‘Can we teach Business English when we are not business specialists’ – summary of #ELTchat 2016:02:17

Business English



This is my first attempt to summarize  an ELTchat and I’m feeling rather nervous about not doing it right.

I’ve looked at previous summaries and noticed that there’s no “model” – people go about it in different ways. This is reassuring.

I volunteered to do it because I’ve been feeling guilty for some time about taking advantage of all the work the moderators do to set up these sessions without giving anything back. I would never have believed that it was possible to have useful discussions on serious professional topics within the Twitter constraints of 140 characters in a post. How wrong I was!

I chose this particular subject –  teaching business English – just because it’s not one I was a priori particularly interested in but, as usual, the format and being confronted with other peoples’ ideas drew me in.

This session was moderated for most of the time by @angelos_bollas.

His first question to start us off thinking and chatting was: “Are you Business literate? Do you need to be one in order to teach Business English?”

  1. At least a minimal interest in business is necessary.
    @HadaLitim, @patrickelt (Patrick Andrews), @angelos_bollas
  2. Teachers don’t need to know everything about, for example, balance sheets or current business trends because students can explain them. Getting students to explain is a meaningful speaking task. The teacher’s job is to help students get their English right..
    Patrick, Hada, @GlenysHanson, @Marisa_C  (Marisa Constantinides), Angelos, @Ashowski (Anthony Ash)
  3. Content can be provided via input: reading texts, student provided documents. There may be confidentiality issues using company documents.
    Patrick, @TalkenEnglish, Hada.
  4. Should we feel silly in front of students if we don’t know a term? Should we fake it till we make it? Students can do/be trained to do the research for specialised terms.
    @TalkenEnglish, Hada, Glenys, Angelos, @SueAnnan
  5. Difficulty of managing classes with people at different levels of the hierarchy (the CEO + his secretary + department heads). A problem raised by Patrick and lived by others but no solution suggested.
    @getgreatenglish (Marc Jones), Glenys, Angelos.
  6. It was news to me that teaching Business English has prestige attached to it. 😲

I was surprised that in the middle of the session that Anthony thought the chat wasn’t going anywhere. Surprised because I usually agree with what Anthony writes. Though it wasn’t the sort of chat where people jump in all the time with references to lots of online resources, I felt the participants were really reflecting on what, why and how they deal with the subject. It’s true too that the discussion was less lively than the one in 2011  – I wonder why? Maybe more Business English is taught these days and teachers generally feel more comfortable with it.

The consensus seemed to be “Experience is an obvious advantage. But advantage is not necessity” as @TalkenEnglish put it.

Complete transcript >>



Using the determiners a/an or the

Going naked

going nakedThe first step in understanding how a/an or the are used before nouns, is to realise that the default is not to use them at all – just to use the noun alone.Just as the bare verb, known as the Simple Present, is the default form for verbs and needs no justification for its use, the bare noun – no preceding determiners – is the default form of nouns in English. It seems common sense that if a speaker uses a word, they should know why they do so, but many learners have been led to believe that a determiner is required before every noun and so put one in, more or less at random.

It’s very easy to express oneself at length without using any determiners before the nouns. For example:

Jean lives in Paris which, as you know, is in France. He’s young and goes to university where he studies hard. He likes to enjoy himself too. He plays football, listens to music and reads science fiction among other hobbies. In spite of recent events, he’s not afraid of terrorist attacks. He goes out a lot to eat in restaurants, attend concerts and visit friends. He doesn’t often go to bed early.”

In traditional grammar books you will find long lists explaining various reasons for the “absence” of determiners in each case in the text above. Don’t clutter up your mind with them! It’s very difficult and rather ridiculous to justify a negative. If asked why you live where you do, is it normal to give reasons for not living in the myriad of places where you do not reside? If asked why you chose your profession do you usually explain why you are not an opera singer, a Jain monk, a deep-sea diver or any of the thousands of professions you have not adopted?

It’s much simpler to focus on the positive reasons for using the determiners a/an or the.
(Read more…)

Don Cherry’s videos – Questions

Don Cherry's videos - Questions

In April 2014 Don Cherry put up some more videos on his YouTube channel.

Ever since I saw his first videos, I’ve had the project of taking very short sequences (2-3 minutes) and accompanying them with questions to help teachers new to the Silent Way “see” what the teacher and the students are doing. So far, I’ve done just one: the 3 minute sequence “Put one there” vs “Put one here” about 11:00 – 14:00 in Silent Way: “Put another one there.” (2 of 4)

  1. What does the teacher do to help the students find the rhythm of the sentence?
  2. What does the student in the brown top do – and not do – that shows she doesn’t really understand the meaning of “there”?
  3. Why doesn’t Don let her take a rod?
  4. Does she seem embarrassed or frustrated when he stops her?
  5. How do we know the student in the striped top has no idea of the contrast in meaning between “here” and “there”?
  6. The student in the light-coloured clothes makes a gesture that shows she has understood pointing is important but has a slightly erroneous hypothesis. What does she do?
  7. She then says and points correctly “Put one here.” Why doesn’t Don accept it?
  8. She then points correctly and says “Put one there.” How does Don test she really knows what she’s doing and saying?
  9. Immediately after at 13:14, we hear the student in the brown top saying something in such a way that it shows she’s realised the meaning too. What is it? How does her body language indicate understanding?
  10. Why doesn’t Don continue working on the the rhythm of the sentence during this sequence?

There are many more questions that could be asked about these three minutes of class. Would you like to try?

Writing the questions made me see a lot that I hadn’t noticed at first viewing. I’m not a Silent Way beginner teacher but there’s always more to learn.

No coursebooks, no texts, no “tasks”

no coursebooks

I must be the slowest blogger in the world. Is there somewhere I can get a badge for it?

Anyway, after several months I’ve just finished this post about what is maybe no longer a hot topic.

A lot has been written recently on ELT / EFL blogs mainly attacking, but also defending, general English coursebooks. However, both attackers and defenders seem to share the same underlying conception of how languages are learnt: input in the form of texts, written or aural, leads to spoken output. This transmissive view of learning is not the only one and is not the one I adhere to. (Read more…)

Learning to open a door

learning to open a door

A dog learning to open a door

On the 8th of June I watched Tyson Seburn’s video of his dog learning to open a door to get a toy.

A number of things struck me.

1) at first the dog, Lou, tries to squeeze through the gap but it’s not wide enough
2) however the door does open just a tiny bit more
3) at 0:31 the dog puts its forepaw on the outside of the door but doesn’t really pull the door towards itself. However, the door moves a little
4) then the man watching and encouraging the dog (?Tyson) moves the toy closer to the gap – 1:12
5) this stimulates the dog to greater activity and it puts its head through the gap, grabs the ball and retreats into the other room – 1:22
6) the man continues to call the dog which finally pushes its whole body through the gap – 1:42

How I interpret the dog story

Lou seems to be a young dog – possibly trying to get through a door left ajar for the first time. If it has had experience of other “gaps” they will not have moved in response to its trying to push through. Doors on well-oiled hinges are different – which we know from experience but a young dog doesn’t.

Lou works on the principle of “trial and error”: alternately patting the the wall and the door with its forepaws, jumping up at the wall near the door (in the inside room), pushing its nose under the door and maybe other things we can’t see from our side of the door.

By moving the toy closer the man both makes the dog more eager to get the toy and makes the task a little easier. Lou puts more energy into trying to get the toy than before and moves the door enough to get its head and shoulders through the gap.

Having got the toy, the dog loses interest in it – it drops it inside the room and returns to the door to try to get its whole self through. It does this quickly and easily – I would say, demonstrating a transfer from the first learning experience.

A cat learning to open a door

(Read more…)