The Business English Teacher's Guide to teaching in-company
What I didn´t know before I started teaching English in-company was the amount of paperwork there would be: fill in this form and have your photo taken and then we´ll give you a pass you need to scan to get into the company, fill in this other form and we´ll give you a card to put credit on and use to buy your lunch in the canteen. I couldn´t remember anyone having to scan anything to get into the language school where I had done my CELTA course and there was definitely no rule there about not using your phones or cameras to take photos due to concerns about industrial espionage. This was clearly another world, but I was still there to teach English.
When it comes to teaching business English, the in-company setting has its pros and cons. On the plus side you can get a much clearer idea of your learners´ work environment and products or services, which makes it easier to understand their English needs. Being in the place where the products are being produced affords you the chance to see the machines your learners use or visit the lab where they work or the warehouse they´re responsible for.
I teach a group of lab technicians in a room adjoining their lab and we´ve spent a number of lessons in the lab working on the vocabulary for the items you can find there and describing the processes the learners are involved in. So when we talk about the process of titration, for example, it´s not just an abstract concept to me, but something I´ve seen, touched and had demonstrated for me. Many in-company teachers, including myself, find learning about new products and processes very rewarding and it helps us extend our knowledge of the worlds of business and industry.
The downside of all of this is that, while you have the advantage of teaching on-the-job, the learners are usually also on-the-job during the lesson. This means that their mobile phones are likely to ring or beep and they may well be obligated to respond. On other occasions, they may not make it to the lesson at all because of a meeting or a business trip. In short, attendance may be sporadic and learners might not be able to fully concentrate on learning English. Your course plan could be disrupted as a result and you may also feel that your learners aren´t making as much progress as they would under different circumstances.
Don´t let this affect your motivation though! There are lots of tricks you can use to surmount these stumbling blocks.
You can come to the lesson with a game to play, an interesting article to read and discuss or a framework activity to do if only two from your group of eight come to the lesson and you have to deviate from your plan.
Staying in touch with the learners between lessons also boosts their engagement levels and usually decreases their reluctance to leave their work behind for 90 minutes to come to the English lesson. For example, you can email them a warmer activity to think about ahead of the next lesson. One activity that seems to work quite well here is: complete this sentence, “I´ve always wondered why...”
There´s also the fact that most companies aren´t located in the centre of towns or cities and many in-company teachers, therefore, find themselves spending time – sometimes quite a lot of time – travelling to and from courses. Arranging your timetable so that you have blocks of courses at one company, in so far as that´s possible can help reduce your travelling time, though.
The best advice that I can give anyone teaching business English in-company is: use the learner as a resource. There are resources which learners can provide you with that you probably won´t be able to find anywhere else. These include knowledge of their companyand the industry it belongs to. If you´re looking at topics such as products and company structure in the coursebook you´re using, don´t forget to allow some space for the learners to contribute their knowledge of their own products and company structure.
Your learners also have access to a range of materials which can help you to better understand their needs, assuming they´re able to share them with you. While looking at emails, for example, you may find out that your learners have difficulties understanding the English emails they receive. Ask them to bring in some examples of these emails so you can look them at together and identify the cause of these difficulties. Advise the learners not to just print out a long chain of emails which starts with the last email received and ends with the first, ask them to copy and paste examples of individual emails that they find challenging into a document instead. Explaining the context in which the emails were sent can be an additional communicative activity to accompany the passive activity of reading the emails. You can then help the learners fill in the gaps in their understanding, and help them develop strategies for dealing with difficult to understand emails in future.
Ask the learners how long it takes them to write an email in English at work when you start teaching them and then ask them again later on and you´ll most likely find that the time has decreased, often by quite a lot. You´ll then experience one of the most satisfying parts of teaching in-company: knowing that you´ve helped your learners to do their jobs more effectively and efficiently.