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B USINESS E NGLISH professional                                

Business skills 1
Debbie Barton,
usiness English learners Finding solutions
almost always ask for help
So where next? Here are some typical
Jennifer Burkart with meetings, but this huge
area can mean anything from questions teachers ask when faced with
teaching meetings for the first time and
and Caireen Sever a quick chat over the photocopier to an
AGM, so where do we start when faced some suggestions of ideas to help.
ask some questions and with teaching ‘meetings skills’?
There is so much to teach.
suggest some solutions, Diagnosing the problems What aspects of the skill
especially for those new One of the first things to do is to find should I focus on?
out what problems the learners feel they Firstly, it is important to check that you
to business English. have. Typical comments from our know, in detail, about what your
learners in Germany include: learners are actually doing in meetings.
● ‘I can’t understand what people are This is best done well before the
saying.’ meetings lesson. Important points to
cover include:
● ‘By the time I’ve thought what to say,
everyone is talking about something 1 the role the learner has in meetings, ie
different.’ participant or chair.

● ‘I’m the boss, but my English isn’t as 2 what type of meetings learners have,
good as some other people’s so I won’t eg formal or informal, face to face,
say anything.’ conference calls, video conferencing,
decision-making or information
● ‘I just don’t sound as clever as I do in
3 the nationalities and the number of
From these comments we see that lack of
participants attending the meetings
vocabulary (both business and general)
the learners typically have.
and lack of confidence are important
difficulties. An inability to speak at 4 the format of these meetings, eg
length, to hold the floor (dealing with regular meetings or one-offs, meetings
the inevitable interruptions) and to with colleagues or with customers.
develop an argument are also problems.
And, of course, weak listening skills. Different methods of collecting this
information can be used, including an
initial needs analysis, questionnaires, a
Lack of vocabulary Q and A session or mini-presentations.
(both business and This information, combined with
the learners’ level and their perspective
general) and lack of of their problems, will give you a firm
confidence are foundation on which to base your
selection criteria. You can then choose
important difficulties which fixed phrases to teach, for
example In my opinion ... What do you 

• www.etprofessional.com • ENGLISH TEACHING professional • Issue 46 September 2006 • 39

B USINESS E NGLISH professional                                
to become aware of ‘diplomatic’
Business skills 1 language. A good approach is to use a
card-matching activity where direct
An important
Meetıngs language (‘You’re wrong!’) is matched
with indirect language (‘I’m afraid that’s
not quite correct’). Follow this with an
point to remember
is to give learners
 think? Shall we move on to the next analysis of the elements of diplomatic time to plan before
point? There are lists of these in most language, eg the use of softeners, and a
coursebooks which deal with meetings. practice simulation. Although some any speaking
In addition, we have found that learners will be unable to change their activity
plenty of practice in checking and discussion style, such input should help
clarifying language is vital, especially to improve their understanding of native
when learners take part in telephone speakers. Looking at other factors which When teaching new language, remember
conferencing. A successful approach is to make listening to native speakers to put the phrases you are teaching into
pre-teach fixed phrases (eg Sorry, could difficult, for example connected speech, a relevant context, preferably using
you repeat that, please?), and to practise ie linking words together and weak recordings of authentic language. There
them in information-gap activities. forms (I will becomes I’ll in speech), is are increasing numbers of these in
also beneficial. coursebooks or you can make your own
or download from the internet. Make or
A participant is How can I best input find a tapescript so the learners can
much more likely to new language? listen and highlight the key functional
phrases they would like to learn.
interrupt a colleague Using framework materials to check
what your learners already know or use,
than their boss, before inputting new language, is a Now I’ve given them the
and some nationalities good way to start. This could look language, how do I get my
something like this: learners to practise it?
find interrupting
Let your learners choose the phrases
more acceptable Checking and clarifying they want to practise. They can then
write each phrase on an index card and
than others 1 Add at least one phrase to
‘play’ the card during a discussion or
each box:
roleplay. You can monitor to ensure that
It is also immediately empowering Checking Did you mean that ... the language is used appropriately,
to give learners the language for, and what including the correct intonation and
practice in, interrupting and dealing someone stress patterns.
with interruptions. Such input needs to has said An important point to remember is
be kept within the context of the to give learners time to plan before any
learners’ own meetings, so the speaking activity. By doing this regularly,
information you have already found you can show that planning before a
out, ie who is in the meetings, what their meeting (using the agenda to brainstorm
Asking possible vocabulary and phrases they
purpose is, etc will be vital here. A
someone might need or hear) is invaluable.
participant is much more likely to
to repeat Unless your students write the
interrupt a colleague than their boss,
what they minutes for meetings, the skills
and some nationalities find interrupting
said necessary for participating are speaking
more acceptable than others. You need
not only to teach useful phrases (eg and listening, so any work on fluency
Sorry, could I just interrupt you for a and listening skills (both for detail and
moment? Please let me finish) but also to gist) will help the learners in meetings.
discuss when and if this behaviour is
appropriate. There is so much material out
If learners attend international there – what if none of it is
has said
meetings, it is important to cover other
aspects of cultural awareness. This
appropriate for my students?
involves learners analysing their own You can get the learners to make their
meetings behaviour in areas such as own agendas based on meetings they
participation, conflict management, have had or are planning to have. This
attitude to time and decision-making. 2 Check the phrases with provides them with the opportunity to
At a language level, if dealing with your teacher. rehearse their arguments and thus helps
native speakers, learners will also need them to overcome problems of lack of

40 • Issue 46 September 2006 • ENGLISH TEACHING professional • www.etprofessional.com •

B USINESS E NGLISH professional                                
fluency and vocabulary before getting to
do it for real.
If you video them roleplaying a BUSINESS SKILLS 1: MEETINGS
meeting, you can use the recording for
peer feedback, self-evaluation and to After your next meeting in English, make notes about the following:
practise listening skills.
When planning new programmes 1 What went well? For example:
with learners, you can set up a situation ● I understood.
where they discuss and agree the
● I gave my opinion.
content together, once again practising
their discussion and listening skills. ● I checked when I wasn’t sure what someone had said.
Remember, the more you can find ●
out about your learners and the jobs they

do every day, the more realistic you can
make the materials you provide for them. ●

How should I give feedback ●
and what should I focus on?
Feedback forms are a good idea as they 2 What areas do I still need to work on? For example:
mean that you don’t interrupt during an ● Interrupting
activity. You complete one as a roleplay
● Structuring my argument
meeting goes on, focusing on accuracy,
appropriacy, pronunciation and general ●
communicative competence. Positive ●
feedback as well as areas for

improvement should be included. It is

The more you can
find out about your Bring this to your next lesson and discuss with your teacher.

learners and their jobs,

the more realistic you confidence speaking English and will If you include this type of activity
give them the chance to use their new as part of feedback, either in the middle
can make the materials language. or at the end of a course, it will help
you provide for them Encourage your learners to use their your future planning. It will also inform
functions cards (ie those they prepared you, the learners and their company of
in the input stage) regularly in meetings the progress they have made and the
also possible to give the responsibility back in the office as well as in success of the strategies you have used
for completing the feedback form to a classroom discussions. in teaching meetings. ETp
learner: it develops their listening skills As part of a review, video the
and overcomes problems if a learner learners and get them to complete a
does not wish to participate in the self-evaluation form. The added pressure
actual roleplay. Depending on the stage of being filmed can go some way to
of your lesson, however, you might replicating the pressures of a real meeting.
want to correct immediately, especially
during controlled practice. How can I ensure that
An alternative approach is to ask
the learners what they want feedback on
learning is taking place, that
and focus your attention on these areas. the learners are transferring Debbie Barton, Jennifer Burkart and Caireen
Sever work for Linguarama Spracheninstitut,
this learning and improving Düsseldorf, Germany. They have a wide
experience of teaching business English
And what about reviewing their performance back in including areas such as production, retail,
finance and human resources. As well as
all this language? the workplace? teaching, all three are actively involved in
teacher training.
Make sure that there are lots of As well as getting learners to prepare for
opportunities for discussion in your DHorsley@compuserve.com
meetings regularly and to make use of
lessons. This will help the learners joergpohlmann@tiscali.de
their functions cards, give them a task
increase their fluency, gain more caireen@sever.com
like the one in the box above.

• www.etprofessional.com • ENGLISH TEACHING professional • Issue 46 September 2006 • 41