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Tag Archives: business English

7 Tools for Truly Effective Training Courses

Here you can download the resource documents presented in my talk “7 Tools for Truly Effective Training Courses.” You’ll find tools that can help you better organize your business English courses. They allow you to keep track of material covered (even if it just “emerges”), make sure you and your trainees know what you’re working towards, and ensure that your clients stay happy.

These tools have all proven effective in my own business courses. They help save time and energy and help you build coherent and effective courses. And if you’re wondering why the title of the talk claims there are 7 tools, but you only see 6 downloads, wonder no more! The 7th tool is a technique, not a document, but you’ll have to see the talk to find out what it is!

1. “Zero session” interviews

2. Needs discussion questions

3. Program storyboard

4. Lesson record

5. “The module that was”

6. Course log

In my talk at the 2014 TESOL France Annual Colloquium, I’ll explain how the documents work and how they’ve helped me to stay on top of the training courses I manage. In the meantime, feel free to post a question in the comments section and I’ll happily respond!

And of course, if you have any suggestions for improving any of the documents, please share it! We work better when we work together!

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Teaching Conference Calls: Funny and useful video (with transcript)

Admittedly, this post is not the most original, as I’ve seen this video going around on Facebook pages of several colleagues’ (Carl Dowse, I’m looking at you 🙂 ) However, I thought I’d share it because it really is a good video to have on your hard drive to take into class.

So without further ado, enjoy “A Conference Call in Real Life”:

There are a few reasons why this video makes a good resource:

First, it’s just funny. Anything that gets learners laughing earns a mark in my book.

Second, business learners who have already participated in conf calls will definitely be able to relate to it. We’ve all experienced the frustration of distracting background noise, people who can’t connect, and maybe we’ve even been the one who quietly slips away (shhh!)

Third, it has a lot of useful language that can be focused on after having just watched for gist (and for fun). This is one of the important benefits of the video, since most materials on the market are poorly lacking in modules on the language of conf calls. The video transcript (downloadable here)  may be useful in helping learners highlight the useful language.

While, yes, the language of conf calls is basically the same language as meetings, beginning a conf call, handling technical problems, and overcoming the challenge of understanding someone you can’t see (and who’s speaking in a foreign language) are unique to conf calls.

Hopefully this video will help bring some laughter and language to an necessary business evil that is neither fun nor funny for many language learners.

I know a lot of trainers have already seen this video. How have you used it in class? What did your learners think of it? I’m curious to know…

On a post note, I must recommend Barry Tomalin’s book Key Business Skills (published by Collins) for its very good chapter on dealing with both phone and video conf calls. You can also find more conf call tips in this summary of his talk at IATEFL 2013 in Liverpool, “Make Meetings Work.”

 

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Lesson framework: Telephoning

I love it when, at the end of a lesson learners say that they appreciated the work done because it helped them with English and with being more effective in their work too. Of course we could argue that that’s what Business English lessons are all about, but it is nice when the learners point out how helpful the lesson was and not solely in terms of language.

Yesterday we had one such lesson, on telephoning about problems. This learner specifically has to call about IT problems she may have, so we worked on that. In the role-plays we set up, I would play the role of IT support and she would be herself.

Here is the sequence of activities for the lesson, which can be adapted to other telephone conversations .

1.  Discuss with the learner the reasons why they use the telephone. Ask them to choose a situation that they wish to work on.

2. Invite the learner to give you more details about the situation. Who are they calling ? What is the subject of the call ? In our case of an IT problem, what have they already tried to solve the problem ? How urgent must the problem be solved ? What are some possible responses that will be given by the person called (in this case tech support) ?

This step has two advantages : you’re sketching in the background of the phone call that will soon happen (as in real life, you know all this information before calling) and it provides you the trainer with valuable information to use when playing your role (which you may be unfamiliar with—I’m certainly no IT technician !

3.  Role play and record the first version of the phone conversation.  I call this a « diagnostic role play » because you can « diagnose » what needs to be worked on in the lesson.

4. Listen to the recording with your learner. Discuss their impressions and yours, negotiate what to focus on in the communication work that will follow.

5. Ask the learner to take a piece of paper. On the left side they will draw a flowchart of their actions in the conversation. In our lesson, this took the form of boxes lined up vertically. Each box had one « action » in it and they were connected by arrows (Click here for a blank preparation chart that can be printed  or just used as inspiration). On the right side, the learner wrote key expressions and/or vocabulary they would need for that step of the phone conversation. The trainer can provide valuable input and suggestions during this step, where the learner and trainer decide together what goes onto the paper.

6. Role play and record a second version of the conversation done in step 3. This should be the same conversation (but hopefully improved).

7.  Again, listen to this second recording with your learner. Discuss your impressions and compare it with the first recording. What has improved ? What could still use some work ? You may also want to point out that taking a few minutes to sketch out some notes before making phone calls may vastly improve the effectiveness of the communication.

8.  Ask the learner to think of another situation, but one that falls into the broad category of the first role play. For example, our first role play dealt with calling to ask for help with a problem. The new situation thus involved solving a problem, but it concerned a problem with information in a document rather than an IT problem.

9.  Give the learner time to create their notes themselves. This is similar to what they will do when using this technique outside of class. They can then explain what kind of information they would possibly receive from the person they call. This way, the trainer who is playing this role can provide information that reflects the reality of the situation for the learner.

10. Role play this new situation and again, ask the learner for their feedback. Feedback can include both the effectiveness of the role play and the effectiveness of the preparatory stages.

Advantages

The structure of the lesson has several advantages for both the trainer and the learner :

  • The content of the lesson is based on situations the learners must really deal with in their professional life.
  • By doing a « diagnostic role play », the trainer can ensure that the lesson covers the areas of communication that most need improvement.
  • Taking time to build up the situation allows both learner and trainer to have the necessary background information for a successful role play. Remember in real life, we often have a lot of background information before making a call.
  • Preparation time for the trainer is reduced. They supply the structure of the lesson, but the learner supplies the content.
  • By the end of the lesson, the learner has created notes they can use for future phone conversations. They also come away with a technique that can be adapted to other situations.

If you’ve got any suggestions for effectively blending telephone skills and language skills, I would love to hear from you ! This is a topic that comes up in nearly every business program I write, so I’m always looking for fresh ideas !

 
 

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2013 IATEFL conference in Liverpool: Blog post round-up

To make it easy to find all of the posts from the 2013 IATEFL conference in Liverpool, here’s the linked list of posts published on this blog :

Steven Bukin’s The Flipped Classroom – From Theory to Practice

Nicky Hockly’s Mobile Literacy & ELT 

Mike Hogan’s Becoming More Successful Workplace Communicators While on the Move

Cecilia Lemos’ Reflections from a Recovering Recaster

Colin MacKenzie’s 59 Seconds to Professional and Personal Development

Pete Sharma and Louis Roger’s Dealing with Differentiation 

Barry Tomalin’s “Make Meetings Work”

Adrian Underhill and Alan Maley’s “From Preparation to Preparedness”

Catherine Walter’s How to Give a Presentation at an International Conference

Lindsay Warwick’s Flipping the Classroom and Student Attitudes

See you next year, for the 2014 IATEFL conference in Harrogate!

 

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IATEFL Liverpool: Barry Tomalin’s “Make Meetings Work”

If you work with executive managers who do a lot of meetings through conference calls, this was the talk to attend; not only was it lively, it was spot on in terms of how to help our business learners participate in meetings more effectively.

Barry invited us to brainstorm some problems our business learners have in conf calls. One particularly interesting cultural issue came up in the discussion—how to do small talk before a virtual meeting, how long should it last, and how to stop it. Rapport building is thus a problem for conf call meetings, as well as “native speaker insensitivity” or rather “unawareness” as Barry preferred. By this, we meant native speakers making little or no effort to make their language more understandable and also not taking cultural issues into consideration. Imagine Canadian workers trying to socialize about last weekend’s hockey match with a group of south Indian workers and you see what he meant.

Barry pointed out that of course, there are issues of confidence, hierarchy, and accent that get in the way of communication. In terms of comprehension, learners can often feel they lose 30-50% of the conversation and feel too intimidated to speak as much as they should or would like to. We as language trainers can help them with these problems.

Barry suggested building up systematic organization, showing learners how not to lose control, and how to intervene or interrupt. These problems are particularly present in the French context, but are in no way limited to French business people .

Barry’s plan for building confidence in conf calls includes:

A framework for conf calls and meetings

  • Agree who will take the minutes
  • Go through each item
  • Summarize at the end
  • Main conclusions
  • AOB (this is a problem because foreign participants don’t know what acronyms mean or even what we mean by “business” in this context)
  • Date of next meeting

 Stock phrases to help learners manage turns

  • Introductions: Have them say their name and what they do so people can start to get used to the accent.
  • Thanks: Thank you all for connecting.
  • Welcome: I’d like to welcome everybody here today
  • Apologies: …won’t be here because…
  • Minutes of the last meeting: “Did everyone get the minutes from the last meeting?

Another important cultural issue came up in the discussion. Americans tend to dominate meetings and many non-native speakers feel they can’t get a word in! But, by using the techniques above, learners can better keep control when with dealing with Americans. Not only will this lead to more balanced exchanges, but more confidence and higher self-esteem.

Remember, a trainee may have difficulties in L2 but in L1 they are used to making decisions, wielding power, and being the leader of the pack. Having to bow to a linguistically superior other can feel humiliating. Barry’s strategies for establishing and keeping control will help our business trainees match their L1 and L2 selves.

Barry suggested trainees take 4 steps to intervening in a meeting

  1. Get the agenda in advance to identify points of interest
  2. Tell the convenor in advance that they want to contribute on a certain point
  3. Make sure the convenor can see/identify you in the conf call
  4. Make your point firmly. Keep it clear, light, tight, polite. If they can express one idea per sentence in short sentences, they’ll be much more effective. Trainees must also make sure they’re not too serious, especially in meetings with Brits and Americans. Of course, politeness is something to be aware of as well.

This led to something that we should remind learners of when working on conf call etiquette: How to be concise. This means being:

  • Short: One idea per sentence, no sentences over 25 words
  • Sharp: To the point, no waffling
  • Sweet: Say it nicely and say it politely

As teachers, we can elicit or teach one stock phrase per stage of the meeting then practice the meeting and the phrases. This way the participants have a library of simple stock phrases for each stage. They’ll come away with a framework and phrases for each part.

Barry reported that his learners take more than just English away from these lessons. Citing feedback from his learners, he mentioned increased confidence, savings of time, and ‘we should use this structure in our own country’-type remarks. You’re then teaching them not only language but meeting management techniques. This is a powerful motivator indeed.

To put this all together into a lesson, Barry suggested having trainees select the content of a meeting, decide on a framework then run the meeting while the trainer takes notes on the language to look at after the activity.

Again learner feedback suggested that this tactic gave them more confidence and a feeling of being much more effective in meetings. Learners came away feeling more confident and more effective. Some even reported that these were “effective tips I can use in French as well.”

To finish, we came back to the difficulty of building rapport in meetings where you can’t see the other participants. One must also be aware of the role of hierarchy in certain cultures. For example, light questions would be met with silence at the beginning of a conf call to India or China. It would be a good idea to find out who is the leader, address questions to the leader, and the leader designates someone on his team to answer. This notion would seem completely foreign to Western business culture.

An interesting suggestion was to save 10 minutes for participants to ask any questions they want—about family, weather, sports, whatever once the meeting is over. This does take some time to establish as a habit. At first, the meetings may just end very quickly, but after a few sessions, this often becomes a highly anticipated part of the meetings.

Also, we should not underestimate the importance of seeing participants in meetings. This means that all kickoff meetings should be done through video conferencing. We should suggest this to our clients. If a company does not have the means to do so, suggest that the participants exchange photos of each other. Simply being able to see the person you’re talking to, even in a photo, greatly changes the amount of rapport.

To finish, Barry also suggested that we can help deal with native speaker unawareness. In a very practical activity, he has native speakers read their business card, pausing after key information. This helps them to slow down and remember that their listeners may need that extra bit of processing time. If you can’t understand a person’s name, generally you avoid talking to them. So to build rapport, it pays to pronounce your name clearly, pausing afterwards.

You can follow Barry Tomalin at www.culture-training.com where you can also download the presentation slides. His book Key Business Skills is available from Collins. 

 

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IATEFL Liverpool: Pete Sharma and Louis Roger’s Dealing with Differentiation

Pete related to the audience immediately by presenting a typical business English class: several learners within a company, several different needs, varying levels of attendance, motivation, and effort. Meet Ursula, Leandro, Dieter, and Daphne.

We looked at a few scenarios, or case studies, typical of the business English classroom and how they would suit (or not) our four learners. Louis reminded us that when working with case studies, it’s important to choose situations that learners can relate to, situations that become meaningful to the learners.  These could be sharing office space, work-life balance issues, planning meetings, etc. as long as they are situations that can appeal to your learners. Often though the case studies found in business English training materials may only appeal to one learner in the group. If the others can’t relate to the scenario, they’ll likely be less motivated.

The speakers then asked us to reflect on how we engage our business learners to read. In reality, we don’t always do as much extensive reading as we could in the business classroom, perhaps for time reasons, perhaps for learners’ desire to do as much speaking as possible.

They suggested business mazes for reading in business contexts. A business maze is an interactive paproach to reading and Business Mazes by Jone Farthing and Hart-Davis (1981) is one way to do this. Learners read a short passage, and then must make a decision to know what part of the book to go to next. Basically they can’t continue until they’ve read and made a decision.

Doing this in a more modern form, a digital business maze, which is available from Richmond ELT. These activities allow learners to recycle language, practice functions, and and enagage extended reading. Much research has suggested that extended reading is crucial for building one’s vocabulary.

To support this claim, Louis cited several studies that mentioned focal and perifpheral attention, deliberate and incidental vocabulary learning opportunities, the notion that explicit focus on learning vocabulary doesn’t impact learners’ retention, and the role of reading in second language aquisition. 

Virtual Learning Environment

These are web-based, password protected virtual spaces that host course materials and allow asynchronous and synchronous interactions. You can often customize them and make them look like the product that you are offering. VLEs also allow you to get into deeper conversations with your students (or encourage these among students), perhaps better so than in the classroom. Students can read the question, think about it, maybe even do some research and then respond. This stimulates more critical thinking than simply asking a question and expecting a student to respond immediately.

Teachers can deliver course elements appropriately and better handle differentiation. Students can study at their own pace, wherever they like, and personalize their study.

Going back to our hypothetical group of learners, we saw that only one person needed English for emails. The VLE gives a platform outside your email inbox where email communication can be had. In business English, this means keeping in contact with learners who may not make it to every class or who schedule one class every month.

VLEs also give students the opportunity to work on listening skills at their own pace. Rather than listening to an extract twice, it may be more effective to let listeners hear fast speech with the possibility of pausing it to have only short extracts. 

They offer interesting components in a blended approach in which we can monitor who has done what and when. VLEs and blended learning can offer the best of both worlds–face-to-face and online learning. 

However, we have to be careful of avoiding the eclectic mish-mash of multimedia mayhem. Pete pointed out that he’s rarely seen good blended courses. It’s often a bit of this, a bit of that, an app here, and app there. 

The teacher also has to be sure to have a positive attitude to the blended aspect of the course. Enthusiasm will carry over to the students. At the same time, it is important to integrate the VLE into the course so that learners (and teachers) can concretely see how the face-to-face element supports the online element and vice versa.

To conclude, Pete advised us as teachers to take a blended or online course to find out what learning online is all about. For example, a school could create an online training day where the teachers are trained how to use a platform via a platform. 

You can read the blog  of Pete Sharma Associates at http://www.psa.eu.com

 

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IATEFL Liverpool: Mike Hogan’s Becoming More Successful Workplace Communicators While on the Move

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

 
 

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