Whether you’re an experienced teacher or new to the field, one of the most daunting aspects of ESP teaching is the dilemma of how to deal with specialist vocabulary as part of the wider process of training and learning.
If you’re teaching in-work trainees, you will sometimes need to master terminology which the people you’re working with will normally understand far better than you. And if you are working with pre-experience learners, you will need to monitor and help develop their understanding of the specialist vocabulary they are about to use in their future careers.
Nevertheless, technical vocabulary is not always as frightening as it first seems. Financial English is an especially interesting example. Thanks to the banking and stock market turbulence of recent years, we have all become instant ‘experts’ and cheerfully bandy about expressions which would have left us completely baffled before the intensive – and often obsessive – media coverage of world financial affairs got under way. Terms such as ‘sovereign debt crisis’, ‘quantitative easing'(or ‘QE’ to the real experts), ‘double-dip recession’, ‘the PIGS’, and so on trip off our tongues in pubs, offices, and dinner parties as if we had all just arrived hotfoot from a hard day’s trading on the stock market.
Most of us are in the happy position that we don’t have to understand precisely what these terms mean in order to use them and even to express an opinion on them from time to time. In my talk at BESIG on Saturday 19th November, one of the ideas I want to explore is how the process of finding out the meaning of such terms can be a route to learning more basic terms and concepts.
I have recently been working on developing materials for pre-experience learners preparing for a career in the financial sector. The main vocabulary-learning priority for this category of trainee is not so much the finance buzzwords I have just been describing, but rather the sort of ‘bread-and-butter’ terminology needed to talk about basic financial concepts and instruments.
In my BESIG session, I will explore ways in which teachers and teaching materials can help develop our trainees’ techniques for learning vocabulary. In particular, I will look at techniques for delivering and adapting teaching materials to take account of different levels of specialist background knowledge, as well as broader linguistic competence. I will also show some examples of integrating vocabulary teaching with other skills work.
I hope that you will be able to join me at my session. Together, in the words of Susan Jeffers’ seminal self-help tome, we will feel the fear of teaching financial vocabulary and do it anyway.
Do you teach English to trainees who require specialist vocabulary? Feel free to share any hints and tips in the comments section below.