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English for Finance – no cause for panic

David Baker, co-author of Finance 1 in the Oxford English for Careers series, discusses the subject of his forthcoming talk on English for Finance at BESIG on 19th November.

Whether you’re an experienced teacher or new to the field, one of the most daunting aspects of ESP teaching is the dilemma of how to deal with specialist vocabulary as part of the wider process of training and learning.

If you’re teaching in-work trainees, you will sometimes need to master terminology which the people you’re working with will normally understand far better than you. And if you are working with pre-experience learners, you will need to monitor and help develop their understanding of the specialist vocabulary they are about to use in their future careers.

Nevertheless, technical vocabulary is not always as frightening as it first seems. Financial English is an especially interesting example. Thanks to the banking and stock market turbulence of recent years, we have all become instant ‘experts’ and cheerfully bandy about expressions which would have left us completely baffled before the intensive –  and often obsessive – media coverage of world financial affairs got under way. Terms such as ‘sovereign debt crisis’, ‘quantitative easing'(or ‘QE’ to the real experts), ‘double-dip recession’, ‘the PIGS’, and so on trip off our tongues in pubs, offices, and dinner parties as if we had all just arrived hotfoot from a hard day’s trading on the stock market.

Most of us are in the happy position that we don’t have to understand precisely what these terms mean in order to use them and even to express an opinion on them from time to time. In my talk at BESIG on Saturday 19th November, one of the ideas I want to explore is how the process of finding out the meaning of such terms can be a route to learning more basic terms and concepts.

I have recently been working on developing materials for pre-experience learners preparing for a career in the financial sector. The main vocabulary-learning priority for this category of trainee is not so much the finance buzzwords I have just been describing, but rather the sort of ‘bread-and-butter’ terminology needed to talk about basic financial concepts and instruments.

In my BESIG session, I will explore ways in which teachers and teaching materials can help develop our trainees’ techniques for learning vocabulary. In particular, I will look at techniques for delivering and adapting teaching materials to take account of different levels of specialist background knowledge, as well as broader linguistic competence.  I will also show some examples of integrating vocabulary teaching with other skills work.

I hope that you will be able to join me at my session. Together, in the words of Susan Jeffers’ seminal self-help tome, we will feel the fear of teaching financial vocabulary and do it anyway.

Do you teach English to trainees who require specialist vocabulary? Feel free to share any hints and tips in the comments section below.

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Can I offer you some pigeon?

Female flight attendant smilingFollowing his posts on the oil and gas industry, Lewis Lansford, co-author of English for Cabin Crew, part of the Express Series, returns to consider the importance of clear communication in moments of crisis, focussing in this case on cabin crew.

‘E-wackoo-way! E-wackoo-way!’

The trainer shakes her head. ‘I hope he never has to clear a plane’, she says to a colleague. ‘No one will know what he’s on about!’

To be fair to the trainee flight attendant, chances are that if the plane had just ground to a stop at the end of the runway with the landing gear still up after an emergency descent, the passengers would fully understand what he had in mind – Evacuate! Evacuate! – and would readily comply.

As passengers on the receiving end of in-flight service, we forget that passenger safety – rather than passenger comfort – is a flight attendant’s main job responsibility. Miscommunication during dinner service can be unpleasant, but is unlikely to result in serious injury.

‘The worst mix-up I ever had at meal time was with a British passenger’, says Japan Airlines flight attendant Mika Wade. ‘He asked me for an iced vodka. Well, that’s what I heard. After he spat out the drink violently, I understood that he’d actually asked for iced water.’ Oops.

Wade continues, ‘I also once told a first class passenger that his meal was pigeon. He became very angry and said “People don’t eat pigeons!” I checked, and of course the dinner was pheasant, not pigeon. I tried to apologize for my mistake, but he was angry for the rest of the flight. He was very rude to me about it.’ Oh, dear.

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World English at the well head

Oil pump by sunsetFollowing Peter Astley’s introduction to the oil and gas industry, Lewis Lansford, co-author of  Oil and Gas 1, considers the confusion British vs American English can cause in international industry, and whether this is countered by the emergence of ‘World English’.

When I began teaching in Barcelona in the late-80s, I was surprised by the intensity of the rivalry between students at the Institute of North American Studies and those at the British Council over the question of which variety of English was superior. Some teachers, too, expressed firmly held positions on the matter. But in today’s international workplace, Global English may have ended the debate by swallowing both the American and British varieties whole.

“I was the only native British English speaker on the team” says Peter Astley, remembering his stint as a project controls manager in the oil and gas industry in Kuwait. “I reported to a Texan project manager. We had an Anglo-Indian clerk and two Polish women – one setting up the computer system and the other a trainee scheduler. The engineering manager who was being transferred from another project was from Lebanon. Various high-ranking Kuwaitis floated in and out. The client I interfaced with was Indian.

“The Texan, of course, spoke English, but I often had to translate what he had said to the Indian clerk, who was also a native English speaker. The clerk disliked admitting he didn’t understand something, so I often had to decode instructions from the Texan even though I wasn’t present when the request was made. The world's top 10 oil producing countriesThe Texan didn’t allow the Polish girls to speak Polish in the office even though he couldn’t understand the Indian clerk’s English.”

More than 100 countries produce oil. Many of the largest producers in the industry – Saudi Arabia, Russia, Kuwait, and many others – employ a diverse workforce made up of both local and imported expertise. When people from all over the world work together, English is frequently the main language of communication. But this lingua franca, often called World English, is rarely identifiable as either British or American. It generally encompasses both – and a whole lot more.

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An introduction to Oil and Gas

Oil rig on the oceanPeter Astley, the series consultant for Oil and Gas 1 and 2, part of the Oxford English for Careers series, gives us an introduction to the oil and gas industry for language learners.

The oil and gas industry has grown from its beginnings in North America and the United Kingdom into an international industry where English is the common language. Although reserves of oil and gas are declining, the world demand for energy is growing. Remaining reserves of hydrocarbons are more difficult to exploit and require challenging engineering and business skills. Countries where oil and gas are found are keen to develop their own industry and the skills and resources of their own people in all the stages of oil and gas development and across the wide range of disciplines and different levels of ability. In this way they can fulfil the aspirations of their own people and improve their long term national economy.

The industry is divided in to two main sections, Upstream and Downstream. The Upstream sector is concerned with extracting reserves and carrying out initial processing to transport the oil and gas to the Downstream sector for further processing, refining, distribution and sales. The Upstream sector is also divided into Offshore and Onshore depending on where the reserves are located.

The industry requires a vast range of skills: scientists and geologists in exploration, engineers and technicians to develop and maintain very expensive capital equipment, production workers, administration personnel and managers, and business specialists managing the complex projects and contracts involved.

In such a specialised industry there are many different disciplines and different levels and so good communication skills are essential. People tend to work in international teams where competency in communicating in English is essential. This is a time when technology is advancing and there is a greater need for qualified people at all levels who in conjunction with their main assignments must plan, design train and enforce high levels of safety and the maximum possible protection of the marine, land and air environment.

With the advance of computer techniques such as technical analysis software, computer aided design and the ability to communicate and work simultaneously in different parts of the world, there are great opportunities for young people to start a satisfying, secure and well paid career in the industry, particularly for those with a good command of the English language.

Are you an ESP teacher? How do you introduce a new topic to your students? Let us know your thoughts and experiences.

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