Bringing pronunciation work into the Business English classroom

A piece of mine that was published long long ago in English Teaching Professional, and then later re-published on Onestopenglish:

As pronunciation work has become a standard part of every EFL textbook, the Business English part of teaching seems to have been lagging behind in terms of wha materials are available and how much time is spent on it in class. For me, this is rather strange as many of my business students need and/ or ask for more pronunciation work to help with comprehension and production, for reasons such as:

-The need to make a good ‘impact’ as well as to be understood.

-The need to understand every word in situations such as negotiations

-The need to understand and produce subtle shades of meaning using stress and intonation

-The need to deal with native speakers

-The lack of an opportunity to ask for too much repetition in situations such as conference calls and large meetings

-Having read much more about their area of business in English than spoken about it

-The need to telephone, and therefore to communicate with a lack of body language and context clues

-Feeling inhibited speaking English in front of colleagues due to reasons of office prestige, e.g. a subordinate with much better pronunciation

If any these are also true for your students, you may want to think about introducing more pronunciation work into your Business English and ESP classes. However, you may well not know if all the above is true, as pron has often been ignored even at the first, needs analysis stage, of business course. If any of the needs above do become clear during needs analysis, you can ask the specific questions on the worksheet after this article to get more precise information on what precisely “working on pron” means to each student and what you can do to help them.

As well as the amount of pron work needed, the type of language Business English and ESP students need, and therefore what to cover in class, can also differ from General English courses, e.g:

-More acronyms (and therefore more need to pronounce and recognize the English alphabet)

-More compound nouns

-More words with shifting stress from noun to verb (e.g. an import/ to import)

-More fixed expressions (from a low level), and therefore more weak forms of words such as ‘and’ and prepositions (e.g. ‘the head of my department’)

-More numbers

After interviewing your students and analysing the kind of language involved in their work you should be able to add a pronunciation syllabus to the grammar, vocab etc. that you mean to cover. When you have decided what needs to be done, the challenge is then to introduce it to stuffy businessmen feeling self-conscious in front of their colleagues without too much of the drilling and pictures of ships and sheep of traditional pronunciation drills. Jazz chants are also out!

I have found the best way of tackling this potential sticking point is to actually spend most of the lesson on a vocabulary and/ or speaking point, but with that point craftily chosen to highlight a factor of English pronunciation that you have decided that they need to cover. See the worksheet below for an example of this. Alternatively, you can look through the topic you are going to cover and see if a pronunciation point jumps out at you from it. You can then ‘adjust’ the vocabulary to emphasize the point.

Worksheet 1

Business Speaking and Listening Needs Analysis

To be completed at home or in class

Which of these skills are most important for you/ in your job (please list from 1 to 7)?

Speaking

Listening

Reading

Writing

Pronunciation

Grammar

Vocabulary

Which do you need most practise on (top 3)?

Speaking

For you, does improving your speaking mainly mean:

Grammatical accuracy

Pronunciation

Vocabulary

What level do you aim for your speaking to reach?

Indistinguishable from a native speaker

Able to communicate

Able to communicate easily

Lose my accent

Impress people with my pronunciation

Impress people with my fluency

What would your reaction be if someone said about you ‘He has a really strong accent’?

Listening

When you listen to people speak and have difficulty understanding, why exactly is it?

(Please put a number for each from 5- very often true to 1- never true)

You simply don’t know the words they are using

You know the words, but don’t recognise them when you hear them

You recognise the words individually, but miss them when they are put together in linked speech

When you are concentrating on the meaning of one word, you miss the rest of the sentence

They are speaking too fast

They have a particular accent you find difficult

How much of your time is spent speaking to native speakers? _______ %

Where are they from? _______________

Worksheet 2
Business Pronunciation

Stress in compound nouns

Office vocabulary

Describe your office

Listen and find the two expressions with different stress patterns to the others. How are they different grammatically?

answering machine

notice board

air conditioner

address book

notebook

drinks machine

main entrance

desk lamp

central heating

Now pronounce these noun plus noun expressions.

a conference room car park

security man coffee pot

photocopier bookcase

laptop

Predict stress patterns for these, and put them in the correct column below
double glazing

fitted carpets

skylight

executive toys

cordless mouse

mouse pad

headquarters

O o O O
Listen and check.

What does your office/ building most need to have added to it?

What would your perfect office/ office building be like?

Key to pronunciation worksheet: ‘Main entrance’ and ‘central heating’ are different (OO rather than Oo) because the first word in each is an adjective. The same is true of ‘double glazing’, ‘fitted carpets’ and ‘cordless mouse’

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