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The power of pronunciation in Business English

Business English pronunciation ESLELT teacher, teacher trainer and course book author, John Hughes, shares some classroom ideas for teaching pronunciation in your business English classes ahead of his webinar on 19th February. Register now.

Is there any essential difference between teaching pronunciation in business English and teaching pronunciation on a general English course? In many ways the answer is ‘no’. After all, in any type of ELT classroom we need to work on pronunciation in two ways: firstly, to help students with receptive pronunciation; in other words, to help them recognise features of pronunciation which affect their ability to listen and understand. And secondly, to help students improve their productive or spoken pronunciation; this doesn’t mean that they need to sound like a native speaker but that they are intelligible to a wide range of other people when communicating in English.

However, when we teach pronunciation in business English I do think our approach should be tailored to learners’ business needs and that they should have plenty of time to practice pronunciation for specific events. In addition, your business students can also use pronunciation to make their communication skills more effective. Let’s take a closer look.

Tailored pronunciation

Typically on a business English course (especially with one-to-one or small groups) we ask students about their needs for using English. Part of this will include asking them who they need to communicate with in English. If they answer, ‘colleagues working in our China offices’ then we already know that the students will need to listen to recordings of Chinese speakers in class. If, on the other hand, my students make phone-calls to the United Kingdom, then I might spend time focussing on the features of different accents within the UK.

Prepared pronunciation

In business English we also have to prepare a student for speaking at particular events; for example, if your student has a meeting in English coming up soon then you can predict the type of language he/she will need to use. You can practice using that language and identify any pronunciation problems that may affect the student’s intelligibility for the other participants. One useful technique is to role play the upcoming situation with the student and record the conversation. Then listen back to the recording and then pick out potential pronunciation difficulties.

Powerful pronunciation

Many effective presenters and speakers in the world of business also use pronunciation to make their message more powerful. So in my presentation skills classes I help students to work on stressing certain words and adding pauses for emphasis. Take this example which shows an extract from a presentation in which the stressed words are underlined and the / indicates short pauses between words and phrases. Try reading it aloud as you think the presenter said it:

Now I’d like to present the figures / for our most recent quarter / and / I’d like us to consider / the implications / for the rest of our financial year.

The speaker stresses the content words in the presentation and adds short pauses to break the sentences down. In particular, the separation and stressing of the word ‘and’ in the middle emphasises that the presenter has two distinct aims to the presentation. Having students mark transcripts of their own presentations like this can really add power to their communication.

To consider more of the issues behind teaching pronunciation in business English and to get more classroom ideas for teaching pronunciation in your business English classes, join me for my webinar on 19th February. Register now.

John Hughes is a teacher trainer and course book writer. For Oxford University Press he has co-authored on the Business Result series and the video courses Successful Meetings and Successful Presentations.


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Practical ideas for the Business English classroom: Part Three – Teaching successful networking

teaching successful networkingThis is the final article of a three-part Business English series by ELT teacher, teacher trainer and course book author, John Hughes. Here, he looks at ideas and exercises for successful networking.

We often think of successful business networkers as people who enjoy being the centre of attention. However, effective networking is about using normal conversation to meet new people and build positive business relationships.

At its core, networking requires a business person to be interested in the other person, to be positive and to be interesting. Let’s look at these three aspects of networking in terms of the language your students will require. I’ll share ways to develop each part of the skill with three classroom activities.

Be interested

It’s important for the other person to know you are interested in what they are saying. That means using techniques to show you are listening and interested. Clearly, use of body language is crucial here such as regular eye contact with the other person and nodding your head in agreement. But the language you use will make a huge difference to how the other person feels. We can teach phrases to respond such as ‘Really?’, ‘I see’ and ‘That sounds interesting’. However, these phrases alone are not enough. Work on asking questions which follow on so, for example, you might build a dialogue like this:

Person A: I’m based in London but I’m working on a new project in California.

Person B: Really? How often do you go out there?

Note that the question following ‘Really?’ is an open question because this will always be more effective for networking than a closed question. Open questions beginning with what, why, who, where, when or how draw out a more interesting detailed response. A closed question such as ‘Do you work here?’ only demands a Yes or No response. One simple exercise to practise this is to give students a list of closed Yes/No questions that you might ask in a social situation. For example:

1 Do you work here?

2 Do you do any sport?

3 Can you speak any languages?

Tell students to work in pairs. Student A asks one closed question and Student B answers with a Yes/No answer. Then Student A has to transform the same question into an open question and Student B responds with an open answer. So they might produce a four line dialogue like this:

Student A: Do you work here?

Student B: No, I don’t.

Student A: Who do you work for?

Student B: I work for a large multinational company based in Bonn….

By working through the list of closed questions and creating dialogues with open questions, the exercise demonstrates how useful open questions are for networking and it provides good speaking practice with revision of question forms.

Be positive

In general, we prefer to do business with positive, friendly people. When we are positive, we tend to connect with the other person and making connections is what networking is all about. One activity you can use in class to practise making positive connections is the following. It’s also very good for practising the past simple and present perfect.

Write the following on the board:

– Companies you’ve worked for

– Subjects you’ve studied

– Places you’ve visited

– Jobs you’ve done

– Recent films/concerts you’ve seen

Students stand in groups of four or five as if they are talking at a conference. You set a time limit of three to five minutes and explain that the students can talk about any of the topics on the board.

During the conversation, they give themselves a point every time they find they have something in common with another person. So part of a conversation might go like this:

A I’ve worked for a few companies. My last employer was Microsoft.

B: Really? I’ve worked for Microsoft too. [Receive a point.] When did you work for them?

A: In 1999. I was based in New York.

C: Me too. I worked in New York. [Receive a point.]

The activity is great for fluency and a lot of fun. Students become very competitive to receive points so this encourages them to make conversation. It also highlights the benefits of being positive and finding things in common with the other person.

Be interesting

Of the three aspects of networking, the third and final is the one people find strange; after all, can you really train someone to ‘be interesting’?! In fact, what this means is that to be a successful networker, you need to give the other person plenty of information about you (i.e. be interesting) so that they can respond (i.e. be interested). In language terms, it means that introducing yourself like this isn’t enough: ‘My name’s John. I’m a sales manager.’ Instead, give more information about you such as: ‘My name’s John and I’m in charge of our sales teams across Central and Eastern European regions.’ You can give students further practice with ‘being interesting’ by putting them in pairs. Write a series of topics on the board such as: Job, Location, Company, Hobbies. Each student takes turns to talk non-stop for one minute about themselves on each topic. The other student listens and times the minute. Obviously a student wouldn’t normally talk non-stop for a minute without the other person responding but the aim is for students to practise saying much more about themselves.

For more ideas and exercises on successful networking, take a look at John’s video-based course, Successful Meetings, co-written with communications expert, Andrew Mallett. This contains eight units on different aspects of meetings skills including a unit on networking.

 

This article first appeared in the August 2014 edition of the Teaching Adults Newsletter – a round-up of news, interviews and resources specifically for teachers of adults. If you teach adults, subscribe to the Teaching Adults Newsletter now.


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Practical ideas for the Business English classroom: Part Two – Making the most of video

Business English classroom Making the most of videoThis is the second article of a three-part Business English series by ELT teacher, teacher trainer and course book author, John Hughes. Here, he looks at how the use of video can support business English teaching.

One survey into the use of video in education reports that teachers increasingly welcome this tool as a means to support learning. For example, 68% of teachers believe video stimulates discussion, 66% say video increases motivation and 62% think their teaching is more effective by using video. Please see the link provided at the end of the article for more details of this survey.

These figures are all based on responses to education in general, but I’d suggest that if you were to research similar figures for Business English teachers, you’d probably find the percentages were even higher. That’s simply because video lends itself in so many ways to Business English teaching.

Here are five examples of how to integrate video into your Business English lessons, with suggestions for classroom activities.

Presentation skills

The internet is full of videos showing different types of business presentations. They range from the highly professional presentations we associate with speakers on TED to much more basic material. With all of these we can assess the presenters’ performances with our students and decide what techniques and language will help improve their presentations. In addition, we can also video our own students giving presentations. By using the video recorder on a basic mobile device, you can record a student’s performance, use it to give them feedback, and let them self-assess their own presentation.

Watch this presentation taken from TED talks. It’s called ‘The magic washing machine’ and gives students a masterclass in how to use visual aids in a presentation.

Workplace and process videos

I once taught business and technical English in a factory instead of a language school. This was much easier than being in a normal classroom because I could take the students onto the factory floor and have them talk about their workplace. However, we don’t always teach students at their workplace, so video can help. For example, ask your students to make short videos of their workplace and film the key stages of a process. Then they can bring these into class and describe what is happening on screen. You’ll also find a range of videos online that showcase different companies and how they work. These are a great resource to teach the language for describing workplaces and their processes.

This process video shows how IKEA produces its furniture. Students can watch and note down the different stages or information about the company and its structure.

Infographic video

One modern genre of video is the ‘infographic video’ (also called ‘kinetic typography video’). It shows animated text on screen which merges with images and may have narration or simply some background music. You can write comprehension questions for students to answer whilst they watch. Many business infographic videos tend to include lots of numbers and figures, so I give students the numbers shown in the video and ask them to note down what these refer to.

This infographic video looks at the importance of using video in business.

Interviews

One of the simplest video formats is the interview or a business person talking directly to the camera. If you want to teach the language of specific business area, then find an interview with an expert in the field. Alternatively, make your own video by preparing a set of questions and interview a real business person to show in class. If you teach very experienced business people, then interview them and ask their permission to show their video to another class. In particular, if you teach different one-to-one classes, interview each of your students with the same set of questions. Then show the videos of the students to each other. It’s a nice way to bring other people into your one-to-one lessons and for students to share their knowledge.

Take a look at this interview with an expert talking about cultural differences in business. It’s taken from the videos in the Business Result series.

Short films

Using short films in a lesson can add some fun and variety. For example, one short video called ‘The Black Hole’ looks at what happens when an office worker photocopies a black hole which has magical properties. Play it to students and ask them to think what they would use a ‘black hole’ for at work. Another short film called ‘Signs’ lasting about twelve minutes offers all sorts of opportunities for use in the classroom. The first two minutes show a young man going through the same work routine every day – a perfect springboard into the use of the present simple, and for getting students to talk about their routines.

Here is the ‘The Black Hole’ video, and here is ‘Signs’.

And finally, here is the survey I mentioned at the beginning of the article about using video in education.

 

This article first appeared in the July 2014 edition of the Teaching Adults Newsletter – a round-up of news, interviews and resources specifically for teachers of adults. If you teach adults, subscribe to the Teaching Adults Newsletter now.


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Practical ideas for the Business English classroom: Part One – Developing critical thinking

Developing critical thinking in ESLThis is the first article of a three-part Business English series by ELT teacher, teacher trainer and course book author, John Hughes. Here, he looks at the core critical thinking skills required by business English students.

Business English teachers are familiar with teaching the language for communication skills, such as giving a presentation or negotiating a deal. Perhaps fewer of us consider including the skill of critical thinking as part of our typical Business English course. And yet critical thinking is regarded as one of the key twenty-first century skills that employees look for in a candidate when recruiting. This demand for job applicants with critical thinking skills is also reflected in the course descriptions of many MBA and university-based business programmes which list the development of critical thinking as a core objective.

So can we, as business English teachers, integrate this skill into our courses? The answer is ‘yes’ and in fact you probably already provide students with language-practice tasks that require critical thinking. Here are five critical thinking skills that I believe the typical Business English lesson can help develop:

Critical questioning

Critical thinkers naturally question information that is presented to them and this clearly has an important role in business. Take, for example, the situation where you have quotes from three different suppliers and you need to select the best offer. It’s important to ask questions about each offer rather than accept each of them at face value. In the classroom, we can also develop this skill by asking students questions about a text they have read or listened to which will encourage them to consider it critically. For example, these might include questions like: Do you think the author supports his opinion with facts? Are you convinced by the author’s argument? Why? Why not?

Challenging assumptions

Business decisions which are based on assumptions run the risk of being out-of-date or repeating past mistakes. By challenging your assumptions you are likely to come up with innovative ideas and original products. Class discussions and debates on topical business issues are one way to develop this skill and require students to use the language for expressing opinions, agreeing, and disagreeing.

Identifying evidence

Evidence in business helps us to make informed decisions; for example, a market research survey will help the future development of new products or services which are customer-focused. Ignoring such evidence could result in failure. However, identifying evidence also means separating what is useful or correct evidence from information which may be opinionated or even untrue. This is often the case if you give students a reading text which contains factual information alongside the view of the author. Ask students to underline factual information and circle the writer’s opinions in the text.

Identifying perspective

This skill means seeing things from another point of view. It’s especially useful in a business situation where, for example, you are negotiating with someone else and need to understand their objectives. Similarly, if you attend a meeting where you disagree with another person, it’s helpful to recognise their perspective. In class, using role pays where students take on a different character and have to view a business problem from their point of view is a useful way to develop this skill.

Creating solutions

My fifth and final critical thinking skill in business is often referred to as problem-solving but I prefer to call it ‘creating solutions’. In other words, I give my students a problem and ask them to work in a team and generate a variety of solutions before selecting the best one. Typically, this kind of task might take the form of a case study in which students read about a real business problem and have to create the solution that they would follow.

As you can see, incorporating these kinds of critical thinking skills into your lessons is fairly straight-forward as the kind of language practice and classroom activities needed are familiar. The difference is that by defining the sub-skills of critical thinking, you can also clearly state your aims in terms of critical thinking and the language that will be required. Such an approach could be the response we need in order to satisfy the growing demand for business professionals who can combine a command of English with the ability to think critically.

Look out for my next article next week where I’ll be providing examples of how to integrate video into your Business English lessons, with suggestions for classroom activities.

 

This article first appeared in the June 2014 edition of the Teaching Adults Newsletter – a round-up of news, interviews and resources specifically for teachers of adults. If you teach adults, subscribe to the Teaching Adults Newsletter now.


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Skills for effective communication at work

Skills for effective communication at workRachel Appleby, co-author of two levels of the new International Express, looks at ways to help your students to communicate more effectively at work, ahead of her webinar on this topic on 3rd December.

The other day I had a meeting with a restaurant manager, Anna, about language classes. Her English was passable, but clearly not as good as she wished, and she felt embarrassed that she couldn’t express herself more eloquently. Phrases didn’t seem to come to her mind, and she kept apologizing for the little mistakes she was making. It reminded me of another of my students, who once complained that he sounded like a six-year old in English, and it didn’t help him do a good job at work at all!

What is it that such people need? Anna is adult and sophisticated, and can run a meeting more than adequately in her own language, but in English, it seemed to bother her that she had so many difficulties, and – as a result – little confidence. I really felt for her.

In a nutshell, her passive knowledge wasn’t bad, but she didn’t have those stock phrases we use in conversation to negotiate a topic (for example, how to add information, give an example, or move on.) – those phrases which help us sound fluent, make it easier for the listener, and ensure communication is effective. When she emailed me later that day, her writing illustrated a similar lack in conventions we use in semi-formal correspondence, those phrases which clarify the message, and orientate the reader.

So how can we help these students? They want to be able to function as easily in English as in their own language, even if they’re not at native-speaker level. Our students want to ‘be themselves’ in English, and behave as they would in their own language. The good news is that some work skills are transferable, even if we have to raise students’ awareness of what they are.

So let’s have a look at the main problems are, and what we need to do. Students, especially at lower levels, may have difficulties with grammar, but if we can focus on chunks of language, with an emphasis on intonation and sentence stress, this will help them communicate a clear message. Additionally, students often find that they have the technical language for talking about their area of work, but need help with putting it together. Functional language, phrases which have a purpose, are what they need here.

With writing, obviously we need to highlight standard conventions in emailing, and work with models to help students. I also think when writing that it’s useful to pare down content: it can be easy to write too much in another language in order to try to explain yourself, when it fact you just cause more confusion (I know I do this!) We need to help them keep their writing focused, and avoid unnecessary complications.

In my webinar on 3rd December, we’ll look at some examples of how we can increase students’ confidence, so that they can operate professionally within a work environment. We’ll look at chunks of language to use in meetings, conventions for writing clear emails (in particular, ways of handling difficult emails), tips for creating focused PowerPoint slides, and, finally, how to get your to-do list ticked off – in other words, ways of setting clear work objectives. And I think all these are things which Anna would benefit from!

I’ll be using materials from the Pre-Intermediate, and Upper Intermediate levels of the new edition of International Express. I look forward to seeing you soon!

Register now.

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