Report on YALS and BC Business English Seminar with Mark Waistell

What’s your Business English niche?
Deconstructing and reconstructing concepts of Business English teaching

The seminar took place at Guarnerius Fine Arts Centre in Belgrade on 26 May 2012 and it was attended by 92 participants. It was opened by Marija Pejatović, Chair of YALS, and Tony O’Brien, Director of British Council Serbia. Mr. O’Brien focused on the importance of networking and professional development for English language teachers both in Serbia and in the region, as well as on the importance of advancement of quality language teaching, for which he gave special credit to YALS Association of Language Schools of Serbia. He also expressed  pleasure over the performance of joint  BC and YALS face-to-face and online  teaching/learning project “English for International Work – English for IT” in a large number of towns in Serbia in spring 2012, the video of which was shown to the participants between the seminar sessions by Mr. Kristijan Rajković from BC.

In the first session, “Anatomy of a Business English Teacher”, Mark Waistell offered the participants a colourful dissection/reconstruction  of Business English Teacher by using a plastic human skeleton prop as a starting point to symbolically assemble a large number of various roles of BE teachers, observing changes in concepts, content, resources and skills.  This was followed by discussion on the minimum set of skills that a good BE teacher should strive to develop, with the conclusion that they should include the ability to identify learner needs, knowledge of linguistics, ability to plan a course, and good TEFL skills. The session was finished with an overview of a new approach to training and a quote warning teachers about a shift to teaching English to ever younger learners, which could possibly lead to reduction of influence of English specialists in the design and delivery of English curriculums.

The second session, “Yer ‘avin’ a larf!”, covered the role of humour in Business English teaching, starting from the psycholinguistic foundation for the inclusion of humour in ELT, followed  by various definitions and views of humour, and explanation of business and educational reasons for using it, as well as its physical and psychological benefits. Then Mr Waistell moved on to the best ways of using humour, taking into account cultural differences and highlighting its universal features and finished off with useful specific tips for the teacher, cautioning that humour should not be used for its own sake but integrated with teaching/learning goals.

In the third session, “Internationalisation, Innovation and International Opportunity“, Mr. Waistell first  turned our attention to the current International situation of mostly non-english speaking to non-english speaking and the implications it bears on ELT. Then he considered the fundamentals of communication and established the comon core of business language and business skills needed by business English users as well as managers and companies striving to succeed  internationally. He extended this common core to considerations of international communications, intercultural awareness and international working.

Mark Waistell made a profound impression on the participants, owing first of all to his comprehensive approach in which he deftly fused theory and practice of Business English teaching, resorting to his own extensive teaching and training experience. The unexpectedly broad scope of his presentations provided the participants an exceptionally informative experience, especially when we take into account that so far the field of Business English in Serbia has been either covered fragmentarily or it  has targeted fairly limited circles of teachers working in specialised educational institutions. His sessions were highy interactive and not only were they enlightening but extremely entertaining. He proved to be the best exponent of his own motto: “Take yourself lightly and your work seriously“.

by Mirjana Ljiljak-Vukajlović