Tag Archives: tesol

TESOL France Presentation Overview – Tailoring ESP courses – Part 2: Technical English for the Construction Products Industry

Flickr,   DaraKero_F
Flickr, DaraKero_F

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:

Concrete pigment

Concrete pigment

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.

TESOL France Presentation Overview – Tailoring ESP courses – Part 1: Comparing hotels with travel agents

Wharariki Beach

Wharariki Beach

Last weekend I was lucky enough to attend the TESOL France annual coloquium in Paris, where I met some great teachers and attended some excellent presentations. I gave a presentation myself about exploiting companies’ promotional materials for teaching and I thought I’d write up a little overview here. Here’s the first part, watch this space for the construction and pharmaceuticals industries, as well as some FAQs.

The problem: Business English and ESP teachers aren’t always trained in whatever they need to be teaching

My first few teaching jobs were disasters. I prepared my classes on my own and oblivious to pedagogy and professional objectives, I taught grammar-heavy classes which were simply too general. My CELTA helped with the pedagogy side of things, but didn’t give me any better idea about how to make my classes more relevant to my students’ jobs. And while I do cringe when I think about some of the classes I taught in those beginning days, they do serve as excellent lessons as to what not to do when teaching BE and ESP classes. I know teachers are really busy and aren’t always specialists in the areas they’re teaching in, but at the end of the day we’re being paid to teach relevant skills that students can use immediately in their jobs.

How can we keep our teaching relevant?

Here are a couple of things that are particularly important

Needs analyses

Schools generally do these at the beginning of a course as well as an oral evaluation, (if your school doesn’t, you’ve got a problem). It’s important to read through them regularly throughout the course to keep the students’ objectives fresh in your mind. However detailed the reports you get may be, it’s still important to talk you your students about their objectives when you first meet them, as well as the situations where they need English.

Every lesson, ask your students what they’re up to

Needs change, and to be the most effective teacher you can be, you need to keep up with them. Ask your students about projects they’re working on at the moment and ask them to bring along an email or a plan and talk you through it. Have them practice their presentations on you.

Troll for information about their job and their industry

Pick up brochures at reception (if you’re lucky they might be some in English). Take a look at the company’s website and websites of competitors. Another suggestion I had was to contact the HR department and get a job description to give you a better idea.


  • A little background

The company my student works for organizes international group travel to Eastern Europe, the Americas and Asia. Although the organizational side of things is in French, my student and her colleagues accompany groups to different locations. She needed to be able to fulfill the roles including guide, interpreter and support person. My student began at an elementary level, so it was important to break the course up into manageable chunks and balance the practical English focus with fundamental grammar. You can see here the topics we covered, they’re all pretty straightforward ‘travel English’, although I didn’t manage to find everything I needed in textbooks and travel guides. Finding materials for the airport English part was easy enough online, and the textbooks we work with seem to all have parts with some vocabulary for recommending places and giving directions. Explaining to an Indian police officer that your wallet and passport have been stolen or that your client is having a heart attack is a different story.

  • A mini-presentation to work on hotel vocabulary and comparatives

When designing a package, my student needed to decide on which hotels groups would stay at and obviously compare them based on criteria including location, facilities and price. To begin with, I gave her a little presentation about two hotels in a destination I had chosen myself and showed her their websites. The presentation I did with my student was simply browsing the net, so the preparation was minimal. I simply looked at the hotels’ webpages and their corresponding TripAdvisor reviews to look at vocabulary for describing hotels as well as comparisons.

HW Beach photo

I’m going to go on holiday with my mum to the Coromandel Peninsula in the North Island of New Zealand. It’s a region with beautiful hills, forest and beautiful beaches. The most famous beach is called ‘Hot Water Beach’. It gets its name from the hot water that comes up from springs under the ground and at low tide visitors like to dig holes in the sand and sit in the hot pools. I would like to spend one week relaxing on the beach, doing some bushwalks and reading books. I need to book some accommodation, and I have two possibilities in mind

The first place I’ve found is a bed and breakfast called ‘Hot Water Bed and Breakfast’. Does a bed and breakfast. It has a view of the ocean and is very close to the beach and the forest. There is a balcony where I can read my book and relax. The beds are queen-sized and the price is $120 per night which is around 75EUROs. It has tea and coffee making facilities and breakfast is included. Unfortunately there’s no wifi, so I won’t be able to upload my holiday photos until I get home.

The second place is called ‘Whitianga Beach Motels and Cabins’. It’s also very close to a beach, although you have to drive for half an hour to get to Hot Water Beach. Here, it’s possible to order breakfast, lunch and dinner. There are laundry facilities, so I can wash my clothes and the rooms have single and double beds. The price is $110 a night, which is around 65EUROs. There are also tea and coffee facilities and wifi. 

Which of these do you think I should choose? Why?

(write target language on board – comparatives and facilities)

Perhaps before I book I should have a look at some reviews to help me with my decision?

First, let’s have a look at the reviews for the bed and breakfast. You can see that 28 people have reviewed it as ‘excellent’ and it only has one ‘poor’ review. The last reviewer ‘loved it’ and overall it looks like a pretty popular place.

Here you’ll see that we have a review that would be too advanced for my elementary learner; with a lot of vocabulary that might not be particularly useful for her (I’m not sure when she’ll have the opportunity to use “wallowing” or “nomads” in the future). Here I think it would just be best to focus on the title of the review.

Now let’s have a look at the Beach Motel and Cabins in Whitianga. Oh dear, this doesn’t look good. We have four ‘average’ ratings and three ‘terrible’ ones. And the most recent person didn’t like it at all. Here I think it’s important to look at the vocabulary ‘disgusting’, ‘filthy’ and ‘smelly’ and it could also be a good time to talk about things in hotel rooms like sheets, pillowcases, tea and coffee facilities, mould…

I then asked her to prepare a similar mini-presentation of two hotels at a destination of her choice. The students I have worked with have all enjoyed this exercise as I suppose it was interesting in that they discovered a new place in the world they might not have hear about before. I think they also appreciated doing something a little different from the textbook, although I did use the textbook as support for a clear presentation of comparatives. They could see the point in it and would use the same skills in their work immediately after.