September 1996 — Volume 2, Number 2
Open for Business: Communication Activities for Students of English
Boston, MA: Heinle and Heinle Publishers
Pp. ix + 165
ISBN 0-8384-2751-0 (paper)
Financial English with Mini-Dictionary of Finance
Ian MacKenzie (1995)
Hove, England: Language Teaching Publications
ISBN 1-899396-00-4 (paper)
American Business English
Karen H. Bartell (1995)
Ann Arbor MI: The University of Michigan Press
Pp. xi + 230
ISBN 0-472-06608-0 (paper)
As more and more ESL/EFL programs incorporate business components, one of the primary difficulties lies in finding appropriate instructional materials. It is difficult to balance business content that interests and informs students, and prepares them for careers in which English will be used, with language instruction–the main function of the programs themselves. Additionally, the materials must be suitable for language instructors who may be new to business topics such as marketing and distribution, accounting, financial instruments, current management theory, and so forth.
Fournier’s Open for Business, MacKenzie’s Financial English and Bartell’s American Business English demonstrate distinct types of books featuring business content for the ESL market. Open for Business is primarily a language text featuring business content, while Financial English is firstly a text on business that also offers language instruction. American Business English is a business writing text, but addresses many basic, general writing issues confronted by EFL/ESL students as well as native speakers.
Open for Business is geared to ESL/EFL students who are learning English for business purposes. The author does not state any specific business purposes and the book takes a very broad approach. This book is typical of many books currently available for ESL business programs in that the business content is basic in nature, and focuses on the general and unsophisticated (e.g., vocabulary for office furniture). The 14 units in the book cover everything from using the telephone to advertising, promotion and marketing. The information provided is low level in terms of both language ability and business knowledge. Each unit includes communicative activities such as skits, role playing and dialogues, [-1-] and lab exercises for use with a cassette. In addition, units offer activities tailored to match the subject matter of that unit. There are extensive “practice” phone conversations in the unit on phone skills. The book combines communicative business skills such as interviewing or chatting informally about one’s job with written skills such as memos, cover letters and resumes.
While the information is clear, well organized and easily accessible, the lack of sophistication of the content may be a drawback. Much of the information provided seems to be simple common sense rather than business-specific knowledge. For example, unit 10, “About Money,” includes skits on negotiating the price of a car, exchanging currency at an airport bank, asking for a loan and asking for a raise. These things could well be labeled life skills rather than business skills. For a student who needs specific vocabulary related to money and finance this information will not be helpful. The book offers scope but not depth, and is ideally suited to the instructor who feels comfortable addressing business vocabulary and basics but wants to stay firmly within the area of language instruction.
Open for Business represents the kind of business content text that seeks to address “business” but is held back by ESL. ESL instructors often need texts that can be used to “teach business,” but these texts must not exceed the business knowledge or experience of the ESL professional. Unfortunately, such texts often disappoint students who truly do want to learn business skills at a more sophisticated level. Many students are already familiar with the business content, and may even have studied business extensively in their first language or gained a lot of practical knowledge on the job. Open for Business is not best suited to meeting their needs. This book would be most useful to programs that offer some business instruction within the general curriculum and concentrate primarily on business as it relates to lifeskills.
MacKenzie’s Financial English takes the opposite approach. This is one of the few texts for the ESL business market that focuses on a single area of business–in this case finance. The author states that “This book is for anyone working or planning to work in the field of finance who wants to be able to discuss financial matters, read the financial press, or consult financial documents with greater ease and confidence” (p. 3). The content is very specific and includes units on topics such as accounting basics (depreciation, cash flow and types of assets), money and banking issues (commercial banking, exchange rates, eurocurrencies and interest rates), company finance (financial instruments, takeovers and financial ratios), trade and commerce (incoterms , pricing strategies and partnerships), and trade and economic issues (economic sectors, economic theories, inflation and recession).
Financial English is an ESL business book which places the quality and sophistication of the business content in the position of first importance but does not overlook the need to address language issues. Ian MacKenzie is obviously familiar and comfortable with all aspects of finance and yet he has managed to include language education in a way that is made meaningful and relevant to the business content. For example, in the unit on accounting basics there is an excellent exercise on phrasal verbs that relate to bad debt. Unit 5, “Company Finance,” includes a section on idioms that describe price fluctuations of financial markets. Many of the exercises throughout the text encourage vocabulary acquisition, paraphrasing and other tools and strategies that are important components of the language learning process. The answer key at the back of the book provides helpful information that can prepare the instructor who is not familiar with finance.
Financial English is ideally suited to a program that offers several business classes for ESL students and can therefore provide specialized, in-depth instruction in a variety of areas. This book will appeal to ESL/EFL instructors who have experience teaching business courses and are comfortable with in-depth, topic-specific business content.
Similarly, American Business English takes a specific rather than general approach. The text focuses on business writing skills such as report writing, memoranda, technical writing and business letters. However, each unit of the 20 included in the text pays particular, detailed attention to the mechanics of writing and writing trouble spots. The author is certainly aware of some of the difficulties faced by ESL/EFL students who must write for business purposes and makes an effort to give them clear, substantive help by addressing topics such as punctuation pointers, parts of speech, sentence craftsmanship and paragraph format. Material is presented and explained clearly and reinforced immediately with a variety of exercises spread throughout each chapter. The business material is also clearly explained and would probably be of considerable help to many native speakers.
“American Business English is an extremely practical handbook for everyday reference… designed for students as well as executives, secretaries, or anyone involved with business communications. It is a textbook for students and a handbook for offices and work stations” (back cover). This description is completely accurate. American Business English comfortably bridges the gap between common needs related to business writing and the specific needs of language learners.
This book seems ideal for use in community college programs in which students need hands-on, practical preparation for their jobs as well as assistance in mastering writing skills. [-3-]
As these three books demonstrate, there is an increasing variety of business texts available. Hopefully, the offering will continue to grow. As ESL/EFL teachers become involved in this new area of our field, a little exploration of the available material will show that there truly is something for everyone.
 “Incoterm” is an internationally accepted term relating to costs in international trade contracts.
American Language Institute
San Diego State University
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