Posted in Reflection

Working with students who need English for Specific Purposes

Yesterday, I attended a really nice workshop on one-to-one teaching, led by one of my Directors of Studies at a Berlin school I work in. We focused on a number of key points to consider when teaching in this context: pros and cons when teaching and learning in this way, the needs analysis, and troubleshooting. 

One area of the workshop that got me thinking was working with students who need English for Specific Purposes. Unfortunately, when it comes to materials and coursebooks you may need to use to get a good sense of what it is like to be in the student’s shoes, these books can be lacking in the engagement department. Not having a background in the student’s field can really alienate a lot of teachers, too; it can be an uphill battle before you’ve even started the student’s course.

I’ve recently been working with a student who wants to get into compliance, and, admittedly, I think the student and I considered the material she needed to study and cover to be a bit of a slog. Having said that, we get the work done.

I have dabbled a little bit into these non-teacher-friendly books and I must say they do fall a little bit on the dry side of things. It takes a bit of time to adapt the material and spruce things up a bit to make lessons more engaging for the student, which I don’t mind, but I wish there were more to them than your useful gap fills and comprehension tasks.

It was at this point in the workshop that I came to a realisation. What I normally do is ask students to bring in materials from work or from the academic course they are doing into the lessons so we can look over them, study them, talk about them, and so on. I had felt a little bit off using this approach to lesson planning, and I wasn’t sure why; maybe because the student would have felt I was being lazy or something to this degree. It’s hard to say. It may be down to the idea that if the student doesn’t bring in anything, my lesson would fall flat on its face.

Anyway, I now realise that this is actually a good way to supplement when the main material may seem a little dry. It is also very meaningful for the student because they are working with things that they look at every day. I recently asked a HR student to bring in typical job descriptions and person specifications she reads at her new job. I was a little bit uneasy when explaining this task requirement, but now I feel a bit better about it. 

Another reason why I think it is a good idea to work with the student more so than a coursebook of their choice is that you become more interested in their line of work. This is one of the key reasons I became a teacher. I want to know about people’s lives, their experiences, their struggles, and their way of dealing with problems. I don’t feel guilty anymore about not knowing a ton about marketing, advertising, engineering, and so on, because the student is going to fill in the gaps. It’s like ‘I scratch your back…’ territory for me. I have had the opportunities to understand a lot about advertising, for example, this year, and what business professionals are trying to do to get more eyes on certain products, particularly after, touch wood, the pandemic. Even with the compliance student I was talking about above, just from reading her course material, I know a lot more about the Irish Financial Sector and can now understand a bit more about what the journalists are talking about in the news. 

A long time ago, English for Specific Purposes used to scare me a lot. Having lived in Germany for some time now, I can safely say I have shaken off those fears as I mostly deal with business professionals. The workshop I attended yesterday was almost like a watershed moment for me then because I feel I’m doing okay in this context. I’ve got a lot to learn still, for sure, but you’re not sinking P.J. You’re alright kid.

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