by Andreas Sintas
Hi everybody! How great to have the opportunity to share thoughts and experiences with all of you. I’ve been designing courses and training business people in companies for more than 20 years. During all these years I have seen many different kinds of learners, but based on my experience, all of them fall into two well defined groups clearly distinguishable in terms of fluency in oral production and effectiveness in communication:
- The ones who work for companies in which most of the communication is in English. Those businesspeople make/receive telephone calls every day, participate in conference calls, write e-mails all the time, read and write reports and have meetings in English very often. They also have to negotiate as well as make presentations in English.
- The other group, the largest here in Uruguay, is made up of business people who do not use English very often. They make a phone call once a month; sometimes they participate in a negotiation or a meeting. Maybe once a year they have to give a presentation. So, what happens when they need to perform in English? Let me tell you this story of one of my students who belong to this group. His level of English is B1 according to the CEF. He had to give a presentation of his company to a panel at Endeavor.org in L.A, California. The room was crowded. He started and everything was going great up to the point in which he forgot everything. No single word came out of his mouth. There was a moment of hesitation. An awkward silence filled the room. He panicked. However, he managed to open a folder and he found his notes. He read some words, his memory reacted and he kept going as if nothing had happened. In the end it worked out but it could have been a complete failure. He had memorized everything he wanted to say because he was not used to speaking in English. And that is what many learners in this group do.
As a consequence, the learners in the first group move forward, learn fast, use every single word, structure, function of the language that are presented in class or the ones they listen on TV, radio, movies, podcasts or the Internet. The learners in the second group don´t need it right now, cannot think of a situation in which they might use the vocabulary or the expression they are being exposed to, therefore they don´t acquire it or it takes longer for them to use the vocabulary or expressions or even the functions of the language.
Clearly, the learners in the second group need as much help as we can give them to bridge that gap with the other learners.
At 4D, the company I founded and run, we carry out different kinds of activities to create the need to use and practice the language:
- Each student has an e-mail account and the communication with the trainers is either via mail or sms or both. Always in English!
- For every group of students we create a virtual group on Windows Live where the trainer posts classes, links, videos, articles, so that the students have the chance to be in contact with the language all the time.
- We developed a Moodle platform for our students
- There´s always a teacher on line, ready to clarify doubts to students.
- We carry out in-company simulations and/or workshops so that students can practice the language in a safe environment.
- We hold Intercompany meetings at our premises, in which people from different companies can attend and participate actively. It doesn´t matter the level of English they have. The experience is very rich and people usually love it!
- We have virtual meetings once a month, so that students have the chance to discuss a business topic. People like it as they don’t have to reveal their identity (this is very important in a small country where everybody knows everybody and in general we are afraid of making a fool of ourselves)
The idea is to generate activities that make learners feel the need to use English in the situations they will have to face sometime in their business life.
I would love to know what other teachers do around the globe with this kind of students who do not have a chance to practice outside the class and if the students who do have a chance to use English at work pose any particular difficulty.