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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!


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Seven tips for successful case studies

John Hughes offers his advice on using case studies in the classroom. John hosted a webinar on the topic of Case Studies in the Business English Classroom on 6th November 2012 – watch it here.

Case studies are a popular tool in business management training. They allow companies to put managers into credible business situations and see how they respond. It helps the individual prepare for the ‘real thing’ and encourages them to consider different ways of responding to events in business. In the business English classroom, the case study also provides the student with valuable language practice. It’s an opportunity for students to try out the language they have been learning in lessons in a realistic situation.

How a case study works

In general, a case study works like this: Firstly, students receive background information about a real business situation. This might take the form of a reading, a listening or a video. During this time, they’ll need help with vocabulary and understanding the key content. The teacher also needs to check that students have a thorough understanding of the problem or issue that needs to be addressed. Next students work in groups or pairs and try to respond to the problem authentically. This is clearly the stage where lots of language is generated and the teacher’s role is to monitor. After the problem has been solved, students reflect on what happened in the case study and how successful the process was. In a language classroom, this includes feedback on language use.

Tips for successful case studies

Despite being useful teaching tools, case studies can end with student dissatisfaction and the teacher can be left wondering why the case seemed to fail. Here are some ideas and tips to ensure that case studies work well in your lessons.

1: Raise interest

Make the case relevant to the students. Allow time for them to share what they already know about the topic and find out what experience they have in a similar situation.

2: Get everyone to take part

Some students will talk more than others but try to involve all your students. Vary interaction patterns (i.e. using pair work and group work) so everyone has a chance to contribute.

3: Concept checking

Throughout the case study, check everyone understands the instructions and aims of each stage

4: The language

You can input useful language before you start and it’s also helpful to ask students to suggest expressions they that will be useful for the task. After the case study, set aside time to talk through common errors or examples of correct and effective language.

5: Navigate the students

Sometimes in case studies, students go down the wrong track. It’s your job to get them going in the right direction again. Prompt them during pair work or group work and don’t be afraid to make a suggestion if necessary.

6: Reach a conclusion

It’s not crucial that everyone agrees on a final outcome since language practice is the primary goal. But students will feel more satisfied if everyone manages to agree on a final outcome.

7: Feedback and reflection

Allowing students to reflect on and discuss what went well and what didn’t go so well in the case study provides another opportunity for language practice.

Click here to download an example case study from Business Result Upper Intermediate. You can view more sample pages from Business Result on the Teacher’s Site.


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An introduction to Business English

John Hughes, co-author of Business Result, discusses the unique challenges of teaching business English. John will be hosting a webinar on this topic on 20th September.

In the first in a series of monthly webinars dedicated to teaching Business English, I’ll begin with an overview of what business English is and how teachers who are new to this field of English Language Teaching (ELT) can approach it. Here’s a brief look at some of the key issues we’ll be dealing with:

Career backgrounds to teaching business English

The majority of people entering ‘business English’ tend to be teachers with experience of teaching general English and so their concerns are that they don’t know much about business. For many, the term ‘business’ feels somewhat alien. However, it shouldn’t be since the dictionary definition of ‘business’ is ‘the buying or selling of products or services for money’. We are all involved in that every day of our lives.

A smaller but significant minority of business English teachers are those people with a work history in business or business training who move into ELT and so their need is for language knowledge rather than content knowledge. For these people, a more generalized training course in language teaching and language awareness is probably the best advice.

What makes the business English classroom different?

Perhaps the best way to contrast business English with general English is to understand that there is a shift away from the teacher or the school curriculum setting the aims of the course to a course where the business learner sets the aims in conjunction with the teacher. Throughout a course the teacher needs to know what the student needs to deal with in the language (e.g. sales, finance, logistics), how the student communicates (e.g. face-to-face, on the phone) and who s/he communicates with (e.g. clients, colleagues). Business English learners (and their bosses) tend to be less forgiving if you are teaching something which doesn’t appear to have instant relevance to these kinds of daily communication needs.

Expert to expert

In his brilliant book One To One (LTP), Peter Wilberg talks about roles in the business English classroom and identifies the importance of the relationship between the teacher and the learner as a relationship of two ‘equals’. In other words, the teacher is the ‘language expert’ but, in most cases, the learner is the ‘business expert’ – or certainly the expert in his/her field. What this means is that the teacher can’t approach a classroom with the idea that s/he will just pass on knowledge.  It’s more of a sharing process with the learner providing the ‘professional content’ and the teacher providing the ‘language’. For me, this has always been the key attraction to business English teaching. You can learn so much about other subjects. In my time as a business English teacher I’ve learnt about subjects ranging from marketing wine, helicopter manufacturing, football player transfer laws and rocket science.

That’s just a taste of what we’ll be covering in my webinar and you can also read a longer ‘Introduction to teaching Business English’ article at the Business Result teacher’s site (you need to log in to access the materials). See you online on the 20th September. Register for the webinar here.

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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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The fear of the native speaker

Jon Naunton is a freelance teacher and materials writer. He is co-author of Business Result, and Oil and Gas 2 in the Oxford English for Careers series. This post, originally published in Dialogue Magazine, explores why non-native speakers are often nervous about conversing with native speakers.

Two people looking nervous

Those of us who have taught foreign execs learn early on that they would far rather speak English with other non-native speakers than with an English person, or – heaven forbid – an American.

Executives with status and responsible positions in international companies often dread encounters with mother tongue speakers that leave them feeling confused, infantilized and at a disadvantage. These two stories may help to explain why.

I live near a small town in France that attracts its fair share of tourists. Over the summer I was in the newsagents when a man in a blazer and shorts approached the counter. ‘Have you got my copy of the Daily Mail?’ he barked. ‘You said you’d keep it to one side.’ The shopkeeper looked at him blankly. ‘My Daily Mail!’ the visitor continued in a slowly enunciated bellow. ‘Have – you – kept – it – back – for – me?’ When the shopkeeper shrugged helplessly, Daily Mail man turned around, muttering to himself, and left.

Recently at our local airport, blessed by Ryan Air, I met an English aeronautical engineer seconded to a British owned French subsidiary. In the four years that he had been there his wife had picked up quite a bit of French but I had to contain my surprise when I heard him order lunch. His French was, at best, basic. Linguistically speaking, his knuckles were scraping the ground. I was left wondering how he got by with his French colleagues.

Now, I know there is a danger in generalizing from the particular, but I won’t let it stop me. I would argue that Daily Mail man and airport man are fairly representative of how the English perform in other tongues. The use of English as a lingua franca has made us lazy, and Daily Mail man would have been raised in the conviction that it was his God-given right to be understood wherever he trod on foreign soil.

Yet in my opinion, their lack of ease in French goes deeper than either consideration, and has a lot to do with how foreign languages are taught in England. Part of the problem is to do with time – language lessons in England receive far fewer classroom hours than most other EU countries, and it is possible to drop a foreign language at the tender age of fourteen. It doesn’t matter whether it is a sport, a musical instrument or any other skill including languages – you have to put in the hours to achieve a decent level. Time and practice are crucial.

The next problem is to do with expectations. When my nephew started French at secondary school, his homework for week one was to learn numbers one to five. For week two it was six to ten. As part of an exciting school project the kids in his class were supposed to create a French market by drawing cards of fruit and vegetables. My nephew’s task was to draw a big pile of plums – prunes in French – which he duly did. I am certain that he will never forget the word for plum but I wonder if his time could have been – excuse the pun – more fruitfully employed. Nevertheless, on parents’ evening the class’s handiwork was displayed as a reminder of the school’s commitment to excellence in foreign languages.

The net result is that the average English person has such a poor grasp of what it is to tussle with a language that he cannot even begin to comprehend where the difficulty lies when he runs into communication problems. Even when English is used as a lingua franca the native speaker can get into trouble. He is less able to modify his language to accommodate the language level of the person he is trying to communicate with. Once he has received the signal that the other person speaks some English no further effort is made to modify or ‘grade’ his language. This behaviour, wrongly classified as arrogance, is due to benign indifference or being oblivious of any problem in the first place.

All this may go to show why most non-native speakers are happier communicating with English as their common language than having to cope with an unaccommodating monoglot who simply can’t recognize the problem. I sympathize with the reluctance of some EU members (notably France) of adopting English as the principal language of Brussels and Strasbourg, thereby reducing the annual billion Euro interpreting and translating bill. Were this to happen it might confirm the attitude of the English to learning other languages and make matters even worse.

What do you prefer – communicating in English with native or non-native speakers? Share your thoughts below.

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