This lockdown is a bit of an inconvenience. Businesses closed for the foreseeable future, people unable to meet up, have a coffee and a slice of cake together in a favourite coffee shop. Even go and have a haircut. (I am cutting my own few remaining hair strands at home, as always. Smartest lockdowner in the street.)
But of course, we understand the seriousness of lockdown. The impact on so many families who have lost loved ones or who are ill due to coronavirus. And the health professionals who have worked tirelessly to care for the sick and dying. Life is on hold. But it is a small price to pay to help secure the health of the nation and hopefully the future of our country and economy.
There have been some benefits I suppose. Commuting dried up to a trickle, the roads were clear, pollution reduced, turgid meetings in stuffy rooms became enlivened and productive digital Zooms. You could even do your meeting in your underpants. Unless you stood up of course.
(For the record, I am wearing trousers in this photo.)
My own employment as an English language Teacher stopped. The school was one of numerous businesses that had to close in the face of the pandemic and lockdown. When it will reopen and how the business will recover is uncertain, but I hope it will. It is a place that has seen such a diverse range of students from every corner of the world, Algeria to Brazil, China to Yemen, Syria to Sudan, Mexico to Nepal. A wonderful place to work, highly motivated and professional teachers, dedicated and supportive owners and brilliant students. I hope the school will reopen and thrive as it has before. It deserves to.
Lockdown has seen me confined to barracks, with my wife and daughter. I have continued to work online, providing English language tuition. It is something I enjoy. There is a lot of satisfaction in completing a lesson with a student who has made progress, expressed their thanks for your help and support and is smiling and looking forward to their next lesson.
In addition, this time at home has helped further my own creativity. I have written my first novel called The Shadows That Sang. It is now with a group of 25 friends who are reading it and providing much needed feedback. It is the story of two young brothers, growing up in a rural village in Java Indonesia, a village that lies at the foot of an active volcano. After a devastating eruption, the brothers escape, but their lives follow very different paths, from homelessness and destitution to extremism, as well as the arts, opera and music. I would love to have the book picked up by an agent, secure a publishing deal and one day see it on the shelves of bookshops. It is a hope, a dream, but without dreams what are we? I will keep plugging away, probably tearing my remaining hair out at the 15th rewrite, but determined to get the book into print.
In addition, I have just self-published my 8th poetry collection. Life Waves – Poetry for the New Decade, is a collection of poetry written during 2019 and the first part of 2020. The poems reflect the state of the world currently, with sections on the Coronavirus / COVID19 crisis, Nature and the Environment, Mental Health, The state of British Society and the impact of Social Media, among others.
The link to Life Waves is
Life Waves and my other poetry collections are available in both Kindle Download and paperback formats.
You can find my other poetry collections
I love writing. It keeps my mind focussed, is an outlet for my emotions and feelings. We all need to do what we love and writing provides so many tangible benefits. For my mental health it has been a lifeline, especially using poetry to communicate my feelings. Poetry played a huge role in helping me come to terms with the loss of my daughter Milla in December 2016. Poetry provided the template for my emotional expression, but writing my novel helped me escape into a different world. A place I know well, but with a narrative provided by me, with a cast of characters who took on personalities and complexity as the writing progressed.
I love teaching too. It is immediate, rewarding and satisfying. It serves both the student and the teacher. What would I choose to do full time though? It is an interesting question. If you said you could be a full-time writer, financially secure, I would choose that life immediately. But the reality is very few people are fortunate, or talented enough to be able to give up the day job and write as a career. Until I do, teaching will continue. I will still write, and I will love doing both, equally.
I specialize in conversational English at any level and all ages, as well as Business English for Professionals.
It’s been a while since my last update. Too long and much going on. Visits to Indonesia and the completion of writing my first novel, called The Shadows That Sang. Based in Java, Indonesia, a story of two brothers whose world is thrown into chaos when a volcanic eruption destroys their village.
Which is how the world feels at the moment. While my wife, daughter and I were in Indonesia for a month in February this year, the coronavirus crisis was becoming more of a concern. China was dealing with an unprecedented health crisis and a few countries around the world were recording sporadic cases. As we flew home, it was evident the fear and concern of people, many wearing masks on the flight and in the airports. However, there was still a sense of the world carrying on as normal. And no indication of the rapid spread of the disease and the impact it has had on so many people throughout the world, most notably in Italy, Iran and more recently throughout central Europe.
In a matter of a couple of weeks since arriving home, Italy and Spain are under lockdown, airlines are on the brink of collapse, the UK is requiring everyone to practice social distancing and to avoid non essential travel and contact with other people. There is a palpable feeling of anxiety and fear. The news media is covering the crisis 24/7 – endlessly relaying the latest advice, interviewing the public and experts. It feels a vastly different world to the one we left when we travelled to Indonesia at the beginning of February.
How do we ‘keep calm and carry on’ when there is so much uncertainty and genuine concern? It is one thing to advise people to work from home and practice social distancing, self isolate for 14 days, avoid travel, stay at home. But occupying your time productively is something we can all do. Maintaining a fit and active mind as well as body is extremely important.
I have reached out to many of my contacts and former students, many of whom live in Spain and Italy. I am in a fortunate position to be able to work from home and offer online English lessons. I believe an hour of face to face (online of course) conversation can be both educational and therapeutic. A chance to talk to someone about anything, to take their mind off the situation or to discuss what is happening. An outlet to discuss what is on their mind – and receive some useful English language practice and tuition at the same time.
I hope people will find a way to manage their time in this difficult situation. If we dwell on the fear, the worry, the uncertainty, it will only compound our feelings and affect our mental health detrimentally. We all need to take a break from the information overload we expose ourselves to on social media and via our TVs, radios and newspapers. While we need to be kind to others, to assist those who are vulnerable and at risk, we also need to be kind to ourselves.
Stay safe, keep washing your hands, listen to and follow the government and medical authority’s advice. But look after yourself as much as you look after your loved ones. We all need to be strong together and together we will get through this crisis.
If anyone would like to have online English language lessons, please contact me. Contact details, lesson information, payment and other details are available on this website.
Today we are going to learn some language for meetings…..
A collective groan fills the classroom. The teacher inwardly sighs, wishing he were somewhere far more stimulating, like Lidl. The students head fall with an audible smack as they hit the table, dreading the next turgid hour and a half of ‘stuff they don’t want to learn’, ‘things they already know’, ‘words and phrases they’ll never use’ , ‘a complete waste of time’.
Ever been there? Tasked with teaching a subject that is seemingly one the students hate and indeed one you as the teacher can not get enthused to teach?
Welcome to the world of teaching Business English. A world where the Director of Studies chuckles with an evil laugh as they draw up the next week’s schedule and pencil in someone for the ‘graveyard shift’. Post lunch, Business English class. A world where eyes role and knees tremble, hoping a bout of severe diarrhea wreaks havoc upon bowels and weekends so that Monday does not arrive and the teaching of Business English can be avoided. And some other poor bugger (hopefully the director of studies – oh the irony) has to teach the class instead.
Yes, for some teachers, Business English is a curse worse than a plague of boils. It is the last thing they want to teach, the area of English they feel least competent and practiced in. The area they wish to avoid at all costs. They would rather teach a class of delinquent 15 year olds the language of politeness and respect, than step up to the task of teaching presentation language.
But why is Business English feared by some and on the other hand, embraced by a few (myself included, I really enjoy Business classes)?
The reasons are various, but I would narrow it down to the following;
Lack of Business Experience – Left university, partied around S.E.Asia for a year and a bit, came home, worked in Tescos for 6 months, did the CELTA, started teaching in a far flung corner of China or Indonesia, never worked in a corporate environment, nor a temporary office job. Never experienced the world of ‘work’, of meetings and presentations, of financial information, of negotiations and international business class travel….
A Feeling of Inferiority – You are 25 years old, a graduate in media studies and fine art. You are faced with a class of 50 year old middle and senior managers, specialists in their area of business, more experience of the world of business than you have been alive, high fliers in their company. All eyes are on you. ‘What do YOU know?’. Are YOU a fraud? What can YOU actually teach THEM?
The Subject Matter – The language of meetings, diplomatic language, negotiations, dealing with people, conflict in the workplace, presenting, interview skills etc etc. You start looking through the Business English textbooks and immediately feel your eyes glaze over. Soporific, somnolent, snooze inducing stuff. zzzZZZZ. And you have to make this stuff attractive, interesting, easy to follow and practicable in application. The wolves are waiting and they are hungry. Off you go…
Why Me? – It is a good question. In some schools the Business English class is seen as the least preferred class to teach. It is not ‘sexy ‘ English. It is not fun. It is boring, the students are dull, unreceptive, unwilling to learn anything new, sent by their boss and not particularly motivated. Why me? What have I done to deserve this? It feels as if you are being punished. Why? I was only 2 minutes late to class last Thursday….
Lack of Preparedness – It is Friday afternoon. The new schedule is posted. You check and find it is your turn. Pass the poisoned chalice. Monday Business class awaits. What on earth are you going to teach them? I don’t have any materials prepared….I haven’t got any cool handouts for them. Monday arrives and blind panic has resulted in photocopying a bog standard textbook (though to qualify myself, they are many excellent Business English textbooks out there)…OK then, page 1. Saying Hello at a meeting….. The groans grow louder
Not Wanting to Let Anyone Down – You are a professional. You take pride in your work. You enjoy interacting with students and creating and delivering effective, fun and useful lessons. You love to see the progress your students make. But Business English feels like a step too far. You can’t deliver anywhere near as effective lessons. You will let the students down and feel a failure. You want to do yourself justice, but feel you won’t be able to meet their expectations or your own. They might even go to the Director of Studies and…..complain!!!
OK. Stop. Breathe. Relax.
Business English is ….
FUN, INTERESTING, EXCITING, MOTIVATING, ENJOYABLE, USEFUL, SOMETHING EVERY TEACHER CAN TEACH, SOMETHING NOT TO BE AFRAID OF
There, I said it. Business English is an area of English Language teaching that is challenging, but can be approached in a practical way and can be as satisfying to your students and yourself as any other English lesson. Over the last 21 years teaching English to adults in a variety if professions and occupations, I have specialized in Business English. It is the one area that I feel most comfortable in. I have seen friends and colleagues go pale at the thought of teaching business and have coached and mentored them in how to approach Business English. Am I strange? No, not really. Everyone has their own preferred niche, but this should not preclude you from teaching any part of English, whether that is business, exam preparation, language for specific purposes such as medicine, law, engineering, aviation etc, any age group from young children to adults, etc.
These are my top tips for teaching Business English.
No one is an expert in everything – I have 6 years experience in management. However, this was a long time before I embarked on my career as a language teacher. Was I / Am I an expert in business? Absolutely not. I have experience that has supported me in teaching Business English and has been invaluable in classrooms, but I am no expert. What I have is an INTEREST in business, but moreover, an interest in my students and what they do. This forms the basis of many lessons, discussions and classroom activities . Remember that the students coming to learn Business English do not expect you to be an expert in their industry. Nor are they expecting you to teach them their job. They are looking to you to help them do their job better in English. Equipping them with better vocabulary and expressions, a more intuitive and fluent listening and speaking ability, an improved pronunciation that makes them understood more easily and the ‘English Toolbox’ to aid them deliver better presentations, meetings, negotiations. At the end of the day always remember that the student is the expert.
Business English is Real Language – Business English is just English. With a specific application and relevance. The language of meetings is specific vocabulary used to do a number of functions; suggesting, offering, agreeing, disagreeing, interrupting, correcting, clarifying etc. And do we not do those things in everyday situations? It is true there are some words and phrases with unique use as Business English expressions (to table a proposal, to chair a meeting), but these are generally easy to understand from context.
Use the Experience in the Classroom – People like to talk about themselves and are naturally curious. Let your Business students be a resource. Far too many teachers fall into the trap of believing every lesson has to be teacher led for 60 or 90 minutes. Business students love the opportunity to present in small groups, to discuss their own position and industry, but moreover are very interested in knowing about their fellow students and what they do. Small group sessions / discussions which can be filmed and played back will highlight key vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, direct / indirect language which can be used in the next part of the class.
Students Often Believe They Are Better Than They Really Are – Yes, you sometimes have students who know it all. Who think they have every part of this speaking English game cracked, they are perfect. Really? In my experience, every single student I have taught, even those who I would class as Advanced or Proficient make mistakes. Or fail to understand the nuances of the language. Or have inappropriate intonation (The Russian students are often excellent, but speak with a low, flat monotone, that sounds bored, uninterested, unhappy and creates a negative response in the listener. Their vocabulary and grammar are excellent, but they don’t realise how poor they sound). While they are the experts in their job, you are the expert in English.
Even the Smallest Areas Can Trip Up the Best Students – Try this exercise. Spellings in English. Read out (or phone students) information for the students to write down. Email addresses, complicated addresses, foreign names, names including accents and umlauts. Even the most competent students struggle because it is not often practiced. But getting accurate information is crucial (especially if you spell an email address wrong….)
Take An Interest in Business – Now you do not need to read the Financial Times back to back every day for a month. But listen to the business news on the radio, go online and read a couple of articles from online newspapers, watch the news, watch business programmes such as Dragon’s Den and The Apprentice. These are excellent sources of vocabulary and points of discussion. Dragon’s Den is great for negotiation language, using conditionals (what would you do?), selling, presentation language, body language, fast native speech, product design, entrepreneurship etc etc. The Apprentice introduces creative solution finding, strategic planning (or a lack of), delegation and management, decision making, conflict and conflict resolution. Business English is everywhere around us and there is so much beyond the textbooks that you can use in lesson planning; either as a lesson in itself or to supplement textbook exercises.
Enjoy Business English – I have had some of the best fun classes teaching Business English. Your students are people. They are there to learn and to enjoy themselves while doing so. They are not always deadly serious and dull (in fact in 21 years of teaching Business English, 99% of my students have found the classroom environment invigorating, fun and enjoyable. Either in 1:1 or class situations, most students relish the chance to learn English, because they are NOT at work. It is a different thing to do. Many senior managers and business owners I have taught have the best sense of humour and are the most relaxed people I have taught. They want to learn, they want to enjoy the process, they don’t want to be bored, they have expectations, but they are easy to work with, they will also be proactive in telling you what they like and don’t like, and how they like to learn.
Be Relevant and Flexible – I always spend time with a new class or a new 1:1 student discussing learner expectations and do a needs analysis. I will then tailor my lessons to the needs of the student(s). I teach the students, and maintain a flexible approach, not what I want them to learn. I negotiate their priorities and design classes that fit these requests. Not everyone will have the same priorities, but doing a needs analysis will allow every student their input into the lesson content. Always have a back up plan. Always have a back up lesson or activity available. “We have done meetings, we don’t want to do financial language (Hurrah!), can we do a conversation lesson?” Be flexible.
So, if you are dreading being asked to teach the Business English class, try to approach it in a different way. It is an English class, with highly motivated and intelligent, interesting people, who are interested in you, who want you and for them to succeed and above all, want to learn and to enjoy the process of doing so. I think of Business English the other way round. For me it is “English for Business”. My job is to provide the students with the English skills and language necessary to help them do their jobs better when required to use English.
Good luck and have fun! Business does not have to be boring. But it does have to be interesting, relevant, useful, engaging and FUN!
If you would like to know more about teaching Business English please get in touch. I would love to hear from you. If you are a student interested in improving your Business English knowledge, let me know and I would be delighted to help you. Details of my Skype Online Lessons are on this website.
Wait. Before you start shouting at me for vilifying the Northern Irish accent, let me state on record, that is one of my favourite accents in the British Isles. Together with Scouse and Geordie (for the uninitiated, people from Liverpool and Newcastle).
My wife and I recently visited Northern Ireland for the first time. The country was beautiful, the scenery breathtaking, the welcome warm and friendly, the people generous and kind. Everything I had heard and hoped would be the case. I was not disappointed. But to hear the Northern Irish accent, its rich tones and elongated vowels, its wonderful pitch from a lofty high to a guttural low, to hear the accent in situ, was magnificent. It made me want to just sit in Costa nursing a large cappuccino and listen to the soundscape around me, drowning in the mellifluous tones of that gorgeous accent.
You see, accent for me is an enhancement to place, a badge of identity and of belonging. A kinship and a sense of pride. The Northern Irish are a people with fierce pride in their homeland. Sadly, for a long period of history, a fierce pride that escalated to bloodshed, bombing, civil unrest and a very dark episode that left no one unaffected. Identity and belonging is an intrinsic part of the human make up. We all want to belong and we all want to be able to have and to share our identity. The people of Northern Ireland fought over sovereignty, over nationhood, whether to be part of a unified political state (Eire, Ireland, joining together politically with the south of Ireland) or to maintain its place within the United Kingdom, allied to Westminster and the government in London. But the one thing everyone in Northern Ireland maintained was their sense of identity and place. They were protestant or catholic, they were loyalist or republican, but they were all Northern Irish. Identifiable immediately from the deep brogue and pronunciation at odds with almost anywhere else in the UK (although perhaps closest to some Scottish dialects). And that accent, as with Scouse, Geordie, Brummie (Birmingham), Cornish, Welsh, Cockney (East London), Yorkshire, Lancashire, Glaswegian (Glasgow), East Anglian, Bristolian (Bristol), West Country or any other regional accent, are all things people are proud of.
Yet some people are embarrassed by their accent. Not because of where they were born, or where they grew up. Everyone around them would have had the same accent. It would have been the norm, nothing out of the ordinary. But branching out after leaving school or home to embark on a University education, a new job in a different part of the country, would bring them in contact with people who spoke with different accents. And who may perceive their accent as funny or odd-sounding, strange, difficult to understand, frustrating to listen to etc. Which is particularly unfair. Yet it is accepted that some accents are preferable and easier to listen to than others. The English ear has a tendency towards certain accents over others. Accents become stereotypes of personality and caricatures of the person, irrespective of qualification, personality or success. If I can summarize widely held opinions on some the major accents in the UK, the reactions to them tend to be;
Mancunian – Manchester = whiny, complaining, unfriendly
Received Pronunciation – standard English (BBC / Oxford) = posh, upper class, privileged
Bristolian – Bristol = unintelligent, not very clever, slow
These are very general stereotypes, and very unfair. Labelling people because of their accent is extremely unhelpful and can be a barrier to progress in careers and in being accepted socially. However, in a survey of the most attractive accents, Brummie, Scouse and Mancunian came out least attractive, while Welsh and Received Pronunciation came at the top. Interestingly, Geordie came in the middle, but many large companies have located customer call centres in Newcastle because the Geordie accent has such positive responses from the majority of people.
My own accent is neutral. I grew up in the south of England and speak without any strong accent. I have picked up some accent from living and working in Manchester and for the last 16 years in the West Midlands. But no one would accuse me of being from Manchester or Birmingham. As a result, I am fortunate that my teaching voice is easily followed and understood by my students. I deliberately pronounce with clarity and vary my speed and language dependent on the ability of the student. However, this is unrealistic in helping the student properly prepare for real interaction with native speakers beyond the classroom. It is therefore something I am always keen to focus on in lessons; making pronunciation a key element of their learning experience.
When you meet someone who has a strong accent, the difficulties as a language learner can be immense. Even the most accomplished learner with a high level, who learnt RP – received pronunciation or ‘Oxford English’, from the comfort and security of a classroom, will be shocked and surprised at how impenetrable some accents are. The words are the same. The sentences communicate the same meaning and intent. Yet, the words contain syllables and sounds that are variously mangled, squashed, stretched, swallowed, under or over emphasised, falling in tone or rising, soft, hard, guttural, stopped, trilled etc. Even for native English speakers, those who teach the subject, like myself, some accents can be very hard to decipher. A broad Glaswegian (from Glasgow), or Aberdonian (Aberdeen), will be a significant challenge to my listening ability. Add in certain vocabulary and expressions that are dialect and the result is confusion and frustration. Imagine what it must be like for a tourist stepping off the plane, arriving in Glasgow and trying to get directions to Sauchiehall Street, from a local Glaswegian with a strong accent;
“A’richt, yi”ll need tae tak’ this wynd fur 200 metres, cross ower tae th’ ither side ‘n’ caw left doon dalhousie wynd, a bawherr further ‘n’ ye’ll see it fernent ye”
Which translates as ….”OK, you need to take this street for 200 metres, cross over to the other side and turn left down Dalhousie Street, a bit further and you’ll see it in front of you.”
To understand accent, students need to be aware of the following points;
The student can understand what is being said. Usually, they have a good grasp of the vocabulary and the grammar being used. The problem in understanding is specifically related to sounds, stresses and rhythm of pronunciation.
To get used to an accent takes time. The longer you stay somewhere, the more exposure you have to it, the easier it becomes. My wife was in hospital in Liverpool for 5 months when our children were born very prematurely. She had real difficulties understanding the staff in the hospital. Scouse was impossible. One of the health care assistant even bought her a book called ‘Learn Yerself Scouse’. But after a few weeks, my wife started to pick out words and phrases and filter the pronunciation until she was comfortable and able to follow a conversation (My wife is from Indonesia).
If you are going to move somewhere that has an accent, try to find examples of the accent being spoken on the internet, in films or on TV. For example, coming to Birmingham and being exposed to Brummie, try watching ‘Peaky blinders’ for a taste of the accent (although people will point out the accent is not Brummie, but ‘Black Country’ which is a few mile north west of Brimingham.)
Even native speakers find some accents difficult. Be confident in asking for the other person to slow down and repeat if necessary. If you really can not understand, apologise that you find it difficult and ask if they would mind writing down what they are saying. Decent, polite people won’t mind. They will be aware of their accent. Some people may take offence, but as long as you are respectful, don’t worry.
Accents can vary a lot within a small geographical area. Within 60 miles (100km) of where I live in the West Midlands the accent changes enormously, from Bristolian to the south, Herefordshire and Wales to the west, Brummie to the north and Oxford to the east / south east.
Not everyone who lives in a particular city or region has an accent. We may grow up in one place and develop a strong accent from birth. But as adults, our careers and opportunities will often see us moving to other places. People migrate from other countries and will speak English in Eastern European accents, Chinese, Arabic, French or German or Italian. Although not native speakers, their accents will also be challenging to the learner. Some people develop hybrid accents, for example a Scottish-Pakistani accent (it is a wonderful thing to hear!) or a Welsh-Chinese.
There is beauty in accent. If we were to all speak with a neutral accent, language would be dull and uninteresting. Accents are identity and personality. They should be appreciated, celebrated and welcomed.
If you are a student learning English, don’t try to learn and speak in the accent where you are. Focus on learning correct English (ie received pronunciation). Get YOUR pronunciation right first, the correct stress in words and syllable, the correct intonation and rhythm. People will understand you better. If you live or move to somewhere with a strong local accent, and you stay for a long period of time, you may find you pick up the accent. I have taught nurses from the Philippines and India who have been in South Wales for 15 years. They sounded Welsh to me!
If you have an accent, don;t be embarrassed by it. My job as an English teacher is to help students improve their pronunciation and minimize the impact of accents. Not to remove them. It is not possible to lose an accent and speak perfect Oxford English. But you can work on key areas that help you sound more natural.
Finally, if you meet someone and they speak to you in a strong accent, show an interest. Ask them where they are from. Tell them their accent is really interesting. It will break the ice and help you communicate better with them. Don’t run away from a strong accent!
Don’t forget that via my website, , I am able to help anyone improve their English language skills, including understanding accents and fast speech, how to improve overall pronunciation and helping the student to sound more natural in English.