Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Business English homework

Something for your coffee break : )

I teach business English online and every week I send my learners an email. The subject line reads: something for your coffee break : ).
In this email, I send links to articles my BE students can read, short videos they can watch and quick listening tasks. I also send them links to websites with quick grammar or vocabulary building exercises (self-access links). I always choose tasks they can do quickly and articles they would be interested in. The links I send are varied and not always business English focused. I do this because they are already at work so maybe during their break they may want to read something non work-related. If my learners do the extra practice, we talk about it during our next session. If they don't, it is OK. I avoid using the word homework in these mails because I do not want them to feel they have to do it and anyway, it is not homework... it is coffee break work : ). If something I have found, is something I really want to do with them, then I do it during the next lesson.
Why do I choose this type of work/extra practice? Well, my learners are adults who are almost always busy, and asking them to do loads of homework doesn't really work (well, it hasn't worked for me anyhow). That's why I choose tasks that do not take more than 10 minutes to do. You may now ask, "Is that enough?" "No, it isn't, but it is better than nothing."
I send this email almost every week and my BE learners have given me positive feedback which is why I still send the coffee break practice email.

Where do I look for material?
Of course, there are loads of places. I am going to mention my go to places in this part of the post. Keep in mind that everything I mention is sent to them in an email, so they are links to websites.

  • Twitter/ Facebook

Type  #BusinessEnglish on Twitter and there you will find loads of ideas from other BE teachers. If you are not in any Business English Groups on Facebook, then I would suggested joining some because teachers are always sharing something there as well! So, some of the links I send to my students come from blog posts, websites other BE trainers use.

  • BBC capital

There are lots of articles to choose from. I also like the fact that there are articles that are accompanied by videos, so they can read and then watch something and that is great practice!

  • British council-Learn English

I go to two places 6 minute English (this has been archived and does not get updated any more but it is great for some quick listening tasks) and Business Magazine where you can find short articles followed by a quick reading comprehension task.

  • YouTube
You can find a lot of videos in the 6 -10 minute range and just send the learners the link to the video.

  • Grammar and vocabulary websites

Once again, there is a plethora of websites with free access to grammar and vocabulary exercises. I often send links from Grammar bank .This site is free and your students can do quick exercises online and see the answers straight away.

Final thoughts
If you are interested in BE English lesson material suggestions, have a look here. I hope you enjoyed this post. If you are in France in November (14-16), come to the TESOL France conference! My talk will be about teaching online (Business English).

Till next time.....


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

L1 vs L2

When your learner says, " That's Greek to me!" Is it OK to use... Greek?
There is a lot of talk going around about whether or not a teacher should use the learners' L1 when teaching them English. I  speak two languages well. English and Greek. I also speak a bit of German. So, when I teach learners whose language I know, I do tend to use the students' L1. Is that such a bad thing? I don't think so. For me, from time to time (not always!), it is OK to use the L1 in class. OK, but when?
  • To highlight the difference between the L1 and L2:
    • For example, in Greek we say, " Πάω για ψώνια  (pao gia psonia)" which if when translated, is "I go for shopping". This is of course what my Greek learners very often say.  So, I resort to Greek and explain the differences between the Greek language and use of preposition and the equivalent English structure go + verb+ ing (go shopping). I also use the L1 to explain collocations. I highlight the different verbs and how the collocate with nouns. In fact, when teaching Grammar and vocabulary I often use the L1 to clarify terms, to show differences and avoid L1 transfer errors. I know learners are not supposed to translate from the L1 to the L2 and that I, the teacher, am supposed to instill in them the English way of thinking/saying but reality is not that simple.
  • To focus on/teach an English word:
    • When I am teaching young learners, I often sing to them and very frequently I sing a well known Greek song but add English words! The English words are translations of the Greek lyrics. My learners always remember the English words that accompany a Greek  tune!
  • I use the L1 out of my own insecurity just to check (clarification/ comprehension or concept checking) that we are on the same page:
    • What can I say here? I know this is wrong, but I still do it. I ask my concept checking questions, I do an example in class but there is always a part of me, a little devil that pushes me to say something in Greek. Just a little check to make sure that everyone is on board! I want to be 100% sure, especially with my younger learners.
      Being on the fence about L1/L2 usage
  • I use it when I am giving feedback on writing (especially with weaker students):
    • Sometimes some of the things my learners write in their essays do not make sense and then I ask them in Greek, " Do you mean ..........?" They tell me what they want to say. they give me their English version and then I guide them towards the correct version of what they wanted to say.
  • To avoid frustration:
    • there are times when my students are just simply tired of trying over and over to say something in English, so they just blurt out the Greek word. I then offer the English equivalent and they just repeat what I said. I try to discourage this, but at times, I do let my students get away with it. In Greece very often students come to class after a full day of school. Therefore, my learners are often extremely tired and frustrated and when it is 10 o'clock at night, they may resort to their L1.
  • I use my (bad) German with my German students to show my students that I too have difficulty learning a foreign language:
    • I often use German with my German learners because I want them to understand that I know where they are coming from. I understand. I know that learning another language is hard. When using my lower level German I show them that it is OK to make mistakes and that they should be willing to take risks. Another bonus? My students feel like teachers cause there is a reverse in roles. They teach me some language as well. They become my teacher and they love it : D
Learning a language is not something black and white. I am here to help my students learn and sometimes using the L1 simply does that. It helps them. Should the L1 dominate the class? Of course not, but it can facilitate learning, don't you think?

Till next time.......

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Teaching ...

Teaching is like ........ acting
have you ever thought of how many professions overlap? When teaching, do you ever feel like you are an actor/actress? Of course my title is not a sweep statement nor do I believe that teaching is exactly or simply like acting, but in this blog post you will find a few reasons why I believe being a teacher is like being an actor/actress minus the Oscar nomination. So, here goes....

  • No matter what is going on in your personal life, you got to put on a smile:
    • You can't dwell on any hardships you are facing on a personal level, you have to teach, and teach well cause otherwise your students will not learn, enjoy themselves, be happy with your teaching.
  • Your classroom is your stage:
    • When you need to be the center of attention, you need to grab your learners' attention. Your classroom is your stage. If your teaching, like acting, is boring, you have lost your audience; your learners (I am not saying that teachers should be the ones talking all the time and learners should just listen. Just saying that when teachers talk, they got to be interesting).
  • You need to sing and maybe even dance:
    • Isn't singing and dancing part of your teaching especially when teaching young learners? Don't you teach your students songs that will help them learn the alphabet, the vowel sounds, the colors? Aren't you the one who shows them the moves to heads, shoulders knees and toes? That is some serious dancing and singing (you tap into the Fred Astaire you never knew you had in you, fellow teacher).
  • You use props:
    • You use everyday items and they are part of your setting (also see the stage bullet). These items help you get your message accross, make your lesson more lively. They are like special effects in movies. The only difference is that they make a 'special impact' on the learning process.
  • You add drama, laughter, surprise to your sessions:
    • In order to make your lesson more exciting you may resort to making jokes, being dramatic or adding a surprise element to your sessions. Aren't all good actors/ actresses versatile? As teachers, we are not one trick ponies. We add a variety of elements to keep our learners engaged.
  • You cannot 'perform' well if you do not plan:
    • You need to know what you are going to teach before you go into class. You may even rehearse some of the things you will do to make sure everything goes according to plan. If you are a new teacher or teaching something new, you may even resort to learning things by heart!
  • You role play or... help them rehearse for plays:
    • In order for your learners to learn very often you get them to do role playing activities. This makes the target language often easier to learn. Then there is the end of the year event which very often is a play! You, of course, are responsible for costumes, rehearsal of plays etc.
  • You make your learners think, you broaden their horizons (self explanatory).
  • You get letters. messages, flowers, gifts....:
    •  You get lovely little cards from your students. You may even get a small gift or flowers as a way of showing that they enjoy your teaching.
  • Paralinguistic features matter:
    • You use your facial expressions, your body, your gestures to convey meaning, to get the message accross just like an actor or actress does.

Of course, you will not get an Oscar nor will you make big bucks, but then again who cares? You affect people's lives and you equip your students with something exceptional: you help them communicate their thoughts!
Picture taken from here

Till next time....

Sunday, October 5, 2014

EAP writing

          Going from being a teacher, to being a learner
Isn't interesting how, sometimes you teach something, and then when you actually do what you are teaching, you see how hard it is? Well, that is what happened to me. I went from a teacher to a learner. I tried to go from what I teach, to actual practice, and this, my friend, was a tough cookie. But what am I talking about? OK, let's take things from the beginning.
Academic Writing. I teach it. I teach how to do research, how to use the research, paraphrase, summarise, make your voice stand out.I talk about having arguments and supporting them, but today while I was working on my Delta module 3 assignment*, I realised that this is really hard! So, let's see some typical learner problems, what I tell my learners and what I actually think.

Academic Writing: Learner (and my) problems

  • Finding/ Choosing the right sources
I often tell my learners that they will/ should find a lot of sources to support what they want to say and that it is important to make their views stronger and valid by supporting them with research. I then go on to say, "When you do not have enough sources. Go to the library. Search more. Search, search, search. Be critical. Read what your sources say carefully. Make notes. If there is not enough research, synthesise information from various sources". 

What I really think: 
  1. There is so much research out there and understanding what and how to use something is extremely hard. Searching online or in a library is time consuming. Not being able to access freely what you want is frustrating. This may lead your critical thinking down the drain and you may end up using what you found even though you now it is not always the best. It is like using a source just to use a source.
  2.  There may not be enough research on what you want to argue because researchers focus on other things or because what you are writing about is fairly new or so on. In this case, you cannot support your views with a source, making your argument weaker than you want.
True story: Today, I wanted to write about some of the challenges NNS EAP students have when giving oral presentations and could not find sources mentioning anything about body language or intonation patterns. In fact, I could not support half of the things, I know as a teacher, are challenging for international students who have to give a presentation.
I often tell my learners that if there is not research out there that must mean something. But what does it mean in my case? Are these not implications or is it that someone has not written about them?
  • Your first draft should not be your first draft
Or should I say, "always redraft before you give me your first draft." Often when I teach EAP, I ask to see a student's first draft. I always tell my students, "Please make sure that you have read, re-read everything before you give me your first draft. The better your first draft is, the better feedback I will give you".
What I really think: Spot on! My first draft was rubbish. I redrafted so many times before handing in my so called first draft. 
  • Plan
I always tell my students, ''it is important to plan, make notes of what you will include in each section. This helps the flow of your ideas. It makes your writing more coherent and concise". Yes, it is time consuming and requires a lot of thought and coining of ideas BUT the end product is much better than just sitting on your chair and writing.
What I really think: Planning does require time and when you have been reading, reading, reading, the time constraints are really tight, it is much easier to start writing cause in your mind, you think you have your essay all mapped out. Unfortunately, the time you saved planning, is spent on redrafting, so I am adamant about the planning stage. It should be as meticulous as possible actually.
  • Word count
I tell my learners, ''there is always a word count and you need to stick to it. It is important to be able to say what you want to say with fewer words and that is why you need to write and rewrite. Paraphrase and summarise.''
What I really think: Being able to summarise, paraphrase and be in the word limit requires a lot of training. It is not easy. Word count is something I always struggle with, I like to ramble and I am a chatter box (my blog is called myeltrambles for a reason). If I struggle, what do I think my students do? I need to see how I stick to the word count, and try to transfer the strategies I employ to my learners.
  • Citing/Referencing correctly from the beginning
As the reference system I teach is the Harvard referencing system, one of the first things I show my learners is how to cite and compile a reference list. I do this during the first lessons. I do not just teach them how to paraphrase but I also focus on citations. I tell my learners, "if you leave the referencing and citations for the end, then it will be very time consuming (and boring). To make matters worse, you may even plagiarise and forget to cite a source (the word plagiarism always alerts them).Knowing when to use italics or '  should be something you do correctly from your first draft."
What I really think: Get it over and done with. As a writer of an academic text, you need to find out what the referencing system is and use it from the first line. Also start making the reference list when you first use the source in your paper. it saves you the turmoil of compiling a reference list at the end ( I do not like that. It takes so much time!).
  • Tutorials/ Ask questions about your writing
First drafts are often followed up by tutorials. Students get a chance to ask questions about their first draft based on the worries / questions they have or their tutor's comments. I always tell my students to write these questions down, have a plan and ask, ask, ask. Some do. Others don't.
What I really think: Asking questions is necessary. Yes, I think I do know what I am writing about but I still need help. There are things I am already on the fence about, which is why I already have 5 questions about some of the things I wrote in my Delta assignment. I have already asked them. I actually sent a first draft with some questions.

Quoting my friend Vedrana, " being in your learners' shoes is a great way to see if you are focusing on the right things as a teacher!"

Word count: unknown : )

*Today is world Teachers' day and this is the day I wrote about what it feels like to do what you teach.Going from a teacher to a learner. If you ask me, a good teacher needs to know what it feels like to be a learner.......

Till next time.....