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English Language Teaching Global Blog


Activities for Techies

Mechanical cogsVicki Hollett, author of the Tech Talk series, gives her thoughts on the types of activities that work for Technical English students – and gives you a few to try out!

Business and Technical English share a lot of similarities. They’re both task oriented and English for getting things done. But if I had to sum up Business English in one word, it would be ‘purposeful’. It’s about people, their plans and their desires to achieve things. And if I had to sum up Technical English in one word, it would be ‘practical’. It’s less about people and more about identifying and solving problems with things.

Business Talk = What's the goal? Let's co-operate and see if we can work it out together. I want to make it happen Tech Talk = What are the specs? Let's measure it and see if it's right. I want to solve the problem.

So what kinds of classroom activities go down well in classes of engineers and Technical English students? Let me illustrate:

It’s the height of the French Revolution and the tumultuous crowd roars as three men are led to Madame la guillotine. First up is an English teacher. ‘Any last words?’ they ask as they stick his head in the machine. ‘No’ he replies as the newly sharpened blade begins its inexorable fall. But then, it judders to a halt. The crowd is perplexed, but fate has spoken. The teacher is spared and free to go. So the second man steps up and he’s a training manager. There’s thunderous applause from the crowd. He has no last words either and once more the blade jams just above his neck. The crowd goes crazy, but again he is free to go. The third man is an engineer and as he’s marched towards the guillotine, he takes a careful look. ‘Any last words?’ they ask. ‘Why yes, I think I can see the problem you’re having here. You see that little nail that’s sticking out of the wood up there…”

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