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Language Coaching: The Missing Link in Present-Day English Teaching?

in Professional Development

Language coaching is a relatively new arrival to the wide spectrum of language-related fields. As coaching flexes its muscles in the lifestyle, health, career, business and executive arenas, it’s only logical for the methodology and framework to spread into (English) teaching and education. Gabriella Kovács explains what that implies and why traditional language teaching could indeed do with a spring makeover.

Dethroning language teaching assumptions

As more adults than ever are learning languages, assumptions such as these are being challenged:

  • “Native speakers are better teachers and should be preferred when taking on new staff.”
  • “Language learners must pass CEFR levels or exams to prove their communication skills.”
  • “Workplace language programs should concentrate solely on business English, ESP and corporate skills development.”

In practice, we know these ideas partially help reach expected outcomes, but relying on them is a design for disaster. There have been many signs that “what got you here, won’t get you there” (Marshall Goldsmith).

Are your teaching methods letting you down?

Perhaps you’ve come up against a situation in which a learner enters saying:

“I need more vocabulary and grammar, then I will be a better English language communicator.”

After an initial assessment focusing primarily on these two areas, you choose course books, decide what to photocopy, indicate which websites to favour, etc.

In this scenario you have a plan and build your syllabus with this learner (or class) around your ideas. This is how we have been trained to teach. Only after a couple of hours interest drops, home assignments are not done, even the odd “I couldn’t make it to the lesson, sorry” seeps in. Irritation, boredom, a mixed sense of, “Well, you’re the teacher, you should know what to do…” is more and more apparent.

You push harder, you try to make the lessons funny, bring in business bingo, cards, videos, the lot.  The spark has gone out. You feel defeated, your learners are far from ecstatic, and the lessons roll on, kind of petering out over the course of the programme. What is happening?

What’s often missing in traditional ELT

A number of things are wrong in this scenario. I would like to ask you, dear reader, to take a minute, take a pen and paper and try hard at identifying at least five things holding back the teacher and learner here.

Have you taken your notes? Let’s take a look them, and compare with my selection. They are:

  • little involvement in what skills need developing, leading to low engagement and motivation
  • too much focus on input
  • little relevance for learners in terms of course content
  • too much push and little pull, i.e. control is fully in teacher’s hands
  • learners have little commitment to taking responsibility for own learning
  • little focus on true communication
  • no form of partnership or equality in the situation between parties
  • nobody asked what the learner’s internal motivation or goals were, thus without being identified, none were being addressed (sorry: “I want to reach B2 level” is an external goal, not something a learner can truly develop towards)

There are a few minor ones, but these are the key notions. Of course the scenario above may be extreme (albeit not rare), as is the reaction of the teacher; but I suppose you get the point I am trying to make.

We, as language professionals, want to make our lessons work so hard that we forget one of the most basic of things to keep in mind: we are dealing with adults. What does this imply?

Young learners vs. adults

Adults can think for themselves if given the chance, if asked the right questions; they do not need as much instruction, but rather support, gentle guidance and scaffolding. Discovery and exploration to uncover new language terrain is such an exciting prospect – a challenge they must live up to and take on for themselves; not for the teacher’s sake, not for the company’s sake, nor the sake of an exam.

We must realise that the skillsets and toolkits we possess are no longer supporting our learners the way they did 10-20 years ago. Hard truth, but we need the wake-up call – now, amid the crisis we are experiencing. Control is to become self-control, as responsibility and trust is to be shared, shedding a new light on the whole language teaching/learning process.

Language coaching: a change in direction

But what is language coaching? Not therapy, not consulting, not advice. How does it work? It believes the client (in our case the learner) can come up with their own solutions based on their experience, using their strengths and looking into the future. It is a process based on trust, responsibility and independence. Asking questions and not saying what to do.

The role of a language coach is to support and empower the learner on their self-led learning journey. LC focuses on the learners’ communication outcomes and learning processes in their professional and personal environments, instead of working with pre-defined lesson objectives. 

The objective of every coaching process is to assist the learner in self-reflection and in defining and using the tools they need to progress in their target language. (Source: ILCA* website)

Language coaching addresses a number of the ideas from above. The trend moving towards a rise in one-to-one classes means coaching can infiltrate lessons much more. Thanks to that, you can work on a personalized learning plan, strategies and goals with your learners.

Your learner struggling to present on a call or write a clearly structured email will believe they can do it because you do. Performance often has less to do with “more vocabulary, more grammar” than confidence and communication strategies. Coaching will align goals and processes to fit learner needs. Are you doing that?

Language coaching compared to teaching and training

Teaching/Training Coaching
Goals Focus is on moving upward on CEFR-like scales and developing specific language areas (e.g. vocab building, accent reduction). Supports learners in understanding where they are on their language learning journey; helps learners discover new ideas of how to reach their goals; goals are internally framed by the learner.
Rapport Language professional tells, suggests and gives advice when learners are uncertain/do not understand. Starts from the belief that learners know; coach asks questions that support reflection and help learners come to their own solution. (Yes, this is a skill to be learned.)
Process awareness Language professional explains how the language learning process works and directs it. A strong focus on metacognitive dialogue increases awareness, reflection and inquiry regarding personal experience of the language learning process (conversations often left out of lessons for want of time.)
Content Massive emphasis on external input for language development. Input is primarily learner-led, allowing ample opportunity for learner self-expression. All information is “co-created,” meaning contributions are from parties. (More often than not, coaching starts with an empty piece of paper and a pen.)

 

Long-term effects of the current crisis on education

How can the current change to remote learning and its long-term impact actually affect education with learners accustomed to low responsibility due to strong control from teachers and institutions?

What is important is that learners understand they need to take more responsibility and control of their learning and decisions related.

Education will no longer be about what it can do for learners, but what learners can do for themselves through education. Gabriella Kovács

Be a coach – support them in unlocking their true language learning potential, in navigating their language learning path, and you will see the motivation and achievement soar. Confidence when using the target language is the one thing all learners wish to work on. Language coaching provides the time and space to find the qualities and strategies to work on this.

Improve learning through asking the right questions

Ask your learners questions that help discovery and self reflection:

  • What will you do differently next time?
  • Is there one thing you could do differently starting tomorrow?
  • What can you do more of that has worked for you in the past?

These are the empowering, strengths-focused questions that can support without instructing thereby opening up a new language learner approach.

Ask yourself:

  • Are you collaborating through strengths and resources?
  • Are you encouraging solutions-oriented dialogues or problem-focused ones?
  • How do you plan to get your learners heading towards autonomous, confident learning?

If you are finding all this the missing piece in your language teaching puzzle – take the first step and visit our website.

Check out our membership and training course offers this spring for language professionals, growing globally and working in collaboration with our team of founding members with monthly free events.

*ILCA is the International Language Coaching Association, co-founded by Gabriella Kovács ACC.

Photo: Gerd Altmann, Pixabay

Teaching English in Times of Corona: Why Coaching Principles Make Online Learning Better

in Professional Development

Many teachers, trainers and organizations are finding themselves suddenly remote, and the behaviors that surround online learning are different from in-person training. Within this new opportunity for ELT businesses to pivot and move their work online, there are a few challenges that need to be addressed.

It was exactly halfway through our last Language Coaching Foundation Course when the country-wide ‘shelter in place’ orders started to roll out across the globe. We had ELT professionals from Japan, Ukraine, Germany, Italy, Hungary, the United States, and Chile. This unprecedented global pandemic required that we hold space for our course participants. If just to share their experiences and to discuss how this situation was affecting their work.

Many companies and independent professionals are operating as usual, if not thriving, in the virtual economy. But this hasn’t been the case for everyone. How many times have you heard a language learner or teacher say, “I prefer face-to-face; I need the contact”? However, many are now forced to choose between completely stopping their lessons or giving the online thing a try.

And it turns out that online language instruction has become an immense comfort during this time. In spite of the perceived challenges for those not yet comfortable with it, learners and trainers are still able to connect and support one another.

Online education: ELT at the crossroads

This period in ESL/EFL instruction is a call to action. Things aren’t just going to go back to the way they were before the lockdown. There will undoubtedly be many converts from both professionals and learners who were hesitant about online sessions.

The question then arises: how will language training organizations integrate a long-term digital plan into their institutions and promote the necessary learner autonomy that comes with online education?

One of the major challenges of online education for teachers and organizations is that they are still held accountable for learning outcomes such as test scores and level advancementof their students. Yet in a remote learning situation, the instructor doesn’t control the classroom outside of the computer screen. The institution also no longer controls the presence and engagement of the client.

Teachers are now in a position of having to share the learning responsibility with the student.

Online education has an increased level of learner autonomy built into it, and that is perfectly suited for actually learning a language.

Teachers are now in a position of having to share the learning responsibility with the student; in a way that they may never have been challenged to do before. Online students have all the resources and access they need to continue to progress in their target language if they choose to own the responsibility of learning, and use their resources wisely.

This is the “new normal” and things aren’t going back. So, let’s talk about how to support teachers and trainers in the new normal, shall we?

Seeing yourself as a language coach rather than a traditional teacher

Language coaching is an applied methodology incorporating coaching fundamentals into the language learning context. The role of a language coach is to support and empower the learner on their self-led learning journey.*

One of the fundamental principles in language coaching is that the coach and the learner share responsibility for learning. This is also essential for an effective online learning classroom. If that is not a concept that your learners have adopted, then now would be a great time to introduce it.

This can be done with an informal conversation about what they can do outside of your sessions to continue to advance in their language learning. Or it can be done in a more formal and contractual type of agreement that outlines their level of engagement.

Trainers can promote autonomy through drawing attention to and building awareness of the learning process.

Once the understanding of learner responsibility has been brokered, the language teacher can begin to support the learner. Trainers can promote autonomy through drawing attention to and building awareness of the learning process.

The latter works best through questioning and active listening. Use questions that focus on building the meta-cognition of the language usage process and target language communication. This will boost learner autonomy and ensure that the learner continues to grow and thrive in the language acquisition process.

Online learning as the new standard – final thoughts

The new normal is an opportunity for language professionals and language learners.

If we are willing to recognize the unique challenge of building learner autonomy and choose to address this, then the world of ESL/EFL will come out of this crisis with an enriched understanding of how truly limitless our potential is to empower English language learners from anywhere in the world.

For sample questions and further guidance on how to apply language coaching techniques visit our website at www.internationallanguagecoaching.com

*Definition of language coaching developed by the International Language Coaching Association.

 

Teaching with Impact: ELT in the Context of a Complex Global Society

in Professional Development

Global societal and environmental issues were very much to the fore at the 2019 BESIG Annual Conference held in Berlin. It was a special and thought provoking event for many English teachers. Robert Nisbet took some time to reflect on some of the issues raised.

Back in September I was fortunate to receive an ELTABB scholarship which helped me attend the BESIG Annual Conference at Adlershof. One condition of this was that I write a review afterwards. What follows is my recap of the conference, plus some personal reflections.

The theme of ‘Back to Basics’ was addressed in a whole number of ways. Looking afresh at our day to day work as teachers and our relationships with our clients and learners, the conference considered broader questions about being human and our impact on the wider world. This included a focus on issues such as sustainability, the environment and inclusion.

Here, I’d like to focus on the keynote talk given on the Saturday morning by Steve Brown from the University of the West of Scotland. It was entitled ‘Indoctrination, empowerment or emancipation? The role of ELT in global society’. Of all the talks I heard, this was the one which has kept resonating with me over the past few months.

Global responsibility in ELT: Some challenging questions

Steve’s talk began by reminding us of the many problems faced by people and societies in the world today, including climate change, inequality, racism and prejudice of all sorts.

Are we part of the problem or part of the solution?

Within this context he asked how we as Business English teachers stand in relation to these issues. Simply put, are we part of the problem or part of the solution?

He asked us to consider in what way our teaching impacts the world, for good or bad. By teaching English within the context of business are we helping to promote a societal model which supports the prevailing culture of neo-liberal capitalism?

Steve Brown presenting at BESIG

Through teaching English in order to help people communicate better and progress in their careers, we in turn help companies become more successful and profitable.

However are we merely adding to the troubles created by the dominant capitalist model of business and industry, which creates wealth and comfort for the few at the expense of the environment and of the health and happiness of the many?

Integrity in the classroom – emancipation vs. indoctrination

In response Steve offered an alternative vision of critical pedagogy in the tradition of Paulo Freire and Henry Giroux. He suggested that it’s our duty as teachers to always question and challenge prevailing cultural models.

…focus on the emancipation of our learners rather than on their indoctrination.

We should demonstrate alternatives, bring social justice issues into the classroom and focus on the emancipation of our learners rather than on their indoctrination.

Indoctrination in this case is often rather a subtle thing. It involves the promotion of a lifestyle oriented around economic success and the overall importance of international trade and business. This may include brief forays into content related to the environmental movement, cultural diversity and equal rights.

Steve’s view was that when we stop to look around and consider the scale of the issues threatening our world, such an approach is just not good enough.

Steve’s suggestions for an alternative classroom practice

He argued that at the moment, empowerment in ELT translates as ‘Learn English in order to be successful within existing structures’.

But this empowerment does little to challenge the deep and systematic inequalities in the world, and can be contrasted with a more emancipatory model summarized as ‘Learn English in order to participate actively in democratic society with a view to creating change’.

Facilitating change through critical pedagogy

Steve offered two useful definitions of the critical pedagogy he was promoting:

Critical Pedagogy…understands language learning as locally situated, personal, socio-historical, and political.

 

Jeyaraj and Harland (2016, p. 589)

as well as:

Critical Pedagogy…in ELT is an attitude to language teaching which relates the classroom context to the wider social context and aims at social transformation through education.

Akbari, ELT Journal, Vol. 62, Issue 3, 2008 (pages 276–283)

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the problems the world faces. If we as teachers accept the critical pedagogy model, that we can and should participate in trying to improve things, then there are a number of ways we can do this, as Steve suggested.

For one thing, these can include using social justice issues as the basis for the content of our lessons. Moreover, using participatory methodologies helps empower students in setting their own learning goals.
In such ways our lessons can be not just a means to develop language skills, but also a way to develop our students’ critical consciousness.

For those who work in-company, he argued that the next step could be to use English lessons to enable companies to look critically at themselves. Through creating internal reports and investigations within the lessons, he suggested that companies can assess how they can make progress towards:

  • becoming more ethical
  • reducing their environmental footprint and
  • becoming actively and positively involved in local communities.

For those working with pre-experience learners it was also clear how lesson content could be re-orientated and space made for critical discussions.

Taking a personal stance

For me personally the talk resonated in many ways. I stopped being an architect and started being a teacher partly because I didn’t want to work for private property developers who I felt were benefitting the few at the expense of the many. I’m very sympathetic with the argument that we’re simply doing too little to address the problems of the world.

Amongst my clients are companies who build offices for global tech companies or who build trade fair stands for manufacturers of consumer products. I’d already asked myself in what way my teaching of their employees was having an impact on the waxing or waning of corporate power in the world.

Sometimes we do have conversations which are critical of aspects of the corporate world. Some of my clients are already working towards improving sustainability in their industry.

However the scope for critical pedagogy in my teaching is very much defined by external factors. That is, the culture of each particular company and the personalities, language-learning goals and interests of individual students.

That was my initial response to the challenging questions posed by Steve’s talk.

Critical pedagogy put into practice

I’ve had time to re-consider this response in the couple of months since the BESIG conference. It’s a question which hasn’t gone away, and which isn’t fully resolved.

In principle I’m completely in favour of bringing an agenda of social change to lessons. I’m sure I can do more in this direction. Some lessons have the scope to consciously look at more varied material, some don’t.

Still, I think it’s also important to recognise how people react to lesson content. My ongoing challenge with many of my lessons is to find content that my students find interesting.

When I’m successful, a topic, a video, some images or a text can spark an engaged conversation which is stimulating in itself; and this is also a good vehicle for improving their language skills. If students are not interested or engaged then language learning is very difficult.

Given the right conditions, the lesson can be an arena in which something can emerge.

I rarely know how the students are going to react to the lesson; and that’s one of the most wonderful things about being a teacher. Indeed, what one group finds very engaging, another may find deeply boring. Yet, this is impossible to predict. Given the right conditions, the lesson can be an arena in which something can emerge.

Final thoughts

I’m comfortable with telling my students what’s right and wrong with respect to the English language. I’m also happy to discuss ethical and controversial issues, and give my own opinion. But I would feel uncomfortable trying to deliver a more didactic ethical message. I generally want to let people make their own minds up, come to their own conclusions.

I accept that other more didactic approaches are possible and may be successful with different groups of students. Over the following months I will continue to question my approach in the light of Steve’s talk.

References

Joanna Joseph Jeyaraj and Tony Harland – ‘Teaching with critical pedagogy in ELT: the problems of indoctrination and risk’. In ‘Pedagogy, Culture and Society’, Routledge, 2016, p.589.

Ramin Akbari – ‘Transforming lives: introducing critical pedagogy into ELT classrooms’. In ‘ELT Journal’, Volume 62, Issue 3, July 2008, Pages 276–283.

Man in the desert with binoculars

21st Century Education: How Future-Proof Is Your Teaching Career?

in Professional Development

We read a lot about the importance of helping our learners by incorporating 21st century competencies in the classroom these days. One of the reasons given is that many of the jobs our learners will do in the future don’t exist yet so we can’t prepare them for specific roles. How can you mentor your students and stay on track as a teacher in the fast changing world of work?

21st century education: focus on key competencies

In order to integrate 21st century skills in the classroom, we can put a focus on the sort of competencies that employers and researchers indicate are priorities in present-day working environments.

Along with being tech-savvy, a good communicator, a team-player and a problem-solver, critical thinking and creativity are two of the key abilities that frequently appear on the list of important skills. So, here are some questions to help you think about how you can future-proof your career as a teacher by adopting and displaying some key elements of 21st century education.

Are your resources up to date and relevant?

While there is nothing wrong with tried and tested learning materials dating back a few years, not having a sufficient amount of updated content at hand has its pitfalls.

Outdated resources will not take into account current changes and developments in society, education and science. Neither will they feature the latest technology. So if your goal is to promote 21st century competencies in the classroom, freshen up your teaching from time to time (sprinkling in bits of knowledge from your personal experience that can’t be googled is a good idea, too). Your students will thank you!

You can ask yourself:

  • How many of the materials you use date back more than 3-5 years?
  • Which new sources of materials have you used in the last year?
  • What do you do or say in class that your students couldn’t find online?

The good news is, it has never been easier to find updated quality content for your lessons. All you need is a laptop (or tablet / smartphone) and an internet connection. TED talks are a great resource for teaching English while discussing hot topics with your students, and the variety of materials is huge. You can find out how to effectively use them in class here.

21st centuyr education: teaching needs to be intriguing
Sparking interest is key in 21st century education

Are your lessons engaging and learner-centred?

Traditionally, institutionalised education has been centred around the authority of the teacher, with a ‘good’ student equalling an obedient one. Learners have been supposed to listen and pay attention, speak only when asked to and generally follow instructions. For anyone who has ever had to endure such a scenario, do you remember how restrictive and boring that was?

If you want to ensure that your students are engaged and present in your lessons while acquiring skills that will help them outside the classroom, take a look at the following:

  • How often do you base lessons around student-generated materials?
  • What do you do to make each class unique and memorable?
  • To what extent do you show empathy with each individual learner and display knowledge of their specific needs and interests?

Getting your students on board can actually make your life easier. They may know more about certain fields than you do (e.g. technology), and thus can help you enhance your lessons.

Are you empowering your students?

21st century education: the right competencies for moving ahead

As already mentioned, collaboration and creativity are some of the key competencies in our 21st century society. Unlike yesteryear, understanding patterns and being able to transfer and apply knowledge is more valuable than memorising large amounts of data.

Learning is much more about autonomy and social skills these days, with a good teacher stepping back a lot of the time in order to let students practice what they’ve learned. If you want your students to become creative problem-solvers who are capable of self-organisation, consider this:

  • How do your lessons specifically help students solve problems large or small?
  • How do you help your students research information as part of their learning?
  • What different forms of pair and group work do you use to enhance learning via cooperation?

Understanding yourself as a go-to person whose job it is to be there for your learners when things go wrong rather than an all-knowing solo entertainer will simplify matters and help your students grow. Moreover, you will benefit as a teacher if you allow yourself to learn from them as well. And hey, it’s just more fun for everyone!

Do you keep honing your teaching skills?

The key to staying on track in any profession is to keep evolving. For this, talking to peers, sharing ideas and insights is invaluable. Other measures include a certain amount of self-scrutiny as well as adding new techniques to your repertoire every so often. Question time:

  • Who do you cooperate with outside your class as part of your own development?
  • How often do you record your lessons and then analyse and act on your findings?
  • What have you done to increase your repertoire of different ways to start and finish your lessons?

There are lots of resources on the internet to inspire you to try new things; most of them by other teachers sharing their experience and what works for them. Besides, there are plenty of professional associations for teachers out there, so you don’t have to go it alone. With online forums and groups at hand, you may not even have to meet other teachers in person.

To get started, recording your lessons is a good way to evaluate and understand yourself better. Just see to it that you comply with the data protection laws of your country (only use the recordings for educational purposes and you may have to delete them after a while).

21st century education in the classroom: final thoughts

While creating a 21st century learning environment may seem challenging at first, it doesn’t have to be a big headache. With an abundance of online resources, groups and forums at your disposal, you can get a lot of free support. Moreover, encouraging your students to bring in their strengths will benefit them while making your job easier. Win-win!

For further information on 21st century education, you can watch the video below. It’s to the point and will fill you in on everything you need to know in order to understand the main ideas.

Happy future-proofing!

A short video about 21st century education with practical examples

Let’s Talk Business English! What Every Trainer Should Know About The Industry In 2020

in Professional Development

Teaching business English has become a lucrative career option for English trainers in today’s globalised world. Evan Frendo discusses interesting current trends and how the landscape of the industry has changed over the years with Ian McMaster from Business Spotlight.

Ian McMaster: What have been the biggest changes you have observed over your career among users of business English?

Evan Frendo: When I started in business English in the early 1990s, most of my students were managers and people in senior positions. They were the ones who needed English in order to speak to customers, work with partners and so on.

Now, it has become common to see people working in international teams with English as the lingua franca. Many internal meetings are held in English, even in German companies. For many people, a typical day is full of switches from German to English and back to German, depending on what is happening and who is in the room or on the telephone.

There is greater recognition of the fact that business English is not “native speaker” English, but rather the English that people need to do their jobs effectively.

Teaching business English - what teachers and trainers need to know
Different people – different Englishes

This means that there is an increased focus on intercultural communication and soft skills. For example, in some companies where I work, the focus is on understanding “Chinese English”, because this is the type of English the employees will meet when they speak with their clients and business partners.

Experienced business people understand that it is no good having perfect “native-speaker” English if you cannot communicate with your clients.

And what have been the biggest changes you have observed for teachers and trainers?

I think the biggest change I have noticed is that there are more teachers and trainers on the market, and therefore there is more competition. Surprisingly, Germany is a country that does not demand high standards from the people who teach business English, and almost anyone can do it. There are no minimum entry qualifications.

This means that many trainers are not properly trained to do what they are doing, but have simply done a short introductory course on how to be a teacher and then relied on the fact that, as native speakers, their command of the language will get them through.

More and more trainers are now doing certificates in business English training.

In many business English situations, this is adequate, and there are many examples of satisfied customers using trainers like this. But in other cases, such trainers are not good enough.

This has led to another change: some companies have learned from experience and now demand better-trained trainers. And more and more trainers are now doing certificates in business English training.

What type of business English training do people at work really need?

The answer always depends on the specific context. In some situations, a general business English approach will be enough, with the trainer and the learners adapting published materials as necessary to suit their own needs. This type of approach is very common in language schools, for example.

Within companies, however, the approach can be very different, with the trainers and learners spending significant time analysing needs, understanding where the priorities are and then tailor-making the training accordingly.

An important factor here may be business knowledge and content, not just the language.

This sometimes means collaborating with a range of stakeholders to understand what the company’s perspective is, as well as observing language in use — meetings, presentations, negotiations, discussions and so on — to find out where the real communication problems lie.

An important factor here may be business knowledge and content, not just the language. Trainers will often work closely with a client to understand this perspective. Such a collaborative approach requires special skills; so trainers who do this sort of work tend to be well-qualified and experienced.

How is technology changing the way that people use English for work purposes?

Recently, I was in Xi’an, China, doing some work for a client, and I had to take a taxi. The taxi driver didn’t speak any English, and my Chinese is very poor. But I had a card with my hotel address on it, so I wasn’t worried. But this time, the driver chatted to me the whole of the 40-minute trip using an app on his smartphone.

The app allowed us to communicate. We talked about my job, his family, Xi’an and many other things. Such apps are becoming commonplace in the workplace. I often see people using them during meetings, for example. But simultaneous translation apps are only one example of new technology.

The biggest impact of technology is that fewer people will need to learn a language.

Everyone knows how easy it is to translate an email or other written document. The quality is now very good and getting better all the time. And some industries are working hard to eliminate the need for human communication at all in certain areas; computers simply communicate with other computers to pass on information.

Contact between people is still important, but things are changing. The days of relying solely on intuition and personal relationships are disappearing fast. And, of course, there is a lot more remote communication, using technology that simply did not exist a few years ago.

I think the biggest impact of technology, however, is that fewer people will need to learn a language.

Of course, it will always be beneficial to learn foreign languages. But when we measure how long language training takes, compared to the potential advantages, many of us will decide that the method I used with my taxi driver will be enough. It’s all about return on investment.

And how is technology changing the way that people learn and teach business English?

Firstly, the software we use nowadays to analyse language use allows us to understand much better the language that we need to focus on.

For example, we now have access to large collections of language data. We can compare the mistakes that native speakers of German make in English with those made by speakers of other languages, and create language-learning activities that are aimed precisely at German speakers of English.

This means that a whole range of learning resources, from textbooks to dictionaries to magazines, are able to target real needs much more effectively than in the past.

Books, a chalkboard and a tablet on a table
Learning with technology has become the norm

Secondly, the technology available in the classroom and for self-study allows a lot of new things to be done. It is now normal for teachers and learners to use their own devices in class to make recordings, to access resources such as dictionaries and videos, to practise vocabulary and so on.

Most coursebooks now include online activities and exercises. Language-learning apps are everywhere and are offering new language-learning opportunities. It is relatively easy to spend ten minutes every day revising key vocabulary on an app on the daily commute to work, for example.

But perhaps more importantly, these apps are allowing the experts to collect vast amounts of data about how people learn languages. Such research will have a profound influence on how professional trainers do things.

Looking ahead to the next five years, what are the biggest changes that you expect the business English industry to undergo?

Different parts of the industry will go in different ways. The big language schools will get bigger and bigger, and dominate the market even more, to the detriment of small schools and individual trainers working as freelancers.

This trend is already taking place, as many of Germany’s largest multinational companies are seeking to increase the quality of their training providers, and at the same time, bring down the costs.

Universities, colleges and schools will do a much better job of preparing people for the workplace, and less training will be necessary in the workplace itself.

… much more emphasis on soft skills and intercultural skills, rather than a more traditional focus on grammar and vocabulary.

Already, many school leavers have certificates in business English, something that was quite rare just a few years ago. Technology will continue to change the way we think about communication. And, as I said, fewer people will need to spend time learning a foreign language. The way we relate to devices will change as we learn how to use them better.

And those people who do invest in learning a language will demand much more emphasis on soft skills and intercultural skills, rather than a more traditional focus on grammar and vocabulary.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of starting a career as a business English trainer?

First, be prepared to learn from your clients and from experienced trainers. They often know much more about business communication than you do, particularly at the beginning of your career.

Second, be prepared to spend time analysing your clients’ needs. Each client is unique and requires a tailor-made approach. One size does not fit all.

Be aware that technology is really influencing this profession.

Third, do more than an introductory course in teaching — if you want to be a professional, you need to spend real time and effort learning the skills and techniques you require, and you need to keep up to date. Your clients deserve no less. Joining teacher associations, attending conferences and simply networking with others in the profession will all be invaluable.

And finally, be aware that technology is really influencing this profession. If you are interested in how language works, have a look at natural language processing and computational linguistics. These fields are at the cutting edge of what we do, and there are innumerable opportunities at the moment.

This is a shortened version of the interview originally featured in Business Spotlight magazine, issue 7/2019. www.business-spotlight.de

You can read the full interview on Evan’s website.

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Evan Frendo has been an ELTABB member since 1993, when he first started teaching business English and ESP. He has a background in engineering and works for clients across Europe and in Asia. You can find out more about him on his website www.e4b.de.

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