Wednesday, December 30, 2015

REAL WORLD - Gen Y Goes Pro

REAL WORLD is a series of Intermediate English lessons based on real world issues.

Lesson 01 - Gen Y Goes Pro

Lesson created by Paul Ponce

FOCUS: Business English (Management, Human Resources)

Every generation brings new challenges to the working arena, especially to those organizations that have existed for decades. The so-called Generation Y is no exception. Working side by side or managing people from this generation of the work force born between the 1980s and 1990s could prove rather challenging for those that don't understand what they are all about. 

Maybe you belong to it. Maybe you don't.

Either way, the purpose of this lesson is to enhance your knowledge of real world  Business English while learning about Generation Y at work. You can do the lesson independently, but ideally it is intended as a group lesson for independent English Study Groups or teacher-led groups.

Real world means that something the topic and its focus is true and authentic. Often times in English courses, the material and the language used is artificial and doesn't represent the way English speakers really express themselves. These lessons strive to give you a feeling for the real world.

Don't worry if you don't understand every single word. The purpose of Real World is for learners to be immersed in a single topic and to use the four skills in engaging it. If possible try to work on this lesson as a group and then record the session via Google Hangout so you can keep a record of it.

The language is based on a video interview. You will watch Paul Michelman from the Harvard
Business Review interview Tammy Erickson, an expert on Generation Y in today's workforce.

KEY VOCABULARY: Let's become familiar with it.

1. Gen Y-er: a person belonging to Generation Y (born between the 1980s and 1990s)
2. (Baby) Boomer: a person born between 1946 (after World War II) and the mid 1960s
3. Gen X-er: a person belonging to Generation X (born between mid 1960s and late 1970s)
4. to grow out of: to stop doing something that you were once used to doing.
5. formative experiences: the experiences that form who a person becomes
6. to be jumping up and down: to be really excited about something
7. peer-to-peer: an environment of members who share information on the same network
8. lingua franca: a language that can be used by those who speak different languages
9. to be big with: to be popular with (a certain group of persons)
10. asynchronous activity: activities that do not happen at the same time
11. two-fold: something that has two sides to it
12. cohort: a group of individuals having a statistical factor in common

VIDEO: Let's WATCH it once and ANSWER the following questions?

1. How does Paul Michelman define Generation Y?
2. According to Tammy Erickson, how do Gen-Yers tackle big jobs?
3. Why do Gen-Yers have such a strong sense of immediacy?
4. How do Gen-Yers feel about their manager's job?
5. Why do Gen-Yers want you to know what they're thinking?
6. What's one of the key differences between Gen-Y and Gen-X in terms of communication?
7. What's something that astonishes Gen-Yers about corporations
8. What's something that corporations could copy from Gen-Yers?
9. What kind of relationship do GenYers have with their parents?
10. What generation do Gen-Yers bond well at work?

TRANSCRIPT: Let's READ it and check to see if our answers are correct. Groups can delegate different members to read. Optionally, you can watch the video again after reading the transcript. You WILL NOTICE how much more you understand. 

Later, you can also try to FIND the target vocabulary within the script and PRACTICE making your own sentences with it.

PAUL MICHELMAN: Hello, I'm Paul Michelman, director of content for Harvard Business Digital. And I'm delighted to be joined today by Tammy Erickson, author of books, articles, and of course, her Across the Ages blog for Harvard Business Online. Tammy, thanks for joining us today.

TAMMY ERICKSON: Hi, Paul. I'm happy to be here.

PAUL MICHELMAN: Great. Tammy, our subject for today's chat is managing Generation Y, those self-assured, sometimes overly emotive, text messaging 20-somethings who threaten to turn the world of work on its ear. Tammy, you've written about Gen Y-ers on several occasions in your blog, and you paint quite an interesting picture. Why don't we walk through some of your impressions of Gen Y-ers' most notable characteristics, at least as far as the workplace is concerned. So I'm going to quote you to you for a while. First off, you say that Gen Y-ers are happy to tackle the big jobs, and they'll do it with confidence.

TAMMY ERICKSON: Absolutely. Gen Ys, by and large, are the product of Boomer parents. And those Boomer parents have been telling them since the day they were born that they could do anything they set their mind to. And you know what? They're ready. They are here in the workforce. They've set their mind to it. And they're ready for your biggest and toughest job. Bring it on.

PAUL MICHELMAN: You say Gen Y-ers are also impatient, and they want what they're doing to be enjoyable and meaningful from day one on the job.

TAMMY ERICKSON: They do. And this is an interesting one for me. I think Gen Y is impatient and will be impatient 'til the day they die. I don't think it's something they're going to grow out of. It's not related to youthful impatience, as a lot of adults, older adults, would like to think.
Probably a better word than impatience, actually, would be immediacy. Gen Y is a group that had their most formative teenage experiences be things like 9/11, or Columbine, or now, Virginia Tech.

They woke up to a world that was filled with events that were inexplicable, sudden, completely
tragic. And as a result, I think many of them have made a decision that they need to live life now. They need to get on with the most important parts of their life. And that sense of immediacy, of living life in the current, is something that we find very pervasive throughout Generation Y.

PAUL MICHELMAN: Now as ambitious as Gen Y-ers seem to be, you reassure managers by telling them that Gen Y-ers don't necessarily want your job.

TAMMY ERICKSON: Well, that's true. I'm not sure if it's reassuring or not, but they don't necessarily want your job. We did a series of focus groups with people around the country, young employees who were in their 25, 26, 27 age group and had been, most of them, with their corporations for only a year or so. And we ask them, what did they think? How did these crazy places look to them, now that they've had a year or two to get experience within a corporate life? And one of the most dominant themes that came out is that they didn't want their manager's job.

In focus group after focus group, they said, it doesn't look worth it. I've looked at what the person
does, the hours they put in, the pressure they face. And frankly, the incremental amount of money that they get for doing it-- I don't want any part of it. So it's not like they're jumping up and down to step on your toes, if you're a manager. On the other hand, if you're charged with coaxing people in to take some of those middle management jobs, I think you've got a tough challenge making them attractive to Gen Y.

PAUL MICHELMAN: Tammy, this next one is one of my favorite of your observations. Gen Y-ers genuinely believe that you want to know what they're thinking.

TAMMY ERICKSON: They sure do. I bet you've gotten notes from them, Paul. They've grown up in a peer-to-peer world. So they are used to sending information to peers based on their perception of who could use the information, where it would provide the most value.

And they come into a corporate environment with that same set of assumptions. So if they have an idea that they think could benefit you, I don't care who you are, CEO, head of marketing-- they've got an idea. Chances are they're going to share it with you. That's the way they've operated up to now, and there's no sign that they're backing off now that they're in the corporate world.

PAUL MICHELMAN: So Tammy, should we be expecting to receive these great ideas via text
messaging? Is this the new lingua franca of business?

TAMMY ERICKSON: Text messaging is very big with Gen Y. In fact, it's interesting-- there's a huge change between the use of text messaging for Gen Y and Gen X. That's how Gen Y communicates. The interesting thing about text messaging is it's more than just the technology. It's not just that they're sending a written message, but it's also that they're using those short bursts to actually coordinate activities, instead of doing the kind of advance planning that maybe some of us have grown up being accustomed to. That's one of the things they point out when they look at what's happening within a corporation. They are astonished at the amount of time we spend trying to get a phone call together, trying to shape a WebEx meeting, or, goodness knows, trying to get people together in person for a round-the-table
conference. In their world, they would simply send quick text messages to their friends, and would resolve the issue quickly, with much less time invested to try to bring those people together. So text messaging is big. It's part of what they do. And it will change not only the technology we use, but it will also change, I think, some of the processes that we use inside the company.

PAUL MICHELMAN: But Tammy, we like meetings. We like structure in our organizations. How are we going to deal with this?

TAMMY ERICKSON: I think you're going to have to adapt to some extent, Paul. I'm not saying that the adaption is all on our end, that we have to make all the changes. I think the Ys will change as well. But I think we should be open to some of the things they can teach us. We should try some of the ways they do it, and see if it doesn't bring about some advantage.
Another example of a technology, of course, they use very effectively is the kind of Facebook
technology-- posting information in a common place where people can read it at their leisure. I like to say that Ys are very good at asynchronous activity. Think about Tivo, for example. A lot of them watch the same television show, but very few of them would watch it at the same moment in time. They watch it when it's convenient. Now that's a pretty smart concept, actually. And I think there are lots of processes inside the corporation where we could probably be a little more asynchronous, and make it easier for you and for me to do the kind of things that we're interested in doing at times when it's a little more convenient for us.

PAUL MICHELMAN: So Tammy, these Gen Y-ers, they're a pretty interesting bunch. What roles did their parents play in shaping them into the people they are today?

TAMMY ERICKSON: Oh, Boomers have played such an important role in shaping Gen Y. Boomers have been the most attentive, child-centric parents that we have yet seen. And it's had an incredible result on the relationship between the two generations. Gen Y very much likes their parents. You might be surprised to know that 90% of all Gen Y say they are very close to their parents. And that closeness is carrying over not just in school environments, but
it's coming right into the workplace. So we see moms and dads who are accompanying the kids on the interviews, who are calling the employer to find out why Johnny didn't get the job, or why Susie didn't get the raise-- lots of heavy involvement from those very active, very competitive, in many cases Boomer, parents. Now my view on that is two-fold. First, if you're the employer, I think you should step back from making the initial assumption that the employee has encouraged that behavior. Chances are, the young person wasn't even aware of it, certainly didn't ask for it. On the other hand, if you're the parent, and you're doing that, I think you need to back off a bit. Because you are tarnishing your young person's reputation in the workplace.

PAUL MICHELMAN: Tammy, your description of these great close relationships the Gen Y-ers have with their baby boomer parents might also explain another observation that you've had, that Y-ers really enjoy working with boomers in the workplace, perhaps more so than Gen X-ers, with whom you'd think they'd have more in common.

TAMMY ERICKSON: I think you're right, Paul. We have found, in fact, that Ys tend to form very good relationships with Boomers, or at least with most Boomers. Occasionally, you get comments that Boomers have been a little too condescending, or, in some way, not properly respected the competence the Y brings to the workplace. But in general, the relationships between Ys and Boomers are very effective. We highly encourage companies, for example, to set up mentoring relationships, and to encourage Boomers to spend time with the Ys, to pass along the knowledge that they have.

That's in contrast to Generation X, which I sometimes see almost like a middle child, caught in
between these two large generations. Gen X is a smaller group of people, and in many corporations, it's a small cohort of workers, with a lot of boomers on one side and a lot of Ys flooding in the door in the other. And the relationship between Ys and X-ers is not necessarily a happy one. They often view those folks as having less expertise than some of those Boomers that the Ys have already bonded with.

PAUL MICHELMAN: Terrific. Tammy Erickson, thank you very much.

TAMMY ERICKSON: Thank you, Paul.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: If you belong to an English Practice Group or if you are a teacher, we recommend you discuss the following questions as a group.

1. What generational group do you belong to?
2. Do you agree or disagree with the definition of the generation you belong to? Why or why
3. What's the generational make up of your company / group / organization?
4. Do you agree or disagree with Tammy Erickson's description of Generation Y in the
workplace? Why or why not?

ROLE PLAYINGIf you belong to an English Practice Group or if you are a teacher, we recommend you role-play the following questions as a group.

Part A. How would the members of different generations (Gen Y, Boomers, Gen X) react to the following?
1. We need to organize a meeting
2. Our department manager has just resigned
3. Mom wants to have a word with the boss
4. I have a great idea I want to share with the boss

Part B. You need to hire a new young manager that generationally belongs to Generation Y? How can you make this job more appealing to him or her?

Final Tip: watch the VIDEO one last time after the lesson and discussion and you will subconsciously incorporate a lot of the language you worked on.

That's the Real World

Monday, November 30, 2015

Your English World

By Paul Ponce, PLS Teacher

From time to time, my brain and I have great conversations. Today we decided to talk about natural language learning, although he prefers to call it language acquisition.

So I asked the questions, and my brain provided the answers.What follows is a transcript of our talk. Hope it helps you improve on your English language journey.

So, Brain. Seriously, what’s this crazy idea about creating Your English World?

First of all, let me clarify. I'm not planning on taking over the world. At least not today. Haha! Seriously, the idea has to do with learners increasing the volume of English input in their daily lives.

I see. So it does sound like you have some kind of plan. What's it all about?

Indeed, it is a plan.

Your English World (YEW) is a set of strategies for busy adult English learners who are not getting enough authentic English input regularly. It's based on decades of research in linguistics and neuroscience. The idea is that massive and meaningful second language input is the most natural way of acquiring a second language.

What exactly do you mean by input?

Input refers - in this case - to getting authentic English language content. Mostly short and free digital content. Articles, talks, movie clips and songs, to name a few. Reading is also big plus.

Why massive and meaningful?

Massive means the plan is to get a lot of English input. Meaningful means you get English input related to topics you care about.

What about authentic?

It means you get input from content that was created for native English speakers, not from instructional material.

So Your English World is all about input, yet I must tell you, most students want to speak. Shouldn't there be some output?

Your English World is just one of the components of GET REAL English for Grow-Ups, a brain-friendly approach to second language. The other two are English Story Talk, which is all about speaking; and English Upgrade which is all about correcting mistakes and applying what you've learned.

Where did the original idea come from?

Really, it's a mix of things. But I would say that the idea for Your English World and the other parts comes from the frustration of many adult learners. Especially intermediate learners who feel they are not moving forward with their English. Many of them have been taking lessons for years and yet, they still feel insecure about how they speak. They complain about not having enough vocabulary and about getting the grammar wrong.

So shouldn't they be practicing more conversation, studying more vocabulary and reviewing more grammar?

Not  really. The problem is that there is a misunderstanding about how people acquire language. Traditional foreign language education puts the emphasis on grammar and vocabulary as the means to start speaking and writing basic ideas. In this model, listening comprehension is focused on getting students to acquire correct pronunciation. All that is consolidated in short little controlled conversations. In the initial stages, that might work, but it leads learners to a big misunderstanding.

Why is that?

Because beyond intermediate, many learners reach a plateau. They now understand enough to realize there are dozens of ways to express an idea. But ironically, this is where many feel they will never master all of them. That creates a feeling of frustration. So many become anxious for more vocabulary and grammar. Some even believe they should study it like they study a manual at work.

And that's just not how language acquisition works. This is why we say to them, "get more input!". Human beings need input to improve the output.

What about practicing more conversation?

If a learner practices conversation with someone who is proficient in English, that's always a plus. The question is whether or not the learner will be in an ideal situation to absorb what the proficient speakers says as input. Usually, what will happen is that - in that situation - the learner will be more focused on getting her language right. On top of that, she may feel anxiety or low-self esteem for not knowing as much vocabulary or getting the grammar structures wrong. Before we go further, let's clarify. Learners should relax in conversation and not worry about mistakes. This will help them get more input and they might actually enjoy the experience. There are smarter ways to deal with mistakes.

So wait... conversation is input?

In conversation with a proficient English speaker, his or her words can serve as a source of input, but there really need to be sources of pure and straight input. That means listening and reading and it's got to be done with the right mindset.

But why is input such a big deal?

Because our brain is designed to naturally acquire language from input. And it is based on this input that we are able to produce output. Ideally, we acquire language best when input is relevant to our interests and when it is focused. Of course, no adult learner has all day to focus on English, but many can set aside 5 to 10 minutes to read, listen or view something interesting. Your English World is that time you set aside for yourself, away from distractions to enter a world of English that is meaningful to you.

Is there any research on this?

Absolutely. Dr. Stephen Krashen, a renowned linguist and educational researcher, has dedicated most of his career to researching how the brain acquires language. In short, he's stated that, “we do not acquire language by producing it; only by understanding it”, so our “ability to produce (language) is the result of language acquisition, not the cause.” In other words, we get input, lots of input, acquire it and then we're ready to produce output. And not the other way around.

Where’s the proof of this?

It’s in our own life experience. It's in our personal history. You've done this. Everybody has. You may not remember. The human brain is wired to first receive the language, then process it by decoding the message and its parts. Our brain does all this this quietly, behind the scenes, while we're thinking about other stuff. And then one day … BOOM! ... we can speak what we have acquired.

Aren't you referring to how a child learns to speak?


That’s the first language. Why would we learn our second language the same way?

Why wouldn’t we? Same species, same brain, same process. Would it make more sense if the process for second language acquisition happened in our left knee?

Actually… no.

The problem is later we go through formal education, which makes very little use of our brain's potential. Instead, they teach us that grammar and vocabulary are the foundations of language. They make us memorize rules and tons of words. Curiously, this happens way after we’ve pretty much mastered most verb tenses, structures and irregular cases, without a single grammar lesson.

So you’re saying grammar is pointless in language learning?

Not at all. I'm saying we need to rethink how grammar can best help us to acquire language better. We already know grammar is convenient for the educational bureaucracy and for their need to organize and standardize things. Let's make it serve us better as learners.

So how could grammar best serve language learning?

Dr. Krashen believes that grammar is great as an analytical tool. It's useful to understand how language works on the inside after you have acquired the language naturally. It helps us monitor what we say and what we write. Our output. I get that for a lot of people grammar is cool, especially for those in the language teaching profession. In the same way, differential equations are cool for engineers. But you don't need to master them to get from one side of the bridge to another.

Grammar is the blueprint of what our brain has already acquired from input. We just need to be brain-friendly about it.

Can we also acquire knowledge of grammar naturally by increasing our input?

Of course, if you continually get authentic English input in focused sessions with interesting material that is a little above what you know, over time, you will acquire vocabulary and structures that will become active. In other words, you will use them in output. The key is to vary the types of material, and at the same time, to repeat the content. So, you'll do a story, a scene and a talk. But you'll read the story again, watch the scene again and listen to the talk again. And you'll do it in short focused sessions that are workable with your schedule.

Still, vocabulary and grammar is not all you get from input. Some learners acquire the pulse of the language, its rhythm. And this is very important for output.

Whoa... the pulse?

Think for a minute about actors and comedians. They often recreate the speaking style of those they imitate, even if they speak another language. What they really do is recreate the patterns of speech, the intonation, the pauses and the quirks. This is what we mean by the pulse. Actors or comedians are sensitive to this because they are very good listeners.

So should learners of English develop the skills of comedians?

Well, they should definitely aspire to become very good listeners. The other part is optional. This means - when they listen to spoken English, they should listen to the sum of things. Not just the words, but the way speakers say those words. This is the pulse and our brain understands how to process it. And this includes adult brains. In fact, brains love to acquire knowledge and are great at it when give the proper conditions as neuroscientist Dr. Manfred Spitzer proposes.

The problem is that adult learners are often impatient with listening. But they underestimate its value because they'd much rather speak. Adult learners are also not keen on repeating and imitating what they hear when it comes time for output.

Why is that?

Too many filters are in place. Fear is a big part of it. We're afraid to experiment. Afraid to play with sounds, and have fun along the way. We take ourselves too seriously. Our ego gets in the way. If we could just leave it at the door, we would acquire language so much faster.

Is there any example of the pulse of the English language, just to get an idea?

Actually, there is. I don't know if you've seen that short film about a couple that speaks like two Americans, but in fact they are not really saying anything. It's all just a bunch of gibberish. What these actors have recreated is the pulse of American English as spoken by modern-day Americans in an informal setting. Their words make no sense and half of them don't really exist, but if someone who doesn't speak English heard them, they would say - Ah, this is an American couple. That's pulse.

So what can we do as English learners to acquire this pulse?

First, stop trying to identify the words like a scanner when we listen and instead, focus on two things:

  1. Getting the main idea.
  2. Getting the pulse of the language. 

If we really do this, something surprising will eventually happen. We will actually start to get the words, the phrases, and most importantly, the intention of the speaker. In the short film I mentioned you can understand intentions of the characters, even though the words make no sense. That's because those intentions are present in the pulse. Obviously, it's just an experiment to show that there is more to language then words. If we can embrace this reality and increase our input of authentic English as learners, we can also get the full experience: the intention, the pulse, the words, and most importantly, the message.

So then,  is conventional listening comprehension pointless?

No, it's fine and serves its purpose in a controlled learning environment. But it shouldn't be the only listening we ever do.

So recapping. Get as much input as possible. Don't get hung up on words when you listen. Get the pulseGo for the message. And in time, you'll find your English has greatly improved.

It's easier said than done, but that's about right.

Ok, Brain. But when do you start creating Your English World?

First of all, if you've done all that, you've already started. What we need to figure out is how to organize ourselves so it's sustainable in time.

How is it sustainable?

So far we've been talking about input. About how important it is. About how our brain is designed to process input and eventually turn it into output. Not right away, not all of it. The key is to keep the flow coming.  To do that we need to allocate a time and place where that will happen. Like a ritual. That's why I gave it a name. You can change it to whatever you want. The point is to get your brain in the right mode to acquire new language.

Alright, so Your English World is a learner's personal ritual for English input. Output and correction are covered in other sessions, right? Any conclusive words for those who are impatient and want to focus on output?

It’s not really about establishing a competition between input and output. The less you worry about the final destination and the more you start enjoying the journey, the shorter the transition between input and output. And that holds true beyond the realm of language learning.

Ok, so now you're going to provide a quick overview of Your English World for learners. Is that right?

That's absolutely right!

Ok, everybody. This magic carpet ride has a master switch called Having the Right Mindset. Here is the pre-flight checklist to plan Your English World sessions.
  • Relax, this is not a test.
  • Motivation. Choose content that truly interests you
  • 5 - 10 minutes. Each Your English World session should be short and uninterrupted. 
  • Low Anxiety. Don't worry if you don't understand something, your brain is busy at work.
  • Enjoy the ride. Eliminate negative self-talk. Go with the flow.
  • Trust your brain. It is acquiring language. Don't get in the way!

Could you provide an example of this kind of mindset in action? 

I'll give you more than an example. I'll provide you with a planning strategy. It doesn't have to be the only strategy. Maybe you can come up with a better one.

So here are some fundamentals for creating Your English World sessions:
  • WORLD: This is your time with the language. This is your power input. This is your English World. On this journey, technology will be your vehicle. You will travel to destinations based on content you have chosen.
  • MOTIVATION: It cannot be stressed enough. Make sure you choose content that is motivating for you. If it isn't, find something else.
  • LEVEL: Try not to choose something that is too easy or way too difficult. Choose something that is a little challenging. If after reading or listening, you have an idea of what's going on, but you don't understand every single word, then you've chosen the right level.
  • JOURNAL: Get something to write on. You will need a journal or notebook to write stuff down.
Welcome aboard, Your English World. Before we depart, let's get familiar with the language features of our spaceship.
  • TECHNOLOGY: That is how we travel through the galaxy. The point is: you will use technology to reach your content destinations, so please set all your technology language to English. No exceptions. And don't change it back. This means that beyond Your English World sessions, from now on, you will be constantly exposed to time, calendars, apps and social media features in English. So yes, your phone, your Facebook, your Instagram, your YouTube language, and when you open Google, it will all be in English.
Destinations. This is how you design your content sessions. Select from the following, ideally a different one each day, 4 days a week. You decide which 4 days.
  • READING: This means that in addition to whatever you read, choose something short to read each week in English related to a topic you are truly interested in. Read it at least twice at different times during that day. Don’t take notes and try to keep the dictionary to a minimum.
  • LISTENING: In addition to whatever you listen to, choose a radio program or podcast to listen to each week about a topic that interests you. Listen to it at least twice at different times during that day.
  • MOVIES / TV / TALK: In addition to whatever you watch, choose a 2-3 min. scene from a movie or TV show you like each week. Alternatively, you may choose a fragment from an interview or talk (5 min max). Watch it at least twice at different times during that day.
  • MUSIC: In addition to whatever you listen to, choose a song each week. Listen to it at least twice at different times during that day.
After the second reading, listening or viewing, write a short summary on your journal.

Easy Planning. Repetition helps acquisition.
  • For WEEK 1, choose a set of content for your sessions, let’s call it: Content A
  • For WEEK 2, choose a new set content for your sessions, let’s call it: Content B
  • For WEEK 3, repeat Content A
  • For WEEK 4, repeat Content B
  • New Month, start with new Content, following the same A / B scheme
  • Journal every time. Review your journal at the end of the week.
If you need to acquire language related to special topics, choose that as your Content. Look for short articles, podcasts or videos. If they are long, break them up into parts.

Keep going. This is Your English World. Enjoy it. Modify it to your needs, but follow through on your plans. This could run parallel to your taking lessons with a tutor or reviewing grammar if you like. With time, if you keep the right mindset, and enjoy the ride, you will acquire new language from Your English World and use it in your speaking and writing output.

Wow, Brain! That was pretty intense. I think I'll need to review this a few times.

Good idea. By all means.

Thanks so much! See you next time.

Take care!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

GETTING REAL About Business English - Part 1: Communication Needs

By Paul Ponce, PLS Teacher

By now most will agree that English is the global language of business. In other words, to do business with the world, you need to speak it. Naturally, we are living in a time when more and more people are doing business with the world. So it’s no surprise that more people than ever need to speak English for business. Maybe you’re one of them.

But here is the thing. Most books or courses for “Business English” are designed for managers of big multinational companies. Obviously, most learners today do not fit into this profile. Nowadays, the biggest need to speak English is among professionals of all sorts as well as people who run their own businesses.

So if you’re not a manager in some multinational (and even if you are), in this blog series, we will discuss foundational concepts to help you plan your journey into English for business. In the post, we go into the first one: defining our communication needs.

To get the maximum benefit from this post, answer the questions in the following section to the best of your ability. It will take you some time.

Defining Communication Needs

This seems obvious, but it is not. To say you need to learn English to communicate with people in business is too ambiguous. What does that even mean? No book could possibly cover all the communication situations required today.

So the first thing we need to do is to ask yourselves what exactly (yes, exactly) do we need to do in English in terms of speaking, listening, reading and writing. We also need to define who we will interact with and in what context. This changes everything, especially how we prepare for that situation.

People interact in many different ways with many different people around the world. If not today, then tomorrow. Read all the questions, but only answer the ones that apply to your communication needs.

Will you need to:

    • Provide for basic or complex information, if so to whom and in what context?
    • Ask basic or complex questions, if so to whom and in what context?
    • Present a new idea, project or product, if so to whom and in what context?
    • Persuade others or call them to action , if so whom and in what context?
    • Collaborate with others, if so whom and in what context?
    • Listen carefully to others, if so whom and in what context?
    • Read important information passively, if so what information and in what context?
    • Give instructions, to whom and in what context?
    • Offer help, to whom and in what context?

Once you are done, look at your answers. Review them and correct anything you feel is not right. Our goal is to be as objective as possible. Knowing what you expect of yourself is the first step to improving your ability to speak English for business.

If you take classes, this is information you should share with your teacher who can use it to better plan his or her classes. If you're working to improve English on your own, this should help you find material designed to help you improve those skills.

But this is just a first step. There are many more. In a future post, we will tell you the second step.

And speaking of business communication skills you may need, the following video provides useful tips on one of the most common ones: Phone Skills

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

DIVING in the SEA of Language

By Paul Ponce, PLS Teacher

The thing is like this. I’m grew up in Miami, a warm place surrounded by beautiful beaches and plenty of water. Naturally, when it came to sports, my fellow South Florida residents and I had dozens of water-related options to choose from. And with the exception of surfing, I tried most of them. But truth be told, they were all a bit too much on the “surface” for me.

However, there was one that truly captured my heart of hearts. Scuba diving.

I don’t know. Maybe it was all those Jacques Cousteau documentaries in my youth that drove me to put on a mask, some fins, and a regulator to plumb the depths of a world supposedly not meant for me. But boy, once I got “down there”; it was like I engaged in a deeper understanding with nature and myself. An understanding that just wasn’t possible on the surface.

So many years later as an English teacher, this idea of the “surface” and its limitations surfaced from the depths of my memory. And no, I don’t mean that language learners need to learn scuba diving, although I highly recommend it. 

What I mean is that the metaphor of deep sea diving resonated in me when I saw something in my profession that didn’t feel right. I had become disappointed that in some of the schools I worked at, much of learning was based on memorizing rules and vocabulary, out of context. Or why not say it? On the surface.

In fact, I also found this quest for quantity over quality blowing its winds in the shallow waters of standardized testing. You know, students pushed by whoever it is to max out their TOEFL, IELTS and whatever test in record time, yet not taught to communicate about anything important in a meaningful way. Why? Probably to enter a good school and get a good job at a good company who would possibly – if the economy didn’t sink to the bottom- hire a good teacher to review all those rules they once studied, but now forgot. Make sense? No? Good. 

But as Bob Dylan used to say, “times are a changin”. Finally, the tide is turning on this old world mentality of what I call “surface learning”. In fact, we are in the dawn of what I like to call “deep sea learning”, especially in the language world. 

Every day, I discover and meet new colleagues - who understand that the key ingredients for learning are engagement, context and depth. It’s very exciting to see many of them using technology to connect learners to language topics that range from complex global issues, meaningful professional issues, but also through the stimulating worlds of art, music and film. And yes, their students are getting plenty of grammar and vocabulary, but this time as a means instead of an end. Of course, I’m totally engaged in doing my share of “deep sea” language teaching as well and enjoying every bit of it.

The result is not surprising. More and more language students are becoming immersed in a deeper understanding of English as a foreign language. They are resonating to new sounds, sights and experiences, developing the confidence to continue improving on their own, deeper into the language. But it’s not all fun and games. All this “deep sea language learning” will have a profound impact on their studies and professional lives as well. A positive impact.

Finally, if you'd also like to dive into the fascinating world of the sea, then check out this report about the life and adventures of legendary underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau.