Bureaucracy & Regulation

"The only thing that saves us from bureaucracy is its inefficiency."

Eugene McCarthy (1916 – 2005), American politician and poet
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This Business English ESL lesson plan on bureaucracy has been designed for business professionals or other adults and young adults at an intermediate (B1/B2) to advanced (C1/C2) level and should last around 45 to 60 minutes for one student.

Like it or not, every business has to deal with bureaucracy. In a business sense, this is all the red tape and regulations from government a business must comply with. Many see this as an unnecessary burden that represents and extra cost; others see it as a necessity to protect consumers from businesses that would otherwise seek to take advantage of them. In this Business English lesson plan on bureaucracy and regulations, students will have the opportunity discuss and express their opinions on issues such as the regulations and burdens that businesses face due to government red tape.

For advice on how to use this English lesson plan and other lesson plans on this site, see the guide for ESL teachers.


Reading activity
Before the English class, send the following article to the students and ask them to read it while making a list of any new vocabulary or phrases they find (explain any the students don’t understand in the class):

ABC News | Watchdog says Brexit has brought cost, red tape for UK firms

The article looks at a new set of red tape facing British businesses as a result of Brexit, the opposite of the intended consequence of leaving the EU which was to lessen the bureaucratic burden of British businesses. At the start of the class, hold a brief discussion about what the students thought about the article. What do they think about the issues raised in the article? Do they agree with what was written? Can they think of any ways they might disagree with the content of the article?

Video activity
To save time in class, the English teacher can ask the students to watch the video below at home. In the class, the students will answer a number of conversation questions directly or indirectly related to the content of the video.

The video for this class is called “Business and Government Regulations – Impact on Business” by Fisher College of Business, which looks at how bureaucracy can affect businesses.


The focus in the class is on conversation in order to help improve students’ fluency and confidence when speaking in English as well as boosting their vocabulary.

This lesson opens with a short discussion about the article the students read before the class. Next, the students can give their opinion on the quote at the beginning of the lesson plan – what they think the quote means, if they agree with it and how it could relate to business. This is followed by an initial discussion on the topic including why bureaucracy exists, which regulations govern the students’ areas of business, and the ease of doing business in their countries.

After this, students will learn some vocabulary connected with bureaucracy such as red tape, watchdog and deregulation. The vocabulary is accompanied by a cloze activity and a speaking activity to test the students’ comprehension of these words.

If the students didn’t watch the video before the class, they can watch it after the vocabulary section and answer the conversation questions. Before the conversation, ask the students to give a brief summary of the video and what they thought about the content.

Finally, there is a more in-depth conversation about bureaucracy and red tape. In this speaking activity, students will talk about issues such as how regulations affect competition, whether excessive red tape can facilitate corruption, and which industries should be deregulated.


After the class, students will write a briefing note regarding regulations in their sector. The writing activity is designed to allow students to practise business-style writing as well as improving their grammar with the feedback from their teacher.


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