Marjorie started her workshop by emphasizing that effective business communication is a must for anyone in the business world: negotiations, telephone conversations, presentations, small talk - no wonder that a lot of students doing business English courses today, focus on developing their speaking skills. As Marjorie noted, most learners face certain fears, such as making mistakes, not being able to get their message across, and other problems, such as pronunciation, the wrong use of register, and lack of vocabulary. She went on to emphasize the importance of building our students’ self-confidence and helping them with the language use by providing lots of practice and simulated situations.
In the second part of the workshop Marjorie shared some wonderful ideas with us of how to get learners to speak without fear. The first was an information gap activity. We were divided into A-B pairs and sat back to back, with student A looking at the whiteboard and students B looking at the back of the room. Students A described a picture they saw on the board and students B had to draw it. It isn’t that easy, as it turned out, when speakers don’t see each other – almost all of us couldn’t help but use gestures, even though we knew the other person couldn’t see us. The activity, which was much fun, is an excellent practice for practicing Present Continuous and Present Simple Tenses as well as for developing telephone skills, giving instructions and asking for clarification, especially for the learners who are not auditory types.
One of the most useful skills for business people is being able to sell. In the next activity, Marjorie provided us with useful sales phrases, some of which were direct and forceful, while some others were more subtle and asked us to choose any object in class and try to “sell” it to our partner. We had the chance to try out hard and soft techniques used in salesmanship and decide for ourselves what phrases worked and what didn’t.
Another wonderful activity doesn’t require any preparation for the teacher but at the same time gives students a lot of practice. Marjorie asked if there was anybody in class who knows a lot about a topic. There was a lovely lady there who was an expert on nutrition. Then Marjorie asked some of the other people in the class to write questions that had to do with nutrition. Then the lovely ‘expert’ had to give a short talk of 1-2 minutes and answer each of the questions. As we could see, the activity develops the ability of using language on the spot and thinking on one’s feet, both of which are so crucial in real life situations when presenters have to deal with follow-up questions and what many of them fear.
These are just some of the activities we did in the workshop. As can be seen, the activities provide a lot of practice and aim at improving not only the language but communication skills in general. You don’t teach business English? The activities can be easily adapted for any speaking class, making the practice of English truly perfect.
By Lana Lemeshko