Classroom to corporate - A giant leap?
By Amrita Singh-Giraud
Teaching English in the classroom has that scholarly dictionary feel, and is often associated with conjugating verbs, memorizing vocabulary and taking quizzes to see how many you get - or guess - right. When it comes to teaching a language in the corporate world, although most language learners inevitably went through the same stages at some point, teachers should be geared for a context that is quite particular.
Maturity and fixed objectives
First off, these are clients and should be treated as such. They have objectives and expectations. These persons tend to be more mature, not just age wise of course. Interestingly, their motivation to learn English comes with stakes that are not the same as the typical high schooler. They indeed have different reasons for wanting to learn the most communicated language in the world - spoken by an estimated 1.5 billion speakers according to EF.com. This inspiration may spur from business targets: a desire to tackle an English-speaking clientele, or a need to communicate with colleagues and management located in anglophone headquarters or subsidiaries. Some may even have a project to change jobs and transpose skills from their own language to English. You may encounter a small percentage though who take up English somewhat grudgingly if this became an unexpected work-related requirement. With an engaging, persuasive style and valuable lesson material, this can be deftly converted into a new experience they should take advantage of. The task would most likely not be as daunting as students who study English simply because it is on their curriculum.
Strong and serious content
If the ability to speak English is needed for a business environment, this may call for catch phrases and content such as ‘getting the green light, ‘signing the dotted line’, ‘looking at the big picture’, ‘raising the bar’ and so on. Generally, language learners like quick fixes that make them sound authentic. Basic level learners may need to brush up on polishing their introductions to talk about their career experience and expertise. However, these speakers want above all to learn practical vocabulary that they can put to proper use in the workplace. They may have specific presentations to work on, conference calls to conduct or participate in, physical meetings to attend while travelling on business. Assessing the learners to make sure there is a well-rounded base is excellent too for confidence and credibility. Are they able to talk about their personalities and backgrounds with anglophone colleagues? Order a taxi or a meal at a restaurant with ease? Express an opinion on current affairs?
In addition to doing business, areas that companies are active in can be technical, financial, scientific, among other genres. Being a native level English speaker is not sufficient in all cases to teach the language within a company. Sometimes it is mandatory to have a teacher with a particular career path or familiarity with specific topics.
Drive your learners
With this type of target learner, English teachers are indeed required to prepare content to drive and further stimulate a more professional audience. That being said, ice breakers and less challenging warm-up activities to kick off a lesson and make the learner comfortable are still important. Both young and older language learners who are enthusiastic or invested like the satisfaction of a top score on a quiz too. The central parts of the lessons for employees would however be less recreational than what is usually designed for the classroom. You are free to create your ‘syllabus’. The idea is to make it as attractive and appealing as possible to your audience. Here, what you propose to cover should be suited to real life situations that the working adult faces. Closing a deal, presenting a product, leading a discussion, supporting arguments…Regardless of your audience at any rate, no one wants a boring lesson that has no aim. An adult learner may even tend to want to grasp the usefulness of the class right away. In short, your teaching material must be strong and relevant.
With adult learners, attitudes are usually less passive than younger learners. You should capitalize on this and use their contributions to further personalize your lessons. If this is not the case, it is recommended that you do more research on your clients. This can give you indications on how to inject some energy into your English sessions. You could brainstorm content ideas while looking into the company’s achievements to refer to new products launched, or awards earned. Pick up on articles that talk about the company, or press releases issued by the company itself. Talking about events that may affect their company’s positioning in their market or what their competitors are doing could be interesting too. Your angle to generate participation could also stem from non-business topics like recent changes in the city or controversial current events across the world. All in English, of course.
Foster learning: creating atmosphere and monitoring the tempo
Atmosphere is important too. It is obvious that the ambiance should be conducive to learning, but you may want to be open to adapting your lessons to the ‘mood’ of your target. Increasing the warm-up time can set the right tone before you get into the main theme of the class. This would make for a better flow, rather than tense interaction. Rolling out a very operational type lesson that echoes with your learner’s line of work can also be motivating.
The location of your English classes is also a factor to consider. Is it at the client’s offices? This may imply that there could be some slight adapting necessary before work priorities are mentally left behind, for the employee to be able to focus on communicating in English.
With adults at the workplace, there may be different circumstances that make taking on a course difficult: a tough schedule, a demanding manager, a tight deadline, pressing issues at work, obligations to fulfill, etc. On the other hand, dealing with younger students may often involve class problems like discipline, talkative teenagers, distractions, etc. To ensure that your sessions run smoothly, it is up to you to adopt a posture of authority while being accessible too.
Furthermore, it is worth highlighting that if the language session involves a group, everyone should be made to feel comfortable. Bear in mind that not everyone has the capacity to learn new things at the same speed. Colleagues would feel intimidated or be wary about making errors in front or peers and managers, so creating an equal playing field is essential to foster language practice. And this right from the start of your intervention.
If the lesson is taking place via a one-on-one session, the rhythm may be intense to keep the learner motivated and constantly evolving. With adults, the overall pace may be more sustained. There may be more productivity and more need to keep the momentum. Younger students tend to need boosting, and eliciting responses is not always easy. Feedback from your learners is extremely important so that you ensure that your English classes are meeting their needs and expectations. The same applies with students in a school setting too.
Good use of time
For the major part, corporate learners may actually show more of a willingness to explore language tips outside of these lessons by listening to relevant podcasts, radio stations, or browsing e-books. This would of course depend on how much time they can devote to this. Something not too heavy on their commute to work for example, might be a nifty time slot. Time here is always a crucial factor any way, as employees may be very conscious of time away from their desks. Adults who work full-time and may or may not have children would have less time for considerable English reinforcement when at home, as opposed to young students with minimal responsibilities and homework.
Tools of the day
Teaching English to adults is also a great opportunity to mix tools. This is not a typical old-school chalk and blackboard setting but an opening for good use of technology with tablets, slides, projectors, online quizzes, and other modern support material. From time to time using classic print outs and written lessons may come in handy too of course. More and more language learners are even going for website-based learning only. Classes conducted in person lends itself to a host of advantages for transmitting passion and real interaction though. Traditional exercises of role play and spontaneous language skills are valuable even for adults, especially when more emphasis on oral communication is desired. This allows the speaker to get to really use and test his vocabulary, reactivity and ‘performance’ in English.
Challenge your inner teacher
All in all, teaching English to adult learners in a corporate environment is exciting. It differs greatly from teaching within the traditional education system, and some may even see it as demanding. However, you have the chance to help your learners step out of their daily comfort zone and challenge and increase their language skills. To them, you are a brand and a service provider all in one. If you are dynamic and serious about the progress of the learners you coach, this type of teaching experience can be enriching for you. This context is also particularly interesting as your clients are adults who generally want to hone their abilities and chart their language development. They would thus expect you to deliver proficient English classes and feel the results in how they communicate.
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