This is the first of three articles on designing Business English programmes to suit students' needs.

Designing Business English programmes 1 - methodology article

As you all know, for the past several decades, English has grown into the primary language for international communication. Just like people, companies in today's economy find that their primary source of competitive advantage lies in the knowledge they posses, so they are investing more and more on training their staff. Nowadays, people not only need to know English, but they need to develop a range of communicative language competences in order to be able to perform their job-related tasks properly. They usually link their English studies to their area of expertise and the attention becomes more focused on language as a tool for communication rather than on language knowledge as an end in itself.

So, if you want to provide them with the service they need, you need to get to know the organization that requests your services, its culture, its global situation. You will also have to get to know the participants of the courses, their strengths, their situations, their needs, their learning styles.

Let's see some steps you can follow when designing business English courses to help your students bridge the English skills gap.

  • Identify students' needs: needs analysis
  • Define programme goals and objectives of the instruction
  • Syllabus design:
  • identify topics, themes, situations
  • design learning activities and tasks
  • define types of assessments
  • Select suitable material
  • Course delivery
  • Programme evaluation

In this article we will look at the first and second points. In the second article syllabus design will be developed and in the third we will look at the last three points. 

Identify students' needs
Why do you need to do so? You must remember that the course has to fulfil your students' expectations, and they want a course that relates to their professional language needs.

Before you can start delivering the course, you have to gather information on:

  • Where they are concerning English, their language competence
  • Where they need to be, what language skills your students need in order to perform their job-related tasks properly.

In order to collect this information you will need to hold interviews with your students and in many cases with the people in charge of Human Resources from the organization requesting your services. Regarding their current language competence you can ask your students to fill in the Language Passport developed by the Council of Europe as part of the Language Portfolio.

You can download it from the following sites:

It includes a self-assessment of language skills related to the Common European Framework, a resume of language learning and intercultural experiences and a record of certificates and diplomas. You may also need to administer placement tests or diagnostic tests; this could be task-based as a way of actually testing their English while carrying out tasks that reflect real-life situations.

The results should be checked against a list of can do statements or proficiency guidelines:

With regard to where they need to be, i.e. the language competence just right for their jobs, you will need to conduct needs analysis. You will need to focus on the language requirements of your students' positions.

  • Do they need to give presentations in English?
  • Do they need to participate in conferences and meetings?
  • Do they have to negotiate?
  • Do they usually entertain clients?

You will also have to find out about their area of expertise, their interests. The course content has to be relevant to them, challenging, stimulating. Most business students lack time, and you have to help them make the most out of the time they devote to English learning, to enjoy the experience. By using topics that they are familiar with and interested in, they will be able to learn more as they will already know a lot of the content and context.

Download an example of a form for needs analysis.

As you know, people have different learning styles and there are a number of different ways to look at them. You can take a look at some articles concerning that here:

Define programme goals and objectives of the instruction
The goals should provide a clear definition of the purpose of the programme; they should be a guideline for you, the students and the organization requesting your services.

You can establish these goals in terms of extension or diversification of communicative language competences, or in terms of the enrichment of strategies, or in terms of the fulfilment of tasks. They are determined by the information you gathered during the needs analysis.

Some examples of goals are:

  • To be able to write effective business reports
  • To build up students' confidence and provide them with language resources to participate in business meetings
  • To use the language flexibly and effectively for social and professional purposes.

Objectives result from an analysis of the goals into their different components. They are statements of more specific purposes. Ideally, these objectives should meet SMART criteria:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Time bound - limited to a certain period of time

The objectives lay the foundation for the organization of the teaching activities, so they simplify the course planning, the selection and preparation of material. Following the examples above, goals and objectives can be described:


  • To be able to write effective business reports


  • To be able to write a report which develops an argument systematically with appropriate highlighting of significant points and relevant supporting detail.
  • To evaluate different ideas or solutions to a problem.
  • To have a sufficient range of language to be able to give clear descriptions, express viewpoints and develop arguments.
  • To have a good range of vocabulary for matters connected to their field and most general topics. To be able to vary formulation to avoid frequent repetition.


  • To build up students' confidence and provide them with language resources to participate in business meetings


  • To be able to interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction, and sustained relationships with English speakers quite possible without imposing strain on either party.
  • To be able to highlight the personal significance of events and experiences, account for and sustain views clearly by providing relevant explanations and arguments.
  • To be able to use phrases and expressions to state and ask for opinion, interrupt and handle interruptions, ask for and give clarification, delay decisions, emphasize a point, summarize what has been said, end the meeting.

In this case you won't be able to state a measurable objective concerning "building up students' confidence". You can perceive it, but not measure it.

The Common European Framework provides a common basis for the explicit description of objectives.

Designing business English programmes is a complex task, but by following certain steps we will be able to do so. In this part of the article we have discussed the significance of understanding the language needs of our students and how we can find that out. We have also looked at how we can define the goals and objectives of the programme. In the second part of the article, we will look at syllabus design in more depth.


  • A Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment - Council of Europe (2001) Cambridge University Press.
  • English Next - David Graddol (2006) British Council
  • Curriculum Development in Language Teaching - Jack C. Richards (2001) Cambridge University Press.
  • Second Language Teaching & Learning - David Nunan (1999) Heinle & Heinle Publishers.
  • Teach Business English - Sylvie Donna (2000) Cambridge University Press.
  • How to Teach Business English - Evan Frendo (2005) Pearson Education Limited


Mercedes Viola Deambrosis, Director, 4D Content English

The plan and worksheets are downloadable and in pdf format. If you have difficulty downloading the materials see the download section of the Help page.

Copyright - please read
All the materials on these pages are free for you to download and copy for educational use only. You may not redistribute, sell or place these materials on any other web site without written permission from the BBC and British Council. If you have any questions about the use of these materials please email us at:



Submitted by Tram Nguyen on Thu, 09/29/2022 - 14:47

can I apply these steps if I want to design a course for teens/kids/or adults at different levels (A1,A2,...)?

Hi Tram Nguyen,

Great question! The needs and learning outcomes will be different depending on the age and level of your students, but you can definitely apply similar steps to any course you're designing. You might find this article about needs analysis useful:


TeachingEnglish team

Submitted by martinlearning14 on Thu, 05/08/2014 - 00:35

Thank you for your clarifying and practical ideas. I found them really useful. I was wondering if you could go a little further and include the use of the most common learning strategies teachers need to bear in mind when it comes to lesson planning. Best wishes, Martin Perez

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