Most CELTA courses briefly touch on the teaching of Business English and in-company teaching, but most CELTA centres are language schools where teaching practice is naturally conducted with students who are within the school compound.
The only time CELTA trainees get to have a taste of what it might be like to be an in-company trainer is when they actually get a job teaching in company. And the first day as a newly qualified teacher being surrounded by the piercing stares of men in ties and women in suits can be more intimating than being confronted by a difficult grammar question.
Along with my recent move from London to Munich, my teaching context also changed rather drastically, and I was taken out of a comfort zone that I had firmly established for myself over the 10 years of teaching in language schools in London. I was now plunged into a world of in-company teaching. I hope that in sharing my experience, it will help pave the way for new in-company trainers who do not quite know what to expect.
Having taught years of Business English and trained Business English trainers in Cert IBET courses, on top of having dabbled in some in-company work in London during my early days as a teacher, I knew to expect logistical variation from my career shift. But ultimately, I had believed that the difference between a language classroom or a company meeting room was simply a matter of geography.
I soon found out that geography was no small matter. Geography can determine the facilities available to you. It can affect class atmostphere, rapport and motivation levels. Geography could affect attendance. But before I go into the differences, let me outline the nature of my two different teaching contexts.
My teaching contexts
The language school I worked for in London is a well-respected institution that has a steady flow of students registered to have classes for an intensive period of time. For General English students, this period could last from 2 weeks to a year. Class sizes go from 1 to 15. In our Executive Centre, many of the Business English students are subsidised by either their government or their company to work on their level of English, and would usually stay for a period of 2 weeks to 3-4 months. Classes are smaller in the Executive Centre (a maximum of 6 clients) and lessons took place everyday. Each lesson would usually last for 2-3 hours, and some students might have 2 lessons a day.
As an in-company trainer in Germany, I would travel to different companies on different days of the week for lessons that are usually held in one of their company meeting rooms. A productive day would involve 2 or more classes taking place in the same company on the same day, which would essentially save me travelling time. Classes are usually 90 minutes to 2 hours long, although on occasion, there would be intensive days of 6-10 hours, especially for courses dealing with specific soft skills such as Presentation English or Negotiations in English. Classes do not usually contain more than 6 students.
Perhaps saying that my move to in-company training was a culture-shock might be a bit of an exaggeration, but here are some of the things I quickly learnt about in-company training.
In a language school, one might be equipped with Interactive White Boards, CD players or some kind of multimedia player, and even computers. Wifi connection is frequently provided, and students often have access to the internet through 3G on their smartphones.
When teaching in company, be prepared for lessons with little more than a flip chart. Markers are usually provided, but bring your own just in case. White boards are not common, which means that any exercise which involves rubbing away parts of sentences or phrases will need to be rethought.
CD players and multimedia players are not always provided, so if you are relying on a listening activity or a video clip, make sure you have it on your iPad or laptop and bring it in yourself.
Many companies don’t allow visitors to have access to the company’s wifi for security reasons. Some go to the extent of putting up firewalls so that you (or your students) do not have 3G access on your smartphones while in the building. In some cases, you could request to have a special password which might allow you access from certain terminals, but if you plan to show students a particular website, taking screen shots beforehand, and printing them, or pulling them up on your iPad might save you a lot of hassle.
Attitude and Motivation
Students could seem less motivated. It is likely have not paid for these lessons, nor have they travelled a long way to get to their lessons. Some might be in the dark as to why they have been sent for language training.
The fact that they are in their own home ground and within their own office building means that their mind would always be partially on that urgent reply they need to give their clients or that proposal they need to read and sign off before midday. You can’t blame them for not switching off completely because they are technically still at work.
Not only do they have trouble switching off mentally, getting them to switch off their devices might be a tough call too. Expect interruptions from ringing mobile phones and buzzing pagers. That student who is constantly glancing at his watch may have a meeting to rush to straight after the lesson. We even had a client who once attended an hour-long conference call during his lesson. And disciplining students regarding the right classroom etiquette might not be appropriate. That million-dollar contract may be more important than coming to grips with the Present Perfect Continuous.
Communication Skills rather than tenses
Conversely, some say that in-company learners can often be more motivated than General English in-school students if their learning is directly applied to the working environment around them. This would mean doing a more detailed Needs Analysis at the beginning of the course and finding out why and how they might need to use English. Avoid teaching language for the sake of teaching language, and focus on helping learners improve their ability to communicate.
Prepare lessons that are directly related to what they are doing at work. You can:
- Adapt published ELT materials so that tasks are current and relevant to the learners.
- Make use of authentic materials, e.g. news articles, case studies, infographics, TED talks, etc as a springboard to discussions, skills practice and language input.
- Consider tailor-making your own role-plays and get your learners to contribute to creating their own scenarios to enable for more realistic simulations.
Remember that your in-company clients do not necessarily want to be treated like school kids. Games and role plays are great, and can be extremely motivating, but be aware that boring grammar gap fills and following coursebooks to the tee might be less tolerated.
Attendance can be sporadic. You might have two students one week, and then two completely different students the week after. This might make revision and recycling of language extremely difficult but bear in mind that there are many factors that could affect your learners’ ability to attend: company trips, important meetings, annual leave and the odd day off sick are all part and parcel of in company classes.
For the same reasons, students could have issues with being on time for classes. Despite this, in-company clients are not always tolerant of the class overrunning, and a teacher not keeping to the specified times. Understandably, if you have urgent work that needs to be attended to, or a lunch appointment with your manager, you might be less likely to leap for joy when your English teacher gives you an extra 10 minutes of class.
With all their daily responsibilities surrounding them, you might find some students less inclined to revise or do their homework. Some might even find the idea of homework reminiscent of their yawn-inducing rebellion-encouraging school years. Several trainers have found that re-naming homework ‘action points’ or ‘tasks’ and ensuring that homework tasks continue to be interesting and relevant to the client’s work could help get around this tricky issue.
What ‘geography’ can also mean
Finding your way to the company could require some navigation skills, especially if you are new to the country you are teaching in. But thank goodness for transport and navigation apps on smartphones, because now, a person with no sense of direction like myself can somehow make my way there.
Once you get there, you might need a visitor’s pass in order to enter the building, and you often have to make known to reception the person you are here to see. Taking the above into consideration, ensure that you allow for travelling time and for the time it would take for you to be collected at reception.
Making use of a company meeting room as your classroom could mean last minute room changes, or even interruptions during a lesson due to confusion in room bookings.
It is quite common for in-company lessons to run for 90 minutes to an hour without a break, emulating a company meeting. If you are scheduled for two different 90-minute lessons, back-to-back, this could mean teaching three hours straight without a break for you. Don’t be shy about asking your second lot of students if it’s okay you have a five-minute break. And make sure you keep it to five minutes.
Unlike intensive courses where you see your students every day for a short period of time, most in-company courses occur once a week over a longer duration. I know a trainer who has been with the same group of students for more than 3 years! Although, this might mean that students could take several weeks before they warm up to you, this also means that you are able to truly get to know them and their area of work, and to shape their progress in a way that ensures that they are indeed making improvements to the way they are communicating in English at work.
Most importantly, try not to be intimidated by the piercing stares of the men and women in suits that are your students. Make sure you dress smartly and look professional, and remember: You might not be an expert in their field, but you are certainly the expert in dealing with language and communication issues. And with your expertise, you can help them do their job better.
About English Teaching professional’s regular blogger:
Chia Suan Chong is a General English and Business English teacher and teacher trainer, with a degree in Communication Studies (Broadcast and Electronic Media) and an MA in Applied Linguistics and English Language Teaching from King’s College London.
A self-confessed conference addict, she spends a lot of her time tweeting (@chiasuan/@ETprofessional), Skyping, and writing. You can find out more about her on her blogsite: http://chiasuanchong.com