Welcome to the BESIG World Blog. Each month we’ve got a different guest author lined up who will be sharing thoughts and experiences on teaching business English from countries around the globe.

  • An international view from Brazil

    This month the BESIG World Blog takes you back to Brazil to meet Eduardo Santos, a business English teacher based in Brazil who has become known internationally thanks to his blog and the talks and workshops he´s given at conferences. In April 2013, Eduardo gave a talk on BRICS at the IATEFL BESIG Programme Day during the IATEFL Annual Conference in Liverpool. In this interview with Michelle Hunter from the BESIG Online Team, Eduardo shares his take on business English teaching and reflects on his recent experiences.



    Eduardo Santos has been involved in ELT for almost 12 years, having worked at language institutes in Brazil as an English teacher and teacher trainer. He is currently the Director of Studies of Cultura Inglesa in Recife and also Braz-Tesol Pernambuco President. Eduardo has also been working as a freelance corporate trainer for the past three years, teaching Business English to in-company clients. He has given talks at ELT conferences in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, France and the UK.

    Eduardo holds a BA (Hons) in Languages from UFPE and he is also DELTA (Module 2) qualified.


    MH: You wrote a blog post recently about the difficulty for many of your students, and indeed yourself, with “Defining Home”. Can you give it a go for us now? Where is “home” for you currently, Eduardo?

    ES: First of all, thank you for inviting me to be part of the IATEFL BESIG World Blog. I’ve learnt a lot since I joined the BESIG, so it’s a great pleasure to be part of this blog.

    The main aim of the lesson ‘Defining Home’ is to get students to reflect on different definitions of home from quotes previously selected by the teacher and also ideas generated from learners themselves. I guess Recife, my hometown, is where I call home today. I’ve lived here my whole life and its culture, traditions and customs are part of who I am. However, I also feel at home when I’m in London and Buenos Aires, having travelled quite a few times to both cities. I guess, in the end, home is where you don’t feel as a stranger or tourist.

    MH: We missed you at the IATEFL BESIG Conference in Stuttgart 2012 because you were presenting at TESOL France’s conference in Paris. What do you now remember from your first experience of a major EFL gathering in Europe?

    ES: I must admit I was a bit anxious to give a session in a conference not in South America for the first time. I was worried my ideas would be too different from English classrooms in Europe. However, I was surprised how teachers from different countries could relate to the topic of my talk and give very interesting suggestions from different backgrounds. I also must thank my Personal Learning Network (PLN) for making me feel at home during the entire conference.

    MH: Your workshop at TESOL France focused on creativity. What creative differences in ELT do you see between the Americas and Europe?

    ES: There were teachers present from many countries in Europe, Canada and Brazil in the audience. They also mentioned how creativity is rarely implemented in classroom activities. I was surprised to see that secondary schools in different countries are mostly exam-based, leaving very little space for creative thinking and subjects which foster creativity. On the other hand, teachers from language institutes try to promote critical and creative thinking in the classroom, which is somewhat similar to what happens here in Brazil.

    MH: This year, you presented a talk at the IATEFL Conference as part of the IATEFL BESIG Day. For those of us who were unable to attend, can you summarise your thinking behind the topic of “BRICS: Boosting results in in-company scenarios”?

    ES: In the first part of my talk, I presented some common characteristics shared by BRICS economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) which have brought up challenges for the ELT industry. Apparently, these economies have been growing at high speed, and so has the need to learn English. I then presented some issues with corporate clients who have an immediate need to learn the language, but don’t usually know which areas to focus on. This need for results also impact corporations which are not prepared to assess the quality of their employees’ level of English, and so hire English Consulting firms to do the job for them. In the end, in-company trainers have to deliver results to clients, companies and English consulting firms. Finally, I presented some solutions to boost results in scenarios such as the one described above in emerging economies.

    MH: What did you discover from your audience that additionally informed your knowledge of the topic? 

    ES: A business English teacher from Portugal mentioned her clients also have trouble to identify which areas to focus on in the lessons and that companies’ interests are sometimes different from what clients really need and expect. Some corporate trainers also mentioned that foreigners living and working in the UK also share some characteristics which I presented and that it is not very easy to fulfil their expectations.

    MH: How far do you personally see the BE trainer’s role as “coach”? In fact, what does “trainer as coach” actually mean?

    ES:BE trainer must work as a coach in order to boost results in in-company scenarios. While general English teachers use published materials to fulfil the expectations of a group in a school, the BE trainer needs to understand exactly what clients need and use materials based on these needs with a clear focus on results. Clients’ previous knowledge of the business field must be taken into account as well as his/her abilities in L1, so that the trainer builds up the course based on these aspects.

    MH: How easy do you think it would be to swap locations with a European-based EFL teacher? What would, say an English teacher used to working in Germany need to know about doing their job in Brazil?

    ES: As far as I see BE teaching in Brazil, this wouldn’t be an easy task. Even though the corporate world shares similar characteristics, workers in Brazil see in-company lessons as some kind of ‘therapy’. Even though they are focused on developing their skills as English learners, they also want to discuss general topics and speak freely at times. They want to use part of the lesson to talk about topics such as football, their trips and the last episode of the popular soap opera on TV. Happy hours and long lunches are sometimes used as lessons where we only speak English, but nothing related to the work environment. Apparently, teachers based in Europe are much more focused on developing clients’ skills and leave little space for other activities. That’s the feeling I got but I might be wrong.

    MH: How much closer do PLNs bring us all together? Could our industry now survive without such digital networking?

    ES: As I’ve mentioned before, my PLN was very welcoming at TESOL France and this made the experience so special and unique. Digital networking has helped us get closer in terms of generated content, ideas for the classroom and knowledge in ELT. Some blogs, like Scott Thornbury’s A-Z of ELT, generate a lot of discussion enriching our knowledge in ELT and making us aware of cultural differences within our field. I attended two online conferences for free in the past two weeks: the IH TOC and the Virtual Round Table. How would this even be possible a few years ago? That’s the beauty of digital networking. 

    MH: Lastly, what can we expect from your blog - http://eltbakery.edublogs.org/ - next?

    ES: I started blogging in order to post the slides from the workshops and talks I gave back in 2009 while working for OUP. The responses I got from colleagues and readers from my blog were impressive, so I decided to post lesson plans, activities, and lately, reflections on my teaching experience. For the future, I plan to produce more content available for readers to download and also share ideas on teaching and professional development.

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  • Ten plus one good things about an online conference

    Csilla Jaray-Benn, one of the speakers at our 1st IATEFL BESIG Online Conference on 15th June 2013, has shared her reflections on taking part in an online conference with us.

    Ten plus one good things about an online conference

    Reflections on the 1st IATEFL BESIG Online Conference on Business English and ESP Materials   


    1) As a speaker, you have massive support from the team (BOT) to prepare for the big day.

    2) You can have a good night sleep in your own bed and have a comfortable breakfast without the rush.

    3) You can start attending the conference dressed as casually as you wish and run downstairs for several quick coffees during the day.

    4) You can feel the excitement and suspense of seeing people wearing their names as they enter your room. You actually know who your supporters or co-attendees are.


    5) You can learn about the weather all around the globe before the serious business starts.

    6) You can listen to a talk and speak at the same time. Something you would punish your students for :-) and you wouldn’t do in a conference room either.


    7) You can interact with the speaker, and enjoy when your name is pronounced, meaning you said something worth their attention.

    8) You can see what people are thinking about what you are saying. The feedback is immediate.

    9) You are not alone, your moderator is behind you, helping you find your room, change your slides, say goodbye for you.

    10) You have immediate worldwide coverage, and be really relaxed when your session is over.


    Plus one

    You can reflect on your presentation style, comments you have received through the recorded version.



    Csilla Jaray-Benn


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  • Verbal judo and iPad apps: Business English in Israel

    This month the BESIG World Blog takes you to Israel to meet a dedicated Business English teacher called Karen Eini who works at the Ruppin Academic Center. Karen talked to Claire Hart from the BESIG Online Team and shared some insights into what it´s like to teach Business English in Israel. She also shared some fantastic and very practical ideas that you can use in your courses wherever you are in the world and some great tips for using tablets in Business English training.



    Karen Eini was born and raised in Montreal, Canada. She moved to Israel in 1990 where she began her career in education: teaching English, designing materials and doing teacher training. Since 2003, Karen has been teaching Business English on Ruppin College´s Business Executive program. In addition to teaching Business English and EAP in the academic setting, Karen is an English language consultant and business language coach and works with a diverse range of companies in Israel. Karen is passionate about technology and mobile learning and specialises in technology enhanced coaching and teaching that empowers her clients and students in developing their English communication skills. Karen shares her love of technology by leading professional development workshops in Israel and abroad.


    CH: Thanks for joining us, Karen. Maybe you could start off by giving us a brief overview of what we could call the “Business English landscape” in Israel.

    KE:  In terms of the academic setting where I teach Business English at the Ruppin Academic Center, Business English is offered as a 3 credit course. The majority of English courses are ESP, not for credit, rather a prerequisite for getting a degree.  Thus English for Business Administration, could be taught as a pass/fail course, which is the norm in the majority of the academic institutions.  I guess you could say there is not much uptake for BE courses and there is no formal organization or support group for those teaching BE in Israel. Hopefully there will be in the near future. 

    In terms of corporate training, the landscape is very dynamic.  I am also an independent BE coach and I work with a range of companies in a range of sectors from hi-tech to consumer products. A few years ago, the companies started cutting back and started offering online solutions to their employees rather than in-house training. However, as that solution does not suit everyone, there are those who still prefer one-to-one, coaching and occasional groups.

    Business English is becoming a prerequisite for jobs in international business settings. Many companies have in-house training, and many have teachers come in from private companies to teach their employees


    CH: You mentioned that you´re also a coach and that reminded me of a point Steve Flinders made at a recent BESIG Weekend Workshop. The point was that the long-term outlook for BE teaching is bleak, especially in Northern Europe where young people starting out in the world of work will, in most cases, already be proficient in English. Consequently, in order to survive we BE teachers need to evolve and go into other areas such as management training and coaching. What do you make of that? Do you also see this development happening in your context?

    KE: It is interesting because in the last course I led at a hi-tech company I found their level to be very good and it was a challenge to be able to make an impact, so I found myself working on soft skills, NLP and there was value added in doing that. I focused on verbal judo, which was an interesting approach to dealing with difficult people/clients/ customers. In Hebrew, many of the phrases, or expressions are in the imperative, like “sit”, “eat” “drink”, when inviting someone to do those things, but you would say “sit” in an inviting tone. It sounds too abrupt in English though, so we worked on softening spoken language with tone, and vocabulary and word choice, but also soft skills, like how to disagree, without disagreeing.


    3. CH: If you were to generalise, what would you say are the greatest challenges facing BE teachers in Israel at the moment?

    KE: Teaching the culture, not just the language, and the logic behind it. Getting students not to use translators blindly, helping them gain awareness as to the underlying differences in cultures that result in different use of language, etiquette, etc.


    4. CH:  Are the support systems there to help teachers? Do you have teachers associations, for example? How much awareness is there of organisations like IATEFL?

    KE: We have teachers associations for primary, secondary and tertiary education but none for BE specifically. I think that is changing now, as a new umbrella organization is in the works and that will pave the way for more special interest groups such as BESIG.


    5. CH: Other BE teachers I know who teach BE in an academic setting have told me that the fact that their students haven´t had any experience of the work of work yet and they´re not in-work while they´re learning sometimes poses difficulties when they´re teaching business skills, for example. Has that also that also been your experience?

    KE: I teach English on the BA executive program, which is a program designed for those who are already working. So my student population is made up of people who are self-employed or managers in companies. I believe this is a great advantage as it is especially satisfying to hear how they use what they are learning at work and it can be even more satisfying than in-house training because even though they are a large group, they tend to be more accountable for their work as they are being graded on it. I find that attendance can be problematic in in-house training courses as the employees often have “something” that comes up during the class and either can’t stay or have to leave early. They are also more distracted as they are still at work.


    6.  CH: Finally, I´ve heard you´re interested in using technology in your courses, which is also something that I´m very interested in. Could you share with us some effective ways that you´ve implemented technology?

    KE: Here are some ideas that I have implemented and that work well:

    1) Using iPad apps in a one-to-one setting

    a) You can use the Audio Note app, which enables you to record and take notes that are synchronized. Then just tap what has been written to hear the audio

    b) Explain Everything/ Educreations are apps where the client can use to create a presentation on the fly or summarize a point and save it to dropbox. Alternatively you could use it to reinforce a point taught. This enables the client to relive the session as often as he needs.

    c) Interactive flashcards, e.g. the Quizlet app, clients create them or we create them together and then review them periodically


    2) QR CODES: one-to-one

    I call this mobile coaching. I use dynamic QR codes which enable me to change the content and keep the same printed code. I have given my one-to-one clients QR code key chains, and then can I put the review material from Explain Everything on the code for them to review on their smartphones. I receive updates via email telling me when the code has been scanned, which is great. It is also a great marketing tool.

    QR Codes can also be used in classes to add audio to texts or a YouTube movie to reinforce a point or dialogue. Different groups could have different codes.

    3) Socrative: www.socrative.com is “a smart student response system that empowers teachers to engage their classrooms through a series of educational exercises and games via smartphones, laptops, and tablets.” I use Socrative in my group courses to review materials, reinforce vocabulary, writing etc.

    4) Wiggio: www. wiggio.com is a tool that makes it easy to work in groups. All my courses at Ruppin are on moodle, so I do not need an external tool, however, I do need a tool for courses that I teach in companies.

    Wiggio is very easy to set up: after adding all the participants names I can, set up folders with links and materials. I can send them video and audio emails or just summarize what was covered during the lessons. There is also a virtual conference room, which is great for one-on-one sessions or small groups that do not take place face to face.

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  • Teaching Business English in the UK

    This month we´re looking at what it´s like to teach business English in the UK and Glasgow in Scotland to be precise. In conversation with Claire Hart, the BESIG Web Coordinator, John Paul shares his experience of teaching business English at Live Language in Glasgow and also some teaching tips and resource ideas.



    John Paul Smith has worked for Live Language in Glasgow for three years. Live language is a widely accredited and thriving independent school in central Glasgow offering English for Business, General, Academic and Technical purposes, as well as Foundation and Pre-Masters programs. John Paul started there by teaching Academic and General English before moving into Business English after about twelve months. He teaches a variety of people, from Engineers and Financial staff to University students and job seekers. 

    Of late, he has been increasingly specializing in conversation skills for high level students in order to help them deal with the variety of question forms and idiomatic language they encounter in the workplace. 

    You can contact John Paul by email: Johnpaul.smith@live-language.com


    You can watch the video interview with John Paul here:

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  • From Business English to Management Training: Where are we going and what do we do when we get there?

    On 21st April 2013 IATEFL BESIG hosted a weekend workshop with Steve Flinders in which Steve talked about the ways in which we can develop ourselves as Business English teachers and the different directions we could take our careers in. The recording of this session is available to everyone on the Weekend Workshop with Steve Flinders webpage for a limited time and will then be archived in the members area of this site.

    The workshop elicited a lot of questions from the audience and time constraints meant that Steve wasn´t able to answer all of them. The BESIG Online Team collected these questions and sent them to Steve to answer. We´ve uploaded these questions and Steve´s answers below.


    Answers to questions posed during BESIG webinar, 21 April 2013


    These are all big, challenging questions and I have had to confine myself to brief answers due to a shortage of spare time just now. But I should be happy to talk to the people who put the questions individually if they want to do that.


    Adi Rajan (India): I agree that there is a lot of pressure on Business English trainers to change but it seems like the destination being described is becoming a behavioral trainer. Is that a good thing?


    I think a better question is: Is this a good thing for me? We want to be doing a job that we like doing. Some teachers are very interested in language and get most of their satisfaction from helping people to learn the details of the language. Others are more interested in focusing on the professional communication context of the learners, and so on. Whether we are looking more at language, or communication skills, or attitudes and behaviours must also in practice be dictated by the general level of the people we teach. I was arguing that Western and Northern Europe is becoming an increasingly mature market where many people in Business English classes already have a reasonably strong basis in the language and so need to focus more on what they are going to do with the language they have rather than go on getting diminishing returns from learning ever more about details of language accuracy. If you spend most of your time teaching lower level people then your focus is probably going to be less behavioural; but I would still urge all BE teachers to see language as a means to an end and not an end in itself; and through learner training to get their learners to focus on their professional communication goals as well.


    Roxana (Romania): Q: How can we, as Business English teachers, market ourselves more effectively?


    Another big question! The subject of a seminar or series of coaching sessions all to itself. However, two answers do spring immediately to mind:


    1               USP. What is your Unique Sales Proposition? What do you have to offer that no- one else does? What is/are your special area/s of interest or particular approaches to teaching? Reflect on these and write them down in a short professional description of yourself. Ask colleagues for feedback on how clear and effective they think this message is. But don’t make things up. Be true to yourself and your values.


    2               Now you have to communicate this so you have to think about how the world is going to find out about what you have to offer:


    • Some people use social networking very effectively – operating from their own website they blog and send out regular updates to their networks using LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. They communicate both within the profession (BESIG, etc.) and to their clients and prospective clients;
    • Writing articles, presenting at conferences ... Again, it’s easier to do this to professional colleagues than clients but perhaps the first can act as a springboard and a confidence builder for the second.
    • Networking – both face to face and virtual. Harder for introverts but meeting people and talking to people at conferences and professional events definitely do lead to contacts and opportunities which you would not otherwise have heard about. If it doesn’t come easily, you can set yourself targets for the number of business cards you hand out or the number of new people you meet.


    Finally it can help to get a mentor or a coach or, as I said in the webinar, a colleague whom you can co-coach, to deal with and make progress on these questions by setting targets and working towards them with this kind of help.


    Nicolas Celedon (Uruguay): How can we make a transition from a language institute to a communication Institute.


     An even bigger question, and a tough one. I think the answer here depends to quite an extent on the professional training culture of the country where you are working and I don’t know anything about Uruguay. I do know that there are big variations in the training cultures of France, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, etc – the countries where we mainly work. I think we have a long term need to try to educate the market to understand what we are talking about and we have to accept that this will take time: our clients are often mistaken when they come to us asking for more grammar instruction as the main means to become more effective international communicators. On the other had, it’s the reflex they have and we need to define an alternative message which is quick and easy to understand. My company talks about Developing People Internationally and Focusing on Results but it’s still a long slow process. Certainly putting the emphasis on ‘communication’ rather than ‘language’ in all your own corporate communications will help.


    Even if and when you succeed, the other big challenge is price. Communication training is more complex and sophisticated than language training, requiring trainers to exercise more skills, but companies won’t necessarily appreciate this or want to pay more. They may well feel that mere language trainers can’t offer this higher level of expertise so we have to establish our credibility as well. We have to show that our courses compete in quality with people coming to communication training from the management training end of the market; and we have to talk the kind of business and financial language that our clients will understand and appreciate. Differentiating your prices according to the kind of course you offer will help but it’s still a problem to get people to pay more; and to avoid a situation where you are delivering a sophisticated communication training course at a language training price. Perhaps part of the answer is clarity in course description and pricing.


    Helen Strong (Germany): Thanks, Steve,very interesting. You said that BESIG should start taking positive steps to help trainers move into management training. What are your suggestions for doing that (apart from removing the word "English" from the name?)


    I felt I was on somewhat weak ground here because I’m not as familiar with what BESIG is doing as I should be; and what I do see is absolutely fantastic work – the dedication of BESIG volunteers is always rather humbling.


    My ideas are:


    • More discussion of the kinds of question raised above. For example I happen to know that Mike Hogan did a how to session on being a successful freelancer at the IATEFL conference in Liverpool. You can read Chia Suan Chong´s summary of the session: here.
    • Disseminate ideas about coaching and coaching qualifications and encourage people to do it on each other; and management training qualifications and opportunities.
    • Exchange evaluative ideas about materials. There are great materials on the BE market but I don’t know whether people tell each other what they’re using nor how much assessment is communicated among members.
    • Exchange information about associations and groups which organise BE events: the ELTAs in Germany: ETAS in Switzerland: TESOL France, UPLEGESS and GEM&L in France; and the SIETARs everywhere ... maybe a What’s On


    This of course presupposes that there is someone there with the time and energy to adopt and implement them. And it also makes me realise that I should come to the next BESIG AGM!

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  • The Future of Business English in India

    Atul Sharma teaches Business English in a tertiary setting in Greater Noida, India. He is also the 2013 IATEFL BESIG Facilitator Scholarship Winner, which means that IATEFL BESIG will be funding his trip to Liverpool for the 2013 IATEFL Annual Conference in Liverpool (08.04.2013- 12.04.2013). Atul will also be giving a talk at the IATEFL BESIG Programme Day on 9th April in which he will present the findings of research he has carried out into the extent to which Business English training in India today is aligned with industry needs.


    In this interview, Atul shares some insights into the context in which he works, the challenges he faces and why he remains optimistic about the future of business English learning and teaching in India. He also talks about his interesting plans to promote professional development among Business English teachers in India after the IATEFL Conference.


    Atul Sharma, is a B.E.(Honours) Civil Engineering, M.A. (English), and MBA, employed at the Galgotias Business School, Greater Noida, India, as Professor of Business Communication. Atul’s areas of interest are – Business Communication, Business English, Soft Skills, Sales Management, TQM, Operations Management, Ethics & Values, Leadership, Motivation and Team Building.


    Listen to Atul Sharma´s interview with Claire Hart here:

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  • Psychology and Business English

    Nick Michelioudakis from Greece is making a name for himself as a leading advocate of the connections between English language teaching and psychology and how teachers can make use of them in their teaching practice. In this interview, Nick talks to Claire Hart about the importance of psychology in the field of English teaching and how this is all relevant for Business English teachers.



    Nick Michelioudakis (B. Econ., Dip. RSA, Msc TEFL) is a Teacher/ Teacher Trainer based in Greece. He is best known for his articles on ´Psychology and ELT´ which have been published in many countries. His love of comedy led him to start the ´Comedy for ELT´ project on YouTube. His interests include student motivation as well as Social and Evolutionary Psychology. When he is not struggling with his students he likes to spend his time in a swimming pool or playing chess. For articles or handouts of his, you can visit his website at http://www.michelioudakis.org/

    CH: I have read some of your “Psychology and ELT” articles and I know you love stories… Do tell me one…

    NM: OK! Back in the 50s, when instant coffee first made its debut, Nestle marketed it as an easy, inexpensive alternative to ordinary coffee which tasted just as good. The tins just gathered dust on the shelves. Puzzled as to why sensible housewives shunned this economical product, the company asked a number of women and were surprised to find they were almost offended by this sales pitch! No self-respecting housewife would even dream of serving cheap coffee to her husband! So the marketers went back to the drawing board… The new campaign stressed that because the new coffee saved time, women could spend more quality time with their spouses and children! Sales took off! Brilliant!

    CH: So why do you think psychology is so important for the field of ELT and business English ?

    NM: Well, quite apart from the teaching implications of such stories—“tailor your message to suit your audience!”—I think it’s just so much more interesting! It’s something you can discuss with people. Can you imagine going up to a friend and starting talking to them about the Natural Order Hypothesis? But there is another reason too: I believe our field is insular—too insular. Colleagues go to conferences and all they hear about is linguistics and methodology (oh, and technology too these days). But we seem to forget that we are teaching people, and questions like ‘What to teach’, ‘How to teach’ and ‘What to teach with’ tend to leave something out—the learner!

    CH: That’s not true, we do get some input on psychology at conferences and other professional development workshops...

    NM: Yes we do, but that only addresses the question of ‘How students learn’ – correction: ‘How students learn a second language!’ So our input comes mostly from cognitive and developmental psychology. We seem to forget that we are not only teaching second language learners, we are also teaching learners and “learner” is only one of the identities these people have; in fact what we are trying to do is teach human beings. The right question if we want to manage and motivate people is “What is it that makes people tick??”

    CH: Can you give me an example?

    NM: Here is one: researchers called students and asked them whether they wanted to participate in a study, but they would have to wake up at 7am. Naturally, only 24% of those asked volunteered! But then they tried a different tack; they called another group of students and asked them whether they wanted to participate – this time 56% of them agreed. Once they had, they were then told about waking up at 7am and given the chance to back down – none did! Fantastic!! Moral: sequencing matters – a lot! If you get people to commit to something, then they are likely to stick to their commitment!

    CH: Why do we need the experiments though? Can’t we just have the conclusions?

    NM: It’s not quite the same. Experiments are like stories and we have evolved to like stories. They are more memorable and they make the principles more concrete, while still allowing us to extrapolate to other situations. Think about it, which is more potent as a message: an injunction like ‘Love thy neighbour’ or a parable like that of ‘The Good Samaritan’?

    CH: Aren’t all these findings more or less common sense though?

    NM: Well, actually many of them are counter-intuitive! Here is an example: in Arizona there is a petrified forest and the authorities wanted to stop people taking little “souvenirs”, so they posted the following sign: “Your heritage is vandalized – 14 tons of the petrified forest are stolen every year!” Psychologists wondered whether that was effective, so they tested it – they used this sign in one path and a control sign (“Stealing fossilized wood is both wrong and illegal”) in another. Results: in the latter, theft reached 1.7% but in the former an incredible 7.92%!! Theft actually increased!! Instead of deterring people, the sign was in fact saying “everybody else is doing it—why don’t you?’ Now think about a teacher when she tells her class “I hope you are not going to be like the other group who are always late / who claim they have no time for homework.”

    CH: How is all of this useful to teachers of Business English?

    NM: Well, if these principles are useful to teachers and to teachers of English, they are bound to be useful to teachers of Business English as well! But that’s not all; Business students are overwhelmingly adults and they appreciate professionals who know what they are doing and why they are doing it. If you can offer them a good (research-based) rationale of what you ask them to do in class they will respect you all the more and they will be more likely to comply. But there is a third reason as well: much of this research has been done in a business context and many of the findings have been applied in the corporate or advertising worlds. This means that the Business English teacher can derive a double benefit:

    a) she can improve her classroom management /motivational skills in the light of research findings and

    b) she can tell her students about these same findings, which they can then apply in their work context!

    CH: What is the single most important message you think teachers can take from psychology?

    NM: Here it is: “If psychology has taught us anything it is that not only do we think ourselves into a way of acting, but also we act ourselves into a way of thinking!” (Myers) This has huge implications: do you want to change people or get them to act in a certain way? If you do, their hearts and minds will follow! And we are teachers—we are in the business of influencing people. I want to change my students because I love my job and I love them too. As Brecht once put it: "What do you do," Mr. Keuner was asked, "if you love someone?" "I make a sketch of the person," said Mr. K., "and make sure that one comes to resemble the other." "Which? The sketch?" "No," said Mr. K., "the person."

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  • Business English in Brazil

    As Brazil is currently a major player in the global economy, many positions in local and international companies now require that their staff has a proficient level of English in order to do business with partners and customers from all over the world. Alessandra de Campos, a Business English Trainer based in São Paulo (Brazil), will be sharing with us her experience in teaching English for Specific Purposes (ESP) in a country that only now people are becoming more aware of how important is to speak a second language, and the great impact that it can have in their professional lives and professional development.

    Justine Arena from the BESIG Online Team, who´s based in Brasilia, Brazil, asked Alessandra about her experiences as a business English teacher in Brazil, looking at the challenges, successes and future potential which exist there.



    Alessandra de Campos has a degree in Language Teaching and post-graduation courses in Applied Linguistics and Distance Learning. Since 1990 she has worked in schools, language institutes and companies as a teacher, academic coordinator and program/material designer. She has a Celta and is currently doing her Delta. I occasionally do consultancy work for publishers, started recently to work as an examiner for Cambridge, teach teenagers at a bilingual school and executives in-company.


    JA: Is Business English something that is vastly offered in English schools and as part of companies´ training program in Brazil?

    AdC: A lot of English schools offer business English classes for individual students. I know of one school that offers group classes with a focus on presentation or telephone skills. In-company classes are usually individual or in small groups and classes are paid for by the students. Some companies offer employees at a certain level (usually the managerial level) sponsorship, paying a percentage of the course and some sign a contract with different English schools who offer employees a discount and classes either in the school or in-company. What usually happens is that these students, in any case, eventually hire a private teacher because schools cannot personalize classes (at least not enough) and the traditional business English classes with business English books end up not helping students to do their work.


    JA: How did you start teaching Business English (BE), and in what type of settings have you taught BE?

    AdC: My career in BE started in 2007, when the school where I worked as an academic coordinator was invited to design a program for 25 employees in a software company. The objective of the company was to help some of their managers (or prospective managers) to improve their use of English at work. We had there a very unusual situation, considering the business of language teaching. We were given a classroom, full access to the company’s meetings, conference calls, documents, projects, clients, in a way that we knew their business extremely well and that reflected deeply in the work we were able to do in class. I spent 4 years in that company and after that started teaching BE only as a private tutor.


    JA: How is to teach BE in Brazil? What are the biggest challenges in your opinion?

    AdC: The main challenge that I believe teachers/schools face is to understand exactly what students need. I remember interviewing the 25 employees in the company in 2007 and making conclusions about their needs that proved wrong as I started learning more about what they really had to do. My impression is that students do not really understand what they need to know or cannot explain these needs well. After a year being in the company 8 hours a day from Monday to Friday, I realized that none of the descriptions of use of English I had heard from my students had been accurate or ‘realistic’. Thus what I think is that, even as private teachers, we run the risk of offering the students what we think they need based on what they think they will have to do and not helping them, frustrating them and being frustrated as well.

    Another big challenge is to find the appropriate materials to use in class. The only materials that would make sense to use would be their own production at work. Written production (emails and other artifacts) is usually available and easier to see, analyze and work on. The problem is oral production, which does not take place while we are in class, and can only be dealt with if students record their meetings or calls and bring the files to class, but that rarely happens. Because of the variety of segments in the business area, it is not easy for publishers to produce a book that is relevant and useful for classes. Most books cover too many areas (HR, sales, marketing, etc) and the units are too superficial and unrealistic. It is possible to find books that deal with only one area or career (for example, English in Medicine). In the area where I was (technology), even those books that were specific were inappropriate.


    JA: What was the most challenging BE project that you have been involved with? Why? How did you overcome these challenges and what was the outcome of the project?

    AdC: Teaching students to participate in a conference call effectively was my most challenging task. To begin with, I had never participated in a conference call, so I only had a remote idea of what happened during a call. Secondly, we teachers tend to prepare students to use a much more formal language than is actually needed, and if you do not participate in their calls, you never realize that your students may be sounding awkward, unnatural, or excessively formal. Of course, again, business English is a vast area and I believe information technology is among the most informal ones. But the business I see in companies nowadays tends to be much more informal than we believe it is or than it used to be, and I see the same tendency in the company where I am now, that is pharmaceutical.

    But back to the calls, it is not only a matter of register. A conference call demands a number of skills. The student in a call has to be able to understand and manage silence, stress, uncertainty, doubt, has to show confidence in him/herself, the team, the project, reassure the client, make promises, explain, justify, argue, ask, answer, question, complain, demand, give in, make conversation, show regret, congratulate, praise, and so on, but all that in a foreign language. There is a large number of business skills, personal skills, soft skills required from the participants, and language skills only add up to the complexity of the situation.

    I learned all I know today from the conference calls I participated in during the four years in-company. Many times, we were four, five people sitting in a room with a device that allowed us to hear and be heard, and we did not know what the best way to respond would be, as the client showed frustration, disappointment, disbelief. Sometimes, we were unable to understand the client’s English. We all learned by doing, by trying again and again, by discussing results after each call, analyzing recordings. Being in the company made all the difference and, after some time, I already knew what to expect and how to behave, so we formed groups of study to prepare employees for the different scenarios and started having much more effective calls.


    JA:  A lot of Brazilians can communicate in general English, but don´t have a proficiency level to write business emails, participate in conference calls and do business in English. What is needed to get a student who has some level of proficiency in general English to be confident and able to communicate in the business world?

    AdC: I would say practice. Also, confidence in language use, in my opinion, has a lot to do with personality and attitude. A student at an A2 level may show more confidence than another at a C1 level. I do not really believe that knowledge necessarily leads to confidence. As a recommendation to students, I would say, “Observe. Listen. Watch. Copy. Improvise.” As a recommendation to teachers, I would say, “Observe. Understand. Analyze. Guide.”


    JA: And we cannot leave behind the two major events that will take place in Brazil within the next 3 years. In you view, how ready is Brazil for the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016? Is the country and businesses getting ready for these two major events as far as English goes?

    AdC: I do not hear any comments about the World Cup or the Olympic Games inside companies. My students are usually more concerned about deals the president has signed, decisions made by big companies, changes in legislation and where numbers are going. However, on the streets I notice that taxi drivers and clerks, for example, talk a lot about getting prepared for those events, which I think may mean a high demand for courses preparing people to deal with foreigners. I think it is part of our culture to do things at the very last minute and I do not think things will be different in this case.


     JA:  Finally, in some places English for Specific Purposes (ESP), such as BE is something fairly new. What are some tips that you have for teachers who want to get involved in BE or are already teaching BE and would like to develop themselves further in this area?

    AdC: I would recommend talking to other teachers who have already been doing this kind of work, watching classes when possible, learning as much as possible about the student’s (or company’s) business (besides reading about the company on their website, it is possible to sign up for Google Alerts, for example, and that service will email you whenever something is published about the company), reading (I would suggest Harvard Business Review - and The Financial Times; on Summary.com you can read summaries of books on several business topics) and watching videos on www.ted.com (there are a lot of videos on topics that are interesting for students inside companies).

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