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How to make progress with Advanced students

Students shaking hands with their teacherIf advanced-level students think they’re not making much progress, or they’re struggling with motivation, it’s time to try some new ideas. Rachel Appleby, co-author of the Business one:one series, shares hers with us.

This article was originally published in Dialogue Magazine.

“Basically, they can operate quite well in English, perhaps with a few mistakes. And their vocabulary’s OK, though they sometimes avoid complex grammar.  They don’t seem very motivated, because they don’t easily see their progress, yet I’m sure their English could be much better.”

Sound familiar? It’s certainly pretty common at the start of any of my advanced courses. But a few simple tricks to determine what they need and what you want them to do, and you’ll be teaching advanced learners successfully before you can say ‘advanced Business English’.

My advanced students often simply state that they want more sophisticated English, but what do they mean by that? Well, I believe they want to communicate  in a more appropriate style, and sound  like a native speaker. They also want access to a wider range of expressions, and of course, they need to ‘lose’ some of their ingrained mistakes.

So how can we do this? Well, first and foremost, they need exposure to lots of listening and reading materials – texts which are carefully selected and exploited in advanced-level course books, as well as a wide range of authentic material. Encourage them to be active readers and listeners, by suggesting they highlight or note down phrases they’d like to add to their repertoire.

Set a challenge

With one of my current groups of advanced learners, we were practising phrases for meetings, but they weren’t really using them. So the next week, I produced a tick-box form of phrases (see below) and put students into groups of three – two students to have the meeting, one student to listen and tick boxes. The students swapped roles so there were three meetings altogether. I told them that at the end we’d be counting up the ticks. Well, now the challenge was on, the results vastly improved, and their satisfaction by the end was greatly enhanced – as was mine!

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Take time to teach negotiating

Close-up of a handshakeJohn Hughes, author of Business Result, returns with advice on the importance of negotiation skills and language for Business English learners.

A student of mine once failed to indicate on her needs analysis form that she was regularly involved in negotiating. I was surprised because I already knew that her work included dealing with customers on the phone in the supplies department. When I followed this up later on, it became apparent that she viewed negotiating as something only top executives did. As far as she was concerned, talking about prices and delivery times didn’t really count as negotiating.

Aside from demonstrating that needs analyses are never water-tight when it comes to terminology, this highlights that negotiating actually happens at all levels in a company and doesn’t only need to be in the boardroom. For example, it can be between two colleagues discussing a day off or a request to leave work early.

So, when starting a lesson where students will negotiate, it’s worth taking time to explore what students think a negotiation is and when they need the relevant language for their job. Then consider how formal or informal the key expressions might be that students need. Do they need to be able to say “I’m sorry, but I don’t think we can agree to that,” or will the more direct “Sorry, but no way” suffice!

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