On 21st April 2013 IATEFL BESIG hosted a weekend workshop with Steve Flinders in which Steve talked about the ways in which we can develop ourselves as Business English teachers and the different directions we could take our careers in. The recording of this session is available to everyone on the Weekend Workshop with Steve Flinders webpage for a limited time and will then be archived in the members area of this site.
The workshop elicited a lot of questions from the audience and time constraints meant that Steve wasn´t able to answer all of them. The BESIG Online Team collected these questions and sent them to Steve to answer. We´ve uploaded these questions and Steve´s answers below.
Answers to questions posed during BESIG webinar, 21 April 2013
These are all big, challenging questions and I have had to confine myself to brief answers due to a shortage of spare time just now. But I should be happy to talk to the people who put the questions individually if they want to do that.
Adi Rajan (India): I agree that there is a lot of pressure on Business English trainers to change but it seems like the destination being described is becoming a behavioral trainer. Is that a good thing?
I think a better question is: Is this a good thing for me? We want to be doing a job that we like doing. Some teachers are very interested in language and get most of their satisfaction from helping people to learn the details of the language. Others are more interested in focusing on the professional communication context of the learners, and so on. Whether we are looking more at language, or communication skills, or attitudes and behaviours must also in practice be dictated by the general level of the people we teach. I was arguing that Western and Northern Europe is becoming an increasingly mature market where many people in Business English classes already have a reasonably strong basis in the language and so need to focus more on what they are going to do with the language they have rather than go on getting diminishing returns from learning ever more about details of language accuracy. If you spend most of your time teaching lower level people then your focus is probably going to be less behavioural; but I would still urge all BE teachers to see language as a means to an end and not an end in itself; and through learner training to get their learners to focus on their professional communication goals as well.
Roxana (Romania): Q: How can we, as Business English teachers, market ourselves more effectively?
Another big question! The subject of a seminar or series of coaching sessions all to itself. However, two answers do spring immediately to mind:
1 USP. What is your Unique Sales Proposition? What do you have to offer that no- one else does? What is/are your special area/s of interest or particular approaches to teaching? Reflect on these and write them down in a short professional description of yourself. Ask colleagues for feedback on how clear and effective they think this message is. But don’t make things up. Be true to yourself and your values.
2 Now you have to communicate this so you have to think about how the world is going to find out about what you have to offer:
- Some people use social networking very effectively – operating from their own website they blog and send out regular updates to their networks using LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. They communicate both within the profession (BESIG, etc.) and to their clients and prospective clients;
- Writing articles, presenting at conferences ... Again, it’s easier to do this to professional colleagues than clients but perhaps the first can act as a springboard and a confidence builder for the second.
- Networking – both face to face and virtual. Harder for introverts but meeting people and talking to people at conferences and professional events definitely do lead to contacts and opportunities which you would not otherwise have heard about. If it doesn’t come easily, you can set yourself targets for the number of business cards you hand out or the number of new people you meet.
Finally it can help to get a mentor or a coach or, as I said in the webinar, a colleague whom you can co-coach, to deal with and make progress on these questions by setting targets and working towards them with this kind of help.
Nicolas Celedon (Uruguay): How can we make a transition from a language institute to a communication Institute.
An even bigger question, and a tough one. I think the answer here depends to quite an extent on the professional training culture of the country where you are working and I don’t know anything about Uruguay. I do know that there are big variations in the training cultures of France, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, etc – the countries where we mainly work. I think we have a long term need to try to educate the market to understand what we are talking about and we have to accept that this will take time: our clients are often mistaken when they come to us asking for more grammar instruction as the main means to become more effective international communicators. On the other had, it’s the reflex they have and we need to define an alternative message which is quick and easy to understand. My company talks about Developing People Internationally and Focusing on Results but it’s still a long slow process. Certainly putting the emphasis on ‘communication’ rather than ‘language’ in all your own corporate communications will help.
Even if and when you succeed, the other big challenge is price. Communication training is more complex and sophisticated than language training, requiring trainers to exercise more skills, but companies won’t necessarily appreciate this or want to pay more. They may well feel that mere language trainers can’t offer this higher level of expertise so we have to establish our credibility as well. We have to show that our courses compete in quality with people coming to communication training from the management training end of the market; and we have to talk the kind of business and financial language that our clients will understand and appreciate. Differentiating your prices according to the kind of course you offer will help but it’s still a problem to get people to pay more; and to avoid a situation where you are delivering a sophisticated communication training course at a language training price. Perhaps part of the answer is clarity in course description and pricing.
Helen Strong (Germany): Thanks, Steve,very interesting. You said that BESIG should start taking positive steps to help trainers move into management training. What are your suggestions for doing that (apart from removing the word "English" from the name?)
I felt I was on somewhat weak ground here because I’m not as familiar with what BESIG is doing as I should be; and what I do see is absolutely fantastic work – the dedication of BESIG volunteers is always rather humbling.
My ideas are:
- More discussion of the kinds of question raised above. For example I happen to know that Mike Hogan did a how to session on being a successful freelancer at the IATEFL conference in Liverpool. You can read Chia Suan Chong´s summary of the session: here.
- Disseminate ideas about coaching and coaching qualifications and encourage people to do it on each other; and management training qualifications and opportunities.
- Exchange evaluative ideas about materials. There are great materials on the BE market but I don’t know whether people tell each other what they’re using nor how much assessment is communicated among members.
- Exchange information about associations and groups which organise BE events: the ELTAs in Germany: ETAS in Switzerland: TESOL France, UPLEGESS and GEM&L in France; and the SIETARs everywhere ... maybe a What’s On
This of course presupposes that there is someone there with the time and energy to adopt and implement them. And it also makes me realise that I should come to the next BESIG AGM!