Tag Archives: Claire Hart

Harnessing technology to boost your profits: My response to the TESOL Greece blog challenge

As a business English teacher working in companies, the interplay between learning, resources, and technology is one that I´m confronted with on an almost daily basis. Let´s start with the resources: I teach in companies that are paying a language school or training company to provide courses that should help their employees become more effective English communicators. The companies are doing this because it is compatible with their long-term business strategy. The company expects, however, to get their ROI (return on investment) in the form of employees who are measurably and noticeably better at English than they were at the start of the course. The more money they invest, the greater the improvement the learners are expected to make.  As a result, if we as in-company English teachers can find a way to increase the amount of progress that the learners make and ensure that the training we provide is really having an impact and helping our learners to get better, then not only do we have greater job satisfaction and more satisfied learners, but the chances of the contracts for the courses we teach being renewed is much greater. This is, of course, the ideal situation but one which isn´t always easy to achieve.

 

Now let´s turn our attention to technology and what it means in my teaching context. The people I teach vary from IT specialists who are more clued-up than I am when it comes to techie stuff to employees whose distrust of technology is so great that they don´t even own a mobile phone. Somewhere in the middle between these two extremes we have the average in-company business English learner who may or may not have a company smartphone, but who definitely spends a lot of his time working on the computer and is probably involved in some form of online social networking. Your average in-company learner in Germany knows the ins and outs of the software application SAP, but confront him or her with a Google doc  and the reaction is likely to be:” I don´t really like Google, I have a gmx.com email address.” Integrating technology into the classroom is happening more and more in in-company business English courses, but teachers are often faced with obstacles, such as not being allowed to use the company wireless network or only being allowed to use company computers where websites and web applications which could be useful are blocked. Not to be under-estimated is also the lack of familiarity with technology and ways of integrating it among teachers themselves who may not have the time, the money or the option to take part in professional development courses.

So where´s the link? Well, what I haven´t mentioned yet is that despite the resistance to technology which may arise,  if you get the learners on board, technology can help you deliver more stimulating lessons and this can boost learner engagement, ensuring that they stay in training long enough to get better. Instead of or as well as just telling learners about how people from different cultures tend to introduce themselves in a meeting or giving them a text to read about it, for example, you can show them how this works by bringing a video into the classroom. Instead of or as well as asking learners to write emails on paper, which, of course, no one would do in the real workplace, you can ask them to use their mobile devices to send an email from their actual email account. There are web applications learners can use to record their speaking and these recordings can be used as the basis for language feedback, identifying areas for improvement that learners can then work on together with their teacher. There are limitations to the scope of technology´s application, as I mentioned earlier, but if in-company learners are more engaged, are being exposed to a range of media, are getting more authentic communication practice and being given effective feedback on their language use, then they´re more likely to go on learning English and they´re more likely to get better. The better they get and the longer they stay in training, the greater the ROI will be for the company—in other words, harnessing the power of technology within in-company English training pays dividends and makes good business sense.

You can find the TESOL Greece Blog Challenge and the other responses to it here.

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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!

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