IATEFL BESIG World Blog


Welcome to the BESIG World Blog. Each month we’ve got a different guest author lined up who will be sharing thoughts and experiences on teaching business English from countries around the globe.

  • Global Perspectives on Business English: Teaching in Uruguay

     Mercedes Viola has been involved in business English teaching in her home country of Uruguay for a considerable period of time, but this facts belies the extent to which business English courses are available in this relatively small South American country. Uruguay is surrounded by Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries and everyone on the continent get by with speaking their own tongue or a mixture of the two if they´re dealing with business partners from their region. As global collaboration and contact in the world of work become more prevalent, however, many Uruguayan business people are looking to business English training to help them achieve more effective international more communication. Mercedes shares her perspective on business English teaching with us as well as some insights into what it´s like to be a business English teacher in Uruguay. As Mercedes will be beamed in from Uruguay to deliver a workshop at the IATEFL BESIG Annual Conference on 17th November, we also asked her to give us a sneek preview of what she will be talking about and to tell us some about the satellite event she will be organising in Montevideo on the same day for teachers from Uruguay and Argentina. You can find out more about the IATEFL BESIG Annual Conference Online Programme here.

     

     Mercedes Viola lives and works in Uruguay. She holds a degree from the Universidad de la Republica Oriental del Uruguay and an MA in TESOL. She has been running a language school for more than 20 years. She is in charge of designing business English learning experiences for government-owned organizations, universities and   many well known global companies such as Microsoft, HP, American Express, McDonalds, Deloitte, John Deere and MasterCard. She designs materials for business English clients and trains new teachers on business. She is a writer for the Teaching English site of the British Council and a member of the IATEFL BESIG Online Team. You can visit her website and she also blogs here

     

    Listen to Mercedes Viola´s interview with Claire Hart here:

     

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  • Seven things you thought you knew about ESP

    Matt Firth has built up a reputation for himself as one of the leading European practitioners in the field of English for Specific Purposes or ESP. Based in Austria, Matt also works in Switzerland and Liechtenstein. You´re most likely to have heard his name in connection with legal English, an area of ESP he has extensive experience in and one that he has put a great deal of effort into opening up to novices considering entering it and current ESP teachers who may need guidance and support. Mattis a university lecturer, course designer, online trainer and teacher trainer as well as being the co-author of Introduction to International Legal English (Cambridge University Press) with Amy Krois-Lindner. In this interview, Claire Hart puts seven statements about ESP to Matt and he responds with some very convincing answers that may lead you to reassess the stereotypes and preconceptions about ESP teaching and learning you believed to be facts.

    Matt Firth

    Matt Firth teaches Legal English at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland, the Hochschule Vaduz, Liechtenstein and the Management Centre, Innsbruck. He is secretary of the European Legal English Teachers’ Association (EULETA) and runs regular workshops for teachers of Legal English. Matt is Production Manager with TransLegal, with whom he developed both the PLEAD Legal English blended learning course (together with Boston University and Cambridge University Press) and TransLegal’s Legal English Dictionary app. His recent publications include Introduction to International Legal English (with Amy Krois- Lindner), the Cambridge Academic English C1 Teacher’s Book and a regular Legal English column for Business Spotlight. See www.legalenglishtrainer.com for more details.

    Claire Hart: 1) You need to be an expert in the area you´re teaching in, e.g. law, engineering, in order to teach English to those working in that area.

    Matt Firth: No, certainly not. I’m not an expert in gardening, animals or Linda McCartney, but have taught materials based on each of these three topics during my career in EFL. It’s all about exploiting the information gap. We have the specialist language knowledge, our students have the specialist subject knowledge and this creates an information gap that we can exploit to provide some genuinely authentic tasks. I mainly teach lawyers, and they regularly have to explain aspects of their legal systems to clients from other jurisdictions. I will often follow up a language activity with a few questions that dig deeper into the learners’ legal systems, and they are always very pleased when they have the opportunity to display their specialist knowledge in English. The learners get useful language practice, and I learn something new about some aspect of Liechtenstein company law, for example. I can then use this information to help develop further materials specific to my students’ particular needs.

    This doesn’t mean that we can go in to class not knowing a thing—as with any English course we need to be familiar with the materials we are using as carrier content—it means understanding them, knowing how to pronounce the words and knowing a little about the kinds of contexts in which they are used. While we are not expected to be experts, and our role is to teach language not content, it is certainly useful to know a little about the area in which our students work.

    Claire Hart: 2) It´s impossible for those who haven´t studied the subject area or worked in that area to ever become an expert teacher in it.

    Matt Firth: This is no truer of ESP as it is of any other area of life. I’ve never taken any formal courses in cooking, but consider myself a pretty good cook. I’ve never studied German, but am now pretty fluent in the language. And I know almost everything there is to know about the Beatles. I did study law, and yes, it certainly helped me during the early stages of my career. But this was more a case of simply being interested in the subject, and such an interest is essential for any ESP teacher. Most of what I know about commercial law I have learned from my students though!

    The key thing here is to have the confidence to ask, and to make it clear from the start that you are the expert in the language, they are the expert in the subject area, and that you will both learn from each other as the course progresses.

    Claire Hart: 3) ESP teachers aren´t qualified to teach what they´re teaching.

    Matt Firth: That depends on the teacher in question. I think that the CELTA plus some experience of teaching general English would be a minimum before specialising. However, it depends on the individual. Someone with experience in the field in which they will be teaching may find that the CELTA, together with the in-course teaching practice, is enough. I would certainly encourage people involved in ESP to consider further qualifications. I have recently completed the online Cert IBET (Certificate in International Business English Training), and found it to be an excellent course. I would recommend the IBET to anyone considering a career in ESP. While the focus is business English, rather than ESP, many of the skills we learned during the course are transferable.

    Claire Hart: 4) ESP teachers don´t deserve to be paid more than any other teachers

    Matt Firth: This will sound trite, but I think that we all deserve to be paid what we are worth. With no offence meant to those teaching a general English course from an established course book, any course that trains the drafting of contracts in English will take more preparation and is also likely to be a higher stakes course for all involved; the teacher should, therefore, be paid accordingly. Good law firms invest a lot in professional development. If they understand that what they are getting from me is a highly specialist course developed in accordance with their specific requirements, then they should be prepared to pay a premium. Of course, at the start of my career in legal English I was more limited as to the kinds of courses I could teach, and a more general legal English course aimed primarily at law students will not be as well paid as one specially designed for partners in a law firm. As with other professions, the more experienced and established you become, the more you are able to specialise and negotiate a higher fee.

    Claire Hart: 5) ESP is all about (specialised) vocabulary: learners just need to know the right vocabulary.

    Matt Firth: If that were the case, all learners would need is a good professional English dictionary app. Specialist vocabulary is certainly important, but so are the universal problems that are also experienced by learners of general English, such as the correct use of prepositions, tenses and other problem areas with which we are all familiar. What is different in an ESP course is the context in which they are taught. If you are learning English for law, you are better off taking a specialist legal English course that focuses on these problems as they relate to the ways in which you need to use English, for example, the task and text types with which you have to be familiar. Add to this all of the profession-specific skills such as drafting contracts, understanding and interpreting legislation and conducting a successful lawyer-client interview in English and it quickly becomes clear that ESP consists of far more than simply specialist vocabulary, important though it is.

    Claire Hart: 6) Course book materials are not adequate for teaching and learning ESP, you need to use authentic materials instead.

    Matt Firth: This will depend on the course. However, in my field there are at least two excellent course books available and these suit most of the courses I am currently teaching. As with all other courses, these classes can become dull for both the teacher and the students if the course if they simply consist of ploughing through a course book chronologically, so spice it up with some of the photocopiable activities form the teacher’s book or accompanying website. At the start of each of my courses, I ask the students to go through the map of the book and note down any areas that might be useful to them that are not covered by the book. They then help me to source good carrier content that I can develop into supplementary materials designed to suit their specific needs.

    Claire Hart: 7) Most ESP teachers feel like they are working in isolation: the support networks for them aren´t there.

    Matt Firth: I can understand this feeling, and felt quite alone at the start of my career in legal English too. Happily, I found a group of like-minded teachers who organized the occasional informal gathering of Legal English teachers. This went on to become a successful teaching organization: The European Legal English Teachers’ Association (EULETA) and we have now run yearly conferences and workshops since 2007. My feeling is that there are lots of smaller, specialist teaching associations out there—a few searches on Xing/LinkedIn should be enough to put you in touch with teachers working in similar areas of ESP. BESIG is a great place to start: it could probably be more accurately described as PESIG, with the ‘P’ standing for ‘professional’. A quick look at the conference abstracts from the past few years shows that there are many people out there teaching to highly specialized groups. In my experience, such teachers are usually very generous with their time – and more than ready to help a colleague.

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  • Out on a limb: Freelancing in Finland

    In the second episode of our two-part feature on business English in Finland, trainer Lynn Nikkanen shares her experiences of forging a teaching and writing career in the nordic country. Originally from England, Lynn is now well-integrated into Finnish society and has an established in-company client base who appreciate her experience, flexibility and creativity, as well as a prolific career as a course book writer. Lynn tells us about how she became a freelancer and shares some tips on how to make a success of it. She also talks about how she got into course book writing and what the day-to-day work of creating course book material entails. Although she may sometimes feel like she´s "out on a limb", Lynn stays in touch with the rest of the ELT community through professional development opportunities and training courses online.


    Lynn Nikkanen

    Lynn Nikkanen works as a freelance in-company business English trainer in Helsinki, teaching mainly one-to-one. She has also co-authored over thirty course books for a local Finnish publisher, primarily for the upper secondary school market. Since completing an MA TESOL by distance learning, she has recently completed the Cert ICT and Cert IBET courses, both thanks to online learning programmes (and a particularly long, dark winter). She is currently working on new multi-format English grammar material with three Finnish colleagues, and bracing herself for yet another peripatetic and parky winter season on the business English trail.


    CH What’s it like to work as a freelancer in Finland?

    LN: If my memory serves me right, I was nudged towards full-fledged freelancing when a government training centre discontinued the language teaching side of their operations, and the clients I was teaching stayed loyal to me. I was very wary in my early teaching days of ‘poaching’ clients from the language schools that employed me, but it wasn’t uncommon for students to enquire about continuing lessons on a private basis, and if they took the initiative, I was inclined to say yes. In essence, language learners form a ‘verbal agreement’ with their teacher, not with the language school that provides the teacher. However, as unbusinesslike as it sounds, I have no formal channels for marketing my services and generally rely on goodwill and personal recommendations to retain existing clients and obtain new ones. This makes freelancing as precarious as it is liberating. On the one hand, you can choose where, when and whom you teach to a large extent, and negotiate decent rates of pay along with the syllabus. It’s also possible to build a direct and open working relationship with training managers, without third-party interference, which can sometimes just confound arrangements. On the other hand, it’s a vulnerable position to be in as it’s impossible to match up to the marketing muscle of large, established language training companies and the range of services and on-site facilities they provide. The only way to differentiate myself from the competition is by offering a highly personalized service with equally high availability (i.e. willing to work evenings and weekends). In addition, there are no such niceties as holiday pay or sponsored professional development when you freelance and, of course, you can’t afford to get ill. Yet despite the inevitable drawbacks, I’m willing to wager that once a business English teacher finds their feet, or gains a toehold, as a freelancer, they are unlikely to revert to working for a language school.

    CH: What advice would you give to other teachers who are thinking of turning freelance?

    LN: I don’t know anyone in this neck of the woods who starts working directly with clients before putting in time with a language school that procures teaching hours on their behalf. In spite of the relative job security that this offers, I would definitely advise teachers to strike out on their own–but only after notching up considerable classroom experience and cultivating a personal reputation for professionalism, coupled with flexibility and the ability to get on with anyone and everyone. Professional qualifications and experience are a necessary but not sufficient prerequisite for success here. In fact, I can’t emphasize the relationship-building aspect of freelancing strongly enough. Perhaps it’s because I teach predominantly one-to-one that sensitivity to the affective variables seems to be such an important factor in gaining return clients or ‘regulars’. At the expense of stating the obvious, learning a language can be a humbling experience for professional adults who suddenly find themselves verbally incapacitated in the L2, and they are more likely to put in a sustained effort with a teacher they like and in whose company they feel at ease. This is especially true for the job-experienced learners I teach. Many have very good receptive skills after ten years of English at school, but tend to be inhibited about their productive skills, and need a fair amount of encouragement and empathy to dispel so-called language anxiety and an over-preoccupation with accuracy.

    In terms of job security, some recommend carving out a specialist training niche for yourself as a freelancer. This may well be true, but in a small (and expensive) country like Finland I think it’s important to gradually broaden the scope of your freelance offering by diversifying into related areas such as materials writing or translating, which usually calls for making a longer-term commitment to the host country. My teaching experience is limited to Finland, but settling here and getting a real feel for the local teaching context and language have helped me to branch out into publishing and copy-editing – and working round the clock when all the work descends at once. Freelancing can make you reluctant to turn work down, which can sometimes leave you swamped.

    CH: How did you get into materials writing and what are the differences between creating materials for your own learners and for course books?

    LN: I got into materials writing when a language-school owner, who was working as a materials writer himself for one of the local publishers, heard me using pop song lyrics to engage a teenage student. This serendipitous incident resulted in him asking me whether I’d be interested in writing material for a lower secondary course book series as they were looking for a second native speaker for their writing team. I went along for an interview and was hired. Twenty-odd years down the line, I’m still working on course book series, but mainly for upper secondary schools today. These are books that students study during the three years leading up to their matriculation exams. We work in writing teams composed of native English speakers and Finnish teachers of English. Each eight-book series plus accompanying material takes about five years to produce, and then has a ‘shelf life’ of about six to seven years maximum. What this means in practice is that as soon as you finish one series, it’s time to start planning the next. The national curriculum is drawn up by the Finnish Board of Education, but there’s plenty of room for manoeuvre and creativity when it comes to methodology and course content.

    Apart from not having to follow a prescribed curriculum, I’d say that the biggest difference between creating materials for my own learners and for course books is that about fifty per cent of the reading texts and all the listening texts are purpose-written for the books we produce, especially during the first two years of upper secondary school. After that, we place greater reliance on authentic articles and literary extracts, and as writers we are also liable to pay the copyright fees on the material we select. Luckily, I never have to script texts for my own learners, only tasks or framework materials. I’d go as far as to say that all EFL teachers are materials writers by default, and it’s only a matter of time before we jettison the course books and start tweaking and tailoring material to fit. I can’t read anything these days without wondering whether it could be adapted as lesson material. I’m sure you know the feeling!

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  • Focus on business English in Finland: the parky and peripatetic lives of two teachers

    This month we´re bringing you a two-part feature on business English teaching in Finland, as seen through the eyes of two practitioners based in the Nordic country. Finland may not be renowned for its high concentration of business English training, but it is known as a country where education has a high priority and the teaching professional is highly respected.

    In the first of this two-part feature, Claire Hart talks to Marise Lehto, who some of you may already have already come into contact with in the Twittersphere--she´s an active tweeter and PLN supporter--or on the conference circuit--she will be presenting two workshops at the IATEFL BESIG Annual Conference in Stuttgart this November. Marise is a New Zealander with her own company, Marise Lehto Associates, which provides English language teaching and business coaching. She is constantly seeking and developing ways to increase learner and teacher engagement and the efficacy of the corporate training and coaching she provides, and one of her special interests is action research and how it can be instrumental in that process. In this interview, Marise shares some insights into what inspires, guides and motivates her as a business English professional.


    Marise Lehto

    Marise Lehto founded ‘Marise Lehto Associates’ www.mla.fi in 2010 and is currently studying for an MSc Educational Management. Her research interests encompass:

    • developing sustainable learning models through a systemic thinking approach – models that are the foundation for a successful and adaptive learning culture
    • a social constructivist view of learning through an interactionist framework
    • post-method critical pedagogy and the implications for the second language classroom

    She is driven by the desire to learn, question everything and challenge the status quo. Her learning philosophy is reflected – quite literally - in her company logo and she is a strong advocate for continuing professional development through the medium of action research.


    CH: What is it like to be a business English teacher in Finland right now?

    ML: It’s very exciting! Right now the profession is in a state of fast moving change and the demand for highly qualified TESOL teachers - not just to teach, but also to design highly specific courses - is growing. All our courses are designed around a 6-7 stage structured yet flexible learning cycle and we work closely with the key stakeholders to negotiate suitable learning outcomes for all. The learners themselves range from A1 right up to C1.

    CH: And what about Finnish students´ motivation?

    ML: Finns are highly agentive learners but sadly, I still see what Carl Rogers refers to as the ‘serious social consequences’ of transmission style teaching. This is where grammar acts as the focus of the course and rules are taught in a linear type syllabus.It’s been the predominant method here in Finland for many years –even today! However, over the last 6 years I’ve developed a methodology that has resulted in a much higher level of engagement in the learning process and the results are inspiring! There’s been a distinct improvement in their level of self-efficacy, motivation, self-confidence as well as social interaction. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that they have truly embraced a learner-centered approach - the foundation of my teaching and learning philosophy. A true partnership in all senses of the word. But it has taken time to establish trust and mutual respect and the learners must feel safe – it doesn’t happen overnight. Context and congruence are the all-important keys plus other factors e.g. my beliefs about learning and this is what drives me every day:

    ‘to be a true teacher, you must be a learner first. Indeed, a teacher’s own passion for learning inspires their students as much as their expertise does’

    Peter Senge


    Lead by nature not just by name! The payoff is huge and I’ve had the pleasure of watching my clients develop into confident and competent English speakers and communicators.

    CH: What is it like to found and lead your own training and coaching company?

    ML: This was, without a doubt, one of the best decisions I have ever made.It came about by a combination of events: the right time, right place and the right skills. I was also driven by a strong belief that the cutting edge knowledge I’ve gained through my MSc in Educational Management was very much needed in the corporate learning community. The fact that I’m a positive agent for delivering change is incredibly humbling and inspiring at the same time. To say this is ‘what I do’ just doesn’t seem to cover it – this is ‘who I am’ and I consider myself very lucky to share my beliefs about learning every day with incredible people who are really open to the process of learning!

    All this gave me a solid base to build on with plenty of support from the local community, family and friends.Plus a healthy dose of kiwi style ‘can do’ attitude!

    Our company strategy is very lean and there are several advantages to this. First, we can leverage what we own – in this case our expert knowledge and intellectual property. This results in real return on investment for the clients as there’s no middleman to deal with. Naturally there were challenges to face but never give up, never give up, never give up’! When you have a clear and realistic vision and you know you can make a difference in people’s lives, then it will all come together.

    Also, the profession of ‘teacher’ is highly respected here in Finland. It means you’ve completed a 5 year Masters degree (mandatory to teach in public schools and universities). However, as we know, the so-called barriers to entry in the private language sector are virtually nonexistent - so having an MSc has really paid off. It’s no longer enough just to be a native speaker with a workshop certificate up your sleeve or a 4 week TEFL course. These are great starting points, of course, but clients want to see comparable and relevant qualifications for the teaching sector these days.I believe this is a good thing as it is moving us towards the ‘professionalisation’ of the TESOL sector that many envision and call for - and there are many amazing & inspiring leaders to learn from.

    CH: What advice would you give to others who might be thinking about taking the same step?

    ML: Interesting you should ask as I gave a presentation to a group of Finnish entrepreneurs recently and this is what I told them: do your homework, have a strong but flexible plan and make sure you have a good support network.

    CH: How did you get into coaching and how does it differ from language training?

    :

    ML: I think we need to be very clear about where to draw the lines between these two. I make sure that I only offer coaching on what lies within my MSc Educational management, i.e. what I am qualified for, and I quite agree with those who state that you should only call yourself a coach if you are fully qualified. Otherwise it’s very disrespectful to those who are.

    CH: I know that you also enjoy being part of a PLN or Personal Learning Network...

    ML:: It all started with BESIG! I’ve met so many amazing people and have just started presenting and sharing the results of my action research projects: last year at the ESP conference in Ulm and this year I’ve got 2 talks at the BESIG Annual Conference in Stuttgart – I’m very excited! The benefits are many: an open all hours staffroom, insight, laughter and plenty of opportunities for learning!

    CH: So, what tips would you give to other teachers who are interested in building up a PLN for themselves?

    ML: One tip for face to face networking – have clear goals about who you want to meet and what you want to say. For example, last month I went to a conference where Leo van Lier gave a plenary. He has had a profound influence on my professional development and I wanted to thank him and talk about action research. I also attended a conference where I wanted to follow up on a presenter’s research so I made a point of introducing myself and initiating a discussion.

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  • Twelve thousand participants, two trainers: A taste of business English in Beijing

    Chris Bowie spent several years working as a freelance business English trainer in Berlin, before arriving at the conclusion that the life of a freelancer was no longer one he wanted to lead. He moved on to take up a full-time position with the British Council in Nepal and then became an embedded trainer with PriceWaterhouseCooper in Beijing, a position he had held for the last four years. Together with one other colleague based in Beijing and another in Shanghai, Chris is responsible for the English skills development of 12,000 members of staff in mainland China and Hong Kong.

    Here Chris shares some fascinating insights into what it´s like to be a business English trainer in this kind of teaching context. He also compares and contrasts the lives of a freelance and an embedded trainer and tells us which one he prefers.

    Chris Bowie
    Chris Bowie has been ELT since 1995 and has taught business English in Germany, Nepal and China. He was one of the first to do the BC/IH Distance DELTA from Beijing. He currently works at PricewaterhouseCoopers PwC as an internal English trainer. He's current interests are in discourse analysis and how the recent changes in business writing style are impacting BE and ESP learners.

    I believe in teaching as an ongoing learning process, both for the benefit of the students and the teacher. For that reason I love attending workshops and conferences. I feel very motivated and inspired by them.

    You can contact Chris at: chris.bowie@cn.pwc.com

    Listen to Chris' interview with Claire here:

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  • Word of the Week

    Vicky Loras is a Canadian-born Greek who teaches business English in the Swiss town of Zug. In this interview, Vicky talks to Anne Hodgson from the BESIG Online Team about her recent experiences at the IATEFL BESIG Summer Symposium in Paris, which was the first BESIG conference she has attended. Vicky presented Word of the Week, a successful lesson idea of hers which introduces learners to a new word every week and allows them to explore it. The workshop was awarded third prize in the UCLAN first time speaker competition. Deborah Capras has given an overview of Word of the Week in her Business Spotlight blog (http://bit.ly/Nc7M3u) and Vicky has laid out her lesson idea on her own blog (http://bit.ly/N3GzPS). In this interview, Vicky gives us some more insights into where she finds her inspiration and how she puts these lessons together.

    Vicky is a very active social networker and blogger and is also involved with ETAS (English Teachers Association of Switzerland).


    Vicky Loras
    My name is Vicky Loras and I am an English Teacher, born in Toronto, Canada. I have been teaching English as a Foreign Language for almost fourteen years. For ten years, my sisters (Eugenia and Christine) and I owned an English School in Greece, The Loras English Academy, but I have now moved with my eldest sister to Switzerland, where I continue to work as an English teacher, teaching mainly Business English to adults. I also teach children and teenagers.

    I believe in teaching as an ongoing learning process, both for the benefit of the students and the teacher. For that reason I love attending workshops and conferences. I feel very motivated and inspired by them.

    I blog on education at http://vickyloras.wordpress.com


    View Vicky's interview with Anne here:


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  • Business English in Developing Contexts: The View from Pakistan

    In this interview, Claire Hart talks to Azra Ahmed.

    Azra Ahmed is a business English teacher working in the higher education sector in Karachi, Pakistan. She takes an active part in the global business English community by participating in professional development activities and sharing her ideas with other professionals at international conferences. In order to present an accurate and three-dimensional picture of business English teaching and learning in her home country of Pakistan, Azra created and distributed a questionnaire asking business English learners at her university for their views and some of the results of that survey are recalled by Azra in this interview.  Azra also considers how teaching business English in developing contexts differs from and is in some cases more challenging than it is in the West and looks to the future of business English in Pakistan.


    You can download the questionnaire here: Business English World Blog Questionnaire


    Azra Ahmed
    Azra Ahmed is Assistant Professor at the Aga Khan University Institute for Education Development, Pakistan, and holds a Masters in TEFL, and has a COTE (RSA) from Cambridge University. She is currently enrolled in MSc in E-learning from the University of Edinburgh. Her online training certifications are from the IoE, University of London, Consultants-E and Trinity College. She has edited two books and presented internationally.


    Claire: Can you talk us through the linguistic landscape of Pakistan and the role that the English language plays within it?

    Azra: Pakistan is a multilingual community—more than sixty languages are spoken in Pakistan, including a number of provincial languages. Urdu, the lingua franca, is the national language and is understood by over 75% of Pakistanis. English is the official language of Pakistan, used in official business, government and legal contracts; the local dialect is known as Pakistani English.
    English and Urdu are the most commonly used languages in business communication. English being a power language in Pakistan, it is generally used both for peripheral, i.e. all kinds of information meant for in-company usage, collaborate, organize, plan, etc., and frontal communication, which is used for strategic purposes—correspondence, verbal & written, aimed at the propagation and representation of the organization—usually outside the organisation. However the size and nature of business determines which language is used to a greater extent. Written communication is by and large in English; however, oral communication is mainly in Urdu. But interestingly most BE learners aspire to be able to communicate orally in English—perhaps we go back to its status as the language that opens up opportunities—the language of a community that has a socio-economic edge in society, the ruling elite! Interestingly job interviews are more often than not in English even when the job may not require the employee to speak in English, and this situation makes business English an important component of ESP in countries such as Pakistan who have yet to get over their colonial past.

    Claire: How would you characterise the learning and teaching of business English in Pakistan if you had to generalise?

    Azra: Though English is a compulsory subject from Class 1 (or at least it´s supposed to be) it definitely has an increasingly greater role at the tertiary level. The challenge is that learners leaving college or university have not been equipped with the language skills they tend to need in the workplace. The problem, I dare say, is with the teaching rather than with the learning—and I say this as an English language teacher and someone who has been in this business for the last 28 years! I am not sure if this is because there are no business English training schools for teachers, or it’s because the language proficiency of the language teachers themselves is questionable. Often language teachers are given this responsibility, without any input on how to adapt materials for business English or what teaching learning strategies to adopt with young employed adults. Another challenge is the typical ESP situation where the teacher is at best a facilitator and in many cases knows much less than the participants do in their field. This seems to be an obvious point, but it is something which still eludes many business English teachers here. In short, business English teaching is yet to be institutionalized in Pakistan.

    Claire: I know you´ve done some research with business English participants at your university to find out what their response to the content of their lessons is, what were the results?

    Azra: I did a small survey with a group of BE participants and the majority said they enjoyed taking part in discussion-based lessons and working on presentation skills. I have a feeling if I had not been their facilitator for Presentations skills their responses may have been different though! And the majority felt they would also benefit from discussion-based lessons, which are rather uncommon here; they listed writing skills as second on this question. Surprisingly only 3 out of the 29 participants said they enjoyed BE games and only one said games could benefit them. That seems to be reflective of the choice of games by the facilitators and how they are handled in the classroom, I would imagine. Another survey with BE trainers demonstrated the majority felt the BE landscape in Pakistan was looking up even though not many business English courses are currently being offered in Pakistan. The pay-scale is usually better than what most instructors get and perhaps they are considered a ‘cooler’ lot than the ordinary ‘teacher’. And interestingly the more modern—read western—you look, the more impressed the participants get!

    Claire: An area that you´re particularly interested in is course design, would you like to share some of your views on course design with us?

    Azra: Course design, for me, also includes the materials and strategies used by BE facilitators here. And more specifically the need to contextualize and adapt published material. I have seen over the years how we mimic what is published and or what the ‘experts’ say. A large majority of the books used in our business schools are obviously written for the Western market and no one has bothered to research into the indigenous needs and wants of the market and the learner. Let me give you an example of two very common features of communication skills as taught in business circles. One is: look into the eyes of the speaker—for the various reasons given in the course books. In our culture we don’t look directly in the speaker´s eyes, especially when we want to show respect or deference. The other being: the salutations in business letters. Our greeting is Assalaamu Alaikum—Peace be Upon You, but we have to start with Dear… And then the writer can choose from four titles (Mr, Mrs, Ms, Miss), whereas we place the title after the name, e.g. I might want to say Carl Saheb, and not Mr Dowse! The issue is obviously not with the materials publishers but with our lack of confidence in developing our own variety of business English.

    Claire: What factors do you think those working in the field of business English in Pakistan will be unable to ignore in the future?

    Azra: Pakistan is a 'young' nation, with a median age of about 20 out of a total population of approximately 180 million. Although a majority of the population lives in rural areas, the number of internet users is growing in millions every year—the figures clearly represent the emergent nature of social media here. Therefore I believe that tutors of business English should concentrate on designing and delivering courses through online Learning Management Systems and using Web 2.0 tools in the future.

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  • Eric Halvorsen

    Eric Halvorsen
    Eric Halvorsen is Head of English Language Training at a French telecommunications firm. Eric has been in ELT for 8 years and has taught in Mexico City, Lille and Paris. He holds a B.A. from McGill University (Montreal) and an M.A. in TESL/TEFL from the University of Birmingham (UK). Eric is also a member of the TESOL France executive committee.

    Eric Halvorsen´s blog IheartELT can be found here.   http://iheartelt.wordpress.com

    In this interview, Claire Hart talks to Eric Halvorsen, an in-house business English trainer based in Paris, France. Eric gives us an overview of his teaching context and of the business English teaching landscape in France. He also shares his experiences of working as an in-house trainer and of completing an MA in TESL/TEFL by distance learning while continuing to teach on a full-time basis. Eric also uses Dogme, or teaching unplugged, in his courses and he gives us an insight into how this works in the reality of his classroom. At next month´s BESIG Summer Symposium in Paris, Eric will be giving a talk on task-based learning.

    Use the player below to listen to their conversation.

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  • Our man on Réunion: teaching business English on a remote volcanic island

    Phil WadePhil Wade has taught EFL and Business English for 14 years in the UK, Europe and Asia and now lives on the remote island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean. He has set up and managed foundation, undergraduate and MA courses and now teaches in companies and writes materials. His qualifications include a BA (hons) in Marketing, a PGCE, the CELTA, MA TESOL and DELTA module 3 in Business English Blended Learning.

    As well as being a teacher, Phil is also a prolific materials developer and blogger, and he has written a plan for a discussion-based business English lesson for the BESIG World Blog which you can download here. Discussion lesson plan

    Phil has several blogs:

    Réunion is a volcanic island with 800,000 inhabitants, which is one of France´s overseas departments. The euro is, therefore, the official currency on Réunion, as it is in Europe, but anglophone culture, and sometimes the rest of the world, can seem a long way off.

     La Réunion

     

    Phil talks to Claire Hart about what it´s like to be a business English trainer on Réunion: the challenges he faces and the steps he takes to overcome them. Use the player below to listen to their conversation.

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  • Learner autonomy

    This month Claire Hart interviews Business English trainer Charles Rei for the BESIG World Blog. Charles is a highly-motivated and engaged trainer who has a lot of interesting ideas to share, which we'll bring you in two instalments.

    Charles ReiCharles Rei is a freelance Business English Trainer in Bavaria working primarily in large multi-national companies. He is currently focused on several embedded training projects which mix courses, coaching, and blended learning. He has been training English since leaving the US military and completing his CELTA in 2009. Fascinated by materials light teaching and focusing completely on the learner, he is constantly seeking to strike the right training balance to help clients improve their international communication.

    Part Two: Learner Autonomy

    Claire - Do you find fostering learner self-reliance challenging? If so, what are the mitigating factors which can hinder learners´ ability to be self-reliant?

    Charles - Yes, I think it is a challenge for all of us.  The key factor to being self-reliant is time.  For most learners the step to sign up for the course was a big one.  A couple hours a week is a significant commitment.  So I can understand why they would want to ‘outsource’ the learning.  But this is not the whole story.

    Let’s look at this in context of the other training employees have received.  Most will have had some classes on computer programs, safety, management training, project management, etc.  Fitting with those (and memories of school), many learners are expecting more teacher talking time, more slides, and some kind of formal assessment with clear right and wrong answers.

    Also, some have forgotten the basic study skills needed to learn a foreign language.  Many have trouble taking clear notes, cannot organize vocabulary, do not know how to review, the list goes on.  So, the first step to self-reliance is reminding them how to study.  In the context of learning styles and some self-awareness, these study skills allow the participants to take ownership of the learning process.  It is certainly not something we can accomplish overnight, but with sustained effort it can work.

    Claire - Do you ever encounter participants who are feeling de-motivated because they just have too much on their plate and not enough time to focus on improving their English? How do you deal with such a situation and what advice would you give to trainers who find themselves in this position?

    Charles - Well, the first thing is burn the syllabus if needed.  Make new one.  All the timelines in Business English are self-imposed.  So if they don’t fit, move them.  If the trainer is under pressure to reach certain training objectives in a certain time, be honest with the DOS or course manager.  Tell them, “Look, these people are stressed out because of XYZ, they cannot keep up with the material.  We need to change our plan.  What do you recommend?”  It takes some courage to do this because we want them to be confident in our abilities.  But most of the training centers I have worked with recognize that I am considering learner retention and properly assessing their progress.  Then tell the students, “I know you are under a lot of pressure. We are going to slow down, do some vocabulary building / review / conversation until things get better.  Stay with the course and we’ll speed up again later.”  The goal is to keep the class intact, and improve where you can.

    For individuals in a group, it is bit more difficult.  Typically the participant will miss a few classes and the doubt starts, “I have already missed two, I won’t know what they are talking about.”  After a few more weeks they begin to think, “Well the class is so far ahead now that I won’t understand anything.”  The participant is naturally avoiding embarrassment.  We need to keep the dialog open, let them know what is happening in class without them, and that they will fit right in when things get better.

    When they do come back, welcome them, let them have a stage if they want to talk about all the crazy things in project XYZ.  Have the learners brief each other on the past lessons.  Include some review in the activities.  Be aware of pairing and groups to offer support.  Let them hide during difficult sections.  Then slowly take away the supports.

    Claire - Do you have any success stories to share with us about learners who have developed self-reliance?

    Charles - I think we all have the ‘model student’.  Mine is a middle aged women who first came for lessons to prepare for a job interview.  We had a few lessons doing the standard job interview coaching and preparation.  Sadly, she didn’t get the job but she decided to continue with the classes once a week.  But she didn’t really have any goals so I had a lot of freedom.

    We started talking about all the resources on the Internet for learning so for homework I started asking her to go out, research something, anything... grammar, vocab in context, skills, etc. and come back and teach me.  The assignments were designed so that she never spent more than one hour per week preparing.  The rest of the lesson was me teaching her how to do intensive and extensive reading and listening.   After a few more lessons we sat down together and organized her notebook for review (still a great review exercise).  For her, the motivation came when others in her department started coming to her and asking for corrections.  When someone came and asked for help understanding a contract I ran down to the gas station on the corner and bought a bottle of champagne to celebrate.  Teams always play better when they have fans.

    Within a few months, we were only having class once a month, which consisted of her asking me questions about similar words, emails from work, contracts, and grammar forms.  I would love to be able to instill that level of self-reliance in all my students, but I am sure she is one-of-a-kind.

    Claire - Thanks Charles.

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