Mary E. Ward, author of English for the Fashion Industry, considers the challenge of tailoring English courses for professional students.
Have any of your students ever asked you a question similar to the one above? Very often our jobs as English teachers involve convincing our students that a certain lexical set or expression is useful. In today’s on-demand world where we can get many products and services with a simple click, teachers increasingly encounter requests for tailor-made English courses. Students may want to skip over a unit or exercise since they may not see the immediate relevance. Our role as ESP teachers also includes giving students a bird’s eye view of how the language we teach them applies to the world of work.
At fashion institutes and houses across the globe, demands for custom-made courses are very common. How, then, can teachers approach a classroom where students’ future jobs may be as varied as fashion event planning, design, accessories, visual merchandising, or pattern making? Examples and statistics can help to show students how interconnected the fashion industry really is, and knowing a little bit about each sector can go a long way.
A leading Italian newspaper recently reported that in the next 8 years, there will be a growing demand for jobs in the textile and embellishment sectors of fashion. Perhaps one of your students has a future as a popular designer. When he or she needs to source cotton and textiles in India or another South East Asian country, English will be the language of the day. Can they ask about which textiles work best for a home line, or a prêt-a-porter collection? Practice with expressions in and exposure to realistic communicative contexts can give them that competitive edge.
B2B websites, customer care pages for retail, and social media exemplify how fashion uses the internet to network for business purposes. Maybe your PR students need to respond to post fashion show comments using social media. Or, they may want to promote an eco-friendly textile supplier for their maison’s most recent collection. Knowing terminology specific to textiles, or pattern making for that matter, will certainly help them navigate the global digital world of fashion.
Just as fashion has a global nature, so does the language used in the industry. There are big differences between British and American terminology, and many French words are commonly used. Though flexibility in using these lexical sets may seem more at home in fashion journalism, they will also prove useful in person or for any digital interface.
Perhaps your students are studying to become stylists, or accessories designers – key roles in the world of fashion shows and promotion. Did a model forget to use a face scarf whilst putting on an haute couture gown? Or maybe the model did not stand on the floor covering and the gown got dirty. Students and fashion professionals may find themselves in these situations and have to apologize for them, and know what to expect when someone responds to an apology.
In ELT, we pride ourselves on catering to students’ needs. When working with a multi-faceted industry such as fashion, though, a global approach is appropriate. The more students and professionals know about how the industry sectors interconnect, the more confidently we can send them out of the classroom to display their English language skills.
How do you help students connect classroom content to their professional experiences?