Getting into Teaching Business English Together: Preparing for the FTBE with ELTABB

in ELTABB/Professional Development

Prep Time: Annie hitting the books till the cows come home.    Photo: Darren Foster

In this article, Annie shares her story about preparing for the FTBE certificate alongside other daring ELTABB members, the challenges that came with it and the benefits she reaped.

FTBE, FTBE, FTBE.

It took me almost a year to get these four letters right. The “First Certificate for Teachers of Business English” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. This professional qualification, offered by Pearson and the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, is awarded to English teachers who have proven competence in a Business English specialization by passing a two and a half-hour written examination. Sound intimidating? I thought so, too. But luckily, I had two friendly faces to usher me into the world of functional syllabi and the client approach. Just two of the topics we tackled in our ELTABB FTBE study group led by Evan Frendo and Mandy Welfare.

How It Began

It all started about the time of the AGM two years ago. Evan, who teaches FTBE courses to students across the globe, and Mandy, his former FTBE star student, came up with the idea to create an informal group of Berlin teachers to study for the exam. The FTBE isn’t the only professional certification of Business English teaching. The Cert IBET is also available but costs a pretty-penny more. Evan and Mandy decided it would be a worthwhile experiment to organize a course for free. They would provide the structure, guidance and feedback, while the participants would research and present the curriculum topics which cover a range of teaching strategies and learning approaches specific to Business English.

A Happily Mixed Group

The first group meetings were large and raucous. I had seen many of the faces at ELTABB events and knew a couple names. It was illuminating to hear everyone’s backstory and learn about their individual working situations. I wasn’t the only CELTA certified teacher who had drifted into Business English without any real training. Evan and Mandy reminded us of how valuable any professional experience can be when teaching Business English. The range of courses being taught by the others ran the gamut from one-on-ones with executives at the zoo to specialized English classes for architects. I felt honored to be part of such an accomplished group that was being led by such experienced teachers. I knew I would learn a lot with them all, though I wasn’t planning on taking the exam.

Over the next months, we met at each other’s houses and took turns presenting the topics from the exam curriculum: the lexical approach, feedback & evaluation, authentic materials, etc. At each meeting, one to two topics would be presented with Mandy and Evan there to fill in the gaps as well as offer specific tips on how to use the information on the exam. There was lots of lively discussion, with snacks and then more exchange following.

Slowly But Surely

While we only met once a month (and sometimes it was hard to organize a date even that often), I began to really look forward to these gatherings and learning more. Because we had to present the topics ourselves, each presentation was different. Sometimes we’d be using Powerpoint, other times taping pieces of paper to the wall. Often we organized activities and tasks for the rest of the group to take part in. The various presentation styles offered a valuable lesson themselves as they were a unique opportunity to observe our colleagues employing their own teaching methods.

Of course, the topics that I learned best were the ones I presented myself. I started researching by reading Evan’s book How to Teach Business English and searching the archives of blogs as Mandy suggested, which inevitably led to reading more blogs and checking out more books at the library. This practice became an important part of my professional development: slowly but surely, I was familiarizing myself with the discourse of Business English teaching over the last ten years. It was so much fun to talk about this stuff with Mandy and Evan too, since they are so versed in the field. Often they had some personal story about these ELT giants whom I only knew from page and screen.

Preparing For The Exam

Not surprisingly, the material that we were covering also made its way into my teaching practice. My students unwittingly became guinea pigs for the new concepts I had picked up and was anxious to try. To their benefit of course! The effects of our study group were spreading wide and far, even though our numbers were simultaneously growing smaller. Busy teachers have busy lives and their schedules are constantly in flux and demand. But a core group of us kept on keeping on, and suddenly we arrived at the critical point when Mandy and Evan promptly pushed us out of the nest – we had an exam date! Friday, June 13th, 2018.

For me it was the moment of truth: would I actually take the exam? I had already gotten so much out of the course, did I need a certificate to prove it? After much consideration, I decided I had come too far to give up. Even if it meant taking a two and a half-hour exam. The likes of which I had not seen since my undergraduate days some (gulp!) twenty-years previous.

The last weeks leading up to the exam were intense. Four of us had registered and continued to meet, this time focusing on taking practice-exams under exam-like conditions. Then meeting again to go over all of the answers together. The experience brought us even closer – Galina, Sherri, Sarah and I were a team by this point. We divided up the remaining basic business concepts we needed to learn and crammed over brunch, e-mail, WhatsApp and even on the S-Bahn as we hurtled towards the examination location on June 13th, the morning of the exam.

Was It Worth The Effort?

A long summer came and went while we awaited the results. Our group dissolved and I missed our meetings very much. As the days passed, I became more resolved that whatever the exam result was, the experience of being part of the study group alone was worth it all. I was a better teacher of Business English, well-versed in its terms and practices. And felt I could approach potential employers and clients with a new confidence. None of this would change whether I passed the exam or not.

Then one day, we all received our results in the mail: four embossed FTBE certificates for each of us. We had all passed with flying colors! I was surprised at how deeply proud I felt and immediately updated my resume, typing the words with a new found fluency –

First Certificate for Teachers of Business English – pass with distinction

That single line of print represents a huge growth in my professional development and it felt great to make it official. I know a little about how to teach Business English, and I have the certificate to prove it.

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