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#IATEFL – Adult Learners: helping them clear the next hurdle

Businessman jumping over hurdlesRachel Appleby, co-author of two levels of the new International Express (published in January 2014), looks at how to help adult learners to maintain momentum when learning a language. Rachel will be presenting on this topic at IATEFL 2014 on Wednesday 2nd April.

Over the years, I’ve made significant efforts to learn Hungarian, and have done reasonably well; however, I can now “do” what I need to do with the language, and I’m very aware that I’m forgetting it, even though I still live in Budapest. I also go through phases of learning Spanish, and try to do a little everyday, such as reading an article I’ve come across that interests me, or putting Spanish radio on while I’m cooking. OK, so I might be keeping the little Spanish I have alive, but I’d be kidding myself if I thought that I was making any real progress in doing these things.

Many students I’ve come across tell me similar stories, but they also have other difficulties: time is always the number one hurdle; in addition, some think learning a language is all about doing grammar exercises, which of course they find boring; many claim to be able to learn long lists of words, but then resent their efforts when they find they can’t really use them in conversation.

Adults learning a language today characteristically stop and then re-start learning, each time with renewed enthusiasm, yet we all have busy lives! Does this sound like you too? Somehow we expect to make progress, often with minimal effort. Some people claim they are able to keep a language going by reading, or watching films, – perhaps even by having the occasional conversation with a native speaker in that language. But, in fact, all too often we’ve reached a plateau, or perhaps our language use is even getting worse.

So what can we do to help our students? I do actually realise that I need to engage my brain and be very focused on what I want to learn if I’m going to make any progress at all, so extensive listening while chopping onions isn’t really going to do the job! But how can we translate this into the classroom? How can we really get students involved, and ensure they make progress?

Well, I think we need to be very aware of the difficulties our students are facing, as well as what they’re aiming for; in fact the more we know about them, the better we’ll be at helping them. Adult learners bring a wealth of experiences to class, and in most cases are eager to share those, and have a chance to express their opinions. But they need to be motivated and engaged. So we need to ensure that we give them the scope and range of topics to be fully involved. But we also need to focus on language, and create opportunities to help them understand and relate to new language, and make sure that they practise the language in a meaningful way.

In my session at IATEFL Harrogate we’re going find out what it is that makes learning difficult and perhaps prevents learners from getting over the next hurdle. We’ll then be looking at topics and task-types from the new edition of International Express that will engage the learners, provide them with relevant language, and ultimately enable them to communicate effectively and make progress in areas that matter to them.

As a start, why not jot down in the comments box below what it is that makes it difficult for YOU, or YOUR learners, to get over the next language hurdle. I’d be really interested to find out, and – you never know – we just might have a solution for you! Let me know!

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How to Keep Writing Tasks Real: Hotel Reviews

Hotel sign

Photo courtesy of Tomás Fano via Flickr

Alastair Lane is co-author of International Express Elementary and Intermediate levels, the all-new, five-level course for adult professionals, publishing in January 2014. International Express includes plenty of coverage of the hotel and travel industry. Here, Alastair shows how you can bring the subject alive with a real-life writing task.

“To whom it may concern. I am extremely unhappy with the service I received at your hotel during the week of 1 September to 7 September 2013.”

Those were the days. When customers received bad service, the typewriter would be out in a flash and our disgruntled customer would be bashing the keys in fury. However, today the idea of a letter of complaint is so old-fashioned that we might as well be teaching our students how to write a telegram.

Things are different now. If you go to a hotel or a youth hostel and the service is bad, when you get home you have a chance to complain to the whole world. You might put a negative review on Trip Advisor. Alternatively, if you booked it through a website like Booking.com, you will be invited to place your review on the site.

This is the kind of task people are doing in real life, and it’s the kind of writing task that we should be using in the classroom. We can ask the class to write a review of a hotel that they have stayed at, a fictional hotel, or a review of a hotel that they can see online. Students immediately see the purpose of the task because it replicates something they would naturally do in L1.

Writing a hotel review can work at any level from Elementary upwards, because online reviews can be as short as a single sentence.

Students can go straight to the Internet to find real-life model texts. Sites like Booking.com are particularly good for this. Firstly, they provide an automatic model for writing because users are asked to complete two sections: one for good points and one for bad points. That helps lower-level students organize their texts.

Secondly, users can filter the results to read reviews from people like themselves. If you have an older class, you can look at reviews posted by ‘families with older children’ or younger students can look at reviews by ‘groups of friends’.

When writing an online hotel review, students can write a fifty-word text and it still looks as real as any other entry on the sites. Students don’t have the sense that the task has been artificially simplified to match their language level.

A writing task of this nature also allows you to practice reading skills. Students can exchange their reviews, without the number of stars. The next student or pair has to decide whether the review is a one-star or five-star one. After all, we also want to practice praising the hotel in addition to the language of complaint.

With higher level students, you can ask them to write the review as if they are a particular group of travellers e.g. ‘mature couple’, ‘solo traveller’, ‘business traveller’. They then have to pass their text to the next student or pair. Once again, the next students have to guess which type of traveller wrote the review. This is a particularly good way of reviewing the language of facilities, as a business traveller will have very different needs to a 21 year-old travelling alone.

The short nature of writing online and the fact that users tend to write for an international audience in English provides a huge number of opportunities for the classroom. So let’s forget artificial tasks like the letter of complaint and start replicating what students are actually doing out in the real world.

Alastair Lane has over seventeen years’ experience in English language teaching. Currently based in Barcelona, he has also taught in Finland, Germany, Switzerland and the UK. Alastair is co-author of International Express Elementary and Intermediate levels, part of the five-level course publishing in January 2014.


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Discover what’s different about the new International Express

Young businesswoman smilingRachel Appleby, co-author of two levels of the new International Express (publishing January 2014), presented a sneak preview of the course during her webinar on Wednesday 6th November.

I wonder how you decide which coursebook you’re going to use with your adult professional learners. Not long ago, the choice seemed a lot easier, but there’s so much out there now that it’s much more difficult, not to mention the fact that contexts are changing, and learners are getting more demanding too!

So, what can we do?

Well, I’m always on the look-out for materials that offer flexibility: I don’t necessarily want to work through them page by page, although having a reliable coursebook structure is certainly comforting. What matters most to me is being able to respond to what my learners want, and what motivates them. So that means dealing with language they might need there and then – language they can use immediately after class – and also making sure that topics are up-to-date and inspiring, and will get them talking!

I’m also keen to get my students using new language as much as possible, especially in speaking activities. I have lots of resource books at home, but quite often I find a task which fits their level, but is totally off-topic, or vice versa, and so not really appropriate. That sort of time-wasting can be incredibly frustrating!

So let me tell you about the new edition of International Express. You probably know the earlier editions. I’ve used the different levels at a number of companies, but such a lot has changed since they came out. Learners these days expect to be able to do more in their own time, or at home, which means, I think, that language in coursebooks needs to be even more clearly presented, guiding learners through really carefully, and giving them plenty of practice too.

The new 5-level International Express series is coming out in January 2014, so in fact no-one’s seen it yet (although I have a hunch the Beginner level might already have escaped!). Rest assured that if you were a fan of International Express before, as I was (for its reliability, clarity of language work, and meaningful practice for students), then you’ll find all this here – and more. The content is 100% new, so of course it’s up to date with contemporary global lifestyle topics, including travel and socializing, but it’s still for the professional. And it offers plenty of bite-sized chunks, and flexibility – music to my ears!

But apart from addressing how students want to study, one of the other things I find especially tough these days is “keeping up with the Jones’s”, in other words, other teachers! It’s happened to me a few times that a colleague has mentioned “a great video-clip” they used in class, and I simply don’t find it easy to select videos that are going to work with my students. I do think this is what learners are wanting, yet we still have to ensure that what we do in class will support and help their learning, and meet their needs.

As luck would have it, one of the exciting new features of the new International Express is the add-on video for each unit, directly related to each unit topic. They’re handled in such a way that, by the end, the learners are really going to get a sense of achievement in watching the clips; and let’s face it, that’s one of the main confidence boosters I know of in language learning!

So, if you want to be one of the first to look inside the third edition of International Express, perhaps check out a video clip, and see how it’s going to help you and your learners, watch a recording of my webinar on Wednesday 6th November, and I’ll show you more.

It would also be great to see you at the BESIG conference in Prague from Friday 8th – Sunday 10th November. On Saturday 9th, I’ll be using hot-off-the-press International Express materials during my talk entitled ‘Does the customer really know best? Getting the most out of in-company training’. Speak soon!


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Teaching Business English to Beginner Learners

Two businessmen shaking handsTo mark the launch of International Express Beginner, Andrew Dilger writes about the main challenges involved in teaching Business English to beginner learners and suggests possible solutions for overcoming them. Andrew is a freelance teacher trainer and editor, and has been involved in ELT for over twenty years. 

First of all, it’s useful to clarify exactly what we mean by Business English (or BE). One of the simplest, most effective definitions I’ve come across is ‘the English you need to get the job done’. And that’s any job! We might be confronted with a class full of sales people, admin assistants, finance officers or even good old-fashioned managers. These days, almost all employees in an international organization are expected to have some ability in English. That leads on to the first of four main challenges I’ve identified.

1) Context

Finding out exactly what English our learners actually need to use at work can be surprisingly hard. They may be already working (‘in-service’), or in training or not yet in work (‘pre-service’). In both cases, we should start with a comprehensive needs analysis. This is usually in the form of a questionnaire about what learners need to speak about and listen to, as well as read and/or write about. It should also cover who they need to communicate with, how often, and using what media (e.g. phone, email, in person, etc.) Because of their low level, it’s far better to cut to the chase and do this in learners’ L1. At the start of my teaching career, I sometimes only discovered what learners needed to do in English part-way through a course. Too late!

2) Learners

Generally speaking, beginner learners of BE (unless they’re ‘pre-service’) will be older adults, with an average age of between 35 and 55. Younger learners of BE are ‘digital natives’, tending to have tuned into the global importance of English and already managing to have acquired the basics to lift them above beginner level. Older students may not be particularly ‘internet-savvy’ (though they won’t want to lose face by confessing this), and may even have negative associations with learning English or another language from their school days. The thing that works in our favour, however, is that BE is about communicative competence (‘getting the job done’). Most beginner learners of BE will be less concerned with how we teach them English (i.e. the methodology) than how fast and effectively we can teach it them!

3) Time

In-service learners will typically enrol on a language course for a limited period and expect results quickly. What they sometimes don’t take account of is the amount of effort they need to put in, or their language learning capability. It’s often helpful to agree a brief contract (again, in learners’ L1 – and businesspeople like contracts!) about what their expectations and goals are in the given timeframe. This can also include how much work they’re prepared to do outside class. Also, we shouldn’t forget that beginner learners need to review regularly, particularly if they’re out of the habit of language learning. I’d suggest a ratio of new to review material of 60:40, which is what happens in International Express Beginner, for example. The trick is to make the review material feel sufficiently different so learners don’t feel like they’re going over old ground!

4) Motivation

While beginner level learners can improve rapidly, they can also get demotivated by how much there is to learn. As part of the needs analysis, it’s important to establish who the stakeholder is. Are they learning because they want to (‘intrinsic’ motivation), or because the company or their boss requires it (‘extrinsic’ motivation)? If BE learners feel their job is on the line we need to take that into account by making sure our lessons have an appropriate degree of seriousness. This means the practical application and relevance of activities to their working context must be clear at all times. But that doesn’t mean lessons should be dull – liveliness and variety is particularly important for beginner learners!

So what’s your opinion? Teaching BE to beginners varies according to the exact context and profile of the learners concerned, so it’s always interesting to hear a range of viewpoints.

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Teaching and learning with video – Part 3: Interviews, vox pops and beyond…

Video camera and microphoneBruce Wade is the Editor of International Express. Building on his previous posts, Video in the Classroom and The Use of reportage and mini-documentary, he considers how video interviews can be used for contextual language learning.

We are naturally interested and curious about what other people do, what they are like, and what they look like. Using video gives students a chance to meet people they wouldn’t otherwise meet, and learn about their life and what they do. A wine producer in England, a nurse in Uganda, an expat entrepreneur in Prague, a travel writer who has travelled all over Africa, all have interesting stories to tell. How has climate change affected wine production in England? What can a foreign nurse do to help eradicate malaria in Africa? How does an American set up a business in the Czech Republic? What does a travel writer take with him on a research trip? These are all fascinating questions that are best answered by those people talking directly about their work, allowing the viewer to see the context in which they are working and talking.

Vox pops allow you to put a diverse group of people together on video so that the viewer can compare and discuss what different people in different professions and countries think about various issues related to their jobs. Simple questions such as, “How important is appearance at work?”, “What do you do every day at work?”, “How do you greet someone for the first time?” tell us a great deal about the culture, the social conventions, and the lifestyles of people from diverse origins.

International Express Video: Pre-Intermediate level, Unit 8: Work Culture

And finally …

Take a look at more sample videos from the new DVD and DVD-ROM editions of International Express. If you want to use this material yourself, the full DVD and DVD-ROM editions feature 44 video clips across the series, each around 4 minutes in length. The footage is a mix of contemporary, commissioned material, fascinating archive material, and clips provided by various corporations and organizations. Locations cover North and South America, Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.

Bruce Wade, Editor

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