Teaching Business English classes in the Czech Republic requires much more than preparing and teaching a good lesson. “In-Company” ESL classes are often required and paid by the employer and many students are not as motivated as those who pay for English lessons themselves.
In this OnTESOL Graduate blog, Breno Silva will provide tips for teaching “In-Company” Business English courses, which is the largest market for ESL classes in Prague. Breno completed the 250-hour TESOL Diploma online with OnTESOL and the separate Practicum module in the Czech Republic.
Understanding Business English Students
In my early days, it wasn’t uncommon for students to forget their books at home. They were often late or absent, regardless of the fact that the teacher was there for them. To make things worse, only some students did their homework, while others confessed to setting aside precious little time to study English at home, if any, even considering that they only had 6 hours of English lessons every month.
Mostly they wanted to chit-chat so it was difficult to structure a lesson, follow it, and notice any progress. Lack of progress can be very demotivating for teachers and students alike, and I’ve come to realize that a low level of motivation was the main underlying cause of their poor performance.
Other common demotivating factors were excessive workloads and family responsibilities, which took an enormous toll on the students; the assumption that at their age – commonly in their 30s, 40s, or 50s – learning a language was too onerous a task, unlikely to bear fruit, and lead to any significant reward, say, a job promotion.
Lesson Planning & Motivation
If you decide to come to Prague and end up teaching Business English at one or more of these ‘In-company’ courses, you must be prepared to adapt. The most common criticism I hear from students is that their previous teacher never prepared and all too often turned their lessons into an impromptu chit-chat. This is wrong, but understandable. When you start, it’s easy to fall into a trap and be carried away by your students, letting them chat the whole lesson and get away with not doing any serious work.
Students in Prague appear used to teachers who don’t make much of an effort, so they push new teachers into the same patterns. New teachers, facing such a relaxed and unsupervised environment, do what they believe their students want, and what appears easier for them. Be careful not to make the same mistake!
The best thing you can do from the very beginning is to understand your students. Find out what they do, why they need English lessons, their likes and dislikes also, become familiar with what they expect from your lessons and let them know what you expect from them. Doing a needs analysis on the first day of class will help with this.
Be friendly and supportive, but professional. If they perceive you as a qualified, dedicated teacher who does your best and really cares about their learning, they will comply and you will soon find out that many problems will disappear.
Allocate More Time
As if by magic, the students will turn up to the lessons more frequently. They allocate more time for their homework. The challenge then is to keep your students engaged as time goes by and you start falling into a routine. Remember that some of them are very busy and stressed from work. And that they see English lessons as a moment to relax and escape from their duties.
Some may even use you as a counselor, so to speak, when classes are one-to-one. It’s smart to allow some time for an informal chat. Often your lessons are the only opportunity they have to share their anxieties with someone. Therefore, be sure to lend a sympathetic ear and show some empathy. Just don’t lose focus of the lesson aims and gently bring the lesson back on track. They will appreciate it.
Sometimes, these informal chat sessions will help you understand your students’ needs and develop effective activities that relieve their anxieties. For example, role-playing activities about business situations that they encounter on a daily basis. It is a great way to practice English in context and help them increase their confidence using English at work.
Task-Based and Communicative approaches work best
Lessons that follow the Task-Based and Communicative approaches work best. Be creative and use different resources. Include authentic audio and video, to make your lessons more appealing and keep interest levels high.
Always find a way to make your students realize that they are, indeed, making progress, little though it may be. Try to record a fluency activity or to have them create a portfolio with their written work. This way they can listen to themselves later, or read previous compositions, and realize their progress.
Pay compliments when necessary. And be ready to give advice on learning strategies and techniques they may use to improve even further. Particularly with more advanced students, where progress is less noticeable.
Activities & Resources
It is useful, for instance, to have them bring to class a real sample of a document they had to read or an email they are supposed to write. If there is a syllabus, you may find yourself having to adapt it frequently, constantly trying to draw a connection between what they have to learn and what is really important for them. If there is not, you may want to create one with the student. OnTESOL’s 20-hour Teaching Business English Course gives you the skills you need for preparing a syllabus for each Business English student/class.
Remember that the vast majority of students are busy middle-aged parents, so do not rely on your students to do some extra studying at home. By the same token, it is crucial to review frequently, mainly by means of more communicative vocabulary and grammar games, case studies, simulations, role-plays, and the like.
If your Business English students need to improve their phone conversation skills, introduce a few exponents and show them how to do it; should they need to get ready to chair a meeting, provide an illustration (perhaps as a listening) and practice with them.
Any presentation insight? Give some guidelines, ask them to get ready, and present it to you as they would at work. Ask them to do it, show them how to do it better, then record their second attempt and have them use this as a guided self-assessment.
If you decide to come to Prague as an English teacher, remember the context of the lessons, who the students are, and the varied needs they may have. The key to success with Business English one-to-one students is to find the balance between helping them improve their skills and creating a relaxing, open, and friendly atmosphere.
Flexibility is always welcome and necessary, so allow some leeway for chit-chatting (relaxing from work) and for the students to give vent to their feelings. It is essential that you lead the students back to the topic as soon as possible, but if you do not give them the opportunity to digress for a little while, they may see your lesson as a burden, feel bored and/or tired, and end up giving up.
Many students will ask you about your life and activities with genuine curiosity and will expect an answer. In all cases, however, never lose track of the lesson and be aware of your teacher talk time. I have heard many cases of teachers who truly believed they were doing what the students “really wanted and expected,” i.e. chatting, and were blamed for that.
Do not fall into this trap: Czechs avoid displaying dissatisfaction overtly and only rarely will they complain directly to you. At the end of the day, informal chatting is not your job. As a result, even though at times you may feel tempted or even forced to digress by your student’s insistence to chat, most of the lesson should be really focused on teaching Business English.
Teaching Business English One-to-One
If you are hired to teach Business English one-to-one, your student will likely be a top executive. Otherwise, they would be in a group, as prices for one-to-one lessons are quite steep. It also means that the company pays for their lessons and chooses what they should learn. Their high positions entail great responsibilities and the limited spare time and high levels of stress that come along with them. It is not surprising then that many learners will see your lesson as a break from work, and Business English as an undesirable and arduous attempt to learn how to do their job in a different language.
Many companies do provide syllabi, but they do not control them. When there is no syllabus, teachers will find themselves in a position where students opt for General English lessons, and they often get their way with unqualified teachers that do not possess proper lesson planning skills.
There are those who understand the importance of Business English and really want to learn. Don’t be surprised if you are directly requested to focus on “English for Business Purposes, but the lessons must be interesting and entertaining.” From my perspective, dynamic and gripping lessons should be the aim of every English lesson, but Business English tends to be drier and blander than General English.
In this case, the teacher should bear in mind two essential things: how to grapple with students who indeed want Business English, but tend to stray from the topic quite often; and how to teach Business English effectively and in a way that is meaningful and interesting for their learners.