Maybe your English language proficiency is already quite high. Maybe your spoken English or your speaking and listening are excellent. Or maybe your writing skills are up to scratch. Either way, you may want to improve your English in a specific context, a niche in which you will be working, or a field in which your English proficiency isn’t quite so high.
That field may well be your business English skills. Yes, you are okay when in easy conversational contexts, but maybe you struggle with your presentation skills, your negotiation skills, or your specialist vocabulary. This is a completely normal part of learning a foreign language, by the way; there is no reason why you would have picked up business English skills.
But people like you may benefit from a business English course. Indeed, these courses were designed specifically for people like you – to develop your fluency in a particular field of language learning. Business English courses take place all over the UK – and the world too – and they can be crucial in landing you the job that you want to gain in the English-speaking world.
That’s where business English examinations come in – the English language assessments that will certify you as a particular level of English speaker.
It’s these exams that we are going to be talking about here. We’ll give you the information on the major business English qualifications – and run you through the best way to prepare for them. So, listen up!
Why Take a Business English Exam?
Why bother with a business English exam, when you could feasibly just take a certificate in English language skills more generally? It’s a good question.
Whereas the generic English language tests – such as the IELTS, the International English Language Testing System – examines you on your larger English competencies, the business English qualifications home in on the language relevant to the particular linguistic field: business – obviously.
And whilst many employers will see your success in your IELTS and think very highly of it, actually, many others will want to see specific preparation for and commitment to the world of business. If it is business that you are intending to head into – and if you are sure about this – the business English qualifications will be the most effective marker of this commitment of yours.
The majority of business English qualifications are internationally recognised. They are held in high repute. And they are very good at giving you the specific skills you need for the specific area into which you are heading. Whilst the IELTS exam can be a bit academic, this is not the case for the business English qualifications – and that may well be a good thing for you.
Meanwhile, as we discussed in our article on business English vocabulary, the business world does use a specific language that many native speakers of English don’t necessarily understand. Businesspeople know this and you should too. Business English exams prepare you for this specific – and often exclusive – world.
Let’s take a look at what these qualifications are.
The Most Prestigious Business English Examinations in the World
There are a number of organisations that supply business English qualifications.
The most famous of these is Cambridge Assessment, who helped to develop the IELTS test as well as the CELTA programme. They are generally a very highly respected organisation, with links to the British Council and to the English language educational bodies in respective English-speaking countries around the world. They also helped develop the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) – the familiar scale on which you will be graded.
Others include Pearson in association with the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Their business English qualifications sit within their broader portfolio of technical business certificates. Given that they are developed by the very people who oversee business in the UK, they probably know what they are talking about.
Let’s have a look at these qualifications in more detail - and you can find out everything you need to know about learning business English here!
The Three Cambridge English Business Exams
Cambridge English are potentially the most highly regarded provider of English language qualifications in the world. They tend to set the standard for all of the others.
In terms of business English qualifications, there are pretty much to choose from. These are the suite of BEC qualifications, standing predictably for Business English Certificate, and Linguaskill, which used to be the BULATS qualification (Business Language Testing Service). The important element to know of the latter is that it can be taken online.
The BECs come in three progressive parts.
Business Preliminary (BEC Preliminary)
Business Preliminary is the first of the BEC qualifications, and this caters for people of B1 in the CEFR. Sitting and passing this exam will testify to the fact that you can talk about business subjects; write business emails and take telephone calls; and understand basic diagrams and charts.
The exam itself lasts for about two hours and twenty minutes and comprises of three paper.
Business Vantage (BEC Vantage)
The BEC Vantage certificate is for people of B2 level. You’ll be able to read articles and reports from business publications and be able to engage in business meetings.
Predictably, as the standard is somewhat higher, the exam will be a little more testing: it lasts for two hours, forty minutes and has four separate papers.
Business Higher (BEC Higher)
The BEC Higher is sold as ‘advanced’, and if you manage to crack this, there is no stopping you from becoming one of the most senior figures in your business organisation.
You’ll be confidently engaging in presentations and meetings, communicating fluently at senior levels, and grappling with more complex business concepts.
This exam takes three hours. However, it is the one that business schools and most businesses accept around the world.
Once known as BULATS, Linguaskill is a test that employers and higher education institutions use to test your English language skills.
The whole thing is computer-based and covers all of the language skills required – from listening and speaking to writing and reading. The test will be able to tell you whether you are anywhere from A1 to C1.
The chances are you will sit this at a location chosen by your employer.
The Five International Qualifications in Business English from Pearson and LCCI
Pearson is an academic publisher and provider of educational materials. LCCI, or the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, is the organisation of the businesspeople in London. Together, they have come up with this English language qualification specifically designed for business.
Whereas there are three BECs, there are five different English for Business qualifications. These progress primarily through levels, whilst there are variations on the examinations too, as you will see.
English for Business (Preliminary Level)
The preliminary qualification is aimed at people at A1 or A2 level; they can use English at a basic level.
The qualification will help you understand short conversations on business topics and to read basic business charts and diagrams.
The exam lasts just over two hours.
English for Business (Level 1)
From A2 to B1, the Level 1 qualification is that little bit more challenging. You’ll be participating in short conversations this time, not just understanding.
English for Business (Level 2)
English for Business Level 2 is for B1 and B2 level learners. You can actually sit this one online too.
English for Business (Level 3)
Level 3 takes you up to C1 – in which you will be much more confident in your English language skills. If you complete this, you can progress to the Diploma in Business English for International Managers.
English for Business (Level 4)
Finally, the Level 4 qualification is for fluent speakers of English. You will succeed in any business context with this qualification.
Preparing for Business English Exams
How do you prepare for these business English examinations? Just as you would with any qualification – but in the knowledge that you should be preparing for the test, not just learning English.
These certificates are notorious for asking for quite unrealistic details from you. It’s not a case of understanding what is being said, as such, as you answering the question that you are being asked – in the way that they want you to answer it.
Find a Private Business English Tutor
The best way to navigate this complex field is to find an English tutor who can help you with the specificities for the exam. Experienced tutors, such as you will find on Superprof, know how to get students to pass.
That might be exactly what you need.
Keep Doing those Practice Tests
Alongside your tutor, you need to become completely familiar with the exam paper that you will be sitting. This means doing practice test after practice test after practice test.
We know it might become a little dull. But if you are sitting the exam, you may as well try and pass it!
Check out where to find business English resources!