Sunday, 28 June 2009

Thoughts on blogging

This post is in reponse to a "Blogging Carnival" organised by my friend Karenne Sylvester, on the theme of "What advice would you give to a new blogger blogging in ELT". Find out more about Blogging Carnivals on Karenne's aard-winning blog, Kalinago English. You can see Karenne's eye in the 'followers' section of this blog - like the eye of Sauron in the high tower of Mordor, making sure I fulfil the mission I've been set and join in the carnival.

Today marks two whole weeks since I took the plunge, registered with Blogger and started this blog. It seems like a lot has happened since I hesitantly typed in the name of the blog, chose a design and a colour scheme, inserted pictures of my books down the side and posted my rather apologetic introduction. So what have I learnt in those two weeks?

First of all, I really enjoy blogging. As a writer, I’m much more comfortable expressing myself in writing than orally, and the idea that I can write whatever I like and some people care enough to want to read it is hugely flattering. (I also realise that many will take one look and never come back – fair enough). But that also creates a pressure I wasn’t expecting: to keep producing postings at a quality and quantity to satisfy the demands of eager readers. Very scary.

Secondly, time is a real issue. I could easily spend the whole day blogging, and still I wouldn’t get everything out of my system that I want to say. But, to borrow a phrase from Paul East when I asked for the
interview, I have mountains of ‘deadline stuff’, big writing and editing jobs to do by the middle of next week (or last week, or last month). To make matters worse, some of the people who are waiting for ‘deadline stuff’ from me have started reading this blog, so I can’t use the old excuse ‘I literally didn’t get 5 minutes near the computer all weekend’.

Thirdly, it’s amazing how quickly word spreads. I thought I’d have a couple of weeks at least to build up some content and play with the blog before anyone really became aware of it. But this experience has really brought home to me the phenomenal power of social networking. On the first Tuesday, I mentioned the blog casually on Facebook. My friend Nick then gave me a tweet on Twitter, and suddenly I had followers and comments. Unbelievable. I then updated my LinkedIn page last week, and sent a simple message to the BESIG group on LinkedIn. The next day I found two messages from Yahoo! groups I belong to:

First message, 22nd June, from
IATET (International Association of Technical English Trainers):
I've just just come across a new blog that I thought fellow list members might enjoy. It's by Jeremy Day, who some of you might know from CUP's ESP series. See: Cheers,Vicki Hollett

Wow! Vicki has been an absolute here of mine since I started teaching in 1996, when Business Opportunities and Business Objectives formed the core of my teaching (as they would for many years to come). Vicki must have seen the message about my blog on LinkedIn.

Second message, 22nd June, from EULETA (European Legal English Teachers’ Association):

Hi. Jeremy Day has a new blog that looks to be of great interest for teachers of English for Specific Purposes:

That one was from Matt Firth, another of my heroes. Matt has been involved in so many important legal English projects over the last few years that I think I’ll have to interview him very soon on this site. Matt must have seen my message on Facebook – we’ve been friends since we worked together on Introduction to International Legal English (see the image down the side of this blog).

Anyway, the point I’m making here is: don’t expect to retain any control over how word of your blog spreads, how fast and in which directions. There are probably all sorts of word-of-mouth chains going on that I’m completely unaware of. As a result of Vicki’s and Matt’s postings to IATET and EULETA, many hundreds of people have seen messages about my blog, if not the blog itself. All completely unprompted by me. Very cool but again very scary.

A fourth thing I’ve learnt – very practical for new bloggers – is to write postings in MS Word first. One reason is that it’s much easier to catch typos that way. (I keep finding typos in my earlier postings, and will probably spot some in this too as soon as it goes up, and again in four years, after the rest of the world has had a chance to laugh at my spelling mistakes!) There is a spellchecker in Blogger, but I keep forgetting to use it. But Word doesn’t even ask me – it checks automatically. (And I'll forgive my version of Word for not recognizing the words ‘blog’ and ‘blogger’ – it just shows (a) how fast things have developed and (b) how old my computer is.

A more important reason to write in word is that posts are added in the order you create them, not the order you post them. Last week I posted a long message about ‘
Google News for ESP Grammar’, which I’d been working on for over a week, off and on. Unfortunately, when it appeared, it was buried down among many older postings. So after all that work, probably no-one ever saw it! So if ever I half-finish a posting again, I’ll copy it to MS Word to finish it, delete the original draft message and create a new posting with the complete article. (In fact, I’ve just realised I could still do that with my grammar story, but now I’ve posted the link, I feel less bad about it wallowing in the ‘dead old stories’ section at the bottom of the page, also known as the archive.

The fifth lesson is simply that there’s loads more I can do with this blog (like learn how to embed videos), and gradually I’ll work through
Karenne’s advice on Alex Case’s blog, as well as the amazing tips on Nik Peachey’s blogs. But in fact you don’t really have to do lots of research and use all the cool techniques right at the beginning. It’s actually really easy to get started, surprisingly easy to get noticed, and amazingly easy to get hooked on blogging.


PS To see what I mean about being “much more comfortable expressing myself in writing than orally”, I present two links connected with this story. The first is my 10-second
interview by Karenne at last year’s BESIG conference, which is where I first met Karenne and was persuaded to join Facebook and the blogosphere. Karenne has been a huge inspiration and helping hand in my first weeks as a blogger.

The second link is to the videos at the
Virtual Round Table website, which is where I first met Vicki Hollett a few weeks ago, and spluttered out a rather gushing question (and still managed to dig myself into a hole by criticizing one of the teacher’s book). I recommend that you watch all the clips from the Vicki Hollett interview, not just my questions. I’ll talk more about the Virtual Round Table soon.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Interview: Paul East

One thing I'd like to do with this blog is pick the brains of some ESP experts around the world. This is mainly for selfish reasons - I think I can learn a lot from asking other people about their experiences and advice. But I think it can also be interesting for readers of this blog. So every couple of weeks I'll try to interview an ESP celebrity/guru/expert/unsung hero.

For the first interview, I've invited Paul East. I chose Paul because he is one of the organisers of the ESP conference in Ulm, which I'd like to know more about. Paul is also very good at networking, so I wanted to ask him for some tips. Anyway, here's the interview. It's quite long, but I think there's some really useful information in there. (I'm going to use colours for the interview, green for me and blue for Paul. When I turn black again at the end, it means I'm talking to you again, not Paul!)

How did you get into ESP? Do you still teach?
A few years ago, I decided to diversify somewhat - offering not just in-company Business English training. I thought that English training would eventually start becoming more specialised so I began to search for trainers who are not only qualified teaching professionals but who also have expertise in specialist areas. Our main focus is on legal, finance, technical, HR, construction and insurance. I still teach myself but only Business English.

Could you tell us something about the Ulm conference? Why should I attend?
The ESP Conference is a bi-annual event held at the Hochschule Ulm - this year´s conference is on 26 September. My fellow organisers are Cornelia Kreis-Meyer and Karen Richardson. The all-day conference is aimed at teachers and trainers who already teach ESP or are thinking of expanding their knowledge and moving into specific areas of teaching.This year we are offering a choice of 30 different professional workshops, presentations and company talks on topics such as law, medicine, the automotive industry, technical English, aviation, finance, law enforcement, telecommunication, and human resources as well as workshops addressing the skills and techniques required to teach ESP. The speakers are all experts in their fields and are coming from countries as far flung as France, Switzerland, Romania, England and the USA, as well as Germany. There will also be presentations and exhibition stands from the key providers of English language teaching publications enabling participants to get personal advice about the best course and examination materials for lessons and training sessions.

I read recently in one of your postings that you belong to dozens of discussion groups, quite a few of which you moderate yourself. What do you get out of membership of these groups? Which of these groups would you recommend for ESP teachers?
Probably too many groups! The main reason is that it´s one way of keeping up-to-date of what´s going on in the teaching profession. Many of the discussions are very interesting and it´s also a good way of networking. Yahoo has thousands of groups and we are spoilt for choice. Recommendations (all Yahoo except where stated):
  • Business: BESIG (IATEFL's Business English Special Interest Group)
  • Legal: EULETA (European Legal English Teachers' Association
  • Technical: IATET (International Association of Technical English Trainers)
  • Technical writing: ATTW (Association of Teachers of Technical Writing)
  • Online Communities - Webheads

What exactly is the Pyramid Group? What can you offer to teachers like me?
As mentioned, Pyramid offers a range of specialist English training (ESP) focusing on legal, finance, technical, HR, construction and insurance. Pyramid Legal, for example, now has partners in 14 European countries, North Africa, Gulf region and Hong Kong. We are also heavily involved in in-company Business English training and being a partner in Pete Sharma Associates (PSA), we provide a comprehensive range of blended learning training. In addition, we offer translations and interpreting in 58 languages.

I´m always interested to hear from teachers who would like to work together with Pyramid and our teacher training programme will be continually expanded in the future.

I know about IATET (the International Association of Teachers of Technical English Trainers) through the Yahoo discussion group, but there's much more to IATET than that. Can you tell me more about it?
IATET is an international organization whose main aim is to raise the quality of technical communication in English. As an organization of independent teachers, trainers and coaches in association with schools (secondary and post-secondary education), companies, and commercial training organisations, IATET plans to develop and promote principles, methods, and practices for training of technical communication in English.

We see an opportunity here to raise the standards in the field of teaching English for technical purposes, and will be focusing on such things as development of internationally-recognized examinations for students as well as teacher training. The emphasis is very much on an international-oriented association and not just with a European-only focus. IATET has been in existence for almost two years as a Yahoo group and is now an officially registered non-profit organisation. Membership is open to anyone involved in Technical English and, like all Yahoo groups, is free to join.

The following have been elected to the IATET board: Paul East (Chair), Cornelia Kreis-Meyer (Vice-Chair), Andreas Büsing (Treasurer) and Matthias Meier (Secretary). We are also very pleased to announce the first IATET Regional Coordinators: Albert P’Rayan (India), David Magee (Gulf States/Saudi Arabia), Vicki Hollett (USA) and Duncan Baker (United Kingdom). With members from around 25 countries in the meantime, we hope to have other regional coordinators in place soon.

Work has started on a website - - which will eventually feature news and updates from all IATET activities. There will, of course, be a members-only section. At the founding meeting, there was a lot of discussion about membership fees and it was decided to charge 30 euros for individuals and 100 euros for institutions (which includes three named representatives).

An annual conference is planned but the emphasis will be on regional activities. For those based in Europe, for example, the first workshop day is planned for 28 November in Stuttgart.

One of the biggest issues within ESP teaching is the question of whether teachers should be subject experts. For example, only teachers who have studied and/or practised law should teach legal English. Do you think non-experts can/should teach ESP?
Good question! Certainly for very specialist subjects such as legal English, I think it is essential - not so much perhaps for such things as ILEC exam preparation but definitely when dealing with practising lawyers. There are a number of important points which apply regardless of the subject and even if the trainer has not studied or practised it.

The trainer should:

  • have a real interest in the student´s line of business
  • be able to do professional research on the subject matter
  • have knowledge of the learner’s L1
  • be a good listener
  • be an experienced language teacher
  • have extensive work experience in a non-teaching related profession e.g. translating
Thanks very much, Paul. You've given me plenty to think about.

Over to you. If you have any comments or questions for Paul, please leave a comment below. You can also contact Paul directly ( Also, which online communities do you recommend?

Paul East Biodata
Paul East is the founder and managing director of The Pyramid Group which offers a range of specialist English training (ESP) in the area of legal, technical, HR and insurance, as well as providing translations and interpreting in 58 languages.

He is the President of the International Association of Technical English Trainers (IATET) as well as being a founding member and on the board of EULETA (European Legal English Teachers´ Association). Paul is also the ELTAU president (English Language Teachers Association of Ulm / Neu-Ulm) and President of the Ulm Toastmasters.

Memberships include Arbeitskreises für Technikgeschichte, Ulm, Ulm / Neu-Ulm Marketing Club and BVMW (Bundesverband mittelständische Wirtschaft Unternehmerverband Deutschland e.V.).

The Pyramid Group is headquartered in Ulm, Germany and has offices in London, Frankfurt and Munich.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

A wish-list for ESP course design

Over the last 6 months I've done lots of presentations to promote the books in the ESP series I edit, Cambridge English for ..., which were launched at the BESIG conference last November. (In case you haven't noticed them yet, they're on proud display down the side of this blog).

Mostly these presentations have been on the topic of finding out and providing exactly what ESP students need. I built the presentations around the idea that there are some quick and easy (Q&E) techniques for ESP course design (e.g. creating a lesson out of a text from the internet), and there are other techniques for designing more useful and authentic materials (e.g. creating a credible dialogue to introduce and teach essential functional language for a given area of ESP). Unfortunately, these are much more difficult and time-consuming to produce, which is why I call them wish-list techniques, i.e. things we as teachers would love to do for our students if we had all the time and energy in the world.

So it may come as a surprise to anyone who saw my presentations that, so far, the lesson ideas in this blog have been from the Q&E side.

The reason is simple: most of the lessons that I write for my own teaching are actually very quick and easy to produce. I seem to be permanently rushing around, juggling with scary deadlines and trying to squeeze in a bit of quality time with my children, so I don't often have the luxury of spending four hours to create a one-hour lesson.

That's where the books come in - the ideal ESP book should, in my opinion, provide all those wish-list things like authentic and useful dialogues, leaving me as a teacher to supplement it with Q&E topical and personalised materials for my students. That at least has been one of the guiding principle behind the Cambridge English for ... series.

I'll try to work my way through some of the techniques from both sides over the coming months in this blog. There are quite a lot of them - my BESIG presentation had over 100 slides, which I tried to squeeze into a 45-minute presentation. (Yes, I know that was a silly thing to do).

But expect to see quite a few Q&E lesson ideas too - every time I create something for my students I'll blog about it.

In the meantime, I'll hand over to you. What's on your wish-list? What would you love to do with your ESP students, if only you had the time?

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Can non-experts teach ESP? Part 1: Stereotypes

This issue keeps coming up again and again in various groups I belong to. Basically, ESP teachers seem to come from two directions: subject specialists who become ELT teachers; and ELT teachers who start teaching a particular specialisation. Needless to say, there’s a lot of potential for conflict between the two camps.

There’s too much to say on this issue for a single posting – and I expect to come back to it again and again, which is why I’ve called this posting ‘Part 1’. I’ll start with some stereotypes.

Samantha Smug has got a law degree and thinks she knows everything about Legal English. She didn’t get a very good law degree, which is why she ended up as an English teacher. Her lessons are pretty dull – lots of explanations and translations, but at least she knows her stuff. She charges a lot for her lessons, and clients are happy to pay for her expertise.

Ken Cool, is currently working his way around the world, using income from ELT to support his life as a surfer. One of his classes is with a group of lawyers, but they rarely touch on the subject of law. His lessons are very touchy-feely – lots of jazz chants, self-expression and kinaesthetic group dynamics. He's discovered a new technique is called dogme, which he used to call ‘winging it when you’ve forgotten to plan’.

Well, obviously those are not real people, but too often the debate about who has the right to teach ESP focuses on stereotypes rather than the reality. I’ve seen some pretty fiery debates arguing that it’s a disgrace and an insult to students to try to teach them (and charge good money for it) without having a solid knowledge of their subject. From the other side, one of the best put-downs I’ve heard is “What sort of teacher moves into ESP? Usually one of the most intelligent, informed and experienced. What sort of lawyer becomes an English teacher? One who couldn’t get a job as a lawyer."

Needless to say, I don't believe in either of these stereotypes.

My own view is that both groups of teachers can and should learn a lot from each other. I think there's room within the world of ESP for both. I think there are good teachers and less good teachers, and those categories cut right across the expert/non-expert divide. But I know there are plenty who would disagree with me. That's why I’ve created what I hope will turn into a debate.

I’ll return to this subject soon with some practical ideas for both camps. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your anecdotes and your views – however fiery. Leave a comment or write me an email.

PS For a great introduction to dogme (which is not actually the same as winging it), see this posting on Kalinago English.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

What do words actually mean?

The problem with specialised English is that the same word can mean radically different things to different people. Or, more likely, there’s a subtle but important difference between the way a word is used by specialists in a particular field and by the rest of us. When that happens, it’s fair to ask: who’s right? Who has the right to say what a word really means, the experts or the majority?

I started thinking about this a few weeks ago when I read
this message on EULETA’s Yahoo Discussion Group (EULETA is the European Legal English Teachers’ Association, and I strongly recommend the Yahoo group to all teachers of Legal English.) The question was about bankruptcy. In British Legal English, technically only individuals and partnerships can be made bankrupt, while insolvent companies may go into administration or receivership (or administrative receivership …) before perhaps being liquidated. But it seems that many, probably most, speakers of British English, including many respectable journalists, don’t know or don’t care about such distinctions. See, for example, this story from the (British) Financial Times.

So who’s right, the lawyers or the journalists? And where does that leave us poor teachers? Well, you can read the rest of the debate on EULETA by clicking the “next” tab on the right hand side of
the page. But my advice is simply to teach that there’s disagreement and it’s up to your students to decide. Some people may see this as a cop-out: we should be the ones to provide definitive answers to our students. But other teachers, myself included, consider the discussion much more important than the answer.

Another example is merger. We all know that a merger is when two companies join together to become one, unlike a takeover, where one company gobbles up another company. Right? Wrong. Look at this extract from
West's Encyclopedia of American Law:
merger n. 1) in corporate law, the joining together of two corporations in which
one corporation transfers all of its assets to the other, which continues to
exist. In effect one corporation "swallows" the other, but the shareholders of
the swallowed company receive shares of the surviving corporation. A merger is
distinguished from a "consolidation" in which both companies join together to
create a new corporation.
So what I’d call a merger is actually a consolidation, and what I’d call a takeover is actually a merger. Who’s right? You decide.

I got into a similar mess a few years ago trying to argue with a professional linguist about phrasal verbs. In ELT we talk about phrasal verbs loosely to describe verbs with several parts, and there are several types (e.g. to wake up, to sort sth out, to look after sth, to put up with sth). To a linguist, however, look after is a prepositional verb, and put up with is a prepositional phrasal verb (or something like that). Who’s right, the millions (billions?) of teachers and learners of ELT, or the thousands of experts? Again, you decide.

Anyway, you can see my lesson plan based on the bankruptcy controversy

You can join the EULETA Discussion Group

The whole debate was actually sparked off by one of TransLegal’s LexMail Words of the Week, which you can see
here. Find out more about LexMail here.

So, what do you think? What do these words really mean? And what should we tell our students?

Google News for ESP grammar

Last week I was looking for an up-to-date news story to provide some practice of third conditionals and to put the language into an interesting context. (My students had requested it).

Google News is perfect for things like this. Maybe you've been using it for years, but I only discovered in a few months ago. (I'd assumed the 'News' tab on Google would lead me to news about Google). Different national Google sites will generate different news stories, so I always switch from my default version ( to the UK version (

So I typed in "would have" (in inverted commas) into the search box, and got a huge list of great news stories, most of which contained third conditionals. (Go on, give it a try now – I’ll wait here for you.)

Here’s the story I chose, based on five rather superficial criteria:

a. It’s short.
b. It’s interesting in terms of content, and therefore should generate some good discussion.
c. It contains two third conditionals, plus plenty of other nice tense-related structures (reported speech, present perfect, etc.).
d. It’s loosely connected with legal English, so I can justify using it with my lawyers.
e. It’s also (arguably) an example of media spin/bias/slant (i.e. we get a rather negative impression of the teacher, perhaps because that will attract more readers, whereas perhaps another version of the same story might present her as a victim). Therefore I can use it with my media exec 1 to 1.

So what can you do with a text like this? (It’s a good idea to have
the story open in a separate window, or to print it out, so you can follow my points).

When you print it out, use the printable version, which most news sites seem offer. [I’ll talk about copyright issues in another post, but suffice to say I included all the details about the author, date and web address in my printout.]

Then in the classroom, first of all, get students to read the title to predict what the story is going to be about. Discuss the three meanings of branch (partof a tree; an office of a large firm; and a sector of industry). Check students understand the verb sue, and imagine who a teacher might be suing and why. (One of my students suggested she might be suing the tree).

A simple while-reading task is to check those predictions, but you could add more questions (What exactly happened? What injuries did she suffer? What were the long-term consequences? Whose fault was the incident?) After reading, students can discuss in pairs before you open up the discussion. Do the teacher’s symptoms (tiredness, memory loss and problems multi-tasking) sound serious to you? How could they be assessed / proved? Does she have a chance of getting the money? Is this an example of Britain becoming a
litigious society, or does the teacher have a good case? Does the article present a balanced view of the story, or are we being manipulated by the choice of language and the structure of the text?

Now is the time to check vocabulary problems, including drawing attention to useful collocations (to sustain an injury, an impaired memory, a high threshold, to deny liability), prepositions (to sue sb for sth, to glance at sth, adjacent to sth, to deal with sth, reliant on sb, to have an impact on sth) and idioms (it’s with our solicitors = we’re preparing to fight this case in court). This would actually work well as a matching exercise, matching the first part of these collocations in one column (or on slips of paper) with the second parts.

As a grammar lover, I can’t resist analysing al the great grammar in this story – but it’s important only to do this with students who also like grammar.

  • Reduced relative clause: A teacher (who was) injured by a falling branch is suing …
  • Preposition + verb + ing in passive: Since being injured, she has not worked (= Since she was injured …)
  • Reported speech: Her solicitor said she had not worked and suffered from …
  • Subject-to-subject raising: She is said to have trouble multi-tasking (= It is said that she has trouble)
  • Third conditionals: If there had been …; If someone had just walked along …
  • What-clefting for emphasis: What we’re trying to do is to restore … (= We’re trying to restore).

The nice thing about all of those structures is that they're great for transformations, so an obvious exercise would be an FCE-style transformations exercise:

  1. A falling branch injured a schoolteacher, who is suing the EA. [BY] (A schoolteacher ...)
  2. "Since she was injured, she hasn't worked" said her solicitor. [BEING] (Her solicitor ...)

You get the idea.

A final task would be to copy the whole text into a word document, and replace all the tensed verbs with gaps: A schoolteacher injured by a falling branch _____ (sue) the EA ...

I say 'would be', because copying and changing someone else's work is right on the borderline between what's acceptable and what's not in terms of copyright. It might be safer to use a black marker on a printout of the original ...

So there you have it - a quick and easy grammar lesson. Not especially authentic or heavy (in terms of legal English), so I wouldn't build a whole course out of texts like these, but from time to time they do the job well. Comments are very welcome, especially if you can think of any other things to ask Google News to generate grammar lesson.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Financial English videos

This week I've been spending a lot of time watching and analysing suitable videos for Financial English, so I thought I'd share a couple of clips with you, and pass on my ideas for very simple lessons.

The reason I've suddenly taken an interest in Financial English is that I write activities every month for
Professional English Online, Cambridge University Press's site for teachers of Business English and ESP. This month I felt it was time to bite the bullet of Financial English, an area that I'd managed to avoid up to now. I chose to do a video lesson because, again, this is something I'd avoided. Also, the videos on YouTube are so good as introductions to the subject of Financial English.

So here are a couple of great tutorials:
  • Untangling Credit Default Swaps: One of a series of tutorials from Paddy Hirsch, Senior Editor at Marketplace, illustrating various complex financial concepts using metaphors, diagrams and simple examples. All of his tutorials are excellent, but this is the one that helped me most.
  • Collateralized Debt Obligations: another clear and simple illustration of a complex topic, this time from the Khan Academy. The Khan academy seems to be a great source of knowledge on a wide range of subjects - check out all their videos on YouTube.
  • The Crisis of Credit Visualized: my personal favourite, and the one I chose for the activity on Professional English Online (mainly because the visuals are so much cooler).
There are also some nice comedy sketches about the financial crisis, including plenty from John Bird and John Fortune (such as this one - perfect apart from some mild swearing towards the end). The financial sketch that really made me laugh was this one from Little Britain - although it's probably not ideal for your financial whiz-kids.

So, coming back to the tutorials, how can you use them in class? Well, it's all a question of aims - a subject I'll go into much more deeply in a later post. To me, there are up to four valid aims here,
  1. to provide listening practice and/or teach listening skills;
  2. to introduce/teach/practise some financial terminology;
  3. to improve your and your students' understanding of difficult concepts;
  4. to teach some techniques and/or functional language that can be transferred to real life speaking situations.

So, taking the first aim first, students will get something out of just watching a clip. But they don't really need to pay you for that privelege! Your job is to manage the process so they get more out of it than they would without your help. That means breaking it into manageable chunks (probably no more than 2 minutes each), and providing questions that will support them rather than trick/test them. A nice technique here is true/false statements or yes/no questions, where you focus the student's attention on a particular fragment of the video and they only have to understand generally what's going on in order to answer your question, and they only have to write one letter (T/F or Y/N) while they're listening. At the end of the section, they discuss their answers with a partner (make sure they see this as speaking practice rather than just a list of true-false-false-true) and finally go through them with the class. If your questions are well designed, your students should now have a very good idea of what the whole section was about - and they'll have the impression that they understood much more than they perhaps really did. Very good for confidence. As I say, use your questions to teach rather than trick.

What about listening skills (as opposed to just practice)? The obvious one here is the skill of prediction - knowing what you're going to hear before you listen. Here again, the questions will be a great help: students discuss what they expect the answers to be, and then watch the clip to check. Also, get them to predict at the end of each section what will happen next.

Coming on to my second aim, financial terminology, this will make the student feel they've got something meaty out of the lesson. Rather than just "We watched a video - it was quite interesting", they'll tell their friends "We learnt some new words". (Well, perhaps they won't really tell their friends ... but these are finance people, don't forget). The best thing to do here is a gapfill: transcribe a handful of sentences from each section of the video and gap the target vocab. Put all the gapped words in a box below the sentences, and get students first to predict and then to watch the video a second time to check their answers. That second viewing is really important, by the way, because that's when they'll feel that they understand everything, and they'll feel great about it.

My third aim, understanding difficult concepts, isn't really an aim ... let's call it a secondary aim. I think students will appreciate learning something new about their own subjects, or perhaps they'll like showing off that they already knew it. But you, as a teacher, can really benefit from the kind of close analysis that comes from creating a lesson from a video clip.

My finaly aim is about techniques and functional language. Some good techniques incuded in the videos above are: using diagrams, using metaphors, using simplistic examples, etc. The language technique best illustrated by these clips is that of discourse markers to signal and manage an explanation, things like:

  • In other words ...
  • So, as you can see,
  • But have a look at what's happened over here.
  • Rhetorical questions: But what happens if we ...?
  • Clefting: What I'm going to talk about next is ...; What happens is that ...

So there we have it. I'll end with a brief summary of how to manage a sample 1-2 minute extract from a video:

  1. Students predict answers to T/F statements in pairs. Support them with vocabulary from the statements. Brief feedback in class.
  2. First viewing to check.
  3. Students discuss (and I mean discuss) in pairs. Feed back in class. Focus on the content and students' reaction to it - not just the language.
  4. Students attempt gapfill in pairs.
  5. Second viewing to check.
  6. Students discuss in pairs. Feed back in class.
  7. Predict with the class what will happen next.

That's enough for now. Good luck.


PS Please let me know if you use any of these ideas in class, or if you can recommend any of your own Financial English videos. I'll post a link to my activity on Professional English Online when it appears there.

Sunday, 14 June 2009


Hello. Welcome to Specific English, my new blog aimed at teachers of ESP (that's English for Specific Purposes, not Extra Sensory Perception - sorry).

Here's my vision for the blog:

  • I'll try to post regularly on a wide range of ESP topics, covering legal English, medical English, technical English, financial English and all the other branches of ESP. No shortage of ideas there.
  • I'll also try to build a bank of simple teaching ideas based on topical news stories and the odd clip on YouTube. Mostly these will be lessons I actually create for my own students, so you'll notice rather a lot on Intellectual Property law and TV/Marketing, two areas I currently teach.
  • I want to promote my series, Cambridge English for ..., but I'll try not to be too gushing in my praise, and to keep a balance between my own stuff and other people's.
  • Last but not least, I hope blogging will be a good way of networking. There are lots of good people out there will very deep knowledge of various ESP areas, and I hope to learn from them, and maybe even make some friends along the way.
So there we have it, my first blog post. I've probably done it all wrong, but I feel like a real blogger now!