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IATEFL 2023 Conference - Ben's Thoughts on Evan Frendo's Plenary "English for the Workplace

Updated: Apr 24, 2023

Tuesday 18th April saw the start of IATEFL's 2023 Conference.

After a challenging journey from York that morning, navigating my way to the auditorium, and getting my brain in gear during the obligatory welcome spiel, it was finally time for the first plenary of the conference: Evan Frendo looking for answers about English for the workplace .

I have been using Evan's seminal book "How to Teach Business English" and its subsequent editions for many years. Indeed, his definition of "Business English" forms one of the many classic definitions we encourage our course participants to critique as part of our Distance Cert IBET course. The first time I had the opportunity to actually speak with Evan was in Gdansk, Poland, at BESIG's 2022 Conference; I greatly enjoyed his candor and enthusiasm for his field.

As a speaker, Evan does not disappoint in what he delivers. Everything is supported with anecdotes or evidence and delivered with energy.

Let us to turn to his content.

Evan divided his talk into three parts:

1. What is English for the workplace?

2. What is the perspective from outside ELT?

3. So what?

Answering this first question, Evan highlighted an interesting point: that we must differentiate between "users" of English and "learners" or English, the former working with the level they have. He illustrated this with examples from Maritime English in which various nationalities use English as a lingua franca. Evan also highlighted how any communication is context-specific and the jargon of a role or company will be known and acquired only by those within the organisation - a teacher cannot teach this for the simple reason they do not know it. He also referred to the idea of "language-brokering" in which another acts as an informal translator.

Evan make a jump from the teaching approach to that of Instructional Design (though he did not use the term) and a critique of the approach in the ADDIE model. This, he stated was too "top-down" though Evan did not:

- Offer a direct alternative or solution (though we could state that the "coaching" approach, one that is unstructured and responsive would be such a thing which he mentioned in passing)

- Highlight that many teachers / trainers using a classic "teaching" approach might not focus on any form of Instructional Design, such as needs analysis or setting bespoke goals, objectives and outcomes

- Express that, for other fields in which a trainer is the one with expertise, a structured approach, such as ADDIE (for information on ADDIE, click here), is essential

Evan then moved on to talk about material and how this should be "curated". A nice idea for resources that are specific to an individual or company and something that should also be accompanied by bespoke materials responding to a client's need.

Turning to the second question of "what is the perspective from outside ELT?", Evan illustrated different perspectives from various individuals and communications (rather than research). He made the point that there is a difference between what teachers focus on versus what those in an industry focus on.

He then turned to testing which, he stated, should be occupational-specific. A standardised test does not tell you how well you can work or function. These tests judge English not how well someone can do their job in English. He cited negotiation as an example ; this is a good choice of example as negotiation is indeed a matter of more than just the right lexis but requires the right strategy, tactics and mindset. (Something I talked about at the recent ELT Ireland conference - read here).

He highlighted a trend in HR where staff are expected to learn informally and on a micro-level. I remember the term, not used in the talk, "nimble learning" in which anyone can pick up information on an on-going basis, find opportunities for learning and acquire information as things change and develop. This is a good point and an interesting trend. Gamification can be part of this culture.

The third and final part of Evan's talk asked us "so what?" and to consider the implications of what this means. How can Business English teachers remain relevant and understand how people learn in the workplace and how they work? New technologies will form part of this.

Overall, this was a hugely interesting talk with a colourful speaker whose experience has shaped his approach and ideas.

A great start to the conference and a lot to think about (and act upon).

Evan's talk can viewed here.

If you are interested to know more about teaching Business English, then our Distance Cert IBET could be for you. If you want to know more about Instructional Design, we offer a short course in that area as well for you to learn more about ADDIE and other structured approaches to learning and development and a course in gamification.

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