Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Why I love teaching (part 1)

I seem to spend a lot of time moaning about teaching, dreaming of the day when I can give it all up. Last week I was feeling miserable because our new semester was about to start ...

But sometimes I have a great day and feel that I make a difference to people's lives. Sometimes. I've just had a good day, and I thought it's worth sharing.

My first class tonight was a group of 10 pre-int adults. They really are seriously low level, so I have to work hard to keep everything graded and tight ... but I love it. It's real learning and real teaching. They know things today that they didn't know a few hours ago ... they can do things they couldn't do before.

My second class was legal English. The 10 students seem to come from every field of law there is, and between them they know the whole system. Between them - and that's the point. So the lessons are all about sharing that wealth of knowledge and experience around the classroom. It's wonderful. And as I mentioned in this posting last week, I'm also feeling much more comfortable than ever before teaching legal English, more confident that I know what I'm talking about and that I can add value. Very satisfying.

So ... yeah ... teaching's OK.

PS Don't worry. I'll be grumpy again soon.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Can non-experts teach ESP? Part 2: It all depends … but on what?

A few months ago, I wrote a piece about non-experts in ESP. To use myself as an example, I teach legal English but I’m not a lawyer. So I’d class myself as a non-expert in the subject of law. Should I worry about that? Should I leave it to the ‘experts’? Would I be a better teacher if I had a law degree? Am I ripping off my students by pretending to be something I’m not?

These are all important questions, and I won’t be able to answer them fully in this (hopefully short) post. Today I just want to move the discussion forward slightly. I was also planning to do a review of the various reactions I got to my initial discussion – there were plenty of great ideas, which I want to bring together on this blog. But I’ll save that for a later post (I want to do it properly and not rush it), and concentrate here on clarifying the slippery concepts of ESP and non-experts.

Seeing other people’s thoughts on this question really brought it home to me how diverse ESP is. I’m not just talking about the range of ESP subjects (Legal English, Technical English, English for Biotechnology, English for Counter-Narcotics, etc.), but also the range of teaching situations that we work in (e.g. in-company courses, open courses at private language schools, 1-to-1 lessons with practising professionals, ESP modules in vocational training courses, university degree courses, etc.).

The primary distinction here seems to be whether the aim of the ESP teacher is to develop general English skills (using the context of the students’ subject simply because it’s more interesting than talking about chimpanzees, for example), or whether there’s some element of CLIL (content and language integrated learning, i.e. teaching the subject and English at the same because in many ways the two are inseparable). Subject expertise is clearly more important in the latter than in the former.

There’s also a wide range of sources of course materials that we use (published course books, home-made courses written by the teacher, institution-made courses written centrally, dogme-style student-generated courses, etc.). Here I’d say the relevant distinction is between courses written by the teacher and those written by another person, an expert. It’s one thing to teach well-written materials created by someone else, someone who has decent subject knowledge and awareness of the learners’ professional needs. It’s quite another thing for an EFL teacher to try to write such a course from scratch.

My confidence as a teacher of legal English comes in a large part from the fact that I use a book written by lawyers and tested on lawyers. Five years ago, when I was using course materials I’d written myself, I was on much shakier ground. So although I’d spent six stressful months writing and teaching Advanced Legal English for the British Council, as soon as International Legal English (CUP) was published, I ditched my own course and used the one written by experts.

(I’ll explain one day how I came to write the teacher’s book for that course, despite my non-expertise at the time. In fact, I think being a non-expert really helped me with that book, because it meant I asked and researched lots of stupid questions that more experienced teachers would think were obvious, like “what does tort mean?”).

So my not-very exciting answer to the question “can non-experts teach ESP?” is “it depends”. But the rather more interesting follow-up is “but what does it depend on?”. When I write a blog posting to review other people’s thoughts on this topic, I think the two distinctions above (general English skills vs CLIL; teacher-written courses vs expert-written courses) will help to organise all the ideas.

There’s also, of course, a considerable grey area between the extremes of expert and non-expert that I described in my earlier post. When I called myself a non-expert earlier, I don’t mean I’m completely clueless when it comes to legal English. In fact, after five years of teaching legal English and with two books published on the subject, I’m very often treated as an expert (which can be quite scary, given all the questions I can’t answer off the top of my head). People tend to assume that because my books contain so much knowledge, I must also have that knowledge! In fact, I just copied it off the internet and forgot most of it straight away.

But last week I started unit 1 of International Legal English with a new group – the fourth time I’ve taught that unit in the last 6 months. And you know what? I did know all the answers. I predicted my students’ questions and was able to take the discussion off in new directions, confident that I knew what I was talking about. I also knew exactly how to make the exercises more communicative and fun. But all of this came from (a) having taught the book so many times recently and (b) having a great teacher’s book to support me. (Sorry for my lack of modesty, but the teacher’s book does make life so much easier for teachers.) So I actually felt like an expert – much more so than six months ago, let alone two or five years ago. And this time next year I’ll be further along the non-expert–expert gradient.

To take another example, I have a friend, Andrew, who has been teaching legal English full-time at the highest level for nine years (and who is a follower of this blog, so I’d better watch what I say). He’s also a partner in a legal translation company, so he knows all the right jargon and can speak intelligently on pretty much any law topic. Whenever I speak to him about the law or lawyers’ needs or legal writing or whatever, it’s blindingly obvious that he’s an expert. Partners in the top law firms in Poland trust his expertise and experience. But … he doesn’t have a law degree, so some people might argue that, on paper, he can’t be an expert. (I’d say expertise is about what you know and can do, rather than what pieces of paper you have.

An important point to make is that expertise and experience grow over time, so all experts started out as non-experts. My first legal English lesson was dreadful, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Andrew’s was not-so-hot either.

So my message to would-be ESP teachers is this. There’s no need to feel ashamed about lack of expertise. I’d advise you to start off with skills-based ESP rather than CLIL, and to use a course book rather than write your own materials, if at all possible. You’ll also need to manage expectations carefully (I’ll expand on this in a later post). But if you work hard and learn from your students (two very big ifs), you can move along the grey-scale from non-expert to become a real expert.

PS For more on this issue, see this great article by Alex Case.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Conferences and Presentations - autumn 2009

My life seems to be revolving around conferences and presentations at the moment, so I thought I’d share some ideas from the conference I’ve just attended, as well as look ahead to some events coming up soon.

Last weekend we had our IATEFL Poland conference, which I try to attend every year. It was a great event as usual, with some fantastic entertainment, great networking and inspiring presentations. My own presentation was a very simple affair – My Top Ten Grammar Structures. No methodology, no theory, no ESP, no course design, just me talking about my favourite bits of grammar. I was a bit apologetic about the title before the conference, especially when I saw all the sophisticated things that everyone else was going to be talking about. But I got a huge audience (the 200-seater lecture hall was full!) and they really seemed to appreciate the talk. And I got a huge ego boost!

So now I feel like a proper presenter, I’ll share my top 5 tips for presentations.

1. Get a clicker. In case you don’t know, a clicker is like a little remote control that enables you to control your PowerPoint presentation without having to keep dashing back to the computer. I did a series of presentations back in May, and for two of them I managed to borrow a clicker, but for the third I didn’t. It was like the difference between walking and flying. So I went to my local computer store last week and bought my own … well worth every penny. I’ll never present without it again.

2. Don’t rely on YouTube. I watched one presentation fall flat because the computers at the conference centre had the wrong version of Adobe FlashPlayer installed, which meant that the presenter’s chosen clip wouldn’t play. (She then spent the next 10 minutes trying to download Adobe Reader while the audience groaned, “it’s the wrong program! And you’re not allowed to download onto these computers anyway! And we don’t really care about the clip!”) Apparently, it happened in other presentations at the conference too. So if you’re planning to present at this year’s BESIG conference, which is in the same location, don’t say I didn’t warn you!

3. Don’t despair if there’s only one person in the audience. OK, it’s easy for me to say, with my audience of 200 (sorry for going on about it!), but I was really impressed by a presentation on English for Biotechnology by Tomasz Rączka from Warsaw University of Technology, where I was the only person (apart from three conference organisers) in the audience. Everyone else was at Raymond Murphy’s presentation in the main hall. If I’d had an audience of 1, I would have seriously considered giving up, but Mr Rączka just got on with it and did a great job. Very impressive. I learnt a lot about this interesting topic. The point is this: if you get a very small audience, it’s still worth giving your presentation.

4. If you want a big audience, keep it really practical. One of the keynote speakers (and I’m sorry for forgetting which one) said that some people attended conferences because they wanted WISDOM, but most attended because they wanted WICDOM, or “what I can do on Monday”. So theory is fine, long words will make you sound clever, but tips and tricks will fill the room with eager attendees.

5. Remember – presenting is a performing art. If you’re passionate about your topic, let it show. If you’re not, pretend you are. Also, practise, practise, practise – with an audience. The more times you do your presentation, the better it’ll be. You’ll also learn what gets a laugh and what falls flat. The most memorable presentation I saw at last weekend’s conference was Bethany Cagnol’s session on English for the Performing Arts. It was a great performance and a fascinating topic. The thing that had never occurred to me was that we perform all the time, and the techniques used by actors, opera singers and comedians are also incredibly useful in everyday situations.

Anyway, the next event on my conference calendar is the ESP conference on 26th September in Ulm. I’m disappointed not to be attending myself – it looks like an excellent event, with some really interesting sessions on a very wide range of topics. According to the website the conference is full, so I won’t say too much about it. But don’t forget there’s my interview with Paul East, one of the conference organisers, here on this blog. I’ll really have to try to go next year … but Ulm’s such a difficult place to get to!

Much easier to get to, at least for me in Warsaw, is this year’s BESIG conference, which this year for the first is being held in Poland, between the 20th and 22nd November. As I mentioned above, it’s in Poznań, in the same venue as last weekend’s IATEFL Poland conference. It’s a very nice venue, with great facilities, in a lovely city. The list of presentations also looks very impressive.

My own presentation will be a new one, Results-Focused ESP, which will use the context of English for Nursing to show how to help non-natives cope in high-stress professional situations even without an especially high level of English language skills. I haven’t written the presentation yet, but I’ve asked Virginia Allum to help me, so hopefully it’ll be OK! Virginia is one of the authors of Cambridge English for Nursing,  and she’s also a very experienced Registered Nurse, Lecturer, Nurse Facilitator and teacher of English for Nursing. So if anyone can help me, Virginia should be able to.

Also in November, I’m presenting the new legal English course, Introduction to International Legal English, at the 3rd International Legal English Conference in Warsaw on 14th November.  Matt Firth, one of the authors of that course book (and a founder of EULETA, the European Legal English Teachers’ Association) will also be presenting at that conference.

This week I also registered for next April's IATEFL conference in Harrogate.  I hope to do a similar talk to the one at BESIG, but this time with the support of Virginia Allum as my co-presenter. I've never co-presented at a conference before, but I'm looking forward to it. I'll be a lot happier talking about English for Nursing with a real nurse there to support me. Fingers crossed that my talk is accepted.

But before all that, in October I’m off to the Czech Republic and Slovakia for a 4-city tour to promote my ESP series, Cambridge English for … (Surely I don't need to remind you that the series is on proud display down the side of this blog?) I’m very much looking forward to that. I’ll take my clicker and hopefully, by the fourth presentation I’ll have got the timing right with my jokes.

Anyway, if you’re off to the Ulm conference this month, enjoy it. And I hope to see some of you in Poznań in November.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

First steps in course design

One of the biggest dangers in ESP, and indeed any courses where you don’t have a course book, is DRIFT. The teacher plans from lesson to lesson: an interesting text here, a bit of work on present perfect there, some useful phrases for emails over there … but where is it all leading? Are the students actually making any progress towards a goal? How can that be measured? Is that even the right goal for them?

Don’t get me wrong, lesson-by-lesson planning is fine up to a point, and I’ve recently found myself slipping into it quite often, but I always get the uneasy feeling that I should be doing more to structure the lessons. In other words, to turn a string of lessons into a coherent course.

But where do you start?

Well, the first step is obviously some sort of needs analysis, but I don’t really want to get into that in this post. I mentioned it here, and I’ll certainly come back to it in future posts. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume we have a good idea of what our students need from their course.

Where I teach, at the British Council, we have semesters of 31 lessons of 90 minutes each, so I’ll use that as my model. It could be, of course, that you don’t have semesters at all in your teaching situation – lessons start when the client signs the contract, and finish when you’re undercut by a rival language school (or one with better marketing), or the next financial crisis causes your client to put those expensive English lessons on hold. If that’s the case, consider imposing your own pseudo-semesters. How many lessons are there between now and Christmas? 18? OK, that could be your semester.

Coming back to my 31-lesson semester, the first thing to do is to break the course down into units (or modules, if you prefer to call them that). So I’ll give myself 6 units of 5 lessons each (with an extra lesson at the end for something Christmassy, or a test, or whatever). So now instead of worrying about 31 ‘things’, now I only have 6 things to worry about – a big psychological improvement.

Those 6 things should be topics or broad scenarios. If our course is for factory managers, for example, we could have a unit about factories, one on production lines, one on staff management, one on health and safety, one on technical problems and one on machines. For example. These are just off the top of my head ideas, and of course I’d base a real course on needs analysis. But let’s go with these six units.

Now the next step is to sketch out a grid to help you plan your units. Let’s create a table with the unit titles down the first column, and along the top row we’ll have the following titles: Reading, Writing, Listening, Speaking, Grammar, Vocab and Functions. (I could have added Pronunciation here, but that’s something I tend neglect, for reasons I’ll explain one day).

I can now start filling in the spaces in the grid with the info I picked up in the needs analysis. What are their priorities in terms of grammar? Perhaps I can get some reading texts from their company websites, or the website of the governmental body that regulates their part of industry, or the UK equivalent of that agency. What writing situations did they say they needed to work on? What functional language would support them in each of those situations? What about speaking – what role-plays can I set up which will practise those situations well? What functional language will support them in those role-plays? Can I find listening / video materials to serve as models? And so on.

Each of the boxes should generate approximately one lesson … well, actually, I only need five lessons per unit, so I’ll aim to get one out of the reading (with discussion and vocab), one out of the listening (again with discussion and vocab), a third out of a big role-play (with functional language input) and a fourth out of a writing task (with a model to read and some functional language input). That leaves the fifth lesson in each unit for odds and ends, like some grammar pulled out of the text and the listening, some vocab revision and recycling, perhaps some feedback on the writing, that sort of thing.

The table doesn’t actually need to be complete at this stage – a sketch is fine, because I’ll get many more ideas as I’m actually teaching the course. Course design is always something of a fiction – as soon as you get into the classroom you’ll see all sorts of holes in your current plan and all sorts of opportunities to fill those holes.

So I’d aim to get the first two units planned in great detail, and leave the others as sketches. I’ll then actually write the first unit – easier said than done, but I guess that’s something for a later post too. And we’re ready to go.

Well, almost.

I’m terrible at planning timing. An activity that I plan as a 10-minute warmer sometimes takes off and sees me through two whole lessons. Other times, a big showpiece 5-page extravaganza can be sailed through in a matter of minutes, if the students don’t share my own enthusiasm for it.

So … you’ve got to have a stash or warmers, fillers, uppers, downers and shame-faced time-wasters up you sleeve. Again, I’ll save my ideas on these for a later post, but you’ll find some of my favourites in my two teacher’s books (available from all good bookshops).

And that’s it. A homemade course with a beginning and an end. When you finish, your students will have a neat stack of six attractive and chunky handouts to remind them of what they’ve achieved, rather than the random pile of dog-eared one-pagers that they usually accumulate during lessons. And you can use that stack of handouts as the basis of your end-of-course test, to see if they've actually made any progress towards those meeting needs that you analysed so painstakingly at the beginning.

As always, feedback is very welcome. Do you use these or similar techniques? Is it as easy as I’ve made it out to be, or are there more traps we need to look out for? Looking forward to seeing your ideas.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Me and the blogosphere

I spent most of the summer either working like mad on my writing and editing work or relaxing in the sunshine with my wife and kids. So I kind of neglected not just my own blog, but also everyone else's.

Now I'm back in control again, and I've at last had a chance to check what fellow bloggers have been writing during my absence. And I've found some great stuff.

First of all, remember this piece I wrote - my thoughts on blogging - as part of a blog carnival organised by Karenne Sylvester at Kalinago English? Well, the carnival happened during my absence (as carnivals always seem to), and it's really worth spending a couple of hours wading through it, following all the links, noting down the great advice. I've only skimmed the surface of the wealth of knowledge and expert support for new bloggers like me, but I'll go back to this resource again and again.

One thing I noticed on Karenne's site was that she'd reached the number one spot on OneStopBlogs. Congratulations Karenne! But when I followed the link, I was delighted to see my own humble blog in the top ten. (It was number 9 when I first checked, number 11 yesterday, and back to 10 today - not that I'm obsessed or anything). How did that happen?

(Well, now I know how it happened. My blog was mentioned twice in other blogs in the OneStopBlogs list ... both times, it turned out, on Kalinago English. Once in the carnival and once on Karenne's round-up of blogs for June.)

Anyway, I kind of liked the idea of being in the top 10, so I set off in search of more statistics. (You won't be surprised, by the way, to hear that I check the sales of the books in my series about once a week, or that when I used to sell newspapers in Berlin I kept a graph of daily sales on my wall). I found a function on Blogger that tells me which sites link to this blog, and I found well over 100! I calmed down a bit when I realised that over half of these were from Vicki Hollett's blog, which has a short cut to my own. I guess every time she updates her blog (which seems to be quite often), I get a new link.

What I like about Vicki's blog is that the entries are all nice and short, so you can go in, get your quick fix of ideas / inspiration / enlightenment and get on with the rest of your life. I'll try to follow her example ... one day. Anyway, Vicki's great story on "How it all started" (well worth a read, including the comments) led me to explore Ken Wilson's blog.

As well as his own "How it all started" story (which, like Vicki's reminded me of the horrors of my first lessons - something I'll have to write about one day), I also loved his piece on native and non-native-English-speaker teachers (NESTs and non-NESTs - great acronyms!). I've been muttering about discrimination against non-NESTs for quite a few years, including a very stressful conference panel debate where the other three panelists ganged up on me! So that's something else I plan to explore on my own blog.

Coming back to the list of sites that linked to my own, I did find one genuine article, which was inspired by my post on non-experts teaching ESP: this very interesting piece on Margaret Marks' Transblawg. (Again, I'll come back to the points she raises in a later post here.) It's well worth exploring Margaret's blog, especially if you teach legal English - scan through her posts on law here, for a taster.

Anyway, seeing Margaret's post reminded me about a message I'd posted on LinkedIn's BESIG group when I started this blog, asking for opinions on the non-expert issue. It turned out there were a couple of great responses, which I REALLY will write up on this blog very soon, so I'll resist the temptation to say more on that topic for now. (There's nothing like a wander round the blogosphere to give yourself inspiraration!)

But while I was at LinkedIn, my eye was caught by a link to Carl Dowse's blog, where he had posted a video interview of Matt Firth by Gavin Dudeney. Matt is a legal English expert, someone I've worked with directly and indirectly quite a lot over the last couple of years (e.g. Matt co-authored Introduction to International Legal English, to which I wrote the teacher's book). That interview is well worth watching, not least because he has some really good points to make about the expert / non-expert debate (which, as I've said, I'll come back to!)

While I was at Carl's blog, I noticed in his list of topics immediately beneath Matt Firth was Nik Peachey. Nik gave me an early break in my career back in 2003/4, when he gave me the chance to moderate the Language Development discussion group on SearchEnglish, one of the British Council websites that Nik used to run (and which is sadly defunct nowadays).

(It could well be, of course, that I was the only person to volunteer to moderate that group, so I suspect he didn't have to agonize for long over the decision to take me on. But that opportunity gave me the chance to discuss things with learners and teachers all over the world ... well, mostly the discussions were between the moderators themselves (who also included Gavin Dudeney, Nicky Hockley and Graham Stanley, if I remember correctly), because I guess the world wasn't ready for our version of Web2.0 back then ...)

Anyway, it occurred to me that Nik could help me with my search for statistics, and sure enough I found this great tutorial on using Google Analytics to monitor traffic on one of his sites. Excellent. And as a result, dear reader, I now know EVERYTHING about you, haha!

From there, I finally made it back to Kalinago English, where there's a fascinating guest piece by Gavin Dudeney on inspirational women in ELT. Now perhaps I'm imagining things, but it feels as if Gavin's been following me on my trip around the blogosphere! Paranoia aside, I decided to check out Gavin's own blog, where he's got some great ideas on the future of books, which I'll be sharing with my colleagues in the world of publishing. Interestingly, it was Gavin who gave me some excellent advice about becoming an author the first time I met him (for a few minutes). (The second time we met, again briefly, it was deep underground, and we were very hungry, but that's another story).

So what have I learnt on my first real wander round the blogosphere? Well, I've learnt why it's called the blogosphere for a start - everything's connected to something else, forming a huge web of connections. Also, it does feel like a community. The same names keep coming up, and discussions lead both to unexpected, intriguing new sites and to reassuringly familiar places like Kalingo English, which is good when all the wandering around gets too much.

So I've created my own blog roll (called "Blogs I like", in the side bar), to help me find those blogs again. Also, because I enjoyed seeing my own blog mentioned elsewhere, I thought it'd be nice to return the compliment (and perhaps help those sites stay high in the rankings). Finally, if there's anyone out there who's as lost in the blogosphere as I've been, I hope I've helped you find some great places to start exploring. Have fun!

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Imagery in Financial English

Have you ever noticed how rich Financial English is in terms of metaphors and imagery? I use metaphors and imagery all the time in my teaching to explain vocabulary, and I consider it to be an incredibly powerful memory tool. I'll tell my story first, and then come back to this important general point.

A few weeks ago, I did a reading text from the BBC on Over-the-Counter Derivatives with several groups of students. I'll admit now that I wasn't very creative with the text - most of the students had forgotten to bring their books (again) and I happened to have the text in my bag. I already knew it well after preparing this Jargonbuster exercise for Professional English Online (PEO). So we just did a predict-read-discuss-vocab lesson. (And you thought I always prepared immaculately polished lessons?)

I should also point out that my students weren't financial experts at all, but all seemed to appreciate this crash course in financial jargon. I also really enjoyed playing the expert: I'm actually pretty clueless about financial English, but I've had to do lots of research for my regular activities and jargonbusters on PEO, so I've started to get a general understanding of the murky world of finance.

It was as I was going through the vocab that I was struck by the beautiful imagery of financial English. Here are the key words from the text, in the order they appear (and I suggest you read the text quickly now before looking at this list). Notice all the pictures I ended up drawing - something I'll comment on at the end.
  • Curb: This word originally meant the piece of metal between a horse's teeth, which the rider pulls to slow the horse down. [I drew a picture]. Nowadays curbs refer to anything that slows something down.
  • Derivatives: Just as the word 'curb' derives from a piece of metal, derivatives derive from simple financial instruments like mortgages. [At this point I drew a diagram to explain how Collateralized Debt Obligations derive from mortgages - see this posting for the source of this diagram.].
  • Over-the-counter derivatives: I explained the difference bewteen over-the-counter pharmaceuticals and prescription drugs, and elicited the parallels in derivatives markets.
  • Convergence: I drew arrows to show converge and diverge, and gave examples from the history of languages (e.g. British and American English have been diverging for a long time, but in some ways they are now converging again).
  • Regulatory framework: My students know frame as in picture frame, so I first made them think of the framework beneath a skyscraper - all those metal girders beneath the flimsy-looking glass exterior. From there it was easy to get to framework = underlying structure.
  • Conduct (= behaviour): They knew conduct as a verb (with the accent on the second syllable), so I started with this. I elicited what you can conduct (e.g. a meeting, research, an orchestra). "What do you think it means if you conduct yourself in a particular way?", I asked. They worked out that it meant behave, so it was a short step from here to the noun (with the accent on the first syllable). For good measure, while we were on the noun, I also elicited professional misconduct and gross misconduct.
  • Core problems: I drew an apple core.
  • A build-up of sth: I used an exploding pressure cooker as an example.
  • Leverage: I drew a picture of a fridge and a stick person (me, of course) trying to lift it. Then I gave my stick-self a crow bar to act as a lever. Suddenly I can lift something very heavy without much effort (shown on the diagram with a big upward arrow and a small downward arrow). This led me to a simple financial example of leverage: using my savings of £10,000 to buy a house worth £1 million. (NB In my dreams!) I then went back to my fridge picture to elicit what might happen if you take leverage too far: your lever breaks and your fridge falls on top of you, just as happened with banks that used too much leverage.
  • Shock absorbers: I drew the suspension system in my car.
  • Margin: I showed the margin of the page. I then elicited other types of margin, such as a profit margin or a margin of error to show how these could act as shock absorbers.
  • Liquidity: I drew some bananas in a food blender (seriously). The bananas are fixed assets, but they can be liquidated  (well, actually liquidised, but I figured the financial term took priority over the cooking term) i.e. turned into banana milkshake (= cash) quite easily. I then drew a coconut - another fixed asset, but one which can't be liquidated so easily. So liquidity is the extent to which our assets are like bananas rather than like coconuts - how easy is it to turn them into milkshake (cash). You face a liquidity squeeze if your assets are long-term things like a house with a mortgage (which you can't just sell tomorrow to pay your short-term debts). Liquidity is another type of shock absorber.
  • Cushions: I elicited a situation where a cushion could act as a shock absorber (e.g. if someone punches you, a cushion might make it hurt a bit less).
  • To withstand sth: I drew a stick man trying to stand despite strong wind - to withstand the force of the wind. Then I related this back to the punching-a-cushion image - it's easier to withstand being hit in the face if you have a cushion. (Sorry for the silly imagery - the important thing is that it should be powerful and memorable, not necessarily realistic or pleasant).
  • To contain a risk: I used the image of a hospital trying to contain an outbreak of a nasty stomach bug, by isolating the ward and imposing tight controls on people coming and going.
And that's it. You can imagine what my sheet of paper looked like by the end of the lesson, with a car, a blender, a horse, an apple ...

Anyway, the point of all this isn't just to teach you some financial jargon (for which I would refer you to a good dictionary rather than listening to me!) or even to show how to teach these particular words. Rather, I wanted to hammer home the importance of imagery as a teaching tool. All of those pictures I drew were quite time consuming, and in terms of getting the message across, probably unnecessary. But in terms of making them memorable, I think they're well worth it. An abstract concept like core or withstand is very difficult to learn unless you can attach it to a picture. And as I hinted above, the pictures may be silly, unpleasant, weird ... but as long as they're memorable, they're great. Ideally, they should be personalised too, so I used my car, my mortgage, someone punching you in the face, which is much more memorable than simply any old stick man.

The same goes for the words I explained without pictures. I think there's a fair chance my students will remember the chain from conDUCT a meeting through conDUCT yourself well to a code of CONduct and then gross misCONduct. Even if they don't remember it consciously, next time they see a word and momentarily wonder what it means, it may trigger a memory deep within their subconscious.

So today's tip is: make vocab memorable through imagery, metaphors and chains.

PS I promised a few months ago to tell you when my lesson on financial English videos was available. Well, it's here. If you try it with your class I'd love to hear how you get on.

PPS By coincidence, Karenne Sylvester has also been writing about images in financial English, and she seems to have spent a lot longer preparing her lesson than I ever do. [I thought she was supposed to be into dogme ...?] Anyway, you could use Karenne's techniques with my article, or the other way round, or both ...