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What’s culture got to do with Tesco’s decision to withdraw from Japan?

tug of warIn light of the recent news concerning Tesco’s withdrawal from Japan, Jeremy Comfort considers the impact of culture on business. Jeremy will be speaking more about this topic at the annual BESIG conference in Dubrovnik on 19th November 2011.

Having spent several years building their business in Japan, the UK’s biggest retailer has decided to sell up.  Investors have been disappointed with the return from this part of the business as Tesco have found it difficult to achieve the scale that make their UK tills ring constantly. There are also concerns about their much larger investment in the US where the Fresh & Easy chain is yet to make a profit.

Tesco has been successful in other markets, notably Eastern Europe and SE Asia, so what has gone wrong?

It seems that the Tesco way has worked well in emerging economies such as Thailand, Malaysia and China but run into problems in more developed markets like Japan, US and Taiwan. This is a recognisable phenomenon that I have come across with other international businesses. So called majority cultures such as the US and Japan are far more resistant to change than the developing world which is open to new ideas and eager to embrace opportunities.  In Europe multinationals often find it easier to pilot new products or systems in Hungary or Poland than France or Germany.

This analysis gives us an insight into some key factors which leaders need to consider when deciding on strategy. It also provides a bridge to a set of competencies which are needed by all Business English learners who are working internationally. Companies need to know when to push their own agenda / approach and when to adapt or pull towards the local way. Individuals need to develop “push skills”, such as focus on goals, autonomy, resilience and some approaches to influencing, but also “pull skills”, such as active listening, rapport building, openness and acceptance*.

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How ESL and EFL classrooms differ

Filling in formsYou may think that teaching English is teaching English, whether you’re doing it in a Thai village or a suburban California school. And you’d be right, sort of. Many of the same textbooks, lesson plans, and online resources serve in both cases. Many English teachers go from one type of teaching position to the other, and back again. But there are fundamental differences between ESL and EFL classrooms. Understanding them will make you a more effective teacher.

An ESL classroom is in a country where English is the dominant language. The students are immigrants or visitors. The class is usually of mixed nationalities, so students don’t share a native language or a common culture. Outside the classroom, students have a specific, practical need for English, and ample opportunity to use it. Students have extensive daily exposure to English-speaking culture, although their understanding may be limited by their language skills.

An EFL classroom is in a country where English is not the dominant language. Students share the same language and culture. The teacher may be the only native English speaker they have exposure to. Outside of the classroom students have very few opportunities to use English. For some, learning English may not have any obvious practical benefit.  Students have limited exposure to English-speaking culture, most often through a distorted lens like TV or music.

Based on these definitions, we can see that there are important differences in the student population. Effective lesson planning must take them into account.

ESL students need

  1. Hands-on English lessons suitable for their immediate needs. If you’ve got a class full of recent immigrants struggling with how to fill out forms, teach them to fill out forms. If you’ve got a group of foreign doctoral students, teach them how to talk to their academic advisors. There may be a place for general grammar instruction, but not until more pressing needs are met.
  2. Explicit cultural instruction. These students come from many places, all very different from your classroom. Teach them about your cultural norms. Teach them how to get along in your society. Tell them how people from your culture see their culture. You might not think this is traditional English teaching, but it will generate fascinating discussion. Understanding culture is an invaluable step towards fluency.
  3. Bridges towards integration. As an ESL teacher, you may not consider yourself a guidance counselor, but be ready to suggest concrete ways for your students to address their daily problems in your local community. Whether that means referring them to an immigrant assistance association or helping them apply for a job online, you’re likely to be the first person they ask for help. Equip yourself with the knowledge you need, and be ready to do more research when asked.

EFL students need

  1. Lots of practice using English, especially orally. Get them speaking in the classroom, but also teach them where to find opportunities to practice speaking English outside of class, and reward them for doing so.
  2. Exposure to living English. Never lead your students to believe that English is a set of rules and words to memorize. It is the living, breathing creation of cultures and communities around the world. Do whatever you can to reveal this depth.  Pen pals, non-traditional teaching materials, and field trips are great ways to make English come alive for your students.
  3. Reasons to learn English, and motivation to stick with it. English can be very theoretical when you’re growing up in a village in Belarus. Find out about each student’s other passions and tie English into them. There are so many English communities online and off that it’s possible to find a tie-in for almost any other area of interest. Social networks are powerful tools.

These are the key differences I see between these student communities and strategies to teach English accordingly. Does this match your experience? What do you think are the key differences between ESL and EFL classrooms?

 


In her first guest post for OUP, Kate Bell, a writer and researcher, talks us through some of the practical differences between ESL and EFL classrooms.

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Do you use humour in the classroom?

Three school girls laughingIn this post, Jeremy Taylor, a freelance writer and teacher trainer based in Czech Republic, explores the benefits of using humour in the classroom to engage students and improve their learning.

Do you have a good sense of humour? Do you use your humour in the classroom? A class that is laughing and having fun is a relaxed class and more receptive to learning, as I have found over 25 years of teaching. Humour is a very difficult thing to get right but it is a wonderful addition to the classroom. It is a useful tool to engage your learners and make your lessons (even) more interesting. But also:

  • Students are also likely to repeat jokes and humorous stories they have heard.
  • If they know they will be rewarded with a laugh, they are more likely to be motivated to read.
  • Jokes tend to be short – so can be enjoyed by even the weakest students.
  • Jokes are memorable.
  • You can learn a lot about a nation’s culture through its humour.

Of course when using humour you should be able to laugh with your students not at them.  Laughing at your students is horribly unprofessional and I’ve only done it once in my career.

Is it possible to use jokes in the classroom? It definitely is, but you need to decide whether the joke is cultural appropriate and also whether the joke will be understood by your students. Jokes that rely on a play on words are unlikely to be understood. There are lots of jokes for children like this.

“Where do you take a horse when he is sick?”

“To horsepital!”

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7 Tips for Teaching Speaking for Academic Purposes at Graduate Level – Part 2

Two female students in graduation robesFollowing on from her first post, which explored the importance of conducting a needs analysis and building a supportive learning environment, Li-Shih Huang, Associate Professor at the University of Victoria, Canada, shares her next two top tips for teaching conversation skills to EAL learners.

In my previous post, I shared the first two tips, which serve as the foundation for teaching academic conversation skills to graduate EAL students. Many instructors wonder how to promote the transferability of skills that students use in class to outside-the-classroom, real-life contexts. In this post, I will move on to my list’s next two tips, which help promote the transfer of learning and skill development.

Tip 3: Link tasks to real-world activities

One key way to make learning meaningful and relevant in the classroom is to link pedagogical tasks to what learners will be doing outside the classroom. For graduate EAL students, participation in academic dialogues typically involves or will involve the following settings:

  • interpersonal one-on-one communications;
  • small group interactions;
  • seminars or class discussions;
  • departmental presentations;
  • teaching in the classroom; and
  • conference presentations and beyond (e.g., job talks, teaching demonstrations, and interviews).

Linking tasks that learners need to perform in those typical settings to class activities not only motivates learning because of the tasks’ perceived relevance and practicality; it also promotes the transfer of the language and strategies learned in the classroom to post-class, real-life contexts. For example, a task that involves meeting with a student during office hours to discuss a grade provides an opportunity for learners to experiment with ways to deal with this common scenario. Another example is involving learners when clarifying a key concept, something that graduate EAL students often must do in their roles as teaching assistants, as participants in departmental meetings, or as speakers at conferences. Such a task first of all provides the speaker an opportunity to practice providing explanations through the use of techniques such as the following:

  • stating a definition in formal and lay person’s terms;
  • using practical examples that listeners can relate to;
  • linking a concept to the speaker’s personal experience;
  • using an analogy with some concept that the listeners already know;
  • providing comparison and contrast;
  • referencing a word’s origin; and
  • offering visual illustrations of a term.

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Teaching CLIL: Classroom Benefits

Wall-mounted map with woman pointing to a townIn her first guest post for OUP, Maria Rainier, a freelance writer and blogger, talks us through some classroom benefits of Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL).

Sometimes, just thinking about developing a CLIL program or even teaching one CLIL lesson can be intimidating, overwhelming, and confusing. But don’t let the tough appearance of CLIL fool you – it can be a very intuitive, natural way to teach and learn. Like any instructional method, though, it requires a certain amount of understanding and dedication from you. It also helps if you’re willing to learn through the process of teaching, as I’m sure you are – being teachable is one of the keys to successful pedagogy. CLIL can be successfully implemented by one teacher, but often, two teachers collaborate before developing lesson plans – and that means learning from each other. By expanding the knowledge available to your students, you’re also expanding your own understanding, learning new material so that you can teach it well. Although it can be a difficult process, it’s often rewarding to teach CLIL. But no matter what you have or haven’t heard about this method, the following description of CLIL and its benefits and challenges can help you decide whether or not it has a place in your classroom.

The pedagogical intentions behind CLIL

You’re probably well aware that Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) is a way of approaching foreign language instruction subtly through subject-oriented teaching. For example, you might focus on teaching the geography of Spain, but the secondary learning objective would be Spanish vocabulary associated with geography. It might not sound like the most logical approach, but why has it been growing in popularity? – And what’s the point of CLIL?

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