Teaching Business English with Snapchat | Webinar summary

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I use a fairly wide range of social media tools but Snapchat isn’t among them (I just don’t get it) so I was intrigued by Shelly Terrell’s recent webinar on teaching Business English with Snapchat. There’s something wrong with the audio in the middle bit of the recording so I sort had to decipher it using the slides and an accompanying article.

The crux of Shelly’s case for using Snapchat with learners is that it’s very popular and the number four app download (According to Forbes, it has 160 million users and reaches a plurality of users in the 18-24 segment in the US) and the fact it has lots of features that allow users to focus on the four skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking in a communicative way.

Snapchat features: adding friends, subscribing, photo chat, lenses, filters, stickers, draw, video chat, group chat, stories, snap map, custom stories, discover, our story

You can see where she’s going with this, but what about Business English? Shelly suggests that because Snapchat is international, learners can follow global events and look at snaps from people in a particular area and get insights. The example she shares involves studying non-verbal communication to get to know business stakeholders in Japan more effectively by exploring examples through people’s snaps.

She also believes that Snapchat promotes reading in segments with popular media channels like the Wired, Newsweek and Washington Post which apparently have interactive multimedia articles. Because of Snapchat’s format, media outlets are compelled to use small chunks of text with interactive images and video.

Some of the other benefits she cites include:

Learn from entrepreneurs

Study business culture in real time

Inside scoop on news and trends

Byte-sized authentic English

Understand the role personal branding

Connect with companies

Shelly references this article to suggest that following (some really obscure) business gurus on Snapchat might be a good idea but even the article introduces the topic by suggesting that well known business leaders like Elon Musk are unlikely to be on Snapchat. Some of the other things she suggests include how workplaces might be different, watching global conferences that business professionals you’ve followed may be sharing and exploring how organisations brand themselves on Snapchat. Shelly also touched on how HR Recruiters are using Snapchat to recruit potential employees – of course this is true for social media in general and not just Snapchat.

I tried to give Snapchat a go and attempted to follow some of the business-oriented media outlets such The Economist and WSJ that Shelly lists in her article.  I tried searching for these on Snapchat (which has an awful search function) but I couldn’t find most of them. So I tried looking for them in Google and adding them from there but this is the message I got:

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When I accessed the Discover feature within Snapchat, I got an extremely limited selection of generally tabloid-type media outlets to follow:

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I tried looking for Harvard Business Review, Strategy+Business, Deloitte, Bersin, Boston Consulting Group and Mckinsey but none of them seem to be on Snapchat. I did find a handle for Deloitte Singapore but it doesn’t look like it’s active.

I’m not convinced that Snapchat can be used to teach Business English or if it can, it’s still early days because there isn’t enough business content available on it yet. I see Shelly’s point about the immediacy of Snapchat content but it’s too random and unpredictable – it’s not like following a thought leader on Linkedin or a hashtag on Twitter. However, I think some of the Snapchat activities Shelly shares might be fun and effective in a General English course.

  • The T sets up a class account and gets students to add stories to it.
  • Students keep a vocabulary journal – Shelly’s idea is that they’d save snaps with Business English phrases but I think the probability of coming across those sorts of snaps is quite low. It might work for lexical items in general though. I’d adapt this idea to have students use vocabulary they’ve learnt in class by creating a snap that demonstrates real life use.
  • Annotation: Students can annotate a snap such as an article from CNN with text, emoticons, media etc. This might be an interesting way for them to process and/or respond to a news item. However, Shelly’s example with CNN wouldn’t work for me because like almost everything else in the Discover feature, it’s not available in my region.

From a first mover perspective, there are some interesting ideas in this webinar but I’m not sure how practical they are at the present moment. There are other apps such as Instagram which have similar features and have a stronger presence from the business community.

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Upcoming webinars for ELT educators | Oct-Dec 2017

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Webinars to keep you occupied for the last three months of the year. Lots of interesting ones from IATEFL. An asterisk (*) means you’ll have to register. Do let me know if I’ve missed any.

Technology

Pronunciation 

Grammar

Research

Skills

Creativity

Business English & ESP

Other

Upcoming webinars for ELT educators | Aug– Sep 2017

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Here are some webinars to keep you occupied over the next couple of months. I’ll keep updating the list as and when I find new links. An * indicates that you’ll need to register.

Technology 

Pronunciation

Materials writing

Miscellaneous

Image attribution: Bryant Park, late Apr 2009 – 21 by Ed Yourdon | Flickr | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The language of pep talks | An evidence-based activity

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I’m often asked by my clients to help their managers ‘motivate’ their teams more effectively. I usually excuse myself from supporting this request by suggesting that it’s out of my scope so I was naturally intrigued by this HBR article on some recent research on the language of motivation, perhaps bringing it into the ambit of ELT. Here’s a quick activity I came up with to help learners explore this research.

Materials & preparation 

  • It may be a good idea for the T to read the article, The Science of Pep Talks.
  • You’ll need to copy and cut up the jumbled functions.
  • You’ll also need copies of the speech from the article.

Procedure 

    • Pre-teach pep talk if necessary (you could also use an excerpt from an American movie – YouTube has loads – unfortunately, I couldn’t find any without inappropriate language).
    • Draw some speech bubbles on the board and ask learners to think back to the last pep talk they received from a manager or leader at work. What sorts of things did this person say? Do they give pep talks to their team members? What do they include in these messages?
    • Introduce learners to the three elements of pep talks: direction giving or uncertainty-reducing language, empathetic language and meaning-making language which Milton and Jacqueline Mayfield discovered were shared across motivating messages from different domains such as sports and sales.
    • Distribute the jumbled functions and ask learners to put them in these three categories.
  • Get learners to work in pairs or groups to come up with expressions for these functions which make sense to them within the context of their jobs.
  • Ask learners to discuss which of the three would be most difficult to incorporate into a motivating message  (The research suggests it’s meaning-making, for example, imagine how challenging this might be for a fast-food outlet manager trying to motivate his part-time employees to perform better).
  • Signpost the following speech and explain that it was spoken by Erica Galos Alioto, a sales leader at the popular social media company, Yelp. Sections of this speech have a number after them – ask learners to review these sections and decide which of the four techniques Alioto uses to motivate her team.

Let me just say how impressed I am with this group … Thank you for being the top office in Yelp right now, and for welcoming me with such incredible energy.

Right now the New York office is leading the company with 104% of quota, and there are two days left in the month. That’s absolutely insane.… Colleen is at $80,000. I tried to say hello to her yesterday, but she was on the phone, pitching like a madwoman, so I couldn’t ….1

Everybody knows how amazing the last day of the month is in the New York office. But LDOM isn’t really about the day of the month. It’s about how we approach that day. There’s something about that particular day that makes us come in with the ridiculous amount of grit and determination, the ability to make the unthinkable happen,2 the energy to achieve just about anything so that no matter where we are in relation to quota, we’re going to win. All those people who’ve been telling us no all month long—we’re going to turn that around and get a yes….3

Hopefully everybody has a pen and paper. I want you all to take a moment and write down what success looks like for you today. It may be how many business owners you talked to, or how many hearts and minds you won.… Write it down.4

When you woke up this morning, what was your mentality? Sometimes we get into negative self-talk. Sometimes it may sound like this: “Why is Jon at target today? He must have a really great territory.” Sometimes we believe if somebody is achieving something that we’re not, it must be because the other person has some advantage.5

Guess what? We also have plenty of examples of what people think of as a bad territory, and we put somebody new on it, and they go out and absolutely crush it.

If there’s anything negative in your thinking, I encourage you to turn that thinking on its head. Instead of looking at the differences between you and somebody else with a lot of success, look for similarities.6

We’ve got two days to make it happen. Everything you do today, every action you take to make that successful outcome, every time you pitch, every business owner you talk to, every time you encourage a teammate to be better, every time you win the heart and mind of a business owner, you’re not only helping yourself—you’re helping your team, you’re helping your office, you’re helping your company, and you’re helping Yelp get where it wants to be.7

Source: McGinn, D. The Science of Pep Talks. HBR Jul-Aug 2017

Here’s the answer key:

1: Empathetic language – Praising the group and individual contributions 
2: Meaning-making language – Portraying LDOM as a significant event and connecting the reps’ actions to a larger goal 
3: Empathetic language – Acknowledging that some people are lagging, but emphasizing their self-efficacy and resilience 
4: Direction giving or uncertainty reducing language – Offering specific guidance on how to approach the day’s task 
5: Empathetic language – Recognizing employees’ tendency to get discouraged, rather than be emboldened, by colleagues’ success 
6: Direction giving or uncertainty reducing language – Instructing reps to avoid negativity 
7: Meaning-making language – Connecting today’s work to the company’s larger goal.

  • Ask learners to reflect on their own leaders’ pep talks; do they have these three elements? What about their own pep talks?
  • Learners then work in groups to create notes on a pep talk for their team members which incorporates these three techniques. Ask them to use Alioto’s speech as a guide but create something more concise, which they can then pitch to their peers.
  • You may want to combine this with a session that explores techniques for using the voice effectively.

Image attribution: Pep talk by Kenneth Moore | Flickr |CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Using The Economist’s covers to teach idiomatic language

Business English activity

The Economist, that venerable magazine that so many of my learners swear by and in all probability have never read. The Economist tends to have really creative covers with interesting allusions and clever word play. Here’s an activity that’s perfect for business contexts that exploits these covers to explore idiomatic language, practise speaking, and doesn’t require learners to dive into those sometimes dense articles.


Materials

You’ll need covers from the Economist and you can get them for current and previous issues from this site.  You could then either display it on a slide or print it out or as I prefer, take the print copies of the magazine in (but of course you’ll need a subscription for that).

Preparation 

You’ll find a variety of of interesting language features on the covers including idioms, allusions, word play, metaphors, and tongue in cheek subverting of all of these.  Choose ones that are appropriate for your learners. For some of the writing courses I teach on business thought leadership, I focus on covers that use allusions and metaphors. But the ones in this post are for exploring idiomatic language.

Procedure

  • Get learners into small groups and distribute the covers to them.
  • There are several ways of doing this. You could give each group all the covers you’ve selected or have each group look at the same cover and discuss it before moving on to the next one or you could do it like a jigsaw task and assign a different cover to each group. You could also assign the covers using slides without physically distributing any printouts.

The activity has four steps:

  • Step 1: Ask groups to guess the idiom being referenced by the cover image and text and what it might mean.
  • Step 2: Give groups the idiomatic language but with gaps such as “Paper ______” and then get learners to match the idiom to the cover.
  • Step 3: Ask learners to use the frame “The Economist claim(s) that _______________ + [idiomatic expression] because …” and complete it with what they think the Economist might be saying. For example, “The Economist claim(s) that India under Prime Minister Modi is a paper tiger because …”
  • Step 4: Ask groups to discuss what they  know about the subject and if they know enough about it, whether they agree or disagree with The Economist’s perspective.

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Key

  1. Paper tiger: something that seems very strong and threatening but is actually weak and ineffectual.
  2. To walk on water: to perform superhuman feats (this one’s also a Biblical allusion).
  3. To dig yourself into a hole: to get yourself into a difficult situation.
  4. Keep your fingers crossed: hope that things will go well or the way you want them to.
  5. A long and winding road: a complicated and difficult future path (strictly speaking, this might be a fixed expression but still useful for learners)
  6. This could either be “to go the way of the dinosaur” (not a frequently heard idiom) or “to be a dinosaur” in the sense of “your phone is a bit of dinosaur” but both refer to something that’s become outdated or past its prime.

The monsoon | A cultural dictionary of Indian English

Late last year, David Crystal spoke about his priority for the next 50 years – the creation of an online cultural dictionary. He clarified that culture here refers to everything that makes a community unique. He went to discuss the role of a second language within this cultural community.

When a country adopts a language as a local alternative means of communication, it immediately starts adapting it to meet the communicative needs of the region. Words for plants and animals, food and drink, customs and practices, politics, sports and games … accumulate a local word stock that’s unknown outside the country and it environs.

David Crystal

I’ve been contemplating writing a series of posts about Indian English for some time now.  In 2016, I did some audits at a BPO to evaluate the quality of their trainers and their training. I was dismayed at how many of them, usually inadvertently and definitely not maliciously, propagated a belief to their employees that Indian English was an erroneous half-breed that they ought to expunge from their speech.  It’s curious to note that this variety of English spoken by around 125 million Indians (although that’s a drop in the ocean of Indian languages) was consistently minimised by these trainers using the dismissive expression ‘Indianism’.

Sadly, they’re not alone. Many Indians have a poor sense of ownership for a language they’ve been subverting and making their own for over three centuries. English has a long and rich history in India. In fact, the first Indian to write in English, Sheikh Din Muhammed, published his book The Travels of Dean Mahomet in 1793.

It also doesn’t help the Internet is brimming with articles that are either whingeing about how terribly incomprehensible Indian English is or full of inaccuracies like this article by an English teacher who allegedly specialises in phonology (check the undercurrent of irritation in my otherwise polite comment and the inane responses I received).

Indian English is whimsical, plurilingual, dynamic, utilitarian, allusive, idiomatic, and wears its motley history like a badge and I hope to capture some of it in my attempt at a cultural dictionary.


Monsoon Indian English

It’s been a week since the monsoon reached the west coast of India, a natural phenomenon that has literally shaped South Asia and its cultures.  But oddly, for a rain-bearing wind that is so pivotal to life in India, the monsoon has an Arabic name. It came to us from the Arabic word for season ‘mawsim’ via Portuguese. In fact, Hindi speakers (influenced by Urdu) prefer to use ‘mausam’ to describe both seasons and more generally the weather than words perceived as native in chaste Hindi. However, mausam, unlike monsoon, doesn’t describe rain.

The word is overwhelmingly  used in the singular and usually (and surprisingly for a community of English speakers known for their uneasy relationship with articles) with the definite article, i.e., the monsoon. Occasionally, it’s used in its plural form like in this ad – Inspired by the monsoons. But I suspect people are actually thinking of the phrase ‘the rains‘ (which is commonly used to refer to the monsoon) when they talk about the monsoons.

Strictly speaking the monsoon isn’t a season although the phrases monsoon season and rainy season are ubiquitous. India has two monsoons: the summer or south-west monsoon and the winter or north-east monsoon. Much of the rain falls during the south-west monsoon which has two arms: the Bay of Bengal arm and the Arabian Sea arm. 

The onset and progress of the monsoon across the subcontinent is associated with some specific lexis. The monsoon is generally described as arriving in an area. This same news report talks about the monsoon entering and setting in the region. The arrival of the monsoon is usually heralded by pre-monsoon showers.  These are often to referred to as mango showers (a direct translation from the Hindi आमृ वर्षा or aam varsh) because they apparently help in the ripening of mangoes.  The other herald is a bird, the koel whose timely and evocative cries just before the rains made it a favourite of ancient Indian poets (it continues to be favored by contemporary Indian English poets; read this selection of five poems about the rains and this insightful piece on the connection between the two). 

The monsoon can also a hit a region but Google tells me that it has a preference for hitting Kerala, where it first makes landfall. The early days of a monsoon season can be predictive about its performance as we are told in this article about a timely onset which leads the monsoon to make rapid progress as well as progress rapidly, all in the same paragraph. Maps that describe the (gradual) onset of the monsoon are very common in newspapers in June and July of each year.  The monsoon might make a steady advance but it could also race up the west coast which might cause it to push past cities as the leading edge of the monsoon surges over regions.

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A lot of the language associated with the monsoon is evaluative; experts and commoners alike comment on its strength. It’s very common in India to hear people talk about getting good rains or a good amount of rainfall, a situation that’s sometimes described as a normal or a near-normal monsoon. I’ve always been perplexed though by the phrase above-normal monsoon which describes a successful rather than an excessive monsoon, where ideally the phrase ‘normal monsoon’ ought to suffice.

The monsoon is described as having a schedule and like most things on a schedule, the monsoon can be ahead of schedule and behind schedule.  And before you know it, the monsoon covers half of India and many Indians perhaps visualise this monsoon distribution as an inverted triangle half smothered by clouds; I know I do. In years marked by weak monsoons (interestingly the collocation strong monsoon isn’t very common unless it’s used to describe winds), people bandy about words like deficientbelow-normal, and monsoon deficit. While Indians often find small talk about the weather inane (it’s hot – how long can you really talk about the heat?), monsoon time is an exception. A: How are the rains? B: Rains are good this year yah. A: Good no water problem then nah?. 

When the monsoon first bursts on the west coast and in the hinterland of the east (especially Cherrapunji and Mawsynram in the Khasi-Jaintia hills famed solely for their record rainfalls), people begin to nose around their lofts for their gum boots (handy for keeping good old lepto aka leptospirosis at bay) although some prefer rain shoes or sandals perhaps purchased from Bata who helpfully have a monsoon collection. You can’t, however, do without an umbrella and the very best come from Kerala which is lashed first and hardest by the monsoon. In the south of India, everyone knows of the famous rivalry between two cousins, Davis and Joseph Thayyil, that produced a pair of competing umbrella brands, Popy & Johns. I’m a Johns man myself but I know plenty of folks who swear by Popy.

The rains are described as lashing cities and coasts, a phenomenon that might cause waterlogging and chronic flooding, annual urban inundations which are caused more by nepotism and negligence than nature. When corruption is accompanied by cloudbursts, it often results in a deluge that etches itself into collective memory such as the Mumbai floods of 2005 and Mumbaikars continue to ask each other Where were you on 26th July?” (I was at home due to an accident of timetabling and escaped the worst of it). I’m sure the citizens of Chennai and Uttarakhand have a similar way of referring to the floods that visited them in 2015 and 2013 respectively.

The slum dwellers of the big cities cover their tin roofs in blue tarpaulin, almost Jodhpurlike when viewed from a plane, praying for breaks in the monsoon. There’s a popular North Indian proverb which I’m probably going to mangle in translation but it goes something like this: When the Lord gives, he splits open roofs to provide. With rain, it’s usually a case of too much or too little. Delayed monsoons are addressed through quirky rituals including frog weddings and mud baths.

And when it rains relentlessly for weeks on end for up to four months (often caused by cyclonic circulations or depressions in the Bay of Bengal), it’s understandable that some are prone to the monsoon blues. You could soothe those mood swings with a monsoon raga. But if you’re more adventurous and live along a mountain range such as the Western Ghats, you might go trekking to an old hill fort. Or you could stay  high and dry at home with a cup of garam (hot) chai, pakoras (incidentally, this week’s Mint Lounge weekend supplement has an article titled ‘Cloudy with a chance of pakodas and this article from The Hindu explores the correlation between pakoras and rain) and bhajias (fritters), ducking out to get a blistering hot bhuta (chargrilled corn on the cob with chilli and lime) from the bhutawala on a the corner with his wheeled cart and parasol nicked from an insurance salesman. I don’t recommend eating out during the monsoon and I’m cautious about rambling in the hills. The monsoon is also the season of diseases; dengue, malaria, cholera, typhoid, chikungunya and everyone’s favourite leptospirosis prowl the streets and pepper conversations.

But just as quickly as it enveloped the subcontinent, the monsoon begins its retreat back towards the coast. The retreating monsoon dumps the last of its moisture on a fast drying land whose people store away their rich monsoon lexis until they need it again next year.

What words and phrases do you associate with the monsoon? If you were to write a cultural dictionary about the ‘rainy season’ in your own language, what would be the most interesting or unusual entry?

Image attribution: Onset dates and prevailing wind currents of the southwest summer monsoons in India | Saravask | Wikimedia | CC BY-SA 3.0

500 Grammar based conversation questions | Book review

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Title: 500 Grammar based conversation questions with explanations of grammar points

Authors: Larry Pitts

Publisher: ESL Conversation Questions Publishing

Year of publication: 2015

Companion resources: NA

Source: Print copy bought from Amazon India

What really attracted to this book was the caption “Conversation questions designed to elicit the thirty most common grammar points”. I increasingly find myself in situations where I need to answer the question “how can I elicit this target language?’

500 Grammar based conversation questions is a large book in terms of dimensions but it’s fairly slim both in terms of its page count and contents.  It has lists of questions prefaced by a brief explanation of the target language. In principle, this could still be invaluable to new teachers. However, almost every single question includes the target language.

As … as : Are cats as fun as dogs?

Present perfect: What are some good restaurants you’ve eaten at?

Used to: Who did you use to play with in elementary school?

Will : What will happen to privacy  in the future?

This is consistent throughout the book with the exception of the section on imperatives which has scenarios that would prompt the use of the target language:

Imperatives: What’s a card game from your country? How do I play it?

So I gather that the author’s interpretation of the word ‘elicit’ is different from how I see it. I think by elicit, he means targeted practice and he’s got some commentary at the back about using these questions in the classroom. He’s essentially describing a stage of the lesson where we provide practice with language that’s been taught as opposed to the language presentation stage which is what I had in mind.

From that perspective, this book isn’t all that useful. It contains suggested topics along with the target language in the form of a question. These sorts of conversation prompts are more effective when they are aligned to learner interests and the context of the lesson. In How to Teach Speaking, Thornbury describes criteria for effective speaking tasks and there are two that I reckon are really critical: productivity and purposefulness. I doubt whether prompts like “Where should I go to buy electronics?” will achieve either criterion in the context of advice.

On the other hand, I suppose for new teachers, the questions could be a helpful starting point but I don’t see them dipping into 500 Grammar based conversation questions for too long.