Posts Tagged ‘Business English.’

The second pre-conference event at the BESIG annual conference 2016 was on Creating excellent ELT materials. In this session five experienced ELT authors who have written teacher training modules published by ELT Teacher 2 Writer gave 15 minute workshops related the topics of the modules they’d written. This was a whirl of brilliance: a fast-paced but at the same time very hands-on session packed to the brim with invaluable insight. Below are my notes from the first of those mini workshops. It was delivered by Evan Frendo and focused on one of the topics that he addressed in his book on writing corporate training materials: 

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Evan started his workshop by looking as some of the reason that might motivate a company / training department to commission in-house materials:

  • current materials are inadequate
  • company enters a new market / launches a product with specific language needs
  • a request from in-company language trainers
  • feedback on current materials from learners might trigger a request for company-specific materials
  • it can be as simple as a new HR manager
  • or you sell them the idea

Next he shared two examples of timelines for material writing projects that he’d done, the first one for a ‘traditional’ set of materials and the second one for an e-learning course (his e-learning courses are show-cased here):

frendo1

frendo2

Next Evan asked us to imagine we are sitting down for an initial meeting with your potential client. What do you want on the agenda? Here are his points that he recommended discussing:

  • Objectives: what do they want out of the project? Often this is not done well and this is revealed half way through the project.
  • Approach: are you going to adhere to the approach they want or will you try and insist on your approach?
  • What human resources do you need? Who is the team on your and their side.
  • Timelines: milestones, etc.
  • Risk management. ‘What happens if’-type questions. Rarely done well – but up to a third of projects might not see the end due to force major factors like the change of company management, acquisitions, etc.
  • Communication with stakeholders: face to face? online? Evan recommends doing at least a couple of face to face meetings to build rapport and relationships – if things start to go wrong, it’s the relationship that was forged during those meeting that will help you to weather the storm.
  • What are the constraints? What happens when there are changes – and there are going to be changes?
  • Access to places and people: you do need a corpus. Unless this is put this down in writing, you’re unlikely to get this access.

I found this mini session very interesting and informative. I’m currently enjoying the security of writing materials for a company where I’m employed full time, and the reality of writing in this setting is obviously a lot less harsh than writing as a freelancer. So I can see how I might start taking some things for granted and so, when I venture ‘out there’, it will be all too easy for me to overlook some crucial things that need to be discussed. For instance, I would never expect up to a third of projects to never see completion. So for me Evan’s checklist of things that need to be discussed at the start of the project is simply invaluable, and so are the other tips he gave, e.g. how to actually land a project. But the real gem of the session for me was the two project timelines that Evan shared. I’ve never participated in creating an e-learning course, and it was very interesting to sneak a peek at a real project with its stages and the associated timelines.

Also, as Evan’s session was related to his book ‘How to write corporate training materials’, I just have to mention that I can’t recommend this book enough. In this book he offers a very clear framework for creating a company-specific course and liberally supports it with examples from his own experience and from research (I particularly enjoyed the case studies at the end of the book).  This title was an invaluable resource for my Delta Module 3. It’s also short, which means it’s an ideal starting point for someone who teaches general or exam English but is thinking of venturing into business English, so I’ve been recommending it to my friends who’re thinking of taking that step. 

BESIG Annual conference is kicking off tonight, and I’m very happy to be attending this year. It started off earlier today with two pre-conference sessions. The first one was on the Future of business English training. It was hosted by Mike Hogan and started with four experts talking for five minute each about a ‘hot’ issue related to the future of BE training. Below are my notes from that session. 
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In-company training

James Schofield

Key question: what differences do you see with the work of the in-company trainer from when you started teaching in Germany compared to now?

A couple of decades ago, companies in Germany used to offer luxurious English training for their employees, like 2 week intensive courses in a hotel. Now it’s largely a thing of the past, firstly because of the budget, but also because the level of people who come in the company is now generally a lot higher. So companies aren’t prepared to invest in pure language training any more.

Other factors that James didn’t touch on are skills, profile and activities that trainers need to have.

The skills trainers need
Cornelia Kreis-Meyer

What skills does the 21st century business English trainer need to be able to cope with the demands and needs of the business English learner?

Cornelia started with a list of current ‘buzz words’: work-life balance / industry 4.0 / cloud working / cloud teaching / augmented reality.

We’ll need to work totally independently / keep learning / speak several languages / work together with machines (i.e. mind-machine interaction) / play more of a facilitator role teaching the students how to find things and we’re going to need hard skills, soft skills, interpersonal skills and the digital skills to keep up with the ever-changing technology and use it in class every day. We might need to teach a robot to talk. Or teach your learners to talk to a robot.

Which English?
Chia Suan Chong

Given that English is now a global lingua franca and that people are using it to communicate with non-native as well as native speakers, which type of English we should be teaching?

Traditionally when we teach a language, we want the learners to achieve native speaker standard. To understand native speaker humour, use native speaker colloquialisms, and speak with a native speaker accent. But which native speaker – the Queen? Hugh Grant? Shouldn’t we be teaching the learners to communicate intelligibly when communicating in the international arena than obsessing about reaching the native speaker standard? Chia maintains we need to give the learners exposure to a range of accents (and not native speakers pretending to be foreign), be careful with teaching idioms, especially localized colloquialism, and above all focus on the complex nature of international communication, helping the learners acquire adaptation skills and accommodation skills that will help them to become successful communicators.

Business English materials
Valentina Dodge

Given the advances in educational (and translation) technology, how do you see BE professionals maintaining relevance and adding value to their corporate clients, with specific focus on business English teaching materials?

A trend towards greater specificity. We see most business training focused more on the business goals that need to be achieved by our clients. Syllabus isn’t predefined but emerges out of those goals.

Accessibility. What can the company offer us as trainers and how do we handle this? What company content can we access that can help drive our tailor-made course? How do we deal with permissions and the copyright?

Singularity / uniqueness. We can capture instances of how our students are communicating, like never before – including video and so on. We can reuse that to reformulate that language that they need, and the learners can use that to self-reflect.

———

After this intro by four experts, the participants of the session discussed a range of business English training-related questions in small groups.

In the follow-up to the discussion the participants the following issues emerged, among others:

  • the skills we have had to learn in the past months, and they all seem to be technology related
  • the increasing need to encourage and ‘scaffold’ learner autonomy
  • the general feel that the need for pure language training is diminishing, partially because of new technology, and there was even speculation whether new translation technology might eventually put us all out of work.

I really enjoyed this session: the intro was thought-provoking and allowed me a glimpse into business English training reality that’s quite different from mine: working in company in Russia, I do not yet feel that the need for language training isn’t there – quite  the opposite, really. I also really enjoyed the interactive part of the session, as it was fascinating to get the chance to find out a bit more about business English training in a variety of countries and contexts, ranging from an in company training provider in Brazil to Swiss universities. 

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Very happy to win this month’s onestopenglish Lesson Share competition! I wanted to take part in this competition for ages, but only got the guts to send in a worksheet when I was doing the iTDi course on Creating ELT Materials (I wrote about the course back in June). The lesson is on work-related emailing, so if you teach this topic, you can check it out on their website.

IATEFL Business English SIG are running their 1st Online Symposium today – a day of pecha kuchas, talks and workshops on Business English topics.

Here’s a summary of a Pecha Kucha presentation by Rachel Appleby (@rapple18): The Confidence to Stand Up and Talk!

Abstract:

Presentations are common in business contexts, and yet, regardless of age and experience, even the most senior in the company can find this challenge nerve-wracking. Course materials provide long lists of “useful phrases”, how to use visuals effectively, and so on, but still many of our clients lack the confidence to do this well. What clients specifically need is how to get started, engage their audience, keep them involved, and, not least, how to end effectively. This pecha kucha will take the fast-lane approach to hooks and tools to help clients not just survive but succeed!

For some people presenting in English is more nerve-wracking that meeting a spider. How to help our students?  Rachel is going to present 7 ideas to help the learners build up the confidence to present in English.

Slides

1. A good idea: if you don’t have a new idea, tweak it and provide a new a new angle on the topic.
Examples:  ‘Recent Sales Figures’ >> ‘The key points about recent sales figures’ or ‘Something you didn’t know about..’; ‘Update on a project’ >> ‘Three features about the project’ / ‘What no-one else has done’.

2 How to start? if the beginning doesn’t make a good impression, you’re doomed.From the very beginning, get attention of the audience, e.g. through a quote / a fun fact (‘Did you know?..‘). Rachel’s favourite is a hands-up question (involves the audience and no-one needs to speak).

3 Have a ‘take home’ message. We could change the audience’s knowledge, attitude or behaviour – all three could be the ‘take-away’.

4 Also, establish your credibility (say a few things about yourself).

5 Provide direction: organize content to have clear structure, e.g. have three WH-questions on the first slide that you answer during the presentation, or organized it around a problem>> solution.

Involve the audience (e.g. get them to discuss a question, ask Yes/No questions).

7 Plan the end in advance. This is an invaluable opportunity to make your points again. Get the learners to write down ~3 sentences they’ll end their talk with. Some options: come down to the beginning? Summarize?

This was a very enjoyable and useful session: I feel that these seven key points would make a great check-list for anyone preparing to give a talk. 

This blog has been quiet for a while, because life really got in the way.

I spent the bulk of spring finishing my Delta Module 3 assignment (the mammoth of a text had over 200 pages of appendices by the time I sent it off to Cambridge), and then three weeks ago I had a wonderful baby daughter, who’s been amusing and occupying me ever since.

This post is a bit of a diary entry, actually. Normally I don’t create any materials when I’m not teaching, but this post will be an exception. Right now I’m doing an iTDi course on Creating ELT Materials with Katherine Bilsborough. It’s been a very enjoyable experience so far (and a nice change from the stress and toll of Delta), and I thought I’d make a note of some of the things that I’ve learnt on the course and post some of my assignments here.

My biggest takeaway from the first life session was the idea to bring together the materials writing principles that I adhere to and use this list as a checklist to proofread the worksheets that I create. When I started writing down the principles, they were an incoherent mess, but after a while some logic emerged:

Autenticity
Materials should

  • have clear aims that are authentic (real-world outcomes that the learners desire to achieve);
  • focus on language points/sub-skills that are key to achieving the aims (as opposed to ‘shoe-horning’ pre-chosen language points with no regard for discourse). To achieve that, they should be informed by insight into language in authentic use, e.g. be researched through a corpus or use authentic texts, and insight into performance of competent speakers);
  • stimulate genuine communication/authentic use of language, empowering the learners to get across the meanings they want to get across and, more generally, achieve the outcomes they want to achieve.

Methodology
Materials should

  • be informed by insight into language acquisition;
  • cater for the learners’ learning needs (e.g. stimulate and sustain interest, stimulate motivation e.g. by providing the learners with the opportunity to notice the gap between their performance and target performance; be cognitively engaging; elicit emotional response; be aesthetically pleasing; build the learners’ confidence; promote learner autonomy);
  • provide the learners with sufficient support through a well-designed sequence of tasks, e.g. focusing on Meaning/Form/Pronunciation of language or targeting specific sub-skills (this also means that they should not be overloaded: LESS is MORE);
  • provide opportunities for feedback.

The assignment for the first week was to create a worksheet based on a very short authentic text. I chose this 40-second video:

Lesson Overview
Level: B1

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-fjYeUHGLw (from Google Developers Youtube channel);
Learner type: Business English or General English/Teens.
Time: 60-75 minutes 
Lesson aim: the learners will improve their ability to understand a British accent and get practice talking about what they love about their job and/or hobby.

The course has a thriving Google Plus community where course participants share their material writing assignments, leave feedback and share tips, and for me this has been a great opportunity to hear suggestions how to improve the listening worksheets that I have been creating – something that has never really happened with materials posted on this blog – and I found the feedback from the course participants and Katherine immensely valuable.

Here’s the summary of the feedback that I got so far:

  • For key elements of the lesson, don’t rely on the Teacher’s notes and the teacher. Most of my lesson plans have an element of decoding work, but up to now I never actually wrote any information about the features of connected speech in the worksheet explicitly, leaving it for the teacher to cover. This is bound to be confusing for the learners, so in this worksheet I summarized the key points in an information box.
  • Teacher’s notes: first, explore teacher’s books and look for good instructions to steal. Second, choose a style of presentation and stick to it, e.g. how will the Keys be highlighted? Will I use bullet points or paragraphs of text to present longer procedures? Third, use simpler language both in the teacher’s notes and in the instructions (one way to do that is to run them through a vocabulary profiler, aiming for A2 vocabulary).

So, here’s the resulting worksheet. I would be thrilled to hear any other tips how it could be improved. Any thoughts?

 

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One of the questions that my learners (who are IT people) are very likely to be asked during interviews and promotion reviews is ‘Tell us about your favourite technology’. But, whatever their profession, Business English learners need to learn to speak fluently and persuasively when presenting the advantages of products, tools and options.

Here’s a ‘geeky’ lesson plan in which the learners

  • watch a video of a developer talking about the features of his favourite browser (activities: gist listening, listening decoding skills)
  • analyze linkers used for listing ideas
  • briefly revise modal verbs (could, (don’t) have to)
  • talk about their favourite tools, apps and technologies

It worked very well with my learners, who spent more than fifteen minutes discussing the relative merits of file managers and development environments. For learners who are less geeky, I included a range of other websites and apps to talk about, e.g. social networks, messengers and and to-do list apps.

Level: Intermediate (B1)

Time: 90 minutes

Materials: an editable Microsoft Word worksheet. If you don’t have Microsoft Word, you could download the .pdf file from Slideshare:

Today I’m sharing a lesson based on four video snippets with Google employees describing their career paths and how they got to Google. Although this topic is covered extensively in every Business English course, I wanted to give my group (which is a very strong Pre-Intermediate group about to finish the course) exposure to authentic speech, and this material seemed both interesting linguistically and not too challenging. The learners revise past simple and present perfect (time adverbials used with those tenses), practice listening decoding skills (listening to verbs in past simple and present perfect), focus on vocabulary to talk about educational background and career paths, and finish the lesson by speaking about their own career paths.

I must admit I was very unsure that the learners would cope well with the listening tasks, because my previous attempts to introduce (tiny bits of) authentic listening in that group had caused a lot of frustration. But this time they did all right. Apart from Task 2, all they needed to do was to discriminate between Past Simple and Present Perfect – the ‘secret reason’ for the task was to get them to notice how Past Simple is pronounced (very often it sounds very close to Present Simple, as the ending /t/ is barely pronounced, which might be confusing for the learners). NB For the tasks in which the students listen to sentences one by one to check their answers, it’s better to open the videos on youtube and use the interactive transcript feature to replay sentences.

One thing that I noticed while working on this worksheet that I had never noticed before was that speakers tend to use vague language with periods of time (‘a little over a year ago’, ‘for about four and a half years’, ‘for a bit’ – other examples that didn’t make it into the worksheet were ‘for quite a number of years’, ‘for close to six years’). This definitely sounds a lot more natural, but I’d never thought to teach this little trick to my students who were preparing for exams.

Anyway, here’s the worksheet – let me know if you use it or if you see how it could be improved.

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Level: Intermediate (B1)
Time: 90 minutes
Materials: a worksheet (feel free to edit and adapt).

If you don’t have Microsoft Word, you can download a .pdf file from Slideshare:

Extract 1:

Extract 2:

Extract 3:

Extract 4:

NB These videos come from Google Developers Youtube channel.

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In this post I’m sharing a video-based lesson on Performance reviews that I taught today. It’s based on a fragment from a QA session by career analyst Dan Pink, who you might have heard of, as his TED talk on The puzzle of motivation features among top 10 most watched TED talks.

Levels: B1+ up to B2

Length: 90 minutes

Activities: the s/s watch an authentic video on alternatives to traditional performance reviews, develop their listening skills by focusing on features of connected speech, learn vocabulary from the video and finish the lesson with a discussion

Materials: an editable worksheet. If you don’t have Microsoft Word, you can download a .pdf from Slideshare:


Features of connected speech

In one of the listening activities in this lesson the learners transcribe several sentences from  the video. Here are some common English words and expressions that my students found problematic, due to the fact that they sound quite different from their dictionary form.

Overview:

  1. Elision of /ʊ/ from the diphthong //  (e.g. ‘out’ and ‘how’ sound more like ‘ut’ and ‘har’)
  2. Weak form of ‘are you’ and ‘you are’ (you are /ju ɑː/ -> /jə /)
  3. Elision of ‘t’ and ‘d’ the end of words (either disappear e.g. don’t_ask, or get replaced with a glottal stop, as the air isn’t released, e.g. it)
  4. Frequent chunks: at_the/at the end of the month; and_then
  5. r_vowel linking (e.g. more_among)

Board

1. Elision of /ʊ/ from /aʊ/

set out /ˈaʊt/ your goals

set out /ˈaʊt/

set them out /ˈaʊt/

of how /ˈhaʊ/ you’re doing

how /ˈhaʊ/ you’re

maybe think about /ə.baʊt/ this

2. Weak form of ‘are you’ and ‘you are’

you are /ju ɑː/ >> /jə /

of how you’re /jə / doing

are you /ə ju/ > /(ə)jə/

where are you /weər(ə)/ making progress

are you making

where are you /weər(ə)/ falling behind

3. Elision of /d/ /t/ (or replacement with glottal stop)

and_meet monthly

and say

Elision of /t/ in negative forms: question that we don’t ask

don’t ask

that

Elision of /t/ in negative forms: I didn’t quite make those

but I’ll have it with a peer

have it with

4. Frequent chunks (at_the, and_then, etc)

At_the beginning of a/the month

and_then at_the end_of_a month

and_then

5 r_vowel

more_among /mɔː.ˈmʌŋ /

or I /ɔː ˈraɪ / will have it with two peers

or I /ɔː ˈraɪ /


More about teaching listening on this blog:

My presentation at IATEFL 2015 (my top teaching tips for teaching listening decoding skills) / A post with screen shots explaining how to use interactive transcripts on youtube and Aegisub to teach decoding skills / Listening lessons (American and Australian accents)

Here’s another simple activity for practicing small talk. The students watch a video in which a communication coach recommends asking more concrete questions that invite people to tell stories and then go on to do just that – tell short simple stories.

Levels: B1+-B2 Time: 45-60 mins Procedure:

  1. Brainstorm 6 places where you students might make small talk in the next several weeks (e.g. ”in the office kitchen’, ‘over lunch’, ‘on a business trip’, ‘when someone visits their office’, ‘at the beginning of a skype meeting’, etc).
  2. For each location brainstorm 2-3 ‘small talk’ questions that they might ask.
  3. [Listening] Tell the students that they’re going to watch a 2 minute video with communication advice. Play the first sentence and check the meaning of ‘Curiosity’. Then play the rest of the video: the s/s watch for gist, share what they caught in pairs and what they’re still not sure about. Elicit questions from the s/s about the bits they didn’t understand (e.g. ‘What did he say about the bus?’). Play the video again, stopping after every 20-30 seconds for the students to summarize the points (it’s better to use the interactive transcript on youtube for this activity; if you don’t know how to do this, you’ll find instructions in this post – scroll till you see screenshots of youtube).
  4. Get the students to transcribe the three questions that the speaker gave to exemplify his point: 32:05 What do you think about San Francisco these days? (this question is too abstract) 32:14 What’s your morning like? What’s your morning routine? 32:39 How did you get to this party tonight?
  5. Get the students to reformulate some of the questions that they brainstormed during Stage 2 (or add some more).
  6. Finally, in new pairs, the students roleplay conversations (a pair rolls a dice to determine which of the six locations to pick, role-plays a three-minute conversation, then one of the students in each pair stands up and moves to another student).

For a quick related filler, in a later lesson, it might be useful to revisit the natural responses to ‘How are you?’ (a question that doesn’t imply any news sharing) and the alternatives that actually do invite the listener to share (e.g. ‘What have you been up to lately?’):

  1. Write ‘How are you?’ on the board. Elicit and board (1) alternative ways to greet and (2) possible responses. Next, ask what questions could be asked to invite the person you’re talking to to share news.
  2. Play the video. The s/s note down an alternative to ‘How are you?’, two responses that people give and the two questions used to elicit longer responses. (Replay them using the interactive transcript on youtube if needed).
    0:34 Jarek, how are you doing today?
    0:36 JAREK WILKIEWICZ: Doing good. How are you?
    0:37 JJ BEHRENS: Pretty good.
    0:37 JAREK WILKIEWICZ: So you’ve been quite busy lately. I haven’t seen you around. What have you been up to, JJ?
    0:42 JJ BEHRENS: Well, I was talking to my wife. And she says, you’re not a real developer. You just play one on TV. And so I figured I should do something about that. And so I started releasing the backlog of Open Source projects that I have.
    0:55 JAREK WILKIEWICZ: Cool. So tell me more. What have you released lately?
    0:57 JJ BEHRENS: So I released three projects….
  3. The s/s mingle and chat, sharing their news and practicing the new alternatives and responses to ‘How are you?’ and the question ‘What have you been up to?’

A couple of weeks ago I was doing a diagnostic test with one of my Business English groups to establish how well they answered interview questions. One of the questions was Have you ever worked with someone who it was difficult to work with? The students came up with lots of stories of difficult colleagues, but two things became evident from their replies. First, they didn’t really understand what to include in the answer, so they mostly focused on the description of the situation, and at least half of them didn’t even mention how the situation was resolved. And second, their replies were so long-winded that it was difficult to see structure in them even when they were structured.star-304291_640

So here is a video-based lesson plan that we did with that group today. The main aim of this lesson was to help the students structure their speech when talking about past experiences and decisions using the STAR framework for impromptu speaking. They listen to an extract from a workshop in Stanford Graduate School of Business in which the framework is presented, focus on vocabulary (talking about deadlines) and grammar (cleft sentences) in the video and then practice using the framework in their own speech.

In the second lesson (or for homework), the students analyze an example of a business person using a variation of the technique in her presentation:

Language level: B2 (Upper-Intermediate)
Learner type: adults (Business English)
Activity: listening (gist and decoding work), vocabulary, speaking strategies (STAR framework), cleft sentences (optional)
Length: ideally, two lessons (either 60 or 90 minutes, as communicative activities are flexible in length)
To do the lesson in 90 minutes, skip the task focusing on cleft sentences (see the procedure in the Teacher’s notes at the end of the worksheet).
Materials: editable .docx worksheet (tasks, transcripts, teacher’s notes). If you don’t have Microsoft Word, download a .pdf file from Slideshare: