Having worked in a number of different fields, what has been your favourite ELT job?
There have been two: Helping pioneer teaching via video-conferencing in a European telecom project in the early 80s was great fun. The technology has changed from needing a floor full of technicians to today’s using a Skype application on our laptops. My favourite job, however, has been working in an American pharma company for years, which gave me the freedom to get involved in all kinds of ELT activities in depth and become a part of the corporate fabric.
As a business English trainer, do you think it’s important to incorporate matters of culture into your training?
Yes, students expect an open dialogue about the people they will be meeting and have met and their contexts. The students have such valuable insights and bring them back to the classroom for us all to learn from.
You did a masters a few years ago. Would you say it was worth the time and effort, and if so, in what way? Would you recommend this path to other teachers?
For me it was worth the effort, mainly for my personal professional development. I would strongly recommend teachers get some kind of basic training – the more the better. Many of my students have doctorates and expect their teachers to be similarly engaged in their own field. The MSc gave me all kinds of insights from different perspectives: management in ELT, discourse analysis, methodology to name a few.
On the topic of MA’s, there are many programmes available including alternatives like the Delta. Do you have any tips for people wanting to further their education as to which programme to pick?
Back when I did my master’s, I didn’t know about the Delta. There weren’t as many courses to choose from without having to leave Berlin for extended periods. Today the possibilities are much broader.
After getting basic training in teaching, I would recommend that teachers decide where they would like to work in the future and choose the path which best leads there. Learning German is a must.
What was the topic of your MA thesis?
Actually, it was an MSc, because at Aston University we had to do what they called “action research”, which involved collecting data, reflecting on our experience and engaging in a dialogue with the field while writing up our module papers. My topic had to do with a discourse analysis which looked at real, international operations meetings, in which employees I taught were engaged. It was entitled “Back to business after the laughter”.
You are an experienced in-company trainer. What do you think companies are most looking for when they hire trainers to work in-house?
I have been told that HR managers look for trainers who are active in their field, who are able to inspire their employees to want to improve their English (confidence building is #1) and who are able to understand, get interested in and facilitate their employees’ on-the-job English learning needs.
How have students’ Business English needs changed since when you started teaching?
Probably not much in reality, except of course for the increasing role and types of communication technologies and the perception have. In the 80s, students wanted to focus on grammar, now they tend to focus on communicating with business partners. In the past, students tended to want British or American English, whereas today they are beginning to understand that ELF is much more useful and pragmatic.
What are the challenges of working in the Pharma industry?
The main challenge is getting to understand the industry and its specialized languages (medical, technical, marketing etc.) and to situate students’ communication needs into their context. Each department is a world unto its own and there is the need to focus on the everyday language and situations that people need as well as on general language skills.
Is training employees for international contexts different from preparing employees for an English only context, i.e. USA?
Yes, it is. When students have to go to the USA, there are lots of various accents, idioms and communication needs, e.g. presentations can be quite different. The most interesting part is getting the students to relate their experiences with other cultures from their same discourse community.
When students need to work, say, only within Europe communicating with mainly other non-natives, they need to understand varying types of directness and approaches to getting the job done, specific accents need to be listened to. Many complex language structures and idiomatic expressions that I used to try to teach in the past are today not directly relevant to their situations.
Is there anything in ELT that you would have liked doing but never got the chance to try?
Now, towards the end of my career, I find myself grabbing new challenges that interest me, e.g. learning/using the translation program Trados with its term bases and translation memories. Doing volunteer work tutoring in my neighbourhood with young learners from so-called migration backgrounds is very enriching. As soon as I see a new challenge that intrigues me, I go for it!
11. Who would like to nominate as Eltabber of the month and what question would you like to ask them?
I’ll like to nominate Dorothy Sommer as Eltabber of the month not least because Dorothy has urged us not to forget the second B (for Brandenburg) in ELTAB-B. Dorothy has an M.A. in ELT, teaches both Young Learners and business English, an interesting combination. I’d be interested in hearing what Dorothy thinks these learners have in common. She is also involved in testing, has spent a lot of time in Japan and I hope she will post a picture of her lovely classroom in her home in Zeuten, Brandenburg!
Edited by Mandy Welfare