Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

Victoria Toth contacted me because she has a few questions about business English teaching, and she thought the readers of this blog might be able to help. Let’s see what ideas we can offer her…

I have been teaching English to Hungarians in Budapest for 15 years now. I have taught kindergarten pupils, teenagers, adults, seniors, and prepared my students for different examinations such as the TELC, IELTS, TOEFL exams.

Nevertheless, I have always found corporate courses to be the most complex ones. First comes the ambience of the company. Right after the very first lesson, I can tell whether it is a workplace where the employees can generally work in teams and are devoted to contributing to the success of the firm or whether I will have problems creating the relaxed atmosphere that is essential to be able to learn efficiently. Then comes the hierarchy. The awkward moment when your boss is in the same language group as you. The inevitable comparison between you and your boss’s knowledge may spoil the enjoyment of the learning process. The same applies to colleagues who do not get on well with each other. How can you make them cooperate with each other? I have already come across groups in which members deliberately skipped the class if their colleague was around. What can I do in these situations? It definitely has nothing to do with me as a person or my teaching abilities. However, I really would like to sort things out and hold enjoyable lessons at these companies as well.

And last, but not least comes the learning process itself. At level A1, A2, and let’s say B1 it is quite easy. I choose a pretty good and modern student’s book I enjoy teaching from and hope that my students will also like the book and find it intriguing. I teach them the basic grammar and vocabulary so that they can start communicating with their foreign partners or clients. The difficulties arise when they reach level B2. They know enough to get by, but still they do not feel that their language knowledge is at an acceptable level. One has the desire to be more grammatically correct. Others are not intimidated by their grammatical mistakes but would like to extend their vocabulary so that they can communicate and express themselves more fluently and be able to understand native speakers more easily. As a language learner, I agree with the latter, but understand those who want to put the emphasis on grammar, because, for instance, they only communicate in written forms. How shall I, as a teacher, incorporate a bunch of students like them into one group? In my experience, in this case, one-to-one lessons are the most effective way of teaching at this level. This is what I call language coaching. I either help my student review his or her, usually crucially important, presentation for the following day or revise some grammar topics and try to answer specific questions. In other cases, my students simply would not like to forget the language knowledge they have already acquired, so I bring along some interesting articles to talk about whilst teaching some new vocabulary. Some people say, it is simply teaching and calling it ’language coaching’ only sounds good in terms of marketing. Oh, well, of course, you can always sell your product with terminology that sounds good, that’s for sure. Nonetheless, during those private lessons, when I listen to my students telling me the most discrete pieces of information about their company, I feel as if I was a psychologist or a personal coach rather than a teacher.

I keep telling my bosses that we should consider advertising our corporate courses as ‘language coaching’ and focus on teaching one-to-one at firms. Regarding the financial aspect, of course it is more costly, so language schools in Budapest are afraid of taking it on, even if I think it is well worth the money. What do you, my fellow teachers think? What’s your experience? How does it work in other countries? I’d really appreciate reading your points of view.


Victoria Toth
I have been an EFL teacher for 15 years. I graduated from the University of West Hungary in 2003 where I received a BA in English Language Teaching. Since graduation I have been teaching for language schools as well as doing private tutoring in Budapest, Hungary. I hold in-company courses and teach the employees of the companies general English, Business English or Business Law. I also prepare students for examinations such as TELC, TOEFL, IELTS. Currently, I’m teaching for Babilon School of Languages in Budapest and Rian 4 You Hungary Language School in Dunakeszi, which is 5 kilometers from Budapest.

Apart from teaching English I occasionally do translations and proofreading.

Comments on: "Language courses at companies – language teaching or language coaching? (guest post)" (3)

  1. Hi Victoria!

    In Japan, business English is mostly taught one-to-one. The main reason, I think, is that the average Japanese learner is quite anxious about his/her language ability and doesn’t want anyone to witness it.
    I totally agree with you that students who have requests that are different from those of other students will benefit more from one-to-one lessons. I hope your company takes it into consideration eventually.


  2. In India, Business English courses are almost never one to one unless they are for senior leadership for reasons related to cost and logistics. L&D or HR teams find it easier to put people together even when their roles are very different. If you use a coursebook in a situation like this, you’re digging your own grave IMHO. I find that the trick is to design open ended tasks which allow learners to respond based on their own language level, professional function, work experience etc. For example, when using case studies, I do a pre-task where learners generate their own case studies and then work on them with colleagues from the same function.

    Perceptions and labels are very important in the corporate world – if you saw my course titles, you wouldn’t even imagine I was teaching language. For historical and social reasons, it is taboo to suggest that someone’s English proficiency is low. Instead this is couched in euphemistic language about management skills and behavioural competencies. So my courses often look and feel like they are focused on cross-border collaboration and innovation but the learners are in fact doing language work. In my experience and in my teaching context, working professionals are not excited by the prospect of coming to English lessons but they perceive (rightly or wrongly) value in courses that add to their professional repertoire.

    Hierarchy, well India is a hotbed of entrenched hierarchy. I try to get learners to add things like ‘give everyone a chance to be heard’, ‘collaborate with everyone’ to their learning contract. I also use culture to my advantage (this is hard to explain in a comment – but hierarchy also breeds a strange sort of paternalism which may allow junior people a seat at the table). After a point, I also just ignore it.

    I do offer coaching as a value-added post-course service – but I also offer a range of other options like asynchronous support, a virtual learning platform for taking skills from the workshop into the workplace etc. Not all clients take it up but the fact that it’s there seems to enhance my brand.

    Hope that helps, Victoria!


  3. Victoria Toth said:

    Thank you everyone for the responses. Seems like there is a different attitude in each and every country. However, it is definitely going to be a good starting point when it comes to the discussion of the topic at the school next time!


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