Sean Roe

ELTABBer of the Month – Sean Roe

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What first drew you to English teaching? 

I had learnt French and German in-company when I was working in reinsurance, and found the training rather unsatisfactory. I needed help with things like preparing management reports, understanding the trade press and rehearsing client pitches. I decided to change tack after my firm went through a merger, the CEO went to jail (!!! – Ed.) and my son was born, and I thought business English training was one of the areas where I might be able to add some value. I was already keen on teaching, having got my tennis coaching qualifications and having hosted wine-tasting events.

What tips would you give to people trying to get into business-English teaching?

I’m not sure if I know much about how to get into business English teaching from teaching, as I got into it from business. Joining ELTABB is always a good idea for English trainers, of course, and it was through ELTABB that I heard about the CertIbet certificate, which I would also recommend. I am presenting at the TESOL France colloquium in November, and the title of my paper is “How to Teach Financial English”. The event is being held online this year, so I guess people will be able to access it from Berlin too! It will be full of advice and links to help trainers design sessions for finance professionals (keep an eye on the ELTABB channels – Ning, Facebook, Twitter, etc! – Ed.).

How does teaching English as a business compare to the wine trade as a business?

They are pretty similar! Selling wine in a shop, working in a bar and organising tastings all have a performative aspect to them, as does training. And in both cases there is a lot of preparation before the performance – and of course you have to really know your stuff.

The last couple of years have been pretty tumultuous! Do you see any long-term changes to business in general and to business English in particular?

I suppose the most obvious change is that it looks as though corporate employees will be spending much less time in the office and will continue to largely work from home. For ELT I think this presents some positives, aside from less commuting. Some of my online groups are now comprised of colleagues who do the same type of job but who are based in various cities around Europe. I have also gained some clients in other continents.

Editor’s note: (Check out the ELTABB journal in the coming months for an exciting upcoming article on a lesson programme which pairs English-language students with their English-speaking professional counterparts!)

Sean, you recently established your own website for your company focusing on Business and Financial English; what is your experience with website lead generation – would you recommend the hustle of maintaining a website for our membership as an efficient investment?

Yes, online marketing is a hassle and I’m new to it. I am paying freelancers to help me with a social media presence (particularly in Asian markets), but I am always anxious about what is being published in my name! One thing many teachers need to do better is to promote themselves – which is why I included three links above!

How do you keep your sessions fun and interesting while maintaining a level of professionalism suitable for your Business English clients? Have you encountered any resistance to using games or other fun activities?

Finance execs enjoy a good game as much as the next trainee. I use crosswords, “Taboo”-type games, Quizlets, newspaper cartoons, “fastest buzzer” questions, and even a little role-playing, like most trainers do.

Which issues are most frequently cited by Business English students as being most problematic for them?

The subjects that come up most are probably: writing business emails and reports, reading the press (financial or regular), expressing large numbers, learning synonyms for common industry terms, getting confused between British and American English (as well as all the other flavours), decoding acronyms and confidence in presenting – not forgetting the present perfect! (Or presenting the present perfect perfectly – Ed.)

How much emphasis should be placed on communication and intelligibility, rather than accuracy?

In general, I am a great believer in teaching communication and confidence, rather than focussing on accuracy. However, within my niche subjects, it’s sometimes very important that the grammar and vocab is on point to avoid problems with contract wording, negotiations, and technical advice.

What was the world’s tallest building until 1548? 😉
Yes, I was intrigued to learn (while researching questions for the ELTABB trivia evening) that Lincoln Cathedral apparently supplanted the Great Pyramid at Giza as the world’s tallest building, until losing the title in 1548 to St Marien Kirche in Stralsund when its [Lincoln Cathedral’s] spire collapsed. That reminds me – I also use pub quizzes as a teaching aid, and to help trainees understand some of the key facets of British culture!

Bar owners are known for picking up interesting stories in their line of work. Do you have one to share?

One printable funny memory (send me the rest! – Ed.) is being surprised to overhear a couple of on-leave soldiers from the French Foreign Legion enthusiastically discussing the handbag clasps that we had installed just under the lip of the bar counter. The legionnaires thought that the idea was to slip your belt over the hooks, so that you could drink as much as you liked without fear of falling off your barstool.