Motivating Students to Learn English in the Office
These days, business English is an essential requirement for teachers starting their EFL careers. Demand for English language skills around the world is booming, particularly so in countries where businesses are growing and professionals look to increase their opportunities and improve their language skills at the same time. But business English needn’t be a dry and sober subject, it can be tonnes of fun when done with the right mix of motivation, creativity and targets.
Set targets early on
I teach business English in companies across Prague every day and setting some goals in the first few lessons always helps to shape the learning process and increase long-term student motivation. Targets are the bread and butter of business professionals, so spending time making appropriate goals shows an immediate understanding of the business world and the pressures within.
Each student or group will require a different goal depending on their needs, but having something to work towards can really help to keep things in focus during those 8am Monday morning or 5pm Friday afternoon lessons. If there is a sense of project around the class, it enables both the teacher and student to see progressive improvement and measure success clearly based on an agreed target.
Make warmers creative and effective
After setting some goals, make sure to plan your lessons and warmers with these targets in mind. This stage of the lesson is key because it will set the tone for the rest of the class and determine how active and interested the students will be, so make it creative and useful.
One of my favourite activities is to let students create things, especially if they are worried about work or have other things on their mind. Using warmers, which stimulate creativity, helps to push these thoughts out of the room and help the learners to focus on English.
A nice activity I like to use for recapping vocabulary is to ask each student in pairs or groups to pretend to be a famous business person or even just someone with a different role to their own such as a Chief Executive or HR Manager depending on what they are learning. Then, recap the key words and make it a game to see who can use as many as possible in the conversation.
This works well because the students are active and free to create a character or imagine themselves as someone else, but it also contains an element of control and is a focused task designed to integrate key words. And it is usually a lot of fun!
Your classroom is a laboratory
Once you’ve nailed the warmer and are beginning to focus on the rest of the lesson, it’s time to think about how to merge business topics and language skills. A colleague of mine advocates that your classroom is simply a laboratory for experimenting in a creative and stimulating environment, sometimes with interesting and unpredictable results!
I love this analogy because it is so true for business which can also be an unstable and exciting environment. So create an open atmosphere in the lesson which allows students to experiment with language without fear of messing things up. This not only helps students to become active learners, but it also makes the classroom something of an escape from the office, changing the mentality of the situation.
Remember that the students are in charge
So now your students are motivated towards their goal, they’re focused on their English lesson and they’re comfortable experimenting with language. Great! But there is one more key ingredient to motivating students learning business English and that is to address the power balance between the teacher and learners.
In one of my first weeks teaching at a language school, a student of mine said that he didn’t bother to do his homework because he was paying for the lessons and that meant that the teacher (me) had to be more proactive anyway. Big mistake. In my classes, students lead the way in almost every aspect.
How are we teachers supposed to know which topics or subjects a student wants to cover in class?
Instead of guessing, let your students lead the lesson and choose the topics, vocabulary and grammar they want to improve. Your job is to encourage, correct and guide the language use, not entertain someone for an hour. Don’t forget this and keep the emphasis on the student rather than yourself.
This will save tonnes of time and ensure that the lesson topics are always something interesting and relevant for the learner. I always try to set this tone early by encouraging students to prepare topics and warm up tasks for each class. This firmly shows that they have control over their own learning and that they have the freedom to improve anything they want.
Top this off with regular feedback to ensure your students are enjoying the classes, are motivated and most importantly learning new things. In many cultures, it is respectful to follow the instructions of the teacher without question, so challenge this assumption by empowering your learners to share their voice and lead the lessons in whichever direction they find most beneficial. Follow these steps and you can’t go wrong!
I hope you enjoyed reading my article. If you agree/disagree with anything I have written, feel free to get in touch by commenting below.