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Teaching more than English – giving students the professional skills to succeed

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Disrupting our definition of Business English in the 21st Century

In a recent Washington Post article entitled ‘The surprising thing Google learned about its employees – and what it means for today’s students’, it was reported that Google had carried out a survey into the key characteristics for achieving success as a Google employee. Surprisingly, knowledge of STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) did not appear first. Instead, the survey placed skills such as coaching, insight, empathy, critical thinking, problem solving, dealing with complex ideas at the top of the list.

As a Business English teacher and course book author, I have a natural interest in these emerging ‘soft skills’ which reflect the needs of the 21st century workplace skills. I feel it’s my job to make sure my course materials and the contents of my lessons reflect the English needed to support these emerging skills. However, I also feel that for sometimes Business English materials have resisted integrating these skills into course programmes because they don’t easily fit into our longstanding definition of what Business English is.

If we go back about 25 years, the prevailing definition of ‘Business English’ has been:

  • Language: Like General English course it covered grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, the four skills etc.
  • Communication Skills: Unlike General English, Business English aimed to train students in how to present more effectively, how to run a meeting, how to negotiate etc.
  • Professional content: Business English books also dealt with topics such as production processes or marketing and sales; in other words, we taught business concepts alongside the vocabulary required to talk about them.

Since then, this three-part definition has dominated the contents and structure of most Business English classrooms and courses. And yet, some of the new skills don’t fit comfortably into the definition. Where exactly would you place ‘insight’ or ‘empathy’ into the three categories? Do thinking skills (critical or creative) require their own category? Is it even the job of a Business English to ‘teach’ these items alongside English?

These were just some of the questions that confronted me when I returned to work on the second edition of Business Result. The first edition of Business Result was published exactly ten years ago and so it naturally reflected the three-part structure of language, communication skills and professional content. But on returning to re-author the materials a decade later, it was apparent to me that we needed to incorporate the demands of newer 21st Century workplace skills. It’s the same challenge that faces many Business English teachers today – that we strive to prepare our learners not only with English but also with the professional skills they will need in the next few decades.

On March 16th Oxford University Press holds its first Business English Online Conference and my webinar, entitled ‘Teaching more than English’, will assess the kinds of professional skills needed to succeed in the 21st century. We’ll consider how we might integrate them into our course design and lessons, and our approach to teaching and training our students to operate more effectively. The session encourages you to participate and comment based on your own experiences and I’ll also share some practical ideas to include in your Business English lessons.

Register now for Oxford’s first Business English Online Conference where John Hughes will be presenting a webinar on Teaching more than English – giving students the professional skills to succeed.


John Hughes is an award-winning author with over 30 ELT titles including the course book series ‘Business Result’ (Oxford) and the resource series ‘ETpedia’ (Pavilion). He has trained teachers at all levels of experience and background. In particular, he specializes in materials writing and offers consultancy and training in this area. His blog is www.elteachertrainer.com.


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Making teaching personal | How to bring client-led content into your teaching

Developing critical thinking in ESL

Teaching a group of business English students first thing on a Monday morning – short of going for a jog in sub-zero temperatures – is one of the surest ways I know of having to get out of bed and get into the swing of things snappily! I can’t say I look forward to the ordeal, but I can say that I don’t think I can remember a class which disappointed, and after which I didn’t feel energised. But perhaps I’m lucky.

However, when Kata asked me, as she always did, about my weekend on a particular Monday back in June, I really didn’t know what to say.

I’d had a nightmare of a time, spending most of it in a whirlwind filling in forms at a police station. It didn’t seem right to relate such personal issues to my students. But I knew her and the group well, and in any case, telling them would make a change from, “Great, thanks – yeah, we went hiking; I met a friend for coffee, and you?” etc. So I decided to tell them that on the Friday evening I’d had my briefcase with amongst other things my passport stolen. I told them how annoyed I was, and they were all ears!

Of course! It was only with hindsight that it dawned on me what a golden opportunity this was, and how much I could exploit it. After all, this was my upper intermediate insurance class; without hesitation, they started firing questions at me about the contents of my bag, the value of the items in question, exactly what had happened, whether I was insured, and so on. They then insisted on helping me fill in the claim form so as to get the best deal possible. I couldn’t have broken this news to a more sympathetic or expert group: They gave me insights into the industry I’d have never known otherwise! ‘In return’, we worked on form-filling, question forms, formal insurance language vs. everyday spoken English, the passive, and much more besides. My longer-term course plan was ditched for a few weeks, but during these weeks, attendance rose, and engagement and involvement was higher than it had ever been.

While I don’t intentionally generate major personal events to exploit in class, it’s surprising how, with a bit of thought, we can in some way or other gain a better understanding of what our students do through bringing our own or a friends’ experiences to class (have a think!).

With my insurance group, I found myself drawing on students’ expertise, and focusing on language relevant for them so as to reach a win-win situation. Although I ‘took’ the story to class, input over the next two or three weeks was based on the language they needed in order, in part, to be able to offer me professional advice.

 In my webinar on 16 March, I’ll be looking at how we can incorporate real-life and authentic experiences and events into a course plan in a more structured manner, in order to enhance the learning experience through better engagement and higher motivation.

I hope you’ll join me then!

Register now for the Oxford Business Online Conference where Rachel will be presenting a webinar on Making teaching personal – how to bring client-led content into your teaching


Rachel Appleby has taught English for International House and the British Council in the UK, Spain, Portugal, Slovakia, and Hungary, where she now lives. She focuses mostly on teaching English to adults, in-company students and, more recently, to University students. Rachel works part-time at ELTE University in Budapest on the BA and MA programmes. She is also a Teacher trainer specifically for Business English, but also a CELTA trainer, and British Council EMI trainer.

Rachel has also authored/co-authored a number of English Language Teaching titles with Oxford University Press, including Business one:one, and International Express,


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Flipped Classroom Approach | What is all the fuss about?

Flipped Classroom Approach

The Flipped Classroom Approach, what’s all the fuss about?

Many educators are familiar with the notion of a ‘Flipped Classroom Approach’: The Flipped Model has been adopted across a wide range of educational contexts, and English Language Teaching is no different.

So, what is it? Simply, it’s an approach that involves the reorganisation of what happens in class time and outside of class time. The traditional notion of classroom-based learning is turned on its head: One commonly-quoted definition is that homework becomes schoolwork, and schoolwork becomes homework.

In a conventional classroom, content delivery happens during the class, when learners are expected to acquire knowledge in the classroom with (from) their teacher. The time left for practice activities, assimilation and the application of new knowledge is squeezed, which means that learners are often left to do these activities as ‘follow up’ for homework by themselves – without the support of their teacher and peers.

The Flipped Classroom Approach tries to overcome these problems. It’s strongly associated with blended learning, and one basic way to flip your classroom involves putting content onto online videos (for example using screencasts), which students are invited to work through before they attend your classroom session. Proponents of the Flipped Classroom Approach argue that by inverting what happens in the classroom, in-class time can now focus on active learning and student-centred strategies, such as discussions and task-based learning, leading to an improvement in student engagement, motivation, attendance and performance.

Thus in the Flipped Classroom model, students are able to access content in their own time, at their own pace, reviewing it as many times as necessary before they come to class, armed with their own questions and ready to put their new learning into practice.

It’s clear to see that a key purpose of the flipped approach is to move students away from a passive learning experience towards active learning, with all the associated collaboration and peer learning that goes with it, coupled with a similar move away from a teacher-centred approach towards a more facilitative role.

We could argue that this is just good teaching. I’m a big fan of active learning. I’ve been involved in English language teaching since the 1990s, and even way back then, when I first set foot in the classroom, I knew that those learners who came to class having done some work in advance (“pre-reading”, anyone?), those who were happy to work collaboratively, and those that took ownership of their learning were far more likely to succeed than those that needed spoon-feeding. Surely we’ve come a long way across all educational sectors, in our move away from the ‘sage on the stage’ to the ‘guide on the side’.

Nonetheless, an increasing number case studies are emerging where flipped learning as a pedagogy is being evaluated more rigorously, and it’s clear that increasing numbers of teachers are adopting (at least some of) the practices associated with the Flipped Classroom Approach. It also becomes ever easier to create, store and share online content and blended learning is a widely accepted teaching model in itself.

So, these are interesting times for Flipping. With this in mind, I’d like to invite you to join me in an upcoming webinar: “Flipping your classroom: how to make the most of your teaching time” on Friday 16th March, 1pm. In this webinar we’ll explore what flipped learning could look like for the busy language teacher, and I’d love to hear what sort of things you’ve been doing and what the experience has been like for your students. We’ll also consider why and how you might want to try Flipping your classroom, as well as what might stop you.

I’m looking forward to seeing you then!


Angela Buckingham is an Academic Developer working in Higher Education in the UK with over twenty five years of experience in ELT as a classroom teacher, teacher trainer, and writer. Courses for OUP include the best selling Passport series for Japan, the third edition of Business Venture, level 5 and level 6 of Oxford Discover Grammar (primary) and the Beginner and Elementary levels of new edition International Express. Angela has an MA in TEFL.


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Engaging content for your Business English lessons

What’s the point of talking about this?

Because exploring a topic with your class that they are interested in and passionate about can spark some great conversations. Discussing content that students don’t want to engage with is, in contrast, nowhere near as valuable.

In this post, Business English author John Hughes looks at the types of topics and texts which will get students speaking.

In Business English, most of our students want plenty of speaking practice and the opportunity to talk. However as teachers, we are all too familiar with the real challenge of finding a topic that students will be interested in speaking about – it’s never as easy as it sounds! This is a challenge for all teachers, but in Business English you also have to find topics that have relevance to students from all sorts of different business backgrounds.

One typical approach to any speaking lesson is to start by giving students a reading or listening text, or a short video to watch. Then set some comprehension questions to check their understanding and ask students to talk about the topic. If you’re lucky, you’ll have chosen a topic that your students have views on 😃. If not, you’ll experience that sinking feeling when no one has much to say ☹.

When approaching this kind of Business English lesson, here are four criteria I tend to consider about texts and topics which will get students speaking.

  • Click-through topics

The world of online marketing refers to something called ‘click-through’. That’s when a link or advert attracts people and generates plenty of clicks through to a product page. In the same way, the topic you choose for students to discuss must be the sort of topic that would get lots of clicks if it was a link on a webpage. Ask yourself if you would click on it? Show it to a colleague and ask if they would. Do you think students would read it in their first language? If not, then why would they in English?

  • Tell me more

Any type of text you choose to prompt discussion (and I include video here) works best when it’s real, authentic, and information-rich. For example, choosing a text about a fictional made-up company is rarely as interesting as a text about a real business. Also bear in mind that nowadays your students can conduct their own research about the topic online, they’ll soon know whether a topic is fictional!

  • Tell me something new

Find topics that give your students something new. With pre-work students this might be easier than with experienced business students but fortunately the business world is full of new concepts that look at working in a new way. If you don’t believe me, try googling the terms shadow work, fun theory and upside-down management. These are all intriguing business concepts that have relevance to the life of any business student.

  • Talking about something I can use

Finally, I like using texts where the students learn about a business skill and then apply their own experience. Take the below example from Business Result Second Edition. The students listen to a business trainer describing how to use a priority matrix to help in their own daily decision-making. The main idea is that you list all the decisions you have to make in the next few weeks and categorise them in four ways, as a result you can prioritise your decision-making (Note that this matrix works also well for busy teachers!).

[From Business Result Second Edition Intermediate page 72].

In the lesson, students begin by discussing how they approach decision-making, then they listen to the talk and understand how the matrix works. Next, students list five things that they must make a decision about this week and use the matrix. Then they tell their partner about their priorities AND describe why they put them into certain squares. Finally, they discuss the effectiveness of the process. In this case, the speaking task has meaning and students learn to do something new – not only in English but also in their job.


John Hughes is a teacher, trainer and ELT author. His titles for Oxford University Press include Business Result, Business Focus, Successful Meetings and Successful Presentations. John has also run Business English Teacher training courses for schools and teachers all around the world. At last year’s BESIG conference, he received The David Riley Award for Innovation in Business English and ESP.


*The diagram in this blog post is taken from page 72 of Business Result Second Edition Intermediate: ‘The Priority Matrix’ from Teach Yourself: Run Your Own Business by Kevin Duncan Copyright © Kevin Duncan, 2010. Reproduced by permission of John Murray Press, an imprint of Hodder and Stoughton Limited.


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Teaching English with vox pops 🎤

Teaching English with vox popsVox pops videos can transform your Business English classroom

The term vox pop comes from the Latin term vox populi, meaning voice of the people. In modern media terms, it refers to the method of recording people’s responses to questions on camera. In this century, vox pops have become especially popular on news media channels where reporters go up to people in the street and ask for their views on a political issue. In the commercial world, the same technique of interviewing customers about new products and services is widely used and then shared on social media.

Using vox pops

Showing vox pops videos in the Business English classroom can work well for many reasons. They are short, so don’t take up too much class time, and – as with any video – they can help to change the pace of a lesson. They provide exposure to authentic real speech, and because they follow a question-answer format, they are often more manageable for students to understand than a long monologue. I also find that once I’ve shown the video to students, I can then ask them the same questions from the video and their responses are often much richer – possibly because the video gives them a model to follow.

To illustrate this point, here is a short vox pops video which is taken from a course called Successful Presentations. Notice how in this example there is only one question, but different people answer it in different ways. As students watch, they can note down each person’s answer and then afterwards add their own views.

Making your own vox pops

It’s also easy to make your own vox pops videos to use in class. If your school has filming equipment you could use that; but to be honest, any up-to-date phone with a video camera will do a good enough job. Perhaps the biggest challenge is to get good sound quality. External microphones can help here, though in general I find the internal microphone on my phone is adequate depending on the environment.

In terms of the actual filming, decide beforehand what questions you want to ask people. These could be questions taken from the course book or questions which will generate language about the type of topic you are currently working. It’s often fun to video people that your students know already; for example, if you are teaching in a school with other teachers, video their responses to questions as your students will enjoy seeing other teachers give responses and opinions. Note that if you are only showing the video on school premises you don’t necessarily need people’s written permission to show the video in other classes but for any other kind of public broadcast (e.g. online or in other locations), make sure the interviewees have formally agreed to it.

Some people will get nervous about being in front of the camera; typically they will want to prepare their answers. However, don’t let them spend too long preparing because vox pops videos should be fast-paced. This approach tends to generate interesting examples of real speech that can help your students to develop listening skills in class.

Vox pops work very well in the Business English classroom as they allow you to utilise experts on a business topic. For example, if one of your students is a Human Resources professional, why not interview that student on video and show it to other students who know less about the topic. In a recent project with Oxford University Press for the new Business Result Second Edition, we were lucky to have had access to several ‘outside experts’ in the form of business academics and researchers from Saïd Business School, one of the world’s leading business schools. After trial and error, I found that the best approach to these kinds of interviews was to write three questions beforehand. In general, three questions were enough to generate plenty of content on a topic. The business experts were then happy to talk about their area of expertise in response to each question. But we also allowed them to go ‘off topic’ which sometimes generated more useful content. The result is a set of vox pops videos which are designed to be as engaging as possible in, perfect for stimulating class discussion afterwards.

To illustrate this, here’s an extract from a Saïd Business School interview with surprising information about the effect of price location on consumer behaviour.

Helping students to make their own vox pops

One final tip about vox pops videos is that your students can even make their own. For homework, your students could go around their place of work and interview their colleagues in English, asking simple questions like ‘What do you do?”, “Tell us about your workplace?”, “What do you enjoy most about your work?” It’s a technique which is very learner-centred and encourages them to practice the kind of language they’ll need in the workplace.


John Hughes is a teacher, trainer and ELT author. His titles for Oxford University Press include Business Result, Business Focus, Successful Meetings and Successful Presentations. John has also run Business English Teacher training courses for schools and teachers all around the world. At last year’s BESIG conference, he received The David Riley Award for Innovation in Business English and ESP.