Tag: Business English

Jigsaw caselet | A QR code activity

qr-code

My learners often get bored with traditional text-based case studies. Presenting it as a jigsaw task explored using QR codes is one way of making it more engaging.


Objectives

  • Transform staid case studies into active, jigsaw tasks

Materials

  • Printed QR codes which you can stick around your classroom using Blu-tac or similar
  • Focus questions
  • Learners will need to have downloaded a QR code reader on their smartphones

Prep

  • Select a case study that you can condense into a caselet narrated preferably from different perspectives. For example, if the caselet involves a manager and her team member, chunk it so you have 4 bits of information from the manager’s side and four from her team members. Eight is a good number in terms of chunks for this exercise.
  • Copy-paste each chunk into a QR generator (I like using QRstuff). Select plain text from the panel on the left and paste the text into field. Download the QR code that’s generated.
  • Print the QR codes. I prefer to use coloured paper so they’re easier for learners to find.
  • Prepare some focus questions that learners will answer incrementally at they uncover the text in the QR codes.
  • Stick the QR codes randomly around the classroom.

Procedure

  • Signpost your focus questions and tell learners that the answers are hidden within the QR codes posted around the room.
  • Learners work in pairs to scan the QR codes and analyse bits of the caselet.
  • They need to answer a question after scanning and reading an odd number of QR codes (for example after the first QR code, the third one, the fifth one, and the seventh one). Make sure they write their answers down.

Debrief

  • Ask learners to share their reaction to the caselet. How did their perception of the issue change as they uncovered the perspectives of the people involved and got a fuller picture?
  • How do the different ‘agents’ feel?
  • How might this relate to their own work?
  • Get learners to discuss other context-specific questions based on the caselet.

Example

The caselet I’ve used is adapted from Bob Dignen’s session on Leading International Projects at the recent BESIG Annual Conference in Munich.

Focus questions

  • After scanning one QR code: What do you think is happening?
  • After scanning three QR codes: Who is at fault? Why?
  • After scanning five QR codes: What should be done to resolve the issue?
  • After scanning seven QR codes: How could this situation have been avoided?

Image attribution: QR_Code_in_HandCropped by @GwynethJones -The Daring Librarian!  | Flickr | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Facilitating the development of a credible business-like persona | Conference talk summary

sylvie-donna

This was one of the simulcast talks from day one of the IATEFL BESIG 2016 annual conference in Munich. The speaker, Sylvie Donna, happened to headline my Delta Module 3 submission and why ever not – she’s so eminently quotable with respect to all things BE.

Her session yesterday was really rich and full of recommendations that some might frown at or find controversial. Donna argued that just as different business people have different business personas, we ought to help our learners develop an appropriate English-speaking personality. She asserted that our personalities differ when we shift between languages, providing her own example of how she exhibits varying behaviours and personality attributes in Japanese, English, German and French.

I know it seems a bit wacky but to her credit, she did support what she was saying with research. She suggested that there are prosodic differences between speakers (intonation, stress, rhythm, tone of voice, use of silence) and word choice; and that perhaps learners of English haven’t thought through how the use of these attributes in English may lead them to be perceived. Donna correlated this with what Silvana Richardson spoke about when she said that the goal was no longer near-native competence but pluralingual identity.

Some of the examples she presented of high competency learners being unaware of their persona in English included a Japanese student who spoke too directly only using simple forms such as imperatives; a German student who used ‘like’ far too frequently; and a Korean student who reckoned he’d developed an American persona but was actually completely unintelligible.

I think what Donna is proposing isn’t that learners ought to change their personality when using English. In fact, she presented research that she was horrified about where Chinese learners seemed to think that acquiring English required them to acquire a new culture and personality. She’s suggesting that learners may subconsciously project a very different persona in English as opposed to L1 and they may unaware of the unintended consequences of this persona.

In terms of how this could happen, Donna recommends a focus on the length of utterances, the use of lexis (level of formality, choice of words associated with specific socio-cultural groups) and features such as comment clauses, interjections and tag questions.

She also shared some awareness raising activities:

Activity 1: Visualisation

Visualise three people:

  1. one you think is similar to you
  2. one who is different in a good way
  3. one who is very different in a bad way

How does each person speak?

Follow up: Find an audio or video clip of each person

Activity 2: Word-association

Think of a situation for each phrase. Role play mini-dialogue for some or all the phrases:

  • perennial problem
  • absolutely wicked
  • you ain’t seen nothing yet
  • considering this from another point of view
  • I need to know
  • Would you consider

How does your accent or intonation change each time? What about other prosodic features (volume, pitch, speed of delivery)

Activity 3: Draw some pictures

  • the person you were when you were 13
  • the person you were at 21
  • the person you are now

Add some words and ideas in a mindmap of how you used to speak at these ages

Activity 4: Linguistic analysis

Record clips from a few soap operas/comedy series/films

Identify some of the key linguistic features. Look for:

  • prosodic features
  • body language
  • level of formality of the words
  • standard or non-standard forms used (slang, dialect?)
  • use of comment clauses (you know) or fillers (er, like)
  • sentence length

Activity 5: Sorry wasn’t paying attention for this one

Activity 6: Mindmap in L1

Draw a mindmap/diagram representing yourself.

  • Is there anything you would feel embarrassed to say?
  • Is there any language you would definitely not use?
  • How do you feel about swearing?
  • How do you feel about using slang or very colloquial language?
  • How do you feel about using language associated with a particular region or variety of English (not dialect)?
  • What impression do you want to make when you speak?

Activity 7: Vocabulary notebook

  • How do business associates you admire speak? (Record specific instances of remembered or observed speech)
  • How do they ‘do’ small talk?
  • How do they negotiate? Which specific phrases do they use?
  • How do they write emails? Keep some examples in a folder.
  • Review the notebook before meeting anyone or emailing.
  • Add to the notebook on an ongoing basis.

While I don’t think this concept is completely there yet, Donna is definitely on to something. Several years ago, I was asked to work with an Indian manager whose boss felt he was not very effective when presenting to and speaking with senior stakeholders from the US. Having worked with him over a few months, I knew the issue wasn’t language. It was something else that I couldn’t articulate at the time. I often found myself focusing on prosodic features while coaching him although in my mind I was thinking that this might have been snake oil because what he needed was to be perceived as more dynamic and engaging. I have experienced similar situations with others as well. I have also recommended activity 7 to my learners although I’m not sure how many of them have ever followed through on it.

Lots of food for thought in this talk. If you’re unfamiliar with Sylvie Donna, you might want to look up her seminal book on Business English.

 

English as Business Gobbledygook (EBG) | A comic strip activity

business jargon gobbledygook.jpg

If had a dollar for every time my business participants said “deep dive”, I’d probably be able to retire from teaching and open up a boutique selling bromeliads in the Andamans. This activity is inspired by a Fast Company article with the finger-wagging title, You’re using business jargon to avoid solving problems – here’s how to stop. In the article, the author articulates the following message:

Jargon … usually prevents you from seeing problems clearly, let alone deconstructing them.

 


Objective 

  • Develop an awareness of the overuse of corporate buzzwords and their potential impact.

Materials 

  • You’ll need printouts of the comic strip below. Eco-friendly options including projecting it so that the whole class reads it on the screen or sending it as a JPEG over Whatsapp or Snapchat so participants read it on their own devices or hosting it online and sharing a link.

Procedure 

  • Ask the participants if they know what buzzwords are. Give the participants an example of a buzzword you tend to use very often at work. For example, I sometimes catch myself using ‘leverage’ as a verb (quite a controversial usage).
  • Get participants to work in pairs and create a word cloud of business buzzwords they use frequently.
  • Introduce the comic strip. Use any prediction exercise to help participants to anticipate content such as “Here’s a comic strip about a gang of four super heroes – what do you think they are discussing?” OR “Here’s a comic strip where four people are discussing their brand – what kind of people are they?” OR more contextually “Which of the buzzwords from your word cloud might appear in this comic strip?”
  • Participants read the comic strip and validate predictions.
  • Ask them to review it again, underlining any buzzwords. Pair share.
  • Ask participants to identify the superhero who uses a lot of buzz words. Elicit that it’s the woman with the goggles on her head.
  • Get participants to discuss why she might be using so many buzz words and what the impact is on other people and the discussion.

Debrief

  • Ask participants to read and discuss this quote from the Fast Company article. Do they agree with the statement?  When do they use buzzwords most often?

We tend to fall back on corporate buzzwords when we feel a need to demonstrate we’re in control. Of course, we do that most often when we don’t feel in control, and jargon ends up communicating the opposite: ironically enough, its hallmark is the lack of resolution that vocabulary conveys, not its clarity.

Ted Leonhardt

Action planning 

  • Have participants discuss their responses to the following questions:
    • When might it be okay to use buzzwords in your business conversations?
    • Would you like to cut down on or eliminate the use of any buzzwords? Which ones and why?

Variation 

  • You could run a similar exercise for a group of teachers using ELT jargon and learning buzzwords.

References

The comic strip was created using Comic Master

This is crap | An intercultural competence activity

This activity is based on an article by Erin Meyer titled How to say “this is crap” in different cultures. Meyer recycles some material from an old Internet meme about British-Dutch cultural differences. Nevertheless, it demonstrates differences in how people convey feedback linguistically quite well.

intercultural feedback

Image attribution: Meeting by Howard Jefferson | Flickr | CC BY-NC 2.0

Objective 

Raise awareness of the cultural gap caused by direct vs. indirect approaches to giving feedback  and allow learners an opportunity to discuss ways of mitigating risks arising from these differences

Materials

Make copies of and cut up the table titled ‘Anglo-Dutch Translation Guide’ in this article. You don’t need to use the entire table as participants might take too long to unjumble it. Select four rows that your learners might find interesting.

Procedure

  • Board the phrase “this is absolute crap” and ask participants if they would ever use this phrase while giving feedback to a colleague about some work they’ve done. Ask them to discuss the reasons for their response with a partner.
  • As you take whole class feedback, you’ll find some participants articulating a softer response such as “this is sort of what I was looking for”. Board these.
  • Derive that some cultures are more explicit or direct in communicating feedback.
    • Upgraders: These direct cultures tend to use upgraders such as absolutely, strongly, or totally before negative feedback to strengthen it such as “This is absolutely inappropriate”. In these cultures, “this is absolute crap” may be perceived as acceptable.
  • Point out that other cultures are more implicit or indirect as perhaps with the utterances shared by the participants for softening the message.
    • Downgraders: These indirect cultures tend to use downgraders such as kind of, sort of, a little, a bit, maybe and slightly to soften the blow. They might also use a type of downgrader called an understatement such as “We are not quite there yet”.
  • Ask participants to categorize some national cultures based on whether they are relatively direct or indirect (bear in mind that indirect cultures like India often perceive themselves as more or less direct).
  • Board participants’ suggestions and circle the UK & the Netherlands.
  • Signpost the cutouts and state that the cutouts belong under three headers: What the British say, What the British mean, and What the Dutch understand. Ask participants to work in groups to put them in the right categories.
  • Get participants to identify the gap between what is being said/meant and what is understood and the problems this might create.

Action planning

  • Ask participants to think about the kind of culture they come from – indirect/direct – and consider their own personal orientation to giving feedback. Do they use upgraders or downgraders?
  • Have them imagine a situation where they are working with someone who has a different preference to feedback than them, what could they do to ensure that they are not misunderstood or don’t end up damaging the business relationship.

Reference: Meyer, E., How To Say “This Is Crap” In Different Cultures in the Harvard Business Review, Feb 2014.

Repeat again | An evidence-based matrix activity

A matrix activity or game is an instructional strategy for getting learners to categorize, come up with solutions, or discuss points presented within a grid. This particular activity is based on research presented in the ‘Defend your research’ section of the Harvard Business Review.

communication.png

Image attribution: Phone by HanZhan | Flickr | CC BY-NC 2.0


Objective 

Redundancies (such as the one in this activity’s name) are seen as a sign of a poor communicator but a study in this area reveals that there may be a strategic purpose behind repeating yourself. The activity challenges learners to question popular perceptions about redundant communication and reflect on how they assign tasks to their team members.

Pre-work 

It might be a good idea for the T to read this HBR article – Defend Your Research: Effective Managers Say the Same Thing Twice (or More)

Materials 

You’ll need copies of the activity handout for each participant.

Procedure

  • Lead in to the activity by asking participants to discuss in pairs how they go about assigning a task to a team member. You may want to give them an example such as “You need your team member to create a report for you” – how will you go about assigning this task?

Part A

  • Distribute the activity handout and ask participants to read the two caselets individually and fill the communication matrix. You may need to signpost the example and demonstrate that they need to do two things. First, put ticks and crosses based on which modes of communication they’d use in that situation. Second, rank their ticks based on what they’d do first, second, third, etc. Point out that they don’t need to necessarily have more than one tick.

Part B

  • Ask participants compare their matrices in pairs and discuss the rationale behind the modes they’ve selected.

Part C

  • Ask participants to now read the summary of the research provided in the handout. They should compare their own ideas to the findings of the study.

Part D 

  • Get participants to discuss some reflection questions on whether they agree with the study and why managers might be increasingly using redundant communication.

Action planning

You may want to conclude the exercise by getting participants to do some action planning. In light of this research, are there any changes they would want to make to their approach to assigning work?

Reference: Neely, T. & Leonardi, P.M., Defend your Research: Effective Managers Say the Same Thing Twice (or More) in the Harvard Business Review, May 2011.

Using project management principles in the classroom | IATEFL webinar summary + reflections

The reason I’m singling out this webinar out of the eight or nine events that comprised the IATEFL online conference which took place last weekend is its title. Using project management principles in the classroom (with the subtext – bring out the team player in your learners) was certainly full of promise for someone like me who frequently works with organisations where everything happens through the all-encompassing framework of the project.

project management

The speaker, Nathan Arthur, described the gaps between university and work which EAP does not bridge. He suggested that project management principles could help resolve this through a “subtle paradigm shift”:

  • In the physical layout of the classroom to make it look more like a conference room
  • By using real plays (where Ss presumably play themselves or present their own views) instead of role plays
  • EPM (English for Project Management) in lieu of ESP & EAP.

He also discussed how current EAP objectives could be extended to make them address EPM needs:

Develop academic skills >>> Develop professional skills

Develop critical thinking >>> Develop team thinking skills

Guide Ss through realistic situations for university >>> Ss manage themselves through realistic situations for the workplace

Focus on the core skills for academic study >>> Focus on the core skills needed for workplace teamwork

Nathan went on to describe how Ts can run projects using the framework of a project cycle (Initiation, planning & design, executing, monitoring & controlling, closing) and offered an example of a task he’d conducted which involved revamping the university newspaper.  He imposed some constraints on the Ss in terms of cost, scope and schedule and expected them to work with a team of 10 to produce the first run of the newspaper in 3 weeks. He also assigned a project manager. There are some tasks associated with each of the project cycle stages (e.g., brainstorming during planning). Nathan explained that he didn’t correct them or provide language input during the activity (by which I assume he means over the course of the 3 weeks) but waited till the end to provide guidance on words such as milestones, green light or sign off. He also added that he observed some cultural issues (Chinese deference to hierarchy & French uncertainty avoidance) but it wasn’t entirely clear how he dealt with these.

He then mentioned four roles based on his observation of student participation in projects: dominator, shrinker, shirker and joker. He suggested that these transformed into four leadership types, dominator, supporter, delegator and coach (drawn from The Mindful International Manager, Comfort & Franklin, 2011). This mapping seemed quite arbitrary to me – for instance, why would it be natural for the humorous student to take on the role of the coach?

Nathan also coaches students on debating; he had an interesting idea around getting Ss to debate for and against two types of chocolate bars (Mars vs. Bounty). He also spoke about bringing team building activities into the classroom to bring out language and teamwork (spaghetti & lolly pop towers etc.) and made a brief mention of Kapla blocks for similar tower building activities.

Finally, he presented a list of ideas he hadn’t tried out yet but could be used for classroom projects:

  • Create your own start-up
  • Build an app
  • Publish a book of poems/short stories
  • Write an exam/syllabus and have Ss teach the first class
  • Go on field trips to film festivals and write film reviews

During the course of the webinar, there was an ongoing discussion in the chat box about whether the approach being discussed was really just a form or combination of TBL and PBL. One attendee in a way concluded this discussion when she stated “It is TBL, but I think the point is that EAP is sometimes too far removed from the actual target after conclusion of the uni course.” I agree that EAP is divorced from the real language needs that Ss face when they join the workforce but I also feel that Nathan’s suggestions, while undoubtedly interesting and potentially useful, don’t go far enough to bridge that chasm.

Several years ago at a BESIG event, Evan Frendo spoke about mirroring contemporary project practices in the tasks we design such as adopting the framework of agile methodology (popular in IT) and setting up scrum calls because these would better prepare Ss (whether they are already working or about to start work) for the actual challenges they face on the job. A key difference between agile and waterfall (its traditional project management predecessor) is the degree to which it is iterative and relatively egalitarian. Agile promotes a sense of ownership and a spirit of speaking up and sharing. These are invaluable skills for the modern workplace and if we can help shape the language that Ss use while enacting these business skills, they can potentially be more confident, fluent and accurate when it comes to the real thing.

To equip Ss to be successful team players in projects at work, we need to provide language input and feedback within the context of projects that attempt to replicate work patterns in the industries they are headed towards (not just generic college projects) where the T takes on the dual role of project delivery head and language coach.

Image attribution: Project Success by ken fager | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Personalised learning programmes | A BESIG workshop summary in 3 activities

Last weekend’s BESIG workshop, facilitated by David Petrie, was titled Personalised learning programmes – a pick and choose approach. David touched on issues such as personalised learning, differentiated instruction and teaching the student instead of the lesson. Towards the end of the webinar, he shared three activities for using students as resources and offering personalised learning:

1. Office modals 

Ask Ss to make three lists:

  • Things my boss makes me do
  • Things I think it’s important to do
  • Things it would be a good idea to do around here.

Personalised learning

Ss explore the items in these lists by reframing them using some suggested modals.

2. Office gossip

Ask Ss to work in pairs to share some hopefully innocuous gossip. Then put Ss into new pairs and have them share the gossip they heard using reported speech.

3. The meatloaf game 

Ask Ss to write down ten things that are a part of their job role that they like doing and ten things that they hate. They should write each item on separate piece of paper. I think ten’s a bit much for even a medium sized class – five might be more manageable. 

Have Ss crumple the chits and play snowball fight with each other. Call time after a minute and have them collect chits so they are all equally distributed. Ss spend a couple of minutes reading through the chits – there’ll probably be some items that they dislike doing. They should negotiate with other Ss to trade job responsibilities so they have a list of things that they more or less like doing.

Techtip: Appgesyer 

David, like many of us, uses Google Forms to collect data during the needs analysis phase. He suggests distributing the form through a web app so it can be accessed easily on mobiles using a tool called Appgeyser which reformulates your web-content for the mobile device (Here’s an example he’s created). I’m not sure I see the point of doing this. Google Forms accessed via a normal mobile browser seems to display content fairly well and it makes sense to pin a web-app to the user’s mobile screen only if you want her to repeatedly access the link. David uses QR codes to share the Appgeyser URL (but you could do this with a normal URL as well) and Appgeyser offers a short URL. I see two issues with this: QR codes cause more problems than they solve especially when Ss are expected to use their own devices (and they’ve really not taken off in India); and the Appgeyser short URL is really not very short and would benefit from additional shortening using Goo.gl.  Appgeyser is worth exploring but I think there are far simpler and more efficient ways of distributing surveys created in Google Forms.

References