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.


    Dana Poklepovic interviews Taona Knight

    December 2015


    Hello Besigers! In our last post of the year, we welcome Taona Knights who was a first-time speaker at 28th BESIG Annual Conference.  


    Hi Taona, it’s nice to have you with us today. Could you tell our readers a little about your background?  

    Hello Dana. Well, I was born in Cornwall (Truro) but moved to France when I was 8. I grew up speaking both French and English.


    Where are you based now?

    I live in Vancouver, Canada where I am a Director of studies at EC Vancouver.


    You have visited and lived in places as different and distant as Europe, Vietnam and now Canada, what has been your experience as a traveler teacher?

     I used to believe that all students are very different; that they have vast cultural and learning styles and while that is true, you can still regroup them into small categories and draw a strategy from these differences. It was very much the topic of our talk (with Pete Rutherford). All students come to class for a reason and the teacher must gain trust and quickly show and enable them to get there. Students have different learning facilities and backgrounds, but a good teacher can draw on all they have seen and help them get there faster.


    If you had to choose, what would be “the one thing” that marked you as a teacher in each place you worked?

    Vietnam: Encouraging. You have to be a bit gentler and hedge more with a softer voice. They feel you are being unkind otherwise. “No” is not a word they hear or use.

    Germany: Displaying your knowledge as a teacher. Germans have to be able to trust that you know your subject matter.

    France: Patience. Grammar accuracy was very important as with our German friends. They spend a lot of time learning French grammar and want the English to ‘match’ that. Also, they are worried about sounding silly and won’t try.

    In November, you presented at BESIG Conference in Barcelona. Congratulations! What was your talk about?

    Pete Rutherford and I were interested in what makes a good or a better teacher. We tried to narrow down from student feedback and teacher feedback what the core characteristics or a ‘better teacher’ are.  


     In your opinion, what makes a good teacher?       

    Empathy: seeing where students are, recognizing their strengths and challenges and helping them to get past them. A teacher should also be a facilitator. They should teach how to do and not lecture on how to do. In a nutshell, I believe those are two main keys and the rest can be taught.


    As Director of Studies, you lead the team of teachers at your school, what are their most frequent concerns?

    Well, I think they are mostly concerned with students’ motivation. Teachers feel that it can be hard to keep the energy up for the whole lesson or the whole week.


    Could you share with our readers your experience as a First Time Speaker?

    I was quite nervous at first but everyone was so supportive in all the talks I had attended before my own that the nerves died down. The most challenging part was managing the online audience and the audience in the room. I wanted to make sure they both felt equally present.

    How did you and Pete deal with the process of setting up a joint presentation?

     Preparing the talk was a little challenging as we had 9 hour time difference and were not able to meet up to discuss and plan it out together but with emails, Skype and drop boxes we did well.

    We discussed it a lot and sent each other drafts back and forth, the talk gradually got more and more precise and work was then divided up. The Friday before the talk we met up and smoothed over any remaining questions and decided who would say what.


    Would you recommend this experience to fellow teachers who think of presenting some day?

    Of course! It was a great experience and I would do it again.


    Did you get to know BESIG members at the Conference? 

    Yes, I met a lot of great people and exchanged business cards. However being in Vancouver limits the crossover but it was great to meet new people and maybe some will come over to our BC Teal conference in April 2016.


    What are your professional plans for the future?

    I am planning to stay on as a DOS. I enjoy the contact with our students and the teachers. We are a growing center and there are always a lot of innovations and changes in our company. We are starting an online learning platform and recently have redone our entire curriculum.

    What do you do in your free time?

    I love to scuba dive but not in cold water. So I end up doing what everyone does: dinner and drinks with friends as we plan our next holidays J

    Thank you Taona!

    You can contact Taona at taonaknights@ecenglish.com

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    Storytelling is an age-old art and one of the few traits shared across all human cultures. Stories have become a powerful communication tool used by business leaders to motivate teams and engage different audiences. In addition, stories enable leaders to connect both at an intellectual and emotional level making the message memorable.

    Following up on the excellent workshop given by Susan Hillyard this year about the use of monologues and stories in the BE classroom, Mary Sousa has gently contributed with a recorded story. It is called “The River”, from Mario Rinvolucri's book "Once Upon a Time" and he in turn attributes it to Antonis Samarakis, Zitite Elpis.


    You can listen to the story by clicking The River.

    We asked Mary what she uses this story for in her BE classes:


    “For upper level students, it could prompt a discussion about a company's relationship with its competitors, be it reasonable, shark-like, or somewhere in between. The story illustrates the futility of jumping to conclusions and mistaking friends for enemies. Students could be asked how culturally grounded the story is (ask whether there are parallels or similar stories in the students' cultures).

    I would use this story for interactive storytelling, by which I mean I would tell the story in stages, stopping here and there to elicit from the students more elaborate descriptions of the people and places in the story. Activate vocabulary, motivate learners to use rarely used adjectives, involve the group in the story”.


    BIODATA: Mary Sousa (coordinator of IATEFL Hungary's Business English SIG) is a freelance teacher of business English. Her native language is American English, but she uses her Hungarian language skills both to enhance her teaching and to appreciate the approach of native Hungarian teachers of English. Her special interests include blending traditional and technology-based teaching and interactive storytelling. 

    Blog post - Dana Poklepovic

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  • Business English and the Challenge to Become More Specific

    Business English and English for Specific Purposes have long been neighbouring fields. As businesses get more complex and specialized, Business English teachers need to address this specialization trend in their teaching content, methodology and class activities.

    Today, we welcome Shanthi Cumaraswamy Streat who has kindly agreed to share her experience as a Business English trainer in specific markets.

    Hello Shanti! It’s a pleasure to have you here today. Before we enter the Business English arena, could you tell us a bit about you?

    My career as a language teacher began in 2009 when I decided to leave the investment world after 20 years and join the ELT industry. So, I consider myself a relatively new teacher. With my previous background, the transition to teaching Business English seemed natural. I teach 1-1 online and offline via my home stay courses in the UK. I also run BE Writing and Financial English courses to small groups. My blog, English with a Twist, shares BE material with learners.

    One of the key pillars of ESP is the use of authentic materials. Do you use AM in BE and how do you work with them in class?

    Yes, I use authentic materials. Most of the material comes from my clients, whether it be their own emails, reports, training manuals, presentations and so on.

    For example, for a fluency session, I'll ask my client to prepare a presentation using their company website/brochure to describe either the company structure or the products.

    If the focus is on presentation skills, I will work with my client on a presentation they've got in English and ask them to present it to me. From there, plenty of further material will come out not exclusively related to presentation skills, correct use of tenses, specific vocabulary and so on.

    What are the advantages and disadvantages of using learners' documents to teach?

    In my experience, learners find it helpful if we can provide support with some of their documents. By engaging with their material, they are more focused and can relate to the language in a more meaningful way.

    The biggest disadvantage I've found is where the level of English found in the material they have far outstrips their level of English. For instance, the material is written for a proficient user while they have an A2 level of English and my learner wants me to help them with the material! In those cases, I need to find ways of adapting the material or putting it to the side. I have yet to work out what is the best way of dealing with this situation.

    How much does the BE trainer need to know about the learner's speciality field?

    I don't think the BE trainer needs to have in depth knowledge of the learner's speciality field. However, I think it's essential that the trainer shows a genuine interest in the learner's work and asks plenty of questions to encourage engagement. The willingness to learn about our client's professional background is a must if we are to build mutual trust and respect. I learn from them and they learn from me. It's a two-way partnership. The more we show that we are interested in our learners as people and professionals, the more they will learn. My best and favourite teachers were the ones who took a genuine interest in me, and I learned the most from them.

    Talking about methodology, what approach do you use to teach Business English?

    I suppose you could say I follow the Dogme approach. My learners run the show! I ask them questions, we discuss topics, I gauge their mood and depending on their responses the lesson takes it course. I listen to my learner and respond accordingly. That's pretty much it.

    How would you define BE in relation with ESP?

    I don't differentiate between the two terms. Practically all my clients require English for their specific purposes whether it be technical vocabulary in the engineering, reinsurance, change management sectors; presenting their company to their clients or describing their products. Whatever their background, they all need English to conduct their business and that means they need such general skills such as email writing, presentation skills, networking and so on. All BE includes ESP.

    I guess the only time I'd differentiate between BE and ESP is if the requirement is for highly specialised forms of communication like Aviation English, Military English or Legal English.

    In your experience, what is the most relevant aspect as a BE trainer?

    That as teachers, we always learn more than our clients.

    Thank you, Shanti, for sharing your experience with BESIG.

    Thank you so much for this opportunity.

    We’d love to hear from you. Do you teach General Business English or Business English for Specific Purposes? You can leave your comments below. 

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  • Testing Business English Learners: A Trend on the Rise

    There is an increasing need to measure Business English learners’ progress according to tests that are both useful for work-related purposes and valid for assessment goals.

    After her presentation at the BESIG PCE in Manchester, in April 10th, we sat down with Dr. Ivana Vidaković who kindly agreed to be interviewed for our BESIG BLOG.

    Could you tell us a bit about your academic and professional background? How did you become specialized in testing and assessment?

    Everything began with my love of foreign languages, particularly English. I had completed my BA in English language and literature at the University of Belgrade, and then specialised in applied linguistics through my master’s and doctorate degrees at the University of Cambridge. My doctorate in second language acquisition (or foreign language learning) led me to a related area – that of language assessment – so here I am now.

    It could be said that my whole career is pretty ironical. As a child, I wouldn’t allow a close member of my family to learn English because I feared she’d forget her mother tongue and I wouldn’t be able to understand her. She reminded me of that when I became a teacher of English.

    What is your current role?

    I am a Senior Research and Validation Manager and I specialise in testing English for Specific Purposes. My current research interests also lie in the assessment of reading comprehension, learner corpus analysis and the impact of English language examinations on various test users. I am also the Editor of Research Notes, a quarterly publication of Cambridge Assessment on matters related to research, testing and teaching. We publish internal and external research on our examinations as well as on research undertaken as part of government and corporate sector projects we work on. Since we support teachers in their further professional development through action research programmes we fund, several issues of Research Notes have been dedicated exclusively to teachers’ classroom research. If you would like to read more about them, you could visit this link:


    What are the most relevant aspects to test in a Business English course?

    What is most relevant will depend on the purpose of a course, a test and on students’ needs. In general, a focus on the communication and comprehension skills which are typically required in a business context would be advisable, so that students become better prepared for real-life tasks.


    Testing profession-specific writing and speaking skills may include evaluating the ability to tailor speech and writing to different audiences. For example, talking on (semi-)technical issues with a lay person is as important as taking with a fellow professional. In addition, the ability to use a range of styles, and to write in different genres, such as forms, memos and reports, is also relevant to a business context.


    Testing the relevant reading and listening comprehension skills may include focussing on reading and listening for detail, gist, careful reading, as well as skimming and scanning of appropriate business-related texts. Teachers could also consider testing the ability to extract and synthesise relevant information from multiple sources at higher ability levels.


    For people working in a business context, it’s necessary to ‘operate with’ certain language functions. So, teachers may want to determine if their students can use their English to persuade, recommend, evaluate and challenge - in spoken and in written communication.


    When testing in an ESP course, how can we differentiate linguistic performance from content knowledge? Can these aspects be validly separated in a test?

    It all depends on what your idea of separating linguistic performance from content knowledge is about.

    If you want to create a test of language ability rather than content knowledge, there are a few things you could do. Design your comprehension tasks in such a way that a test-taker can only arrive at the correct answer by understanding the language of a text, rather than by drawing on their knowledge of the subject. This means that test questions should be firmly grounded in the text itself. Also, avoid highly specialised texts as they may contain obscure terminology and concepts, thereby requiring a substantial amount of specialised content knowledge for comprehension. Bear in mind that nobody is a specialist in every aspect of their profession or academic discipline. As far as assessing Speaking and Writing performance is concerned, you should create and use linguistic assessment criteria (for example, coherence, cohesion, intelligibility, the range and accuracy of grammatical structures, etc.).

    You can avoid assessing content knowledge, but you cannot stop test takers from drawing on that knowledge when addressing ESP test tasks. In a business English test, business professionals or business students will most likely use their knowledge of terminology and concepts, phrases and text structure to process a text faster and enrich meaning. Besides, if a task requires them to speak on a business-specific issue, they need to draw on their knowledge of the issue in order to be able to speak. In this sense, language ability and content knowledge cannot be separated in an ESP test. One’s ability to use language in a specific workplace context requires both.

    Are teachers prepared to evaluate content knowledge?

    ESP teachers shouldn’t be expected to evaluate content knowledge. Trained lawyers who are also (qualified) teachers of English, for example, may be well placed to assess both content knowledge and language ability. However, ESP tests typically assess English language ability in a specific context and that’s what teachers should evaluate. Content knowledge is generally assessed by employers and Universities in dedicated cycles of a recruitment process.

    What ESP teachers should certainly be prepared to do is learn how language is used in a specific professional or academic domain. That’s part and parcel of teaching an ESP course.

    What advice would you give to BE trainers when preparing their tests?

    The same advice I’d give them for designing an ESP course: learn about your test takers and their needs; if possible, work with content specialists to identify relevant tasks and their features; last, but not least, consider how your test fits in with the course you are teaching – are you creating an organic whole?

    All of this should feed into decisions on task types as well as on the skills and abilities your ESP test should cover.

    What tests would you recommend for BE learners?

    All Cambridge English exams are widely used and recognised by businesses and universities around the world. If learners of Business English would like to take an exam that is specifically tailored to a business context, Cambridge Assessment offers Business English Certificates (Cambridge English: Business Preliminary, Vantage and Higher) as well as BULATS – the Business Language Testing Service. These examinations are designed for candidates who need to use English in their work or who are preparing for a career in international business. Both Business Certificates and BULATS are suitable for students and professionals, but there are some differences between them.


    For example, each Business Certificate is set at a single level on the Common European Framework of Reference (the CEFR): Preliminary is set at B1, Vantage at B2 and Higher at C1. Each of them assesses all four skills - Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing - thereby providing a comprehensive picture of what a test taker can do in English.


    BULATS, on the other hand, covers all levels on the CEFR, from A1 to C2. It offers more flexibility because it is a modular exam. Modularity means that separate test components can be taken on their own and have a value of their own. So, one could take the test of Reading and Listening without taking the test of Speaking or the test of Writing.


    Associated with BULATS is BULATS Benchmarking. As part of BULATS Benchmarking, a set of questionnaires are used to establish the required level of language ability for jobs and roles, after which BULATS tests are administered to assess the language proficiency of employees. The system is flexible and easy to use, and can be tailored to meet the needs of any organisation.

    Thank you Dr. Vidaković for sharing your experience with us!  

    Dana Poklepovic

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  • Into the Future of Business English

    I’m proud to open the BESIG Blog 2015 edition. In this post, we’ll look at the global perspectives for Business English.

    Teaching Business English in today’s fast-moving business environment means being alert to the changes in the workplace and technology. If we keep our eyes open, we’ll be able to adapt to these changes successfully and, what’s more relevant, we’ll be prepared for the next wave of change.

    So, what does the future hold for Business English training? Let’s look at the major trends and their impact on BE:

    A new management and leadership model. The Millennials – the generation born between 1984 and 2004 – are already occupying managerial positions and leading cross-cultural teams. While they are well educated and hold high academic degrees, they need to develop the skills necessary to manage effectively and interact in a complex and diverse marketplace. This need is closely related to communication and language training.

    Impact on BE Teaching language structures is not enough to help learners interact effectively. To overcome this challenge, we’ll need to integrate interpersonal and soft skills into the BE syllabus: for example, how to build trust, to be assertive, to give feedback, making effective questions, building relationships. This means working with both the linguistic and behavioral aspect of communicative competence.  To help learners acquire these communication skills, we need to adopt a coaching approach. 

    The Digital Natives. Generation Z – people born between the mid-1990s and 2010 – is entering the workforce. They are university students or newly graduated professionals who are recruited in internships and will soon be permanent staff. They are known as ‘digital natives’ born into our current Internet-connected environment. Since childhood, they’ve been exposed to English, either through web apps, digital tools or social media. Additionally, many of them have had bilingual high-school education or taken English courses at university. They come to the workplace with a higher level of English than previous generations.

    Impact on BE This may impact the course content. Starting from a higher-level language level base, we may see an increase in the demand for short, more specific courses; e.g. English for Accountants, Legal English. Likewise, the need for specific content and skills may be intertwined in the same course: e.g. teaching presentations for the legal area of a company. This change may open a window of opportunity for those trainers who wish to specialize in one area.

    Technology will continue to evolve. Smart-phone technology will advance, offering connected screens and interactive tools to ‘the on-the-go user’ who will be able to do a wider range of activities – such as working, learning, banking – everywhere and anywhere. M-learning will replace e-learning.

    Impact on BE This technological progress will impact on how we deliver our classes. Whether we teach face-to-face or online, learners will demand flexible learning formats. We can offer flexibility, for example, by including mobile-learning apps that allow students to access material, practice speaking, listening and also to share their files and videos with the group (e.g. RabbleBrowser, Sandbox). From a training perspective, the challenge will be to use these tools meaningfully, i.e. in line with the teaching goals.  

    Cost maximization. To face the economic crises, companies are reducing their training and development budgets. There is a trend towards assigning shorter, personalized training to fewer cases and more economical web-based courses for larger populations of learners.  

    Impact on BE We’ll probably see more short, face-to-face courses and an increasing number of distance-teaching courses. In this context, blended learning packages will continue to be an excellent option for companies.

    Globalization of business and English as a Lingua Franca. Since the onset of globalization, business deals are done between non-native speakers who use English as a Lingua Franca to communicate. This trend is expected to continue growing.  

    Impact on BE Teaching cross-cultural aspects will be commonplace. In terms of language teaching, the focus will be on developing fluency and listening skills as well as working on quick response time.

    There are, of course, other challenges and ways to adapt to market changes. If you want to share your tips or ideas, please leave a comment below. 

    Dana Poklepovic

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