- How did you become interested in Business English in particular? What led you to that specialty?
I jumped in (or rather was pushed in!) at the deep end the week after my CELTA, taking on a last-minute business English class for a language school in Barcelona. With students staggering in late, I started each class asking what had been happening at work. It really sparked my interest in business practices, but it wasn’t until I got to Germany and started working freelance, then later as DoS, that I turned my focus to the language of business communication. English is used in such diverse ways in different workplaces, and often people have no contact with so-called “native speakers” but everyone is working towards the same goal: to get the job done. And this fascinated me!
- How has what you’ve learned in your MA program changed your teaching practice?
I chose to pursue an MA in Education as I thought it would allow me to explore a range of topics from educational innovation, to change management and intercultural education. The bulk of the MA was very theoretical, and I believe knowing the theory behind the practice made me a lot more aware of my own teaching methods and also allowed me to look at my style more critically. The research I did into the use of business English of employees working in university administration in the context of internationalisation had a bigger effect on my teaching practice, namely because I was teaching in that context and could really tailor my classes to the direct needs of the students who participated in my research.
- What 3-5 books do you recommend to EL teachers (either theoretical or for use with students)?
Journals are great resources to keep up with the latest research and topics which are of particular interest to your teaching practice. I became interested in intercultural communication so now read TESOL Quarterly and the Journal of International and Intercultural Communication.
The “How to…” series of training e-books for ELT writers are great for budding writers!
For anyone looking to develop their business English teaching skills further, I’d recommend “Intercultural Competence in Business English” by Rudi Camerer & Judith Mader as it gives a thorough overview of intercultural communication theories and demonstrates how they are related to our context. You can then use the sources to read more in the direction you’re interested in.
Finally, creativity can make learning more accessible and teaching more enjoyable, and I’d recommend the work of Edward de Bono (e.g “How to Have Creative Ideas”). It’s packed with practical ideas which can also be adapted for classroom activities.
- Could you tell us a little bit about the process of writing your book? What inspired you to write it? What was surprising about the process? Any tips?
Writing the self-study book for Hueber was an extensive and ongoing rollercoaster of learning experiences for me! I had been involved in several writing projects before, but nothing as intense, time-consuming and ultimately satisfying as the book. Creating something from an idea a publisher gives you was really challenging due to the large array of stakeholders involved. We teachers often complain about how materials aren’t tailored enough, and I learned that this is because they have been prepared according to market research. Some of my more creative ideas weren’t accepted as I couldn’t write instruction concisely enough. A good tip I got was to choose names which are the same length so they fit on the layout, and to have two distinct voices (i.e. a man and a woman) talking together so students can tell the difference more easily.
- You place a high value on Intercultural Training, but do you ever have trouble convincing your Business English clients of the importance of intercultural training?
In short, no. Intercultural competence and communication is a key issue which people working in business deal with every day. I work with clients who have international and intercultural dealings on a daily basis, so they always have personal stories of miscommunication which they want to dissect. It’s so interesting to look at students’ email, for example, to investigate what caused the misunderstanding: language or culture.
Clients have different expectations with regards to intercultural training and as a business English trainer, I make sure they are aware of what I offer (a heavy focus on language rather than theory). It’s important that business English trainers include aspects of intercultural competence training in their classrooms through discussing their students’ own experiences and work contexts, especially when they arise naturally, rather than focusing on country specifics and stereotypes as these can be extremely counterproductive.
- With your corporate clients, what specific topics are you most often hired to teach? What do you wish you were hired to teach more often?
Since I’ve been freelancing, I’ve found that clients generally present a specific set of needs they require help with, then during the initial meeting it becomes clear that several points need to be added to the list. This is quite a good selling point for my services as they can see from the start that I offer high-quality, tailored and personalised solutions to their issues. Knowing about their business helps too, so I always research the company before meeting them. This helps the whole process run smoothly and gives me confidence in myself to seal the deal.
Recently, I’ve found clients have seen a specific skill on my online profile which they think would help them, such as exams experience, intercultural training or HR experience.
I’ve done some training with so-called “native speakers” and found that fascinating so I’d love to explore that more!
- You teach in Finland. What is it like teaching Finnish students? What are some key differences/similarities you’ve discovered in teaching students from various cultural backgrounds?
Teaching in Finland has been really rewarding and fun! Of course, when you first start teaching somewhere new there’s a learning curve, but I’d already had some experience teaching Finns in previous multicultural training sessions where we’d discussed cultural differences, and I also knew a lot about the company, so I felt quite prepared for my first trip. I can only comment with regards to the students I’ve taught, all of whom have been professional, friendly and at times very funny. They’re also very warm people once you get to know them.
One major difference, which also made me change my teaching style, was the Finnish approach to silence. Some cultures think aloud, maybe saying “ummmm… well ….” or describing their thought processes, whereas many Finns prefer to think quietly. In Germany, if I ask a question and don’t get an answer after a few seconds, I assume the students haven’t understood. In Finland, I’ve learnt to extend my waiting time to up to 15 seconds as it’s quite common, even in business meetings, for people to think about their answer before speaking.
- What advice would you give someone who wants a career teaching Business English?
First, read the book “How to Teach Business English” by Evan Frendo. I’d recommend any teacher who hasn’t done a formal qualification in business English teaching do this as you’d be surprised how much more you could be doing in your classes. Second, get some general business English classes and practice. Use a variety of coursebooks, make your own materials, read the Economist, research your students’ contexts and companies. Once you’ve started and have some experience, doing the FTBE qualification (like Evan and I ran for Eltabb) or something similar will really help you develop your knowledge of business English practices. Continual professional development is key for any profession, and especially important in the ever-changing world of business and communication.
- In what direction do you see Business English evolving over the next 5-10 years?
I think there will be a lot more training done online as more business is done online or with a focus on virtual communication. Also, I hope to see trainers educating their students about BELF concepts (Business English as a Lingua Franca) and also more training including “native” speakers so they develop strategies to communicate using English (which is flexible) rather than developing English skills to communicate with (which has rigid rules). I’d like to see students less worried about making mistakes and more focused on how to communicate in an international and intercultural context in English.
This is certainly a hot topic at the moment and I’d highly recommend watching the 2019 IATEFL end plenary as the speakers present their thoughts on the future of their specific fields.
- Question from Stephanie: What are your top tips for a new English teacher arriving in Berlin (besides joining ELTABB, of course!)?
Joining ELTABB is obviously a first as teachers need a support network, local information and a community.
It’s essential for teachers to do research about the teaching context before they decide to settle here. I’ve met many teachers who are new to Berlin who have certain expectations based on their last place of residence, and Berlin is different! Of course, my advice would depend on what kind of work the teacher wants and on their experience, but the best advice I got was to learn German! If you can afford to, I’d highly recommend doing a couple of months at a VHS to get your German up to at least a B1 level, during which you can also research the local teaching context, make contacts through Eltabb, tailor your CV to the German market and pick up classes as you go.
- Who would you like to nominate as Eltabber of the month and what question would you like to ask them?
I’d like to nominate Yuliya Shtaltovna and ask her what motivated her to pursue the particular PhD topic she chose.
Edited by Stephanie Anderson