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English Language Teaching Global Blog


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!


Teaching low level Business English

Businessmen shaking handsJohn Hughes is an author of Business Result. The new Starter level of this series will be launched in November at the BESIG 2013 conference in Prague. John will also be running a workshop on teaching low level Business English at BESIG called ‘Communicating much much more with a whole lot less!’

As a new teacher in the early nineties I often used to hear the widely-held view from more experienced colleagues that: “You don’t teach Business English at lower levels. The students just need to learn the basics. It isn’t business.” By the late nineties this view had rapidly altered; it soon became accepted that students at Pre-Intermediate level did in fact need English to help make telephone calls, write emails, meet people and make brief presentations. Logically, it then followed that Elementary students in companies also needed lessons with work-based English that focussed on ‘getting the job done’. And nowadays, Business English courses for beginner students are the norm rather than the exception.

However, even if we now agree that Business English can be taught at any level, teaching lower level Business English still presents us with its own set of challenges:

1. Teach to your student’s real level

When your school placement test puts a Business English student at a low level such as Elementary, it’s easy to forget that this same student is at a very high level in terms of their own subject-knowledge. Your business student might not be able to talk about what they had for breakfast in English but they can often describe quite complex aspects of their work in English. Whatever course syllabus or book you are following, give every opportunity for the student to make use of his/her existing job-related English.

2. Be economical

Business people by definition are people who appreciate efficiency. They want to get the job done in the quickest, most cost-effective way. Your approach at lower levels can be similarly economical. If there’s one word or phrase that will get the student’s message across, then – in general – teach that one way; avoid spending any more time on teaching five or six other ways of saying the same thing.

3. Repackage the language

Students at this level need so much recycling and revision of language. However, when we re-present language from the previous lessons, there’s a danger that students don’t feel they are making tangible progress. The trick is to ‘repackage’ the previously taught language. In other words, make sure the language reappears but within a different form; for example, that it reappears in a business text or re-present it the second time by using video.

4. Less is more

Having repackaged the previous language, we need to introduce new language alongside it. In an OUP blog post by Andrew Dilger on a similar subject, he suggests the balance is 60:40. So 60% of the lesson is recycling language and 40% focusses on new language. In fact I’d take this further and suggest that for many Business English teaching situations the balance is more like 70:30 or even 80:20 for classes where – due to work pressures – students have limited time for study.

5. What’s the ‘takeaway’?

In business, ‘the takeaway’ from a meeting is what you learned or ‘took away’ from the discussion. Similarly, students will feel more motivated if they leave your lesson with something tangible that they can take away and use. One way to do this is to find out when your student is next using English at work and give them something to use. For example, if they have a meeting, provide some useful language – even a single phrase – for them to try out at that next meeting. In the following lesson, find out if your student successfully managed to use the new language.

Can you add any more tips on teaching lower level Business English?

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Interview with Rebecca Turner – Co-author of Business Result

Two businessmen shaking handsNicola Fox, ELT Consultant for OUP Germany & Austria, talks to Rebecca Turner, one of the authors of Business Result.

What do you wish you had known before you started teaching Business English?
You don’t need to be an expert in every field, but you do need to do your homework! Straight after my CTELFA course at the very beginning of my career I found myself teaching business English and I haven’t looked back. However it was extremely daunting – I was younger than all the students I was teaching (23 years old!) and inexperienced not only in teaching but in business.

I had a few “in at the deep end” moments going with companies – mostly banks – on residential seminars along with a very supportive DoS who knew the ropes. This was a steep learning curve but great fun. Often I felt out of my depth with the business side of things but due to a sincere interest in my students and their work I learnt a lot in a very short space of time.

What’s your best English teaching tip?
This is a very basic one but listen to your students! In my experience a lot of misunderstandings are due to student and teacher talking at cross-purposes.

What book or person has influenced your career?
2 people & 1 book! I really owe it to two people to have got to where I am in my career. The first has to be Vicki Hollett who was my tutor/mentor on a diploma course I took. She supervised me through my project I had to complete for the assessment and motivated me into producing my own materials. These materials were noticed at the BESIG conference and that’s where my other role model comes in.

Charlie La Fond was my boss when I was his DoS at Business Language Center in Vienna for eight years. He encouraged me to attend the conference every year with the incentive that if I presented, he’d cover the cost of my trip! This more or less forced me into presenting regularly at the BESIG conference which not only led to my materials being noticed, but also gave me first-hand experience in doing presentations – something I’d been making my students do for many years, but hadn’t actually done myself!


Tricks of the trade: teaching English for engineering

Lewis Lansford, co-author of Engineering 1, talks about why teaching technical English isn’t as daunting as it seems. Lewis will be speaking on this topic at the 2012 IATEFL BESIG conference on 17th November 2012.

I was freaking out the entire summer before the class started.
I hadn’t a clue.
I had no experience in the industry.
I realised a teaching mistake could have fatal consequences.

These are the words of English teachers describing their thoughts and feelings as they began the journey into teaching English to engineers and technicians. Many technical English teachers never planned teach technical English, it just happened to them – they were in the right place at the right time – or some might say the wrong time.

Consider this technical English sentence: Our tools sinter or anneal thin-film materials using the photonic curing process in only milliseconds. It’s easy to see why teachers feel frightened. How can you possibly help students express ideas that you yourself don’t understand? And what teacher wants to feel that they’re the person in the room with the least knowledge and experience? The teacher – and not the student – is supposed to be the expert, right?

But is the above sentence a typical example of the language Engineers and technicians need? While highly technical language is an important component of any technical English syllabus, it isn’t the full story. So what is the full story? Here are four lessons learnt by the same four teachers who made the comments at the start of this blog.

It isn’t as daunting as it seems at first

The above sentence about sintering is representative of only a small part of the language engineers need. Just like any worker communicating in English, basic transactional language is the broad foundation that the technical language rests on. As a teacher, you’ll often be in highly familiar territory, because this is general rather than specialist English – Did you get my email? I can’t make the meeting on the 9th, and so on.

Allow your students to teach you

When you are confronted with difficult material, don’t panic. You can make your own ignorance an asset in the classroom by having your students explain technical terms and concepts to you. This sort of explanation is a skill that will serve them well in the work place, and it will help you develop your own expertise as a technical English teacher.

Demonstrate that you’re a language expert

OK, you haven’t mastered the photonic curing process mentioned above, but that’s not what your students want to learn from you. Your job is to bring teaching expertise and a good understanding of the English language to the classroom. Instead of being held back by what you don’t know, play to your own strengths and deliver pedagogically sound lessons.

Fun is pedagogically sound

We often imagine that a classroom full of engineers will be serious students who want ‘hard’ lessons. It’s true that if your students are involved with safety-critical systems such a brakes in cars or control systems for airplanes, it’s important to get it right – mistakes could put lives at risk. But the experience of most teachers is that like all students, engineers are at their best when classes are fun, even when the subject matter is potentially heavy. Technical vocabulary can be taught and revised using crosswords, word searches and puzzles, and communication activities can take the form of games. For example, students can analyse the function and purpose of a piece of equipment by imagining what life would be like without it; students enjoy this sort of break.

Most teachers find that once they’re used to teaching technical English, they have no desire to go back to the general English classroom, with the same old conversations about Lady Gaga, the Loch Ness Monster, and favourite festivals around the world. If you find yourself in a state of panic over an upcoming technical-English teaching gig, take heart and listen to people who’ve been there: It won’t be as bad as you fear, and you’ll probably end up enjoying it.


Who’s going to shoot the puppy?

Dog photographDilys Parkinson, editor of the Oxford Business English Dictionary, looks at some of the weird and wonderful idioms in Business English. This article was originally published in Dialogue Magazine.

Picture the scene: you’re in a boardroom at a crisis meeting. The market is shrinking, profits are falling rapidly and jobs must go immediately. Staff need to be told. ‘So,’ someone asks. ‘Who’s going to shoot the puppy?’

‘Shoot the puppy’ (that is, do something terrible and shocking) is just one of the idioms now heard in the business world. Many of these idioms are not used very often in ‘everyday’ English, even by native speakers, so how important are these idioms for people studying English for their working lives? Do they belong in a Business English syllabus?

One could argue that they can be ignored, because the majority of business transactions are carried out between non-native speakers who simply won’t use them. On the other hand, many non-native speakers will certainly come into contact with native speakers who do use these expressions, and even more will come across them when they read newspapers, business magazines and journals in English.

To justify a place in any teaching material or dictionary, there must be evidence that these idioms really are used, so let’s see what corpus evidence there is. What do we find in Oxford’s 45-million-word corpus of business language?

Unfortunately, perhaps, ‘shoot the puppy’ does not appear at all on this corpus. The nearest we can get to it is a novice entrepreneur being told that he has to be ‘willing to drown a puppy’. Nor are there any examples on the British National Corpus. An Internet search reveals that, although it is very frequent (about 33,000 citations), almost all refer to a computer game, while a few citations are related to a book, Shoot the Puppy, by Tony Thorne. It is very hard to find many written examples of the term in use at the moment, but this could change.

Let’s look at some other business idioms that occur more frequently. Another dog-related one is ‘dog eat dog’ – a rather dramatic image. There are ten examples of its use on the British National Corpus. A quick look at the smaller Oxford Business English Corpus, however, shows eight examples, and that’s enough to justify inclusion in a dictionary. For example: ‘I’m afraid in this line of work it’s a case of dog eat dog’. And: ‘We’re operating in a dog-eat-dog world’.

It’s certainly a colourful way of describing the fierce competition that there en is in the business world.

Many of the idioms used in the world of work are very clear and powerful. One of my favourites is ‘hit the ground running’, an idiom that comes from the idea of somebody jumping off a train, for example, and running off immediately. We often find it in job advertisements – ‘We need people who can hit the ground running on day one’ – or in comments such as ‘Few executives hit the ground running in a new role’.

We can easily imagine a new manager or employee in their track shoes, jumping into their new office and running around, getting things done very quickly. This idiom has 25 examples on the Oxford Business English Corpus, so is an important one to understand, as the example from a job advertisement shows.

What does all this mean, then, for people who are studying English for their working lives, and their trainers and teachers? From our corpus research at Oxford we have found that particular idioms are in fact commonly used in the business world, so people involved in Business English will meet them sooner or later. Some, such as ‘hit the ground running’, have or will also become part of our everyday language. So, while it may not be necessary to learn to use these expressions, learning the meaning of idioms should be an essential part of the study of Business English. A good dictionary, based on corpus research, will give guidance as to which ones are most useful.

‘Dead Cat Bounce’ to ‘Dog Eat Dog’ – welcome to the colourful world of business idioms

Idiom What is it / what does it mean? Example Where does it come from?
Have a foot in the door To get an opportunity in a company, group, market, etc. that could bring you future success. It may only be a low-level job, but at least it’s a foot in the door. The door-to-door salesman tactic of using a foot to prevent a customer closing the door.
Learn the ropes To learn how to do a new job correctly. It’ll take me a couple of weeks to learn the ropes, but after that I’ll be fine. Sailors being taught how to work the ropes that control the sails of a ship.
Red tape Official rules that seem more complicated than necessary, and prevent things from being done quickly. Do you know how much red tape you have to cut through if
you want to import a car?
The custom of tying red or pink tape around official documents.
Dog eat dog Fierce competition, with little concern for harm done or people’s feelings. The mobile phone market is very competitive – it’s dog eatdog out there. A variation of the Latin proverb ‘dog does not eat dog’, or that a dog would not destroy its own kind.
Dead cat bounce The small, temporary recovery in price/value that follows a large fall, but is then followed by another fall. Traders described the stock market’s recovery as nothing more than a dead cat bounce. A relatively new phrase which was invented in the 1980s to explain.
The lion’s share The largest part of something that is being shared. Thanks to some aggressive sales tactics, they now have the lion’s share of the market. An old Greek fable about a lion who is helped by some other animals to kill a stag, but then refuses to share it with them and keeps it all.
Get the green light To be allowed to begin something. As soon as we get the green light, we’ll start the recruitment process. Traffic lights – green means ‘go’.
Shoot the puppy
To do something very unpleasant, to do the unthinkable. I know no one wants to give them the bad news but we really can’t put it off any longer. Someone has to shoot the puppy. The US television industry in the 1980s – it was a way of imagining what people would be prepared to do, just to appear on television.

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