2014 has arrived and the end-of-year rush has given way to a calmer time for reflection on new year’s resolutions, both personal and professional. My free time in December was taken up with learning Mandarin and Spanish, and preparing for different running events. This year is going to be a big change for me as from tomorrow I will be working as a freelancer. Although I will continue to teach business English, I think that the competitiveness of the market will no doubt be a harsh reminder of the importance of tailoring courses to clients’ specific needs. In this light, I’d like to return to my thread on using companies’ promotional materials in teaching to make courses relevant to students’ jobs. This time, I’m going to discuss a project I did for a construction products company.
The company I worked with makes products for concrete such as admixtures and fibers, liquid pigments and air and vapour barriers. My students here included a maintenance manager, logistics people and a marketing and communication assistant. To be honest, I had no idea about what a ‘surface-retarder’ was when I first arrived. The only interaction I had ever had was walking on it. And so, when I first arrived on the site, I wasn’t used to seeing the forklifts driving around, the industrial-sized barrels of salt water for defrosting the ground or the people dressed up in their overalls, facemasks and hard hats. The first thing I did was to ask my elementary-level maintenance manager for a tour of the site. He showed me the safety equipment (I had all that vocabulary mastered at least) and we went on our way. There were machines for grinding, mixing different powders and packaging them. One part had different brightly-coloured dust scattered around the workshop, which reminded me of an Indian dye festival. At this point I had difficulty imagining what exactly the products were for and didn’t really have the technical vocabulary my student needed to be able to explain how the machines operated and common repairs he made.
With regards to the technical parts, I had to do some good old-fashioned online research. I asked my student to bring me some technical drawings and looked up translations for French words in the dictionary. I did have some textbooks in my office to help me with some of the vocabulary we needed, although it makes sense that publishers aren’t going to produce textbooks for industries so specialized and limited in size. To help me understand what exactly they were making, brochures with colour photos of the products used on real concrete structures. The fireproofing, waterproofing and graffiti-proofing weren’t so hard to get my head around, but the pigments and textured finishes were a little more complicated.
Here’s an example of what concrete pigment looks like:
There’s also something else called pre-cast concrete. Essentially the company prepares the concrete in specially-made moulds for the customer to give it different textures and patterns. You can have concrete with different finishes to look like bricks, wood or even bamboo.
And so, with my intermediate level marketing and communication assistant we worked with a number of brochures and samples to help her to be able to present her company’s products. The company also has a wall outside with different samples of decorative pre-cast concrete, so it was an excellent exercise to take my students out of the classroom and have them touch and describe the different textures. On a more technical level we could also look at and measure the depths of different grooves and the measurements of each panel, and imagine the applications of each mould. Here‘s an example of the kind of catalogue we worked with.
Other exercises that could be done with any products (obviously this is much easier of you have a brochure or a selection of products in front of you) is to compare their prices, sales and perhaps customer feedback.
And so, this job has given me a great insight into an industry that was previously foreign to me and as a result of exploiting companies’ promotional materials, my students completed their training with a lot of the vocabulary they needed in their work. I would love to hear from any other language trainers about how they have tackled such technical subject matter.