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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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#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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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 one-to-one

Rachel Appleby, co-author of Business One:One, looks at the strange and wonderful world of one-to-one classes. Rachel hosted a webinar on 5th December 2012 – watch it here.

We often talk about the advantages and disadvantages of teaching in a situation where there is only one student (sometimes referred to as “one:one”), as opposed to teaching a group. But have YOU ever learnt a language in a one:one situation? Would you? Why? Or why not? What language would you choose to learn, and at what level? How would you want to spend that precious hour or two? Chatting? Studying grammar? Listening to your teacher?

I’ve tried learning Hungarian one:one, and it’s quite demanding paying attention for a whole hour! I also sometimes feel quite awkward about discussing what we’re going to do – whether I should make decisions about content, or the teacher should. And what about learning styles? Does the teacher help me learn in my own way, or choose their style? So there are lots of issues to think about. I wonder what your experiences are!

So why do you think some of our students choose 1:1? After all, it’s often considerably more expensive, and can be quite intimidating and intensive. Do such learners really know what they want? Do their teachers? Do the learners get what they want?

One of the things I most love about one:one teaching is the fact that every student has a different learning style, they all do different jobs, and have different interests. In fact their needs often change quite rapidly when they become more aware of different ways of learning, or what sorts of topics we could discuss.

And although it’s important to find out what your student wants, as I hinted earlier I’m not sure they always know, so it’s important for teachers to be eclectic in style, and provide as wide a range of activity types as possible. Some won’t suit your student, but others will fire them with enthusiasm to find learning opportunities outside class time. And in that way, 1 or 2 hours of contact time becomes far more valuable and useful.

I strongly believe we need to maximize class time so that ‘other time’ can be used for reading and listening, and doing language exercises. When we’re together with the student, we need to give them as much time as they want for speaking, as obviously that might be more difficult outside class time (unless they’re learning in an English-speaking environment). We might also need to focus on and clarify grammar issues, and we need to demonstrate ways of revising vocabulary. In other words, it’s worth focusing on things which our students need our help with, and that can vary from one student to the next.

In the webinar on December 5th, we’ll be looking at what it is that makes one:one teaching special. This will include both the benefits and drawbacks of one:one teaching, and how to approach some of the trickier issues.

We’ll also look at different activity types, and ways of making classes interactive and multi-dimensional to give the impression that there are more people (or opportunities!) involved. I wonder what ideas you have? Please join us and do contribute!

And – most excitingly – we’ll touch on how to help our students talk about things that really matter to them – whether that’s underground plastic piping, the price of oil, or Spey Valley whiskies – so that we provide our students with the opportunities they really need in order to be able to express themselves naturally. This is where one:one teaching and learning becomes mutual learning: we learn too!

Whether you’re new to teaching one:one, or have some ideas about what works, and what doesn’t, I’ll look forward to sharing the platform with you on December 5th to discuss some of these issues! I’ll also share the list of must-take goodies I have on me for every one:one class. Have paper and pen at the ready!


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Teaching Speaking for Academic Purposes

Male graduate student smilingRachel Appleby, author and seasoned EAP teacher, looks at the challenges of teaching speaking skills in an academic context. Rachel hosted a webinar on this topic on 21st November. You can view a recording of the webinar here.

Why should academic speaking be any different from regular speaking skills?

In General English contexts, students need informal discussion skills, everyday transactional skills (such as those we practise in roleplay activities), and ultimately to be able to communicate successfully. Quite often those students who have good communication skills in their first language are able to transfer them successfully to a second language.

In an academic context, these general skills are still important, but specifically, there are two key areas which require focus, namely:

  • participating in seminars
  • giving academic presentations

So what do we mean by these? Apart from regular language work, how can we help students participate? What sort of questions open up a discussion, or enable a student to delve more deeply into a topic? How can they present an argument well? What do we mean by ‘clarity’ from a speaker’s perspective? And how can we help students structure their speaking, both in terms of an overall text, as well as at sentence level?

As these are actually important in everyday conversation, then they are skills which are already accessible to the teacher; they are things that we should be able to do too!

In terms of fine-tuning what students need, we should also bear in mind the sorts of contexts they learn in. For seminars, this is raising an awareness of, and practising group discussion conventions. For presentations, students need help in planning, and then in organizing the content. And of course unless they are seasoned presenters in their own language, a lot of effective work can be done on delivery, either for giving a PowerPoint presentation, or a poster presentation. I recently spent a little time on the latter, and the results were impressive: my students were not only able to layout a poster with visual clarity, but also present it orally with a good degree of conviction. It certainly pays to work on a few nifty tips and strategies!

Academic speaking skills training gives students structure for what they want to say, as well as rationale and focus; all of which are extremely useful for effective communication in every walk of life.

For us as teachers, it’s also important to be able to ensure equal participation among our students. By first observing, and then working on techniques students can use, we can maximize their participation in seminars and help enable students not simply to join in a discussion but also to lead a discussion.

If you teach students about to study at college, or already in tertiary education, or you’d simply like to know more about these issues, then watch the webinar here!

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