An investigation of the English language needs of Business English graduates in mainland China

  • Liang Liao

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    The Business English (BE) degree in China was established as an independent discipline in 2007. Business English used to be taught as a component of English language and literature degrees. There are now about 50 universities in China offering BE degrees, but the change in the status of Business English has not been with-out attendant problems. Most Chinese universities offering degrees in BE have failed to combine the teaching of English language and literature and the teaching of business in very meaningful ways, and have given English language learning a much larger share of the curriculum. Business English is taught in university English departments rather than in Business Schools, and most BE teachers only have a background in English language and literature, with no practical work experience in the area of international business. These teachers have little knowledge of how English is used in the workplace, and might have difficulty contextualizing BE teaching in real business situations where English is used as a lingua franca (BELF). The fact that non-native speakers’ communications predominate in the BELF environment calls into question the emphasis on native-like correctness in university BE teaching.

    Language needs analysis (LNA) was conducted in order to discover the English language needs of BE graduates starting work in Chinese companies with an inter-national clientele. Data from questionnaires, interviews and business emails sent to and from recent graduates were analysed.

    The findings from questionnaires and interviews indicate that emailing is the most frequent mode of communication in English in the Chinese companies that employ BE graduates, although speaking skills are also highly prized. All groups of respondents (BE teachers, company employers and RGs) thought standardized national English tests (e.g. TEM4, TEM8) were important for securing a job. It was found that most of the company employers and recent graduates believed that adhering to native-like norms was not important in a BELF environment where most of their clients were non-native English speakers who did not have a very high lev-el of English.

    The findings from analysis of my corpus of 86 business English email chains (307 messages, 34,837 words) suggest that MEMC graduates are communicatively adept at business email communication and can establish rapport with their clients and mitigate potential face-threats, despite the fact that their English is some-times non-standard. Current teaching materials, methods and practices in BE teaching in China still place greatest emphasis on conformity to a set of native-like norms, however, rather than pragmatic competence.

    These findings have interesting implications for ESP course content and the teaching of Business English as a lingua franca (BELF). BE lecturers might be unwilling to use authentic BELF emails as models in the classroom, because the writers have a restricted command of English. There were no signs of any miscommunication in the email exchanges, however, and specifically BELF usage may well have had a disarming effect on clients, helping to achieve the writers’ purposes more effectively than textbook English would have done.
    Date of Award2015
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    SupervisorHilary Nesi (Supervisor) & Ross Graham (Supervisor)


    • Language needs analysis
    • Business English
    • BELF
    • questionanaire
    • interview
    • Business email

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