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English Language Teaching Global Blog


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!


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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A cocktail of ideas: blended learning and student autonomy

Young man using computer at desk, wearing headphonesAhead of her talk at BESIG this month, Rachel Appleby, a teacher and teacher trainer specialising in Business English, considers how to select appropriate technology when teaching a range of different learners.

When planning lessons these days, where do you start? With a piece of fantastic technology you’ve just heard about? A great YouTube clip, or podcast you’ve enjoyed? A new function or widget you want to share? I know I do this – often; it’s this which gets me using a wider variety of materials and, if I’m motivated, I know some of that will rub off on my students. I’m sure I’m not alone in doing this!

However, the more I try out new features, the more wary I have to be of what my students will want. What will make them ‘bite the bullet’ and join in or have a go? Increasingly, I’m finding I need to think of each individual – what they need, what they have time for, and what’s going to spark an interest to encourage them to experiment and ‘do something online in English’.

Getting students to be committed, engaged, and to ‘learn’ or use English, just doesn’t work if they’re not interested or they don’t see the point. We have to start with the learner and, with an ever-increasing range of materials to draw on, it isn’t getting any easier.

In my talk at BESIG on Saturday 20th November, I’d like to find out what others are experiencing. I’ll elaborate on some of the above issues, and describe what I’ve been doing over the past few months to work with a range of learners in different contexts – part-distance training, face-to-face classes, and of course trying to keep tabs on those learners who can’t make it regularly to class. Within all contexts, some are young adults with unreliable internet access, while others are more experienced in their learning and very computer savvy. There’s someone different on each point of the continuum.

My own experiments have included setting up collaborative group websites, exploiting a VLE (virtual learning environment – Moodle) with course planning, documentation and discussion forum options, and a range of other attempts to inspire my students to participate in a way which best suits them.

Ultimately our aim should be to help guide learners towards their own preferred resource types, and part of that process is showing them what is available, but also helping them manage their learning systematically. This may simply be highlighting the wealth of goodies contained within the course book package and thereby promoting traditional approaches through contemporary methods; for many, this is more than enough.

Blended learning may be all things to all people, but primarily we need to keep up-to-date in terms of resources and learning contexts, and ensure students are able to maximize their learning opportunities and achieve the required results within the framework within which they are operating.

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