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

Image by © Laura Doss/Corbis

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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Using games for win-win learning | Q&A

Over a thousand teachers attended the webinars on Using games for win-win learning and there was plenty of discussion in the chatbox with teachers sharing their ideas and opinions on using games. Here are some of the comments and questions that were raised.

With reference to Csikszentmihalyi’s theory of Flow, how do we take students from A1 to A4?

Early on this webinar we looked at the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his theory of Flow. In his book of the same name, the author presents the idea that when we are truly engaged in an activity we enter a state of ‘flow’ or the ‘flow channel’, as shown in the diagram below. In pages 72-77, Csikszentmihalyi makes particular reference to the use of games as a form of activity which encourages flow. For example, when we present new language to students and they start using it, they are probably engaged at A1 in the diagram. If we drill that language repeatedly, then after a while student might become bored and go to A2. If we then add too much challenge to the task, students can become anxious and go to A3. If we add the right amount of challenge to the new language, students continue up the flow channel to A4. The author suggests that playing games offers an effective way to achieve this.

Diagram from Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2002). Flow. Rider publishing. p74.

Are all games a form of controlled practice?

This question came out of a discussion on what type of classroom practice games are useful for. In particular, there is a view that games are a type of classroom drilling. In other words, that when we introduce a new language structure and drill it with students, games can offer another kind of drill where students practise the target language in a very controlled way. With many types of language games based on the idea of dominoes or pelmanism (also known as memory) this is probably true. However, there are also types of role-playing games which encourage fluency practice and authentic communicative situations. So the answer is that it depends on the type of game you are using as to how controlled the practice is.

Sometimes students become so interested in the game, they forget to use English and slip back into their mother tongue. How can we make sure they keep using English? 

There was a lively discussion on the topic of how to make sure students keep using English when they became so focused on winning the game itself. Participants shared various experiences and views on this. One option was to take points away from a student or a team when they didn’t speak English. On the other hand, one teacher, Helen Beesley, also pointed out that points should be given for use of English during a game for positive reinforcement. Similarly, when playing a boardgame, students could miss a go if they don’t speak English or have another go if they use English well.

What kind of authentic board games on the market are useful for language learning? Participants answered this questions with various suggestions including Monopoly and The Game of Life with Business English to practise the language of finance, or word-based games such as Taboo and Pictionary.

 Some students don’t like competitive games in the classroom, especially adults. How do we get them interested?

This question probably created the most debate with teachers agreeing and disagreeing that adult students don’t like playing games. With regard to competitive games, we looked at the idea that competition is often more useful when a student competes against him or herself. For example, if I set up a telephone role play where students practise calling to arrange to meet, I could give students this card with phrases on that I want them to use.

As they speak, they tick off phrases. At the end of the first role play I ask them to count how many phrases they used and get a score out of ten. Then I ask them to repeat the role play and try to get a higher score by using more of the phrases. In this way, a student competes against him/herself. This ‘self-competition’ approach is very similar to principle behind online games such as Quizlet where you try to beat your previous score and reach the next level. It was also noted these online games also offer rewards and badges as well as points and that teachers sometimes need to offer ‘prizes’ to winning teams as well as points.

Overall, it was a very active webinar and I’d like to thank everyone for their enthusiastic participation.

Missed the webinar? If you’re a member of the Oxford Teacher’s Club, you can catch the recording right here in the webinar library. If you’re not yet a member, registration is free and shouldn’t take long at all.


John Hughes likes using games in his own classroom and he designs games for his course books. He is a lead author on Business Result, Successful Meetings and Successful Presentations (published by Oxford University Press). He also runs teacher training courses, and is a regular ELT blogger: www.elteachertrainer.com.


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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.


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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.