Why & How Pre-sessional EAP courses work for me

Hi guys!

This post was prompted by Alex’s question on a post I wrote about EAP presessional courses. His question was simple.

You teach EAP during the summer, so what happens the rest of the year?

Instead of answering in the comments section, I though I’d write a quick post, just to tell you my context which may be similar to yours.

Music Department

Sheffield University ( Department of Music)

I live in Greece and the school year is from September to end of May (private 1-2-1 teaching). I also teach Business English online. There my students are grown ups with kids, so they take summer holidays when schools are shut (same time as I do).

This means that every summer from mid June till mid September, I am free. I do not have that much work and that’s why Pre-sessional EAP courses are great for me. I ❤ them. I get to teach in a different context to what I do in the winter. I work at a university, which is really challenging and stimulating, my learners are from a different country altogether AND I get to be in the UK which I love.

Why don’t I teach EAP all year round? Firstly, I have not pursued it (not that any one has asked me to stay-just to be clear, eh?). Secondly, I have never lived in the UK during the winter, so dunno if I can handle it!! I am from the south people!

You may also ask, do I mind working all year round? Nope. I kinda have to work all year round if I want to do the things I do. I am not complaining, and anyway I am a workaholic, a shopaholic/travelaholic or just a spendaholic. I work, enjoy my job, make money from it, spend my money. Simple stuff.

Of course I miss out on the Greek summer, but if you think about it, the summer in Greece lasts from May till end of October. It’s always warm, especially on my little island.

Beach Kolumpari

So, there you have it. That’s how  and why pre-sessional courses work for me. This summer I will be going back to Sheffield University for their 10 week pre-sessional course. Cannot wait!

Do you teach pre-sessional EAP courses or a summer school course? Tell me your story in the comments below. Don’t forget to follow my blog if you are not already and give my Facebook page a thumbs up so that you do not miss notifications! You can follow me on Twitter/Pinterest/Instagram

Till next time….


Book Review: Presentation Lesson Hacks and some hacks for the EAP classroom

Phil Wade was kind enough to send me a copy of his book Presentation Hacks Book. I also read Helen Waldron’s post about the book and it is excellent ,so I started panicking. What can I add? Phil suggested writing a review/post about which hack I would use in the EAP class and voila. Here it is.

Using the book Presentation Lesson Hacks in my EAP classroom

Phil talks about various hacks that can be used to improve the learners’ presentation skills. Before we see which hacks can be used, let’s see what Phil means by hacks. They are:

activities at the micro-skill level designed to engage the students to raise awareness of their current abilities and to help become more productive in a low stress, engaging, student-centred and encouraging environment. The hacks are like short-cuts or back doors to gaining better presentation skills and becoming a real presenter rather than just someone who repeats memorised phrases or reads off a tablet or sheet. Presentation hacks incorporate teacher to student, student to teacher, student to student, pair and group activities as well as single student work, reflection and mental preparation. All of these are aimed at hacking the problems and weaknesses students have.

                                                                                                     (Wade, 2015)

Among the hacks Phil mentions, the ones that stand out to me and have relevance to my context, have to do with Voice (these are in the Body chapter or Phil’s book). In EAP, most of the students are international students who have a different L1, they often have difficulty with pronunciation, intonation and stress patterns (I call all these micro skills voice). My students are usually Asian and when Asian students present, their intonation seems to be, for the majority, quite flat, and they often sound quite ‘robotic ‘. Intonation is what I will focus on.

Intonation hack

Phil has a great idea for a hack that can address intonation. First of all, it is necessary to elicit students understanding of different intonation patterns.So, it is a good idea to practice a word like ‘really” with rising and falling intonation.  Then, the teacher can draw a line on the board and ask students to draw another line which goes up, down, or up and down depending on the intonation the teacher used when saying something. This will allow students to actually visualise the intonation pattern. After drawing different intonation patterns, the teacher and the students can discuss which one is the best in each circumstance! I am definitely going to use this hack next time I am teaching intonation to my pre-sessional students.

For more information about Phil’s book and how to order go to  smashwords!


Happy teaching everyone!!

Till next time……

Business English syllabus for English speakers

Teaching the English………
                                      Business English

The other day a student of mine mentioned that she was dreading talking on the phone to an English business associate. Although she has improved as a learner, she is a low B1 level student, so I do understand were this insecurity may stem from. She then had another lesson with me and was very enthusiastic because she had spoken on the phone and had understood almost everything (the learner’s words). She also mentioned that the English associate also offered to send a summary of what he talked about in an email and I thought, ” Hmm!! How nice!!” Then again, is it?
This blog post is not about accuracy vs fluency or ELF, international English or any other  buzz term. My question and thoughts derive from a simple question, “Should native speakers receive some sort of training when doing business with non native speakers?’ For me, the answer is “Definitely, yes!!”
In business, communication is everything, and whilst very often non native speakers are putting in all the effort and receiving training in Business English, what are most native speakers doing? We teach our German and French  learners how to negotiate in English, we teach them the tenses, we talk about cross cultural communication and so on, but if you are a business person and also a native speaker do you receive any training on how to be aware of the difficulties a non native speaker may have? Do native speakers assume that because their English is accurate and they are fluent, what they say is and should be crystal clear? Do they assume that they are doing good business because they are using English? I hope not. So, therefore, why not train them? I know it sounds a bit weird and you may be rolling your eyes right about now but bear with me, will you? If you ask me, business people who are native speakers need to learn a lot in terms of how to conduct business with their non native speaking colleagues.
Suggested Business English Syllabus:

Learner Profile: English, American, Australian or any other NS
  • Paraphrase and simplify
This is a very important skill. NS need to learn how to simplify what they are saying instead of repeating the same phrase 5 times (if he didn’t get it the second time, he won’t get it the 5th fellow NS).
  • Speak slower
No need to be in a rush. NSs need to learn how to take a breath, pause a bit. Listening to someone in real time is not easy, and a NNS only gets to listen to what you have said once, so NSs need to keep that in mind especially when doing business as every detail counts!
  • Tone down the heavy accent
Yes, when native speakers are talking to other native speakers it is OK to use a heavy accent but when you are doing business, it is essential to speak a bit clearer, toning down the heavy accent.
  • Avoid using too many phrasal verbs/ idiomatic expressions
The English language has an endless number of phrasal verbs and idiomatic expressions. Using colloquial language when talking to those who understand it is a great way to communicate in an informal context. In international business communication though, non native speakers often feel perplexed by the nature of this talk. This is why native speakers may require a bit of training on what other words expressions to use when talking. It is possible that a NNS will know the word mention and not the phrasal verb bring up.
  • Summarise
Summarising points is something that people often neglect or forget to do (in my experience). In this case though, I think that emphasising the importance of summarising and training NSs on how to summarise is very important. When attending a meeting, making a presentation and in general talking for quite a while, the listener may get a bit disracted, summarising and using other words to point out the key issues is necessary.
  • Cross cultural communication
Wherever you come from you need to be aware of what is acceptable, polite or professional in one culture and comply with that. An English person may be aware of how the brits do business but does that necessarily mean that the Spanish or Chinese do it in the same way? Of course not. This is why cross cultural awareness is essential. True story: I showed a picture of an American CEO not wearing a tie to my French learners a while back and they commented on how badly (unprofessionally) dressed he was!
  • Presentation skills
Everybody in business would benefit from a few sessions on how to present. There are so many strategies and skills that go into a good presentation. It is not just about language!
I am aware that some companies do train their employees on how to conduct business with other nationalities but I think this is not enough. More training needs to be provided.
Most of these thoughts came as a result of a very long talk on Facebook in the Busines English Teachers group. Feel free to share your views in the comments section below.
Picture credits: Marina’s pics
Till next time…..

Business English homework

Something for your coffee break : )

I teach business English online and every week I send my learners an email. The subject line reads: something for your coffee break : ).
In this email, I send links to articles my BE students can read, short videos they can watch and quick listening tasks. I also send them links to websites with quick grammar or vocabulary building exercises (self-access links). I always choose tasks they can do quickly and articles they would be interested in. The links I send are varied and not always business English focused. I do this because they are already at work so maybe during their break they may want to read something non work-related. If my learners do the extra practice, we talk about it during our next session. If they don’t, it is OK. I avoid using the word homework in these mails because I do not want them to feel they have to do it and anyway, it is not homework… it is coffee break work : ). If something I have found, is something I really want to do with them, then I do it during the next lesson.
Why do I choose this type of work/extra practice? Well, my learners are adults who are almost always busy, and asking them to do loads of homework doesn’t really work (well, it hasn’t worked for me anyhow). That’s why I choose tasks that do not take more than 10 minutes to do. You may now ask, “Is that enough?” “No, it isn’t, but it is better than nothing.”
I send this email almost every week and my BE learners have given me positive feedback which is why I still send the coffee break practice email.

Where do I look for material?
Of course, there are loads of places. I am going to mention my go to places in this part of the post. Keep in mind that everything I mention is sent to them in an email, so they are links to websites.

  • Twitter/ Facebook

Type  #BusinessEnglish on Twitter and there you will find loads of ideas from other BE teachers. If you are not in any Business English Groups on Facebook, then I would suggested joining some because teachers are always sharing something there as well! So, some of the links I send to my students come from blog posts, websites other BE trainers use.

  • BBC capital

There are lots of articles to choose from. I also like the fact that there are articles that are accompanied by videos, so they can read and then watch something and that is great practice!

  • British council-Learn English

I go to two places 6 minute English (this has been archived and does not get updated any more but it is great for some quick listening tasks) and Business Magazine where you can find short articles followed by a quick reading comprehension task.

  • YouTube
You can find a lot of videos in the 6 -10 minute range and just send the learners the link to the video.
  • Grammar and vocabulary websites

Once again, there is a plethora of websites with free access to grammar and vocabulary exercises. I often send links from Grammar bank .This site is free and your students can do quick exercises online and see the answers straight away.

Final thoughts
If you are interested in BE English lesson material suggestions, have a look here. I hope you enjoyed this post. If you are in France in November (14-16), come to the TESOL France conference! My talk will be about teaching online (Business English).

Till next time…..

Ideas on where to look for material when teaching BE online

Ideas for material for my BE classes…. my favourite stuff : D

I teach business English online for some time now, so I thought it was about time I wrote a blog post about where I look for my material. These suggestions are geared towards boosting the speaking skill. I will not talk about material available in print, my focus is on material I access online. The websites that I use are open and offer their material for free. I am not going to give you any lesson plans but I do have some VERY simple warmer tasks/ideas and some ideas for follow up activities.
One of the benefits of teaching online is that it is easy to go from one page to another as you can send different links to your learner based on his needs and by just pressing a button! So, here goes! I hope you enjoy going from one website to the other!

Material for open/conversational sessions

Very often I have lessons that are more laid back and engage my students in conversations about their interests or kinda work-related issues. Since my learners are attending business English sessions, I do try to use material that is more business English friendly. So, where do I go to look for articles and what are some of my favorite articles?
                          Articles/reading material
I think the language is easy to understand and I like the business tab. Some of my favourite articles from here: 
Change offices from sitting to standing: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-26937454
Warm up questions: What do you think about standing up while working instead of sitting down? Do you have stand up desks in your office? What are the benefits of having them in your office?
Follow up task: Send a memo to your colleagues informing them that your company has decided to order stand up desks. Mention why the company has reached this decision (use information from the article) and briefly describe the stand up desks.
Nap pods at work: http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20140108-daydream-believers
Warm up questions: What kind of facilities would you like your company to offer its employees in terms of well-being? What do you think a nap pod is?
Jobs for smart but lazy people (this one causes quite a stir). http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20140228-jobs-for-the-smart-but-lazy
Warmer; Start with this quote which appears at the end of the article.
 “I will always choose a lazy person to do a difficult job, because he will find an easy way to do it’.”
The Guardian:
Top ten satisfying jobs: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/21/top-10-most-satisfying-jobs
Warmer: Get your learners to list the top three most satisfying jobs/top three factors that make a job satisfying. If you are having a one to one session, get your learner to make this list and you, the teacher, make one too. Once the lists are ready, have a short debate about satisfying jobs and what makes a job a good one or not. Then read the article and… do whatever you want to with what’s in it : ).
Work from home: http://www.theguardian.com/small-business-network/2014/apr/24/how-to-lead-workforce-works-from-home
Warmer: Tell your learner he is the manager of a company that has decided to get its workers to work from home. How would he/she set this up? What are some of the difficulties and what are the benefits of such an idea?
Follow up: get your learner to make a PPT presentation introducing the idea of working from home and the steps that need to be taken for this to work.
Speaking about non job related issues
Good spinoff for book conversations:
Even if you do not want to use this with your learners, do have a look at the top 5. Have you read them?
and something about health and well being:
I like this article because it gives ten tips on how to boost your metabolisms and you can get your learners to summarise the paragraphs into bullet points whilst also telling you if they follow these tips or not.
Of course,there are loads of other websites where you can find interesting articles like Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and so on, but most of the time I use the Guardian and the BBC. There is also a cool (am I allowed to say cool, now that I am writing a materials blog post?!? Sure!) site called newsmap http://newsmap.jp/. This site is updated regularly and you can send your learners the link and then a big collage of news from around the world appears and they can choose the article they want to read.
                                                                                                      Screen shot of newsmap


Everybody knows Youtube of course. this is the place to go to for free videos. One of my favourites is this documentary. It is one hour long, so I suggest you tell your learners to watch it as homework (WHAT? Homework?). The video is quite surprising for my German and French learners and it does generate a lot of discussion about internships, inequality in education etc. It is also a great way to start a discussion about different cultures and the job scene. I have prepared a simple lesson plan for this video (I will upload it in a blog post in the near future …… hopefully).
Who gets the best job? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bD7U8kqI8A

Another website with loads of videos which can be used with your BE students is The Australia Network http://australianetwork.com/businessenglish/ . You need some time cause there are many videos connected to conducting meetings, business socials/small talk etc. Click the tab The Business of English and watch the videos with your learners.

That’s all for now. I do know that there are loads of articles/videos you can use with your learners but I wanted to share the ones I use. Apologies if the links do not work where you are but hopefully by knowing where I got the article from and what it is a bout you will be able to find it… or not!

Till next time…..

Challenges of teaching Business English online

Challenges of teaching Business English online

I have been teaching business English online for some time now, and thought it was about time I wrote a few posts on some of the challenges of teaching online and how I deal with them. Today, I will focus on challenges connected to technology and make some suggestions regarding how they can be dealt with. Before I move on though, I will explain what teaching online is for me. The learning platform I use is Adobe Connect and a phone line/Skype. So, what are some of the technology related problems that may lead to anxiety on your or your learners behalf (anxiety is a very soft term , may I just say)

  •  Connection problems.

You or your learner may have difficulty connecting which is why it is necessary to have very fast internet connection as well as back up plans in case something goes wrong. You could use a phone line or Skype when your online classroom/internet connection is not working. So you may not be able to have a lesson in your online classroom, but you can still have one via phone.  Remember always get your learner’s contact info on different types of media (phone, mobile, emails).

  • Problems accessing the virtual classroom+technology related web notifications popping up.

I think it is a good idea to create a document or a podcast regarding the tech glitches connected to the software you are using to hold the sessions. Have some sort of reference list related to any notifications the learner may get and explain the steps he needs to take in order to deal with the notifications.This can be your learners’ go to document or video when something comes up. Also, during the first lesson, guide your learners through the steps related to connecting to the classroom and the different buttons in the  online classroom. You may even take a picture of the virtual classroom and add notes to what does what.

                                            Example of document with guidance for learners (Pic of Adobe Connect)

  • Recording sessions

One of the advantages of teaching online is that you can record the session and upload it to your chosen learning management system  (LMS). This is great but you also need to be careful and always ask your learner for permission to record and upload the sessions because there may be legal issues or just simply out of respect of your learner’s privacy. I have had learners who did not want their sessions to be recorded so you must know this beforehand!

  • Time management

Managing time online can be quite difficult especially when there are connection problems. Imagine a situation where you are teaching and half way through the session the phone line drops or your learner vanishes from the online classroom. You spend minutes trying to get connectivity back, you ask all the TRQs (technology related questions) and time flies without you noticing. Very often when you are trying to reconnect, you lose track of time, since you are more focused on checking to see if you or your learner are back instead of what time it is. In this case, the only suggestion I can make is realizing that connection problems may be a problem and checking the time is something that has to be done consciously and frequently.

  • Passiveness

This is the biggest challenge! According to Pelz’s principles of effective online teaching (2004, cited in the Hannover research council, 2009) visibility is essential as lack of visibility may lead to passiveness on behalf of the learner. As online sessions are not face to face, it is important that the sessions are carried out whilst using a webcam. I believe that teachers delivering online sessions should encourage their learners to get and use a webcam. Teachers should also always have their webcam on so that the learners see the teachers face, gestures etc. When using the webcam, the teacher is not just a voice coming from far away but someone the learner can see!

  • Distractions

I think this is difficult to tackle. You use your computer as  the medium to deliver the session. Apart from your online classroom, your learner is also connected to his email account, Skype or an internal communication system which means that someone may be emailing your learner while you are having a lesson with him. So, you may be going on about negotiation skills, and your learner may be emailing a colleague about a meeting! What can you do? Not much. Try to explain to your learner that the English session is very important and that him being preoccupied with something else during the session, may lead to missing out something important! You could also suggest that the lessons be held in another room and not his/her office.

  • Group sessions

One of the benefits of online teaching is that you access your learners workspace with the click of a button. This can turn into a nightmare though when trying to hold group sessions. When having face to face sessions, you go to a classroom and everyone meets you there. When delivering a group session, you try to connect with three different people , in three different offices so all the technical issues get multiplied by three! I only have one suggestion here… try to avoid group sessions!

How do all these challenges affect my business English students?

Good question. Well, time is of the essence for your BE students so you really need to eliminate  or at least try to minimize any connectivity problems that may  waste your learners time. They are at work and dealing with connectivity issues may even make them want to cancel sessions. You do not want your learners cancelling sessions. Especially when their schedule is already tight!

You definitely do not want your learners to be passive. Interactivity is core to online teaching and using a webcam is a good idea. Another reason why webcams are necessary when delivering BE sessions is because business communication does require the teaching of paralinguistic features and this is when a camera can be useful. You can show your learner what gestures and facial expressions are appropriate/inappropriate/not so appropriate in different cultures etc. Of course, this does mean that as a teacher, you do need to feel comfortable sticking your face in front of a camera and focusing on facial expressions. Well, if you do not, you could also use videos from YouTube : ) which you can send as a link when teaching online. Yay! Another advantage of teaching online-immediate access of online material, websites etc.

Dealing with distractions your BE students may have, is not a piece of cake. You could incorporate them into your session though (if you realize your learner is doing something else instead of paying attention to the lesson) and they could be a great  learning experience for your BE student as you may help him/her with a real email he/she may need to send. Bottom line is that distractions do occur and  I am still wondering about what the best way to deal with them is.
Dealing with the problems that arise during group sessions is easy. Just discourage group sessions. Group sessions in my experience are more easily cancelled so if possible stick to one to one lessons when delivering business English sessions online.

My final thoughts….
I only touched a few of the problems related to teaching online and how they may affect the delivery of a business English session. Of course, these challenges apply to any online session. I am really interested in what you think so do feel free to comment or make other suggestions. I will be back with more posts on teaching BE online.

Till next time…

    Hannover Research council (2009) Best Practices in Online Teaching. [pdf]: Washington. Available at <http://www.uwec.edu/AcadAff/resources/edtech/upload/Best-Practices-in-Online-Teaching-Strategies-Membership.pdf> [Accessed 27 February 2014].