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.

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A need to know

by Andreas Grundtvig 

Thank you everyone for joining the blog. It’s really good to read your thoughts on the first post as well as your compliments to the driving force behind the blog – Andi and Carl. I have to admit though, that until now I’ve been a blog sceptic. I started a teaching website way back in the days before youtube (founded 2005) and facebook (founded 2004) and while my site was quite informative, it was not very interactive and as a consequence, it didn’t get much response. But now thanks to you all – I’m inspired!

Here’s the second post.

I have an excellent friend, let’s call him Mick because that’s his name. Mick lives in Holland and does quite well as a technical writer. A few years ago he did a Tefl introduction course in Cambridge and after its two days of training (yes I know), he had an inkling of what teaching English was about. He went home happy and forgot all about it.

At the beginning of last year the inevitable happened. Mick was approached by one of his Dutch friends who asked him if, as he was an English speaker, he could teach a course at a local language school? He jumped at the chance.

Over the weeks that followed we skyped each other regularly and I tried to give him the best of my advice. I told him about the importance of recognising the aims of his students from the outset and even sent him a few frameworks to work with. The year passed and as I did not hear any more from Mick about his teaching, I assumed things were going swimmingly.

Last week I skyped Mick to tell him about this blog. I also remembered to ask him about his teaching. It became immediately clear that this was a sore subject. He told me the course had ended at the end of last year. I pushed him for more information. First came the self-pity – how he was never really a teacher, he called himself a charlatan. Then he said something about the student feedback at the end of the course and how unfair it was. My initial response in defence of my friend, was to tell him there was ‘nowt as queer as folk’!

“Although generally it went well” he went on, “I’m more than a bit miffed by the students who never once asked for more grammar. Even though I asked them what they wanted in every lesson and everything seemed fine – they later told their boss that they didn’t do enough grammar!”

There could be many reasons why Mick’s students should tell him one thing and then tell their boss something different, but what Mick said got me thinking.

In my blog post about Suffolk, I asked what language we should really be teaching our students. Evan Frendo replied that ‘the answer, if there is one, can only lie in our analysis of our learners’ needs.’

David Scarborough also made the excellent point that our students ‘do not need to be taught to speak the regional variety’ but that ‘they do, however, need practice in understanding the regional variety of the spoken language they will hear.’

After speaking to Mick I thought a lot about what our students want and need, about how we normally conduct our needs analyses and how to follow up on the information that we get from them. At a risk of giving away too much company information, I’ll tell you what happens here in Hamburg.

Usually on a first point of contact with a client, our sales team will speak to the representative of that company (usually a personnel manager) to get a general understanding of the needs and nature of the client’s business. This overview is later backed up by a fifteen-minute interview with each student where we ask him/her individually to tell us about their job, the context and quantity they use English and what the student would like to be able to do at the end of the course. Finally it’s up to the pedagogical management (Andi and I) to brief the teachers. In our teacher training workshops we also continually emphasise that despite being already armed with the information from the personnel manager and telephone interview, it is important to again ask the students about their aims in the first lesson and write them down together. This I find, is usually effective.

Yet I feel, something is missing.

I get the feeling there are fundamental questions that we should be asking (such as was suggested in the first blog entry, to ask in which region the student will mostly interact) to be sure that what we deliver suits the students’ aims perfectly. The way we  drum home to the student in Hamburg that what they tell us is what they get may seem excessive but is there any other way? I’d also be very interested to know which questions in your experience, you find most effective when carrying out a needs analysis.

Ps. Mick does other things too: photography, poetry, music to name but a few. The  only way to get him to agree to me to telling you this story was if I promised to give his website a plug.
It’s http://mickdavidsonpicturesword.weebly.com/