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Teaching corporate English

I was coming to the end of my first year of teaching in a Thai school when I was offered the chance to teach in a business. The timing was perfect. I had had chance to learn about Thai classroom culture and hone my activities and lesson planning.

The business was a food retailer and I was given a class of 20 students, who would attend two evenings a week, whenever their workload allowed. Generally, I saw about 15 students. They came from all areas of the business and the level of spoken English was between beginner and lower intermediate.

As usual, in Thailand, the welcome was warm. Professionalism is expected and results are valued over talk. When these things happen, the famous Thai hospitality kicks in. It is impossible to be hungry, thirsty or lost for long, because someone will help and, remarkably, apologise for their poor English (rather than noting my poor Thai!)

I had studied after work in the UK and knew that dull-headed feeling that comes at the end of the day. So, exercises had to be fun, lively and involve the students moving and talking.

A business also needs to see demonstrable results and a workbook provided discipline in terms of the language learned. As in all classes, 20 minutes of book work is plenty and the students were encouraged to discuss the exercises, present their results to the whole class and develop them into performances.

Inductive teaching is still developing here, so it can take a while to encourage the students to give their opinions and ideas. They love to act and sing and so I used plays, mock advertisements, role plays and songs to develop speaking confidence in front of the class. These were often hilarious and always inventive and this element of the class was fun for both the students and the teacher.

One of my students told me of a business trip, in Asia, where she and her counterpart had ended up writing their conversation to each other, as they could not understand each other’s English. This is a growing problem and so I made sure the students spoke to each other constantly, sometimes back to back, whilst developing the skills of listening for clues, catching the gist and asking for clarification.

The difficult days in the job tended to come when people had had a tough day in the business. The best days involved the students performing a task and finding that they had just spoken English without trying and had performed far better than they thought possible. With the smiles, laughs and kindness it made the teaching an absolute joy.

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