Making it authentic:Exploiting authentic materials in business English

On 7th October, I presented an online workshop on behalf of IATEFL BESIG as part of their weekend workshop programme. The workshop was called: Making it authentic: exploiting learners´ materials in business English courses and in it I wanted to share some new activities I´ve created over the last few months which make use of authentic materials. If you´re a member of IATEFL BESIG, you can watch a recording of the online workshop by visiting the weekend workshop section of the BESIG website.

During the workshop the participants and I shared ideas about how to effectively select and make use of authentic materials, focussing specifically on texts and objects.

Our discussion brought us to the conclusion that we should see authentic materials as a starting point or a springboard for communication rather than just as a text to be read or an object to be looked at and inspected: start with the text or the object and see how many different directions you can move in from there. Usually keeping things simple and fun in this journey from the text or object to communication seems to be an effective way of creating memorable learning moments. Exactly what that communication is should depend on the learners´ needs and wants.

I also hoped that during the workshop we managed to debunk a few months about using authentic materials, above all, the fact that making use of authentic materials doesn´t have to be time-consuming or taxing for the teacher and the experience of working with them doesn´t have to be a difficult or daunting one for the business English learner.

Formwork component bingo!

As a hand-out to accompany the workshop I produced an overview of a sample lesson I taught last week in which I made a lot of use of authentic materials and you can also download this lesson overview here. I wanted to show exactly how the activities I had talked about in the workshop could be put into practice in the training room.  In this lesson I introduced vocabulary for formwork components produced and used by the company where the learners work, we then consolidated this vocabulary and, finally, the learners were able to use it within a communicative task. This week, as a follow-up, I asked the learners to match the names of the components to the drawings of the components again to see how much they had remembered and we then discussed the functions of the different components and how they would be used on the construction site. We also talked about the dimensions of the components and their advantages and possible disadvantages. The learners had the knowledge about the components, but needed support from me in expressing it in English. I, as the teacher, did not have as much knowledge of the formwork components as the learners did, but I was able to support them with their English expression. This created an effective information gap between us and an excellent motivation for the learners to activate not only vocabulary for formwork components, but also all of that other useful language for talking about dimensions and describing what things are used for and how they work. All in all, a successful lesson!

5 Comments

Filed under From the training room

5 responses to “Making it authentic:Exploiting authentic materials in business English

  1. I like the explanation of the ‘info gap’ but I’ve noticed it can be a problem when the trainer doesn’t have the necessary ‘gap filler’. I’m guilty of this too with C2 students who want jargon, rephrasing comes in handy.

    I’m also starting to use materials/topics as springboards. I very very rarely have any low students so mine tend to want speaking-based activities related to their jobs. One took me on a tour of his company last week. I think I remember you mentioning this in a webinar or post and I remembered. I was like a spy but in 5 minutes I picked up on so many possible lesson topics and conversation starters. It was the best topic diagnostic test ever.

    Keep up the good work Claire.

    • Hi Phil, thanks for your comment.
      I know what you mean, company or industry jargon can be very tough to get to grips with for us. I guess you can always say: but what if you encountered a “lay” person like me, which could also be a business partner working in another industry or some new to your industry in the real world of work, how would you explain this term to me or the lay business partner so that we would know what you´re talking about?

      I agree: going on a tour of their company with participants can be really effective, it really gets them talking, allows you to see where there are gaps in their English when it comes to talking about processes and products and gives us great insights into what they actually do every day. I know many teachers question whether the training room really is the best place for business English training to take place since it´s not a very “natural” or “authentic” environment for the kind of communication in English that learners are involved in. Moving out of the training room and into other spaces can be a big help there, I think. As you said, going on company tours with learners is also a great way of getting ideas for future lesson topics.

      Keep up the good work yourself Phil!

  2. Roxana

    How about ‘work shadowing’? It seems to be an effective way of evaluating students’ progress in real life while they’re doing their daily work routine…It’s also authentic, isn’t it?

    Great online workshop, Claire!

    • I really like the idea of work shadowing and this could come into the category of so-called “on-the-job” training, which can be very helpful and certainly leads to encounters with authentic language, i.e. the language that the learner really has to use in his/her job. The training room isn´t always the most effective location for English training, I would say, breaking out of it when you can and when it´s appropriate can only be a positive thing. I would say just make sure that learning is actually happening during on-the-job training or work shadowing! Asking the learner to read his emails aloud to you, for example, may not be that beneficial. Take the opportunity to analyse learners´ language and communicative lacks and needs and use the material as a springboard to addressing them.

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