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Transforming business research into classroom materials

In advance of his talk at the BESIG conference in Malta (November 10-12), John Hughes describes how he makes use of business research in his teaching and materials writing.

Business research can take many forms – from a customer survey run by a marketing consultancy to a university department setting up experiments to explore workplace behaviour. When this kind of research is reported in business publications or university journals, I often find it a useful resource to take into lessons.

 

You might be thinking that for many of your business English students, such research might be rather dry and distant from their everyday world of work. However, a great deal of research currently going on in business schools for example has huge implications on our lives. So, if you can select the right kind of research text and data, students can enjoy learning something new about business as well as learning English.

Here are four points to consider about using texts with research in your Business English classroom.

Useful sources reporting research and data

Results of research and surveys related to business and research often appear or are referred to in publications such as The Economist, The Harvard Business Review or Fast Company. In addition, you can also come across reports with data in your daily newspaper or online. In particular, infographics often include data shown in a visual format and you can find one that’s relevant to your students by googling the words ‘infographic + [your choice of topic]’.

Choosing relevant research

If all your students come from the same area of business, then you’ll want research that relates directly to their field. However, the reality is that many Business English classes or English for work classes contain a broad range of interests; for these types of students I tend to choose research which has broad appeal. For example, one piece of research which appeared in the Harvard Business Review reported on data based on 6.4 million flight bookings.

 


Taken from Business Result Upper Intermediate Second Edition, page 43. For the full reference please see the end of this blog post.

The data showed that women tend to book flights earlier than men and that older women book sooner than younger women. The data concluded that older women save more money and implied that companies should bear this in mind when appointing people to decision making posts. Such research works well in many classes because the implications of the data affect everyone and generate natural discussion about issues such as gender, age, and responsibility.

Thinking critically about the research data

Once you have chosen a text that reports research you need to design activities to go with it. An obvious starting point is to write some reading comprehension questions to check understanding. However, students also need to approach research critically and question its validity. You can also approach a text by asking students to think about questions such as:

– Is the source of the research or data reliable?

– How was the data gathered?

– Was the survey size large enough?

Students doing their own research

Texts with research results often offer a springboard into in-class surveys or questionnaires. For example, with the earlier example of decision-making in flight bookings, students could do a survey of the class’s own flight booking behaviour and see if the results reflect those in the text. Students can also design their own online surveys and questionnaires using tools such as Google Forms or SurveyMonkey. The benefit of using online surveys is that students can get a much larger response from people outside of the class. These tools also create instant results in graphic forms which students can use in their own report writing or classroom presentations of their research.

By bringing in texts with research results, a teacher can develop students’ reading, writing and speaking skills. In the new second edition of Business Result we also included video interviews with researchers from SAID Business School (part of Oxford University) describing their research so students can also benefit from listening practice.

If you are attending the BESIG conference in Malta on November 11th, I’ll be exploring the further uses of business research and suggesting practical ways of exploiting it in the classroom.

The graph in this blog post is taken from page 43 of Business Result Upper Intermediate Second Edition: ‘Gender differences in booking business travel: Advance booking behavior and associated financial impact’ from http://www.carlsonwagonlit.com/content/cwt/ch/en/news/news-releases/20160412-women-book-flights-earlier-and-pay-less.html. Reproduced by permission of Carlson Wagonlit Travel.


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.


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Skills for effective communication at work

Skills for effective communication at workRachel Appleby, co-author of two levels of the new International Express, looks at ways to help your students to communicate more effectively at work, ahead of her webinar on this topic on 3rd December.

The other day I had a meeting with a restaurant manager, Anna, about language classes. Her English was passable, but clearly not as good as she wished, and she felt embarrassed that she couldn’t express herself more eloquently. Phrases didn’t seem to come to her mind, and she kept apologizing for the little mistakes she was making. It reminded me of another of my students, who once complained that he sounded like a six-year old in English, and it didn’t help him do a good job at work at all!

What is it that such people need? Anna is adult and sophisticated, and can run a meeting more than adequately in her own language, but in English, it seemed to bother her that she had so many difficulties, and – as a result – little confidence. I really felt for her.

In a nutshell, her passive knowledge wasn’t bad, but she didn’t have those stock phrases we use in conversation to negotiate a topic (for example, how to add information, give an example, or move on.) – those phrases which help us sound fluent, make it easier for the listener, and ensure communication is effective. When she emailed me later that day, her writing illustrated a similar lack in conventions we use in semi-formal correspondence, those phrases which clarify the message, and orientate the reader.

So how can we help these students? They want to be able to function as easily in English as in their own language, even if they’re not at native-speaker level. Our students want to ‘be themselves’ in English, and behave as they would in their own language. The good news is that some work skills are transferable, even if we have to raise students’ awareness of what they are.

So let’s have a look at the main problems are, and what we need to do. Students, especially at lower levels, may have difficulties with grammar, but if we can focus on chunks of language, with an emphasis on intonation and sentence stress, this will help them communicate a clear message. Additionally, students often find that they have the technical language for talking about their area of work, but need help with putting it together. Functional language, phrases which have a purpose, are what they need here.

With writing, obviously we need to highlight standard conventions in emailing, and work with models to help students. I also think when writing that it’s useful to pare down content: it can be easy to write too much in another language in order to try to explain yourself, when it fact you just cause more confusion (I know I do this!) We need to help them keep their writing focused, and avoid unnecessary complications.

In my webinar on 3rd December, we’ll look at some examples of how we can increase students’ confidence, so that they can operate professionally within a work environment. We’ll look at chunks of language to use in meetings, conventions for writing clear emails (in particular, ways of handling difficult emails), tips for creating focused PowerPoint slides, and, finally, how to get your to-do list ticked off – in other words, ways of setting clear work objectives. And I think all these are things which Anna would benefit from!

I’ll be using materials from the Pre-Intermediate, and Upper Intermediate levels of the new edition of International Express. I look forward to seeing you soon!

Register now.


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A professional approach to teaching professionals

EAP for professionalsSam McCarter is a teacher, consultant and freelance writer/editor with special interests in medical English communication skills, and IELTS. He is the author of Medicine 1 from the Oxford English for Careers series. In this post he explores some practical ways of bringing language to life for professionals.

Teaching professionals such as postgraduate doctors requires a number of modifications in approach on the part of any teacher coming into ESP. At a recent event, a participant was reporting a discussion with a volunteer tutor about what he, a retired consultant in the medical field, should call the members of the group he was teaching. He didn’t feel it was right to call his fellow professionals ‘students’. A seemingly minor episode, but it does highlight the shifts that we as professionals need to think about when teaching other professionals. It may be that our students carry on being ‘students’, but our attitude towards them, our behaviour and way of working does need to undergo some transformation.

Working in a team

In the medical field, if you are lucky enough, you may find yourself working as an ESP teacher with a team of health professionals in a hospital setting. You may be part of a team made up of other language professionals, a general practitioner, a nurse, a social worker, (a) consultant(s) along with professional actors/ actresses, all working together in the same training session.

You may, however, be working on your own in a language school and feel that you are isolated, but realise there is more to teaching in the medical field than just doing language practice. In this case, it may be possible to bring in retired or practising health professionals such as consultants or doctors or nurses to help with training, or arrange a visit to a local hospital or clinic. The aim is to make any classroom training as close to the hospital setting as possible, which the Medicine 1 and 2 and Nursing 1 and 2 in the Oxford English For Careers series have aimed to do with their task-based approach.

Training in a hospital setting

A typical training session in communication skills for doctors might involve a multidisciplinary approach with one or more team members where the language itself may appear incidental, but is integral, to the tasks the doctors perform. Each doctor can be given a scenario such as a 25 year-old young woman, Miss Brown, presents with a severe headache. How much detail the doctor is given can be modulated even to the point that all the doctor has is the name and age of the patient; or, if the patient has seen the doctor before, then some past history can be given. For safety and confidentiality reasons, the patient in the training is an experienced actress who has a defined role to play with medical information and details on personality, behaviour and attitude/ mood as well as accent. The history taking is watched by fellow doctors and other health professionals such as those mentioned above, including the language professional. The process is then followed by constructive feedback from the doctor himself, from the actress as the patient, the actress as herself, the other students and trainers. In this instance, the language input on the part of the language professional is dictated by the performance of the doctor in the scenario.

The classroom

The cost of providing the multidisciplinary training described in the previous section may make it difficult to replicate outside the hospital. However, it is possible to create scenarios where the doctors are the patients and their colleagues give feedback from different perspectives (social/ medical/ psychiatric) with the teacher maintaining the role of the language expert. If at all possible, you may be able to bring in actors/ actresses for the scenarios, which will enhance the training considerably. Your students can also be given open-ended problem solving tasks such as dealing with the performance of a colleague. The students discuss the problem in groups of about four within a defined time. Each group member has their own observer who gives constructive feedback on their group interaction. This latter task is a good way to improve insight and self-awareness.

The same training principles apply in other areas of ESP such as business, engineering, finance and law where a problem solving approach can be taken to bring the language to life, focusing not on language practice, but on language use.


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How to Keep Writing Tasks Real: Hotel Reviews

Hotel sign

Photo courtesy of Tomás Fano via Flickr

Alastair Lane is co-author of International Express Elementary and Intermediate levels, the all-new, five-level course for adult professionals, publishing in January 2014. International Express includes plenty of coverage of the hotel and travel industry. Here, Alastair shows how you can bring the subject alive with a real-life writing task.

“To whom it may concern. I am extremely unhappy with the service I received at your hotel during the week of 1 September to 7 September 2013.”

Those were the days. When customers received bad service, the typewriter would be out in a flash and our disgruntled customer would be bashing the keys in fury. However, today the idea of a letter of complaint is so old-fashioned that we might as well be teaching our students how to write a telegram.

Things are different now. If you go to a hotel or a youth hostel and the service is bad, when you get home you have a chance to complain to the whole world. You might put a negative review on Trip Advisor. Alternatively, if you booked it through a website like Booking.com, you will be invited to place your review on the site.

This is the kind of task people are doing in real life, and it’s the kind of writing task that we should be using in the classroom. We can ask the class to write a review of a hotel that they have stayed at, a fictional hotel, or a review of a hotel that they can see online. Students immediately see the purpose of the task because it replicates something they would naturally do in L1.

Writing a hotel review can work at any level from Elementary upwards, because online reviews can be as short as a single sentence.

Students can go straight to the Internet to find real-life model texts. Sites like Booking.com are particularly good for this. Firstly, they provide an automatic model for writing because users are asked to complete two sections: one for good points and one for bad points. That helps lower-level students organize their texts.

Secondly, users can filter the results to read reviews from people like themselves. If you have an older class, you can look at reviews posted by ‘families with older children’ or younger students can look at reviews by ‘groups of friends’.

When writing an online hotel review, students can write a fifty-word text and it still looks as real as any other entry on the sites. Students don’t have the sense that the task has been artificially simplified to match their language level.

A writing task of this nature also allows you to practice reading skills. Students can exchange their reviews, without the number of stars. The next student or pair has to decide whether the review is a one-star or five-star one. After all, we also want to practice praising the hotel in addition to the language of complaint.

With higher level students, you can ask them to write the review as if they are a particular group of travellers e.g. ‘mature couple’, ‘solo traveller’, ‘business traveller’. They then have to pass their text to the next student or pair. Once again, the next students have to guess which type of traveller wrote the review. This is a particularly good way of reviewing the language of facilities, as a business traveller will have very different needs to a 21 year-old travelling alone.

The short nature of writing online and the fact that users tend to write for an international audience in English provides a huge number of opportunities for the classroom. So let’s forget artificial tasks like the letter of complaint and start replicating what students are actually doing out in the real world.

Alastair Lane has over seventeen years’ experience in English language teaching. Currently based in Barcelona, he has also taught in Finland, Germany, Switzerland and the UK. Alastair is co-author of International Express Elementary and Intermediate levels, part of the five-level course publishing in January 2014.


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10 attack strategies for teaching the text in Business English

Business woman reading reportAhead of his webinar on the same topic (click on Adult > Teaching the whole text in Business English), Business English expert John Hughes shares his top tips for approaching a piece of text in Business English or ESP.

If you are teaching Business English or ESP students, then analysing a text from their place of work is an invaluable part of determining their needs. You can also turn such texts into classroom materials which will help them to read and possibly write similar texts. It’s a fundamental skill for any teacher of Business English or English for Specific Purposes.

When I first look at an authentic text, I analyse for it ten features and decide which ones are most prominent and lend themselves to classroom exploitation.

1. Visual clues

The first thing we notice about a written text is any kind of accompanying image. For example, it might have a photograph, a chart, a graph, a map or even a table of figures. This will often act as a useful point of focus for students as it helps them predict what the text will be about.

2. Shape and layout

I also look for a shape or layout to the text type. Texts with an overt shape (typically formal texts such as letters and reports) help students to recognise what kind of text it is, which helps build their schema before reading. It also allows for exercises which draw students’ attention to the conventions for layout or to how the writer organises the content.

3. Overt title

A text with an overt title is like a text with a good photograph. You can use it with students to make predictions about the content of the text. In business texts, an overt title might be title to a company report or the title to a set of instructions. In emails, a clear subject line is the equivalent to an overt title.

4. Overt openings

Some texts don’t have overt titles but they do use opening sentences or phrases that indicate what kind of text it is and its purpose. A phrase like ‘I am writing to inform you…’ suggests that we are about to read a semi-formal letter from someone we haven’t met before or don’t know very well.

5. General meaning

Before any further textual analysis, I see if the text lends itself to reading for gist so that I can set some general gist comprehension questions. This is particularly necessary if the text doesn’t contain an overt title or overt opening (see 3 and 4).

6. The writer and reader

With some texts it’s useful to ask students to identify the writer and reader. For example, in the case of a departmental report, students can say who wrote it and who received it. With less obvious texts such as an informal message from a social media site, students might need to speculate who posted the text and why.

7. Detailed information

Having analysed the text for its general purpose and meaning, I start preparing comprehension questions to help students search for and understand more detailed information within the text. This is especially true of long texts.

8. Fixed expressions

Having understood the content of the text, I can start to analyse language which students might be able to use in their own writing. Formulaic texts often make use of fixed expressions. For example, reports might include expressions such as ‘The aim of this reports is to…’, ‘Please refer to figure 8.1…’, ‘It is recommended that…’.

9. Lexical sets

Texts that are related to very specific areas of industry may not fit into a typical pattern or fixed expressions but they will usually have their own specific lexis. For example, within a text related to shipping you might come across terms such as lading, container, pallet, abatement, in bond and ship demurrage. Once you identify a lexical set, you can create vocabulary exercises to help students with them.

10. Grammar

As with lexical sets, certain texts might contain frequently-used grammar. For example, in the recommendations section of an internal company document you might see the it is +passive form structure commonly used; i.e. it is recognised, it is recommended, it is advised… Help students to discover this grammar in the text and identify its form, meaning and use.

So those are my ten strategies for attacking a text in Business English or ESP. Do you have any more to add?