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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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Teaching vocabulary through different learning styles

Two school girls playing games

Helen Stepanova is an English language teacher, teacher trainer and author, currently working as a Business English teacher in Latvia. Here she talks about teaching vocabulary using different learning styles.

Nowadays vocabulary teaching seems of especially great importance. The English language is becoming more and more popular all over the world in all spheres of social life. Therefore any individual who wants to succeed in our business world has to be able to speak English.

English teaching / learning is a hard and many-sided process, where both participants – learners and teachers – should follow certain rules. Only through mutual co-operation are good results possible.

Knowledge of vocabulary seriously influences the knowledge of the foreign language in general. The more words a person knows the more secure he/she feels himself/herself, the more willing he/she is to communicate.

How to memorise new words? How to make it easier for the students to perceive new words and to keep them in mind for a long time?

According to the physiologists there are three ingrained learning styles of perceiving new information, so-called VAK styles: visual, auditory and kinaesthetic.

The teacher can try to help his/her students to define their styles of perception and to facilitate them to memorise new foreign words using the techniques most appropriate for their learning styles.

Visual style

This style suggests that students turn the words into pictures as they have a great visual memory. 35% of students have such style.

Auditory style

This style suggests that students perceive the world through sounds of voice, its tone and timbre. 25% of students possess this style.

Kinaesthetic style

This style allows students to perceive the information through feelings, emotions, instincts, contacts; their muscles play a huge role in learning.  40% of students have such style.

In reality the pure type is rather rare, however it is often the case that students have a blended style – visual-kinaesthetic or visual-auditory. Knowing the students’ style the teacher can choose the most appropriate tools and tasks to teach the students.

I have been working as a teacher for more then 14 years and have collected a number of techniques that have been extremely useful in helping to teach vocabulary.
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Vive la différence in Differentiated Learning!

Student Displaying Art to TeacherHow do you cater for different learning styles in a class full of young learners? Peter Redpath, co-author of Incredible English second edition, looks back at his experience and offers some words of advice.

When I was a schoolboy, research into the area of learning styles and individual differences was receiving significant attention. However, the idea of differentiated learning had not taken root in any significant or practical way in the classroom: its time had yet to come.

At school we were taught that “one size fitted all”; as if we all learned the same thing in the same way. This often meant that we weren’t taught according to how we learned best, but according to how our teacher learned best. In other words, the teacher’s teaching style was probably influenced by their own learning style. What was your experience at school?

(I hope I don’t sound too critical of my teachers. They worked hard and under difficult circumstances. After all, they had me in the classroom; not an easy situation.)

It is perfectly understandable that my teachers wanted to pass on what had successfully worked for them. After all, if it hadn’t worked, they wouldn’t have been the teacher!

So, they transferred the style that had worked for them as a pupil to the children they were now teaching. If a pupil’s learning style matched the teacher’s, the pupil had a better chance of being successful. If the two styles did not match, then the pupil had less chance of being successful.

In fact, is it possible to take it a step further? The teacher had moved through the education system successfully. The child whose learning style matched the teacher’s also probably matched the exam system! If you think about it, it was a self-sustaining circle that slowed down change and progress. Or it at least meant that some children were doomed to failure.

Perhaps I am being unfair in my analysis. What do you think?

Early in my career I was fortunate to work with a group of teachers who seemed to be gifted at teaching younger learners. Twenty years later I got the chance to collaborate with one of them again. How lucky do you get?

An area that interests us both is the learner as an individual. A question that challenges is how material and the teacher can adapt to the individuality of the children. Some of our answers are reflected in the material that we have produced.

Let’s look at the downside first. As an example, I can spend a number of lessons doing a little dramatic performance. The learners who like acting and group activities will enjoy themselves and probably learn a lot. The children who like to work individually on tasks will probably feel less engaged.

Simply put, there are differences between all learners. Differences in their likes and dislikes. Differences in what they are good at and what they are not quite so good at. Differences in what they like to learn and what doesn’t interest them. It can include learning styles and strategies, aptitude, gender age and culture.

But I need to teach all of the children. So what can I do about this? How can I take their differences into account?

Well, for a start I can try to be aware of their individuality and different learning styles. I can try to be aware that in any classroom there is going to be a range of different learner types.

This means that I need to make sure that I cover the same language in different ways – in a story, in a song, in a puzzle, in a game – so that the children have the chance to engage successfully with at least one of the activities. I need to check the material I am using to ensure that there is a range of activities that will appeal to different learner types. I can try to push as many of their learning “buttons” as I can.

What is differentiated learning? It is taking the differences in learning styles into account with how I teach and with the materials that I use. In an ideal classroom, all the children should be engaged in tasks that enable them to be successful and ensure they are learning.

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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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