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Where’s the video?

Woman on the floor with laptop and headsetRachel Appleby, co-author of the Business one:one serieslooks at some of the benefits and drawbacks of using video in the classroom. She’ll be running a workshop at IATEFL 2012 in Glasgow around the range of videos available to teachers and the practical implications of exploiting them.

In my multiple efforts to learn Spanish, I started watching a film last night. I was expecting it to have English subtitles, or at least Spanish, but it turned out to have neither. 15′ into the film I was floundering. Not exactly my idea of a relaxing Sunday evening.

I have a list of strategies for improving my Spanish, most of which come in bite-sized chunks. Watching films doesn’t quite fit into that category, but as long as I understand what is going on, then it seems worthwhile, and naively I like to think it helps!

I often recommend films to my students, however, but only to the higher level learners. Unfortunately with Business English students, there is rarely time to focus on long extracts. We all have favourite YouTube clips, and these can be a good starting point for a lesson, but beyond that (and a lot of extra work), I have my doubts.

While there are now a number of language teaching websites dedicated to short video extracts (both short clips, as well as film extracts), they still need fitting into the syllabus, and making relevant to students, and this is particularly difficult, I find, with BE students and their disparate needs. Such media needs to enhance learning, make it easier, more fun, more interesting or more memorable, and ultimately more effective to achieve lesson aims.

Maybe I’m unlucky where I teach, but too often I’ve been held up showing a clip on YouTube in class while the streaming regularly stops to buffer. I’ve also found that my favourite extract straddles two clips on YouTube. Once, the only decent-quality clip from a film I wanted to show had subtitles in Japanese. I’m doomed. Classes must be free of such technical glitches!

From a student’s perspective, there are other issues: sometimes they simply “don’t get” the point of the extract I thought would be a resounding success at the start of class. The clip is de-contextualized (both situation and characters need explaining) and, perhaps most importantly, the language is either too fast, or at a level which is too difficult. Handing out a video script either before or after is helpful, but not exactly motivating, and to me, it initially defies audio as listening practice. The result can be very demotivating for students.

While videos can be useful for exposing students to good examples of language, such extracts are rare, and need searching out and working on: in fact, a lot of thought and time is required to put together a good lesson based on a video extract.

Without denying the potential that authentic video has (and I’m a great believer in real language, and the ‘here and now’), I think there are many times when a short, tailor-made video will encapsulate exactly what is needed to engage the business student, inform and inspire them, and ultimately give them the confidence to use the language or information they have learnt in their own environments, thus providing a greater sense of achievement in the process.

Isn’t this, ultimately, what we’re after, well over and above the mere entertainment factor?

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Keeping ahead in uncertain times

Jeremy Comfort discusses the role that Business English teachers can play in developing a culture of innovation. Jeremy will be talking about Business and Culture at the BESIG annual conference in Dubrovnik on 19 November 2011.

As the storm clouds darken even further over Europe, it makes one reflect on our destiny. Economic power is shifting inexorably towards Asia and China in particular.

It seems that Europeans must accept a diminishing role.  The jury is still out on America as to whether they can recharge their batteries and once again be the strongest motor in the world economy.

A deciding factor will be technological innovation and where it comes from. Although Europeans have often been the initiators in terms of original research it has been the Americans and Japanese who have commercialized most of the big breakthroughs over the last fifty years. So the big question is whether the emerging economies can also take a lead in this area.

So what’s this got to do with Business English? I think the context is critical if we are to make our contributions beneficial for our clients. One of the ways into this is through looking at the culture of innovation.

I have been working closely with a small German fan-making company which is making big inroads into emerging markets. But they also have challenges in terms of adapting their innovations to these new markets especially in terms of the price–value relationship. On the other hand, the Chinese have started to really talk up the critical role innovation will play if they are to make another step in the development of their economy.

In both cases, they need to start by reflecting on where they currently stand – in other words, be mindful about their current business cultures. I often encourage my clients to use SWOT to focus on their current situation – what strengths do they have, what are their weaknesses, where are the opportunities, and what is going to get in their way (threats)?  My German client would certainly identify research and quality as key strengths, and a lack of adaptability and maybe humility as weaknesses. Their Chinese partners would probably see adaptability and speed as strong points, and maybe a lack of consistency as an obstacle.

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English for Finance – no cause for panic

David Baker, co-author of Finance 1 in the Oxford English for Careers series, discusses the subject of his forthcoming talk on English for Finance at BESIG on 19th November.

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.

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The Power of Business Video – Part 2: Key uses of video for Business English teaching

Business workers in phone conferenceFollowing his post on using graded video, John Hughes looks at how video can be used in the Business English classroom. John will be speaking on this subject at the BESIG conference on 19th November.

In my previous post about using video in business English lessons I focused on the reasons for using graded video materials with business English learners. In this article, I’ll focus on some of the key uses of video in the classroom and for self study. I’ll illustrate each point with reference to how certain types of video can be effectively used in these ways. The videos I refer to below are the ones we’ve developed to accompany the Business Result course series, available in February 2012. If you’d like to come along to my presentation at the BESIG conference on 19th November, I’ll be showing extracts from some of them and suggesting ways to use them.

Video as a stimulus

Video is a great way to start off a lesson and to get students talking about the topic of the lesson. For example, you can turn the sound off and let students watch the pictures. They can discuss what they think the video is going to be about or compare what they see to their own working lives. One way we’ve related the Business Result videos to the student’s own experience is by having ‘Vox Pops’ videos. In these, we take two or three questions the students might ask and answer about their own work and ask them to other real people who give their own authentic responses. This means that you can discuss the questions with your students and compare their experience to those in the video. This is especially useful with one-to-one or small group lessons where you don’t have the benefit of lots of students giving alternative viewpoints, so it’s helpful to bring in an outsider’s opinion.

Video to generate discussion

You can often use video for in-depth discussions. For example, Business Result includes case study style documentaries. In one case study, the owner of a company needs new premises. We see him visiting two locations and discussing the pros and cons of each office for his needs. Students watch and then discuss which location is best-suited for him. It’s an elementary level video but the language is all pitched so students at this level can have a meaningful discussion afterwards.

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Meeting the needs of Business Studies students

Business meetingLouis Rogers is co-author of Skills for Business Studies Intermediate and Upper-intermediate. Ahead of his talk at BESIG on 19th November, he discusses the challenges of meeting the needs of Business Studies students.

At a recent conference, ‘Engaging and Motivating Students in the EAP Classroom‘, a number of the presenters reached the conclusion that the more a specific course is tailored to student needs, the greater the level of motivation and engagement. To a Business English tutor who has conducted numerous needs analyses, and consequently chosen a book or written materials on this basis, this is perhaps hardly surprising. However, when teaching English to Business Studies students, what are the needs of these learners? How can we best use the Business English materials that are already on the market, and what gaps need to be filled?

Although Business English course books do not necessarily address all of the needs of a Business Studies student, they are certainly valuable. Presentations are to a large extent the same whether in an academic or professional situation. The language required to successfully participate in meetings and seminars is also similar. Both of these genres can quite clearly occur in both settings.

There are also similarities in vocabulary, especially in terms of subject-specific vocabulary. So if there are so many similarities between the two, can we not simply walk in with our favourite Business English course book and get on with it? Whilst there are clearly similarities between the two areas, and a normal Business English course book is still of great value, there is a need to supplement in order to meet the slightly differing needs of academic students.

Firstly, there is a need for a shift in balance between lexical aims and grammatical aims of a course. In spoken discourse a much wider range of grammatical tenses are used than in written academic English. According to Biber et al (1999) 90% of an academic text is written using just two tenses: the past simple and the present simple. So the teaching of tenses takes on a lesser role in this setting.

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