What are Needs Analysis Assessments for Business English Learners, and How Do They Improve English Learning Outcomes?

ESL and EFL Business English Students with Teacher Conducting Needs Analysis Assessment

Business English covers a large scope of learning. It includes a massive list of communication skills that can be developed. Business English students have different and often very specific needs, and they don’t have sufficient time to learn skills that are of little significance to their line of work.

For example, learners whose job requires a lot of business writing don’t need to spend an entire chapter on roleplay activities where they respond to customer complaints over the phone. Likewise, English language students who respond well visually wouldn’t find substantial value in extensive listening activities.

To ensure quality education, the accuracy of any syllabus design in Business English is imperative. Needs analysis is an eminent tool to achieve this goal.

What is Needs Analysis 

Needs analysis for learning Business English is a potent device that allows educators to construct curriculums based on learners’ goals, interests, and language needs. It mainly comes in the form of questionnaires that contain common questions addressing a student’s motivation, past learning experiences, learning challenges in the present, and language goals. It compiles information teachers can use to design syllabi that tackle the disparities between present conditions and outcomes that learners wish to achieve.

Although the research and literature on Needs Analysis are surprisingly limited, its impact in the field of education has been acknowledged. By integrating this type of evaluation in English curriculum design decisions, curriculum developers can use it as a framework for making and amplifying quality courses. Furthermore, educators can pick the right teaching methods to use in their programs.

Needs analysis builds learner autonomy because it encourages them to take responsibility for their own learning. More than that, it develops learners’ language awareness as they reflect on what areas they need to practice and the methods from which they learn better.

The Importance of Needs Analysis

First, to avoid confusion, let’s discuss the terminology used in the context of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages or TESOL. TESOL is the generic or umbrella term under which TESL and TEFL fall. There have been different name variations for these types of language studies. TEFL is taught in countries where English isn’t the principal language like East and Southeast Asian countries.

TESL, on the other hand, is taught in countries where English is the official language like the US, the UK, Canada, and Australia. However, in many cases, these terms are used interchangeably.

In fact, in Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam and Thailand, teachers often use the terms “teaching ESL/EFL”. Similarly, it’s not uncommon for ELLs or English Language Learners to call themselves ESL or EFL students.

Importance in TESL/TEFL course design

Many English language centers or academies fail to emphasize the importance of needs analysis. But since English courses are often geared toward particular groups of learners (especially those studying Business English) needs analysis is the primary tool for an effective curriculum.

Needs analysis can be administered as a formal or informal evaluation. Even if the language center doesn’t require one for their classes, teachers can make their own needs analysis questionnaires. The advantage is that they can tailor the questions to their preliminary assessments of what students in their respective classes need.

A successful examination of learners’ needs can aid in designing valuable lesson plans. This is crucial to train and improve students’ level of proficiency in the best way possible. 

Importance to English Language Learners and Self-Evaluation

Most ELLs have a rudimentary idea of their language learning needs, regardless of how they prioritize knowing about them. A lot of learners would say that they only want to “learn English”, but in reality, they have very particular goals.

How using needs analysis for self-evaluation can come into play depends on the level of student motivation. Highly dedicated students aspire to monitor their own progress and a needs analysis questionnaire can be helpful in reaching the next key stages of their English studies. 

There are various needs analysis questionnaires accessible online and in books. By answering a list of questions, learners’ awareness of how well they’re doing in different aspects of English learning will increase, and this in turn can strengthen their individual learning habits and methods.

When to Conduct Needs Analysis

Using a needs analysis survey is a continual approach to curriculum development. It can be carried out at the beginning, during, and at the end of a program. At the beginning of a program, needs analysis can be used to direct course content, material framework, and strategies.

This is the best period for curriculum developers to plan ahead. During the program, needs analysis determines if goals are being met, and makes room for essential changes in the syllabus. Findings can be factored in to decide the most applicable means of adjustment for the course.

Teachers can also change or try out other teaching methods. At the end of the program, the tool can be used to identify and mold future targets and direction. Overall, needs analysis is handy for the construction and evaluation of curriculums. 

What is the Purpose of Needs Analysis in Business English Teaching?

A needs analysis is an important research tool conducted prior to crafting Business English lessons, courses, and materials. It creates a comprehensive learner profile to decide which segments of Business English should take precedence in a program. Additionally, assessment done during the course gauges if the curriculum goals are being met efficiently.

Business English learning comes in a wide range of courses. Besides its many variations, the students in these programs are often from assorted industries with different motivations and language levels.

The teachers have to ensure that the students learn what’s relevant to their goals, improve language areas where they lack aptitude, and train communication skills needed in their tasks at work.

The purpose of the needs analysis of learners is to identify markers to accomplish this responsibility. Some students also require discipline-specific English skills like problem-solving or organizing schedules.

Students are every bit the stakeholders in their language learning. By answering the needs analysis questionnaire they become more involved in their own growth.

The analysis process can be quite retrospective, which gives them a deeper look into their own study habits, language difficulties, and which learning materials they prefer.

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How to Create a Detailed Needs Analysis Questionnaire for Business English Classes

Business English teachers take charge of a diversified student body. Ideally, learners in a class belong to the same industry or office, like company-supported courses that hire freelance instructors to train their staff in Business English communication. But this rarely happens.

Frequently, students in these classes belong to multiple industries. Hence, the extreme importance of using needs analysis. Teachers can either use a standardized evaluation form or they can make a personalized one.

It doesn’t always have to be a survey. But in this section, we’ll take a look at how to create a needs analysis questionnaire for a Business English class. Note that although the following methods were written with a sequence in mind, you have the freedom to mix and match according to your preferences.

1. Open-Ended Questions

Close-ended questions shouldn’t be discounted, but open-ended questions are better for getting more information from your students. Upon initial review, you’d be able to tell the levels of their writing and vocabulary skills. For this instance, generate or brainstorm a long list of potential questions. Narrow them down when necessary. Some possible questions are as follows:

  • Who do you communicate with in English?
  • When do you speak to them?
  • Which aspect of English do you feel is the most difficult? Explain.
  • What about the easiest? Why?

2. Emphasis on Skills

The next step is to include question forms that focus on specific skills. For example, Business English writing. You can ask what kind of writing the students need to do at work, how often they have to do it, and which is the hardest part.

From these questions, you might discover that they follow a company template, or that aside from emails, they have to write reports. This gives you a concrete sense of the types of activities and teaching methods you should do more often or use in your class. Do this for all skills you can think about, like doing presentations, speaking on the phone, participating in meetings, etc.

Students may not be completely aware of their strong and weak points, but this part of the needs analysis can give them a chance to assess their own skills.

3. Where Language Learners Speak English in Their Jobs

It’s important to verify the places where your students speak English. Do they have to use English both inside and outside the office? Do they have to travel internationally for their job? Do they work with colleagues or customers who are native speakers? Under what circumstances do they have to speak English? Is it for customer care, to verbally report to a foreign boss, or to answer phone calls from overseas partners and other business contacts? Is it all of the above? Just looking at an overview of how they answer these questions can supply a lot of useful information for the curriculum development process. English language students who need to talk a lot at work need loads of roleplay or dialogue activities. 

4. Language Education in the Past, Present, and Future

The learner-centered analysis takes into account a student’s language learning history. This part of the needs analysis is a reflection on students’ entire experience as foreign language learners. Make sure to ask questions that detail how much time they’ve spent studying English in the past and how long ago it was. You should also ask their opinions on what they think they’ve accomplished since then and if they have different difficulties in the present time.

For a fuller picture of your students’ purpose and motivation, you should include questions about their long-term plans and what they think is the extent of English usage they will have in the future.

Three Major Considerations for Needs Analysis Questions

The chief drawback of needs analysis is the volume of data. Many Business English language teachers have a huge workload of classes. In some cases, these classes are unique and therefore entail a distinct curriculum. Not only that, the number of students in each class can be excessive if quantified in their entirety. It may be counter-productive to conduct an exhaustive needs analysis for each class.

Luckily, there are three main considerations around which teachers can fashion their questionnaires. Teachers who are on the go often just ask these questions to gather instant data. Instead of using the data as one of their curriculum design activities, they get it regularly while the program is ongoing.

It enables the teachers to assess current trends in the classroom and adjust their teaching strategies to garner the best results.

1. The People Students Communicate With

Knowing the type of people students communicate with can give great insights into what they need for language development. For example, learners who need to engage in direct verbal communication with native speakers should include listening modules in their courses.

Business-related podcasts can be functional learning material in this scenario as well. Another example is learners who talk on the phone with international customers. These students would benefit greatly from language word lists and lots of speaking practice in their curriculum. Asking the question “Who did you talk to in English this week?” is fairly simple, but instantly paints a picture that teachers can utilize.

2. Subject Matter

The question “What do you need to talk about in English at work?” is the second consideration. The answers influence the teacher’s choice of English materials, which can be used as models for similar classes in the future. The knowledge of the common topics the students talk about at their jobs can reveal the type of communicative events they take part in.

It makes a material selection that much easier for teachers. As the program progresses, they can devise a more adequate teaching syllabus that explores the deeper levels of business communication. All the while using the students’ subject matter as guidelines for classroom activities.

3. Mode of Communication

Asking students how they communicate at work will also generate practical data. You’ll discover the tools they use at work and a bunch of other information: if they use email, social media, or phones; the regularity of doing tasks involving these tools; if they directly participate in meetings, etc.

This set of information completes the analysis methods needed for an instantaneous understanding of students’ true needs. Naturally, learners who do a considerable amount of electronic communication need to boost their production skills with an emphasis on writing. And learners who are expected to talk to customers on the phone or do in-person marketing should increase their speaking skills. 

Different Types of Needs Analysis Tools

1. The most popular way of doing needs analysis is using survey questionnaires. It can be as thorough as the teacher wants but should be a reasonable length to avoid tedium. Engaging and varied lines of questioning can hold the interest of students. It gives them the opportunity to ruminate on their journey in the foreign language world.

2. In 1-to-1 and small group classes, needs analysis can be done through interviews. This allows educators to break through deeper levels of understanding of what the course requires.

3. Ranking is another type of needs analysis. Learners rank their language responsibilities at work. They rate the levels in terms of importance and difficulty. A 1-to-5 scale is adequate. The difference between each of the students’ office tasks could be a huge contrast, but this strategy provides the teacher with data they can quantify. 

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Using Needs Analysis as a Class Activity

An inventive way of conducting a needs analysis is to incorporate it as a subject in class. Many educators insert it as part of their programs’ material framework. These lessons work well as a unique approach to curriculum development. It’s a unique teaching technique that both teachers and students can enjoy. Here are some ingenious ways of using the needs analysis tool as an activity in class.

Target Language

First, students go in front of the class and pick from a language word list of frequency adverbs. They share statements about their jobs. For example, “Once a week, I have a conference call with a foreign counterpart.”

Next is using modals, e.g. “should”, “must”, “have to”, and so on. Students will make statements like “I need to write 10 emails every day.” The teacher can ask the rest of the class if the statements are also true for them.

Alternatively, items in the language word lists can be written on small pieces of paper and collected in a box that the teacher can pass around.


As a sentence completion task, students can share their future goals with the class. Use sentence starters like “In the next six months, I hope to…”, “This year, I’ll definitely…”, and so on. To add an element of engagement, the class can make predictions by completing the sentence for their classmates.

 What is my job?

A guessing activity. Students take turns describing their office tasks that use English. The rest of the class will guess the job by listening to the descriptions. This can be a pairwork activity, with one member explaining their duties at work and the other member guessing what their job is.

True or False

A variant of the guessing game above. Students share statements about their job and the class will guess if it’s true or not. For example “I don’t need to speak English at work.”, “I answer more phone calls than everyone here.”, “I need English more for writing than speaking”, etc.


Teachers will choose what things to include in the presentation, but with an emphasis on language goals, past and present usage of English, current challenges with the language, and so on. The class will have time to prepare. To ensure that the class is listening, the teacher can require students to ask questions after the presentation. The students can also use expressions of comparison to refer to differences and similarities in office responsibilities, e.g. “Unlike Maria, I have to answer phones all day long.”

Program Negotiation

This is an excellent approach to curriculum development. Teachers can initiate a discussion about the type of activities that students are interested in doing or coursework they want to do more of. It’s also a way to get rid of classroom tasks that the majority of students find boring, which fosters a sense of partnership with their teachers and classmates. 

LillyPad.AI and Needs Analysis Methodology

In the foreign language world, specifically in the context of learning Business English and communication, only a handful of English language learning software integrates needs analysis strategies in their design. Here at LillyPad.ai, we guarantee that needs assessment methodology is incorporated into our platform, making it a robust English learning solution for Business English teachers and learners.

LillyPad.ai reports and tracks students’ language preferences, progress, and interests. We evaluate data to gather learning trends and use it to provide recommendations to match your language requirements. The people behind our platform are leaders in their fields, collaborating in the creation of the only English learning software you could ever need. 

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Despite the current lukewarm interest in using needs analysis as an approach to curriculum development, taking advantage of its utility is a game changer. It can identify motivational factors that influence learning, evaluate the commonalities in the language goals of students, compare their past and current targets and challenges, qualify their study habits and encourage autonomy, and many others.

For these reasons, needs analysis is vital in creating an adequate teaching syllabus for Business English and communication. Needs analysis makes it easier for educators and curriculum developers to pinpoint relevant methods to enhance communication skills and language awareness. There are many types of needs analysis and several creative ways of conducting them.

Because of their significance in establishing an invaluable baseline for syllabus design, they should take precedence in the curriculum development process.

Frequently Asked Questions

What types of students require a needs analysis?

The article focused on Business English students, but language learners at any capacity require a needs analysis. From General English students to ELLs that study for standardized tests to adults studying discipline-specific English skills. Even young learners can benefit from a needs analysis. Tracking the data will reveal aspects of language learning that require additional training or support. Obviously, needs analysis is administered differently in younger learners. Theirs are designed mainly to evaluate their skills and the teaching methods that get the best response. 

How do you perform an ESL assessment?

Conducting a needs analysis is done quite directly unless you’re looking to apply more creative strategies. Review this article’s segment on “Using Needs Analysis as Its Own Lesson” to have ideas on some inventive approaches to carrying out a needs analysis. 
Commonly, a needs analysis will give you qualitative data. However, the rating system can produce quantifiable information. For example, students can rate their English skills from 1 to 5. It depends on the kind of questionnaire you want to create. Getting both types of data from one survey is an option as well.
You can also ask your students to make a list of language learning goals and their expectations about the course.

How do teachers use the results of a needs assessment?

Basically, the teachers study the result and then create courses that include suitable English materials, activities, and teaching styles. Let’s say there are two groups of professionals in one Business English class from the same company. The first group is from the HR department, while the other group is from Customer Care. After using a needs analysis, the teacher discovers that the first group wants to develop their writing skills and the other group is looking to enhance their speaking skills. Because of the nature of the students’ jobs, they require different kinds of training. With this data under consideration, the teacher may recommend separating the class into two. The teacher will then formulate a different Business English curriculum design for each of them. However, if splitting the class isn’t possible, the teacher can create activities that integrate both writing and speaking skills.

What challenges are there in doing needs assessments?

A typical challenge a Business English teacher will encounter (especially if they’re hired by a company owner seeking to train their staff) is having two sets of needs to reflect on: the owner’s needs and the student’s needs, which don’t always overlap. Using the same scenario in the previous question, separating one class into two means the employer has to pay for two classes instead of one. This might cause friction as most employers wouldn’t want extra expenditures. They might see the teacher’s recommendation in a negative light. As a result, retaining one class but organizing a more complex English curriculum design can feel like doing two times the work.
Another challenge is acquiring a huge volume of data from large classes. It can be an unnerving task planning lessons around it. Also, creating a course for a mixed-level class with professionals belonging to several different trades or departments can be a difficult undertaking. 

Why perform a Business English needs analysis?

The main reason for doing a needs analysis is to gain an understanding of what your students really require. You’ll discover how much time should be devoted to each topic and which areas are the most crucial. You’ll also learn if your students grasp the subject matter being covered. If they don’t, you can make adjustments to your course plan accordingly. A curriculum review allows you to identify any gaps in your existing program so you can fill them.
Conducting a needs analysis is unfortunately largely ignored in many language centers and academies. It’s a missed opportunity as it has great potential to shorten yet augment the curriculum development process. Evaluation of curriculum goals also becomes easier. Besides that, the personal and professional insights a needs analysis provides for both teachers and learners possess great value.

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William Landry

William Landry

William is a professional English and ESL teacher with over 15 years of experience. He has taught students of all ages, from children to business executives, and has worked with ESL learners from all over the globe. With a degree in English Education, William has developed curriculum for learners of all levels and interests. He is passionate about helping people learn English effectively and shares his knowledge with the LillyPad community. When he’s not teaching or writing, William enjoys spending time with his wife and two young children.

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