Pierre Naudi, Director of Studies, ETI Executive Training Institute

Pierre Naudi, Director of Studies, ETI Executive Training Institute

General, Business or Executive English – Which is the best language course?

When would you recommend a client or trainee to take an executive course rather than a general language course?

Nowadays anyone interested in following an English Language course is spoilt for choice: General English, Fluent English, Business English, Executive English, Business Communication are just a few of the courses a trainee could choose from. But how does one decide which course best suits their learning needs and goals?

Understanding what’s on offer

Before one can choose which course best suits a particular trainee, we need to define the meaning of commonly used terms by language centres. Terms which are broadly used to describe language courses, such as ‘general’, ‘fluent’, ‘business’, ‘executive’, ‘professional’ and ‘specific purposes’. Are these words just marketing tools? Do they clearly and accurately describe what’s on offer? Agents, clients, trainees or students need to research a language centre’s published material, such as their website, brochures and course descriptions, to find out exactly what the language centre’s interpretation is.

Language usage or proficiency is split up into two main areas;

  • Language knowledge
  • Language communication skills

You need to be accurate in your knowledge of vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation, and fluent when using the communication skills. Both are equally important for clear and effective communication.

General English

When we use the word ‘general’ to describe a language course, such as General English, we mean the learning or usage of the language for ‘general everyday purposes’. A well-balanced General English course gives students the opportunity to practise all the elements listed in Figure 1.

Fluent English

When the focus of General English courses is mainly on the communication skills, then we refer to such courses as ‘Fluent English’. This type of course puts more emphasis on the communicative language teaching method with suitable language knowledge work to cover the students’ needs.

Figure 1 - General or Fluent English

Figure 1 – General or Fluent English

Business English

If the language needed is for ‘business purposes’ then we need to adapt this framework to a business context. The vocabulary area targets general business terminology whereas the communication skills relate to the different ways that business men and women communicate with each other in their workplace. A Business English course develops the elements in Figure 2 focusing primarily on Business vocabulary.

Executive English or Business Communication

The word ‘executive’ is normally used to imply business people in senior positions such as owners, directors, heads of department, consultants and senior managers in the world of business. However, it can also apply to ‘professionals’ in other fields of work, as they too need to use one or more of the professional communication skills when communicating with their peers. The main focus on Executive English or Business Communication courses is on the professional communication skills (meetings, negotiations, presentations, et.) in Figure 2. Trainees are introduced to and given the opportunity to develop the language of meetings, presentations, etc. These courses provide an interactive environment where trainees practise the language for more accuracy and the skills for more fluency; hence becoming more effective.

Figure 2 - Business English

Figure 2 – Business English

English for Specific Purposes

Finally, we have ‘specific purposes’. This phrase is used to mean ‘language for a particular subject field’, examples of which would be language for Human Resources, language for Banking & Finance, language for Sales & Marketing, language for Purchasing, language or Logistics, language for Aviation, language for the Energy Industry, etc. English for Specific Purposes courses enable trainees to practise the vocabulary of their particular field and use it in a communicative way through one or more of the communication skills shown in both Figure 1 and in Figure 2.


When would I recommend an Executive or Business Communication course?

In 1954 Peter F. Drucker (the founder of modern management) developed the concept of ‘management by objectives’. Today this is still the most accepted and widely-used concept to increase management productivity. He coined the acronym SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely) to set goals and targets for managers to be judged by. One can extend these principles to many other spheres, even in language centres.

At ETI we use this SMART principle as a basis for everything we do; designing our academic programmes, selecting activities and role plays, giving and receiving feedback, handling bookings and enquiries, and dealing with customer services. Our trainers have been drawn from the world of business and have vast experience in a variety of techniques and principles of language teaching.

We recognise that executives are well-versed in the SMART principle so we focus our attention on their needs and learning goals by:

  • studying what they wish to achieve and what their learning objectives are through an in-depth pre-course questionnaire
  • using an on-line pre-course language and skills test to place the trainee in an appropriate group
  • reviewing the situation immediately after their first training session

In our experience, our trainees have all the competences required to do business in their native language. What they are looking for is help and training to develop such competences effectively in English.

Our programmes are designed to enable them to practise the language they need in a SMART manner. We tailor-make each training programme to fit our trainee’s individual learning objectives. Our programmes are needs-driven, not resource-driven (course book). An experienced trainer knows what resources are needed to achieve the individual’s learning goals and where to find them.

Many executives have learning objectives that cannot be addressed in groups; they are too specific. This is where a combination programme of group work and individual tuition has the flexibility to satisfy their needs. This type of programme allows opportunities for:

  • professional discussions and SMART role plays
  • expressing different professional views and beliefs
  • practising informal/formal language while chairing or participating in meetings and problem-solving activities
  • developing polite/direct language during negotiation role plays
  • making arrangements on the telephone

as well as a focus on specific areas of work, such as

  • preparing, practising or giving an important presentation followed by SMART feedback
  • writing business emails or reports
  • practising or developing work-related language for specific purposes, and
  • building and enhancing general English knowledge of grammar and pronunciation

We have realised that executives prefer to mix with like-minded mature peers, with a wide range of in-service experience. They enjoy and expect modern technology in the classrooms and a lounge area where they can catch up with their correspondence or prepare for the next day’s skill practice and activities. They welcome the opportunity to socialise with their peers and practise realistic small talk. They want to deal with mature staff who can assist them with the details of their whole package, be they academic, accommodation or cultural activities.

Our Executive or Business Communication courses are specifically designed for the busy, focussed executive by professional trainers who, as a result of their own in-service experience, fully understand the meaning of SMART management and effective communication. I would recommend that agents find out exactly what the client’s needs are, to be able to offer the most suitable overall package. Client satisfaction is the best marketing tool for new or repeat business, particularly in today’s age of internationalisation and globalisation.


Pierre Naudi is Director of Studies at Executive Training Institute (school profile | www.etimalta.com) which is part of the Claret Education Group. He also has 25 years of business in-service experience.

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Members of IALC share their insights on the language travel industry. Contributors are owners, directors, managers, teachers or administrative staff of IALC-accredited language schools worldwide.

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