Earlier this year I completed the Cert IBET course and have since had the opportunity to teach a number of Business English classes. These have included several one to one courses, a two to one Business English (BE) course for two returning students, English for work courses for pre-business students, and executive mini groups (EMGs) of up to four clients. It’s been great to put into practice some of what I learnt on the IBET, but it has also helped to solidify much of what I was teaching – and learning through teaching – in companies in Germany.
One of my most enjoyable courses in Germany was a one to one course on presentation skills for the MD of a transport authority, and this is one of the aspects of teaching Business English that I find so enjoyable – training people in Business, or communication, skills, as much as teaching the language itself. It gives the lessons a clear focus and achievable purpose, and enables teachers to deliver training that is specifically tailored to suit the needs of the individual clients – something which is almost impossible to do in a class of 12 general English students with wildly different priorities.
The two to one BE course earlier this summer was undoubtedly one of the highlights of my teaching career so far. I had taught the students before (they were part of the group I was teaching when I delivered ‘the parsnip lessons’ last summer) so had some insight into their work. It helped that their profession – management consultancy – was an interesting and intellectually stimulating area to work with, but from a teaching perspective what I found most rewarding was being able to design and deliver a programme focused entirely on the skills and language they needed for their work – both long term and for upcoming projects. I describe this as ‘bespoke’ teaching, which it seems to me is what one to one is really about.
The EMG courses I’ve taught recently have enabled me to experience different groups and dynamics. These clients usually don’t know each other before they start the courses, and are multi-lingual classes of varying professions, although the skills and language needed is often similar. Again the smaller group size allows for more personalized programming and individual attention.
There are pros and cons to smaller groups though. The dynamic can feel more fragile: personalities and behaviours are perhaps more contagious. We all know how one student can change the dynamic in a class of 12 students – but this is more evident and apparent in a smaller group, which can expose a quieter or more hesitant participant.
I have a tendency to deliver quite fast paced lessons, with varied activity types, and with quieter groups I often feel the temptation to pick up the energy if it’s going slowly. This puts added pressure on me as a trainer, and there are times when both myself and my students/clients might benefit from having more ‘space’ in the lessons. So I’ve been trying to allow more processing time, after individual activities for reflection, but also when waiting for participants to respond to questions or share ideas and thoughts. I observed with a recent group that the more I ‘space’ I allowed, the more the group contributed – particularly those students who were by nature quite reticent.
I’ve also been experimenting with course programming. In an earlier course I had allocated different business skills to different days. Initially this seemed a logical approach but on reflection didn’t allow for as much revisiting and revision of language as I would have liked. So in a more recent course I approached the programme differently, having several sessions for each skill spread over the course of the week, which proved to be far more effective in helping learners with language practice and retention.
From all of this what I take away is a reminder that as trainers, what we need to do, above all else is to maintain flexibility and the willingness to adapt to the group and their needs. The joy of teaching Business English is that smaller group sizes and more focused learners make it a lot easier for us to do this. Teaching becomes so much more personalized – even bespoke.