what a BE teacher should be doing: improving my students’ business English. I used many of the same techniques as always, but they were a means to a different end. If you can show ROI to a company they will pay what you ask, and in my experience at least perfornace-based teaching made all the difference. Teaching is a gloriously fun profession, and for me this was the best way to help my students.

  6. Chris Bowie says:

    For me the key difference is having the bigger picture of organizational behaviour and workplace learning and performance. My advice is to get an L&D (Learning and Development) qualification and get some experience as an L&D professional working for one of the larger companies. With a couple of years of that under your belt, not only will you have the business experience but you’ll also know how to approach client companies and show them the value you can bring to them.

    There’s a world of difference between a content expert/trainer and an L&D consultant in a particular area – in this case communication skills.


  7. Michelle Charles says:

    Hi, Everyone! I would like to hear some stories, thoughts, or advice about how best to make contacts with senior managers, as Cleve Miller suggested, who are outside of your current network of “students”/”clients”. It’s my final conundrum as I develop and enact my plan to make the full Transition from “teacher” to “consultant and coach”. Like Cleve, I have also changed my teaching strategy over the past two years to a more “performance-based approach” and a “flipped-learning approach”. I have been writing my own materials during this time to suit my “students” needs more accurately and effectively, while offering support in grammar when necessary. I have been essentially piloting my approach with my current students and the results and Feedback have been fantastic. People are happy, and they are able to get their Jobs done in ways they hadn’t been able to before. A number of these “students” have been senior managers – decision-makers who, were I already a consultant, could have made it possible for me to gain new clients, but they currently know me as “teacher” – working for a school. Real-world business experience is not an issue for me, nor is business english teaching experience. I’m just in a difficult Point in my Transition process. I suspect the fact that Cleve owned and operated a school, himself, played a role in his not likely having to place too many “cold calls” upon his transition to “consultancy-hood”. Would I be correct about that? That’s fine by me. I mention this only as a way of asking, “How does someone with connections she seemingly can’t use, make new connections at the same level of management at other organizations without stepping on the toes of those at my current school?” I’ve considered attending trade Shows and passing out flyers there… Help, please.

  8. Good article post! English is the worldwide language of trade and commerce and the online English trainer providers tells how to use this language to offer a boost to your business. Learn online English is a good idea for proper knowledge of English speaking.

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