Over 70 ELT professionals attended the annual English UK Business English Trainers' Conference at International House in London on Saturday 14 May. Participants enjoyed enjoyed a range of excellent and thought-provoking professional development sessions led by two outstanding and contrasting plenary speakers in Vicki Hollett and Pete Menzies.
Hollett, best-selling author of Business Objectives and Business Opportunities, kicked off the Cambridge ESOL-supported event with an insightful and charming session outlining the skills that help to make professional people successful. Hollett concluded that being nice can help business people get more done through greater cooperation from business colleagues and customers and through their network of relationships.
She explored a range of strategies that individuals in the US and the UK could use to build rapport, to be alert to ambiguity and to build trust with one another; soft skills that are crucial to foster among our business English learners. She also particularly emphasised the dynamic nature of conversation, criticising contemporary teaching texts that de-contextualise language saying that, "Conversations have a beginning, middle and end", and emphasized the need to be more explicit in teaching pragmatics.
Hollett, was excited that ELT appeared to be entering the 'dawn of a new era' with video in the classroom and posited that the mushrooming use of video represented an excellent opportunity to observe and analyse these important patterns of interaction.
Menzies' closing plenary contrasted significantly to Hollet's session and he opened with a stark and poignant warning that Business English Trainers were significantly under-selling themselves in the market place. He warned that Business English training organisations offered a useful product but were failing to articulate the value of such services to clients.
Conference delegates approached the issue in workshop style mini-groups and brainstormed a number of initiatives that could help improve the status and profitability of the sector. These included but were not limited to: selling on value; quantify the value to the organisation, have a unique proposition, the need to disassociate business English from general English in terms of approach and branding, terminology: training not teaching, the need to research the client more and fully understand their business and needs, the need to narrow the language focus and course objectives, the need to gain access to the budget holders (not typically HR) who perceive problems that need to be addressed, the need for trainers to hold business qualifications, and the need for the industry to allow members to have professional association status.
Interestingly, being nice was not on this list!
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