This was Mike’s second presenation at this year’s IATEFL, after his early-morning “How to” session on becoming a successful freelancer.
He started by challenging us to get our learners to think about what they can do outside the lessons to become better business English communicators. Business learners tend to be very busy people, which often means that English lessons may not necessarily be their priority. To manage this conundrum, we can give them ways to optimize what little time they have.
We need to consider two questions:
- What are the key functions learners need?
- How can business learners autonomously improve their skills while on the move?
In Business English, we often get what Mike calls “the big six”–presentations, negotiations, phone calls, meetings, small talk, and e-mails. Most learners need all or some of these in their English training course, but that doesn’t tell us enough. Charles Rei blogs about communicative needs analyses (among other business English-related topics) at businessenglishideas.blogspot.de. Mike mentioned his blog in discussing why just asking learners what they want to cover in English training isn’t enough. We often get answers like “I want to improve my grammar” or “I need to give presentations.” Sound familiar?
We need to focus on key functions rather than the medium of communication–how to present data, give updates, express doubt and concern, respond to requests, network, and so on. We also need to know in what contexts, on what topics, and with whom.
Once we know why they’re taking lessons, we can find out what “communicative events” they’re likely to deal with. Then we can also start to find solutions to help them improve these skills in the little bits of time they have between their professional duties.
Mike suggested that we can flip our classes, not in the sense of recording all our lessons for them (because teachers are busy people too!), but by giving them other ways of engaging in independent learning. This way, we can optimize the time spent in the face-to-face lesson.
Where to start
WIth all that’s out there, teachers and learners may feel lost. So where do we start? We need to consider:
- relevance to learners
- return on investment
- learner motivation
- their dead time
- when and how they’re on the move
By turning language learning into a hobby, learners will make time to do it because they like to do it. “Homework” can be a challenge, but by giving them something that aligns with their needs, they’re more likely to do it. This means that our proposed “homework” needs to take into consideration the criteria above.
Building on the success of Macmillan’s Global series of coursebooks (which I highly recommend, and I’m a Dogme person!), Mike showed us how the new Global business class eWorkbook offers busy learners the possibility to continue learning on the go.
The eWorkbook comes in CD-ROM format and thus works on a computer, but the exercises can also be printed. The kicker is that it is also accessible on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets.
The “work globally” unit focus on functions such as expressing doubt and changing the subject. There is also vocabulary focus modules as well as business listening, reading, and writing modules. Rather than focusing on grammar, it is structured into functional chapters and activities.
For learners traveling in places where there is ot a dependable connection, the activities can be printed out and packed in the suitcase. These exercises look much like standard worksheets. There are also reading and writing files that can be printed and done on the plane or train, for example.
The “On the Move” section offers tutorial videos on how to perform typical business functions with example dialogues, opportunities to practice, and tips. These can be viewed on tablets and devices, perfect for when learners are on the move.
In sum, programs like the Global Business Class eWorkbook can help us as business trainers respond to the realities of our business learners. We need to give them content and activities that allow them to learn things through English and at the same time learn English.
Mike left us with a key message–get our trainees learning autonomously outside of class to make the time we spend in class as effective as possible.
You can connect with Mike on twitter: @irishmikeh