The Role of Pride in the Business English Classroom

eric pope glare by eric mill flickr At the British School in Tumbaco, I once had the brief and unfortunate experience of working for an arrogant pig (no longer employed there and no other word could describe this person) who thought that the Ecuadorian students and their parents were all stupid because they couldn’t speak to him in fluent English.

I remember very clearly his nose stuck about 100 meters in the air as he decried the entire Quiteño population devoid of intelligence while he himself, of course, could barely manage the words Cerveza or Baño.  Idiots aside, one of the things stopping communication from emerging in your adult language classrooms is fear.

Not just the fear of speaking but the fear of sounding stupid.

When teaching adults there is an extra, realistic, element: their fear of being judged as being inferior simply because they don’t know the right words nor how to use them appropriately.

So, today’s posting, part 3 on the art of teaching conversation is all about PRIDE.

As it’s probably this issue that accounts for the majority of students who end up quitting their lessons. Do you agree?

We've all got ego and those at the top have even more. I'm willing to bet you've all heard the following from your learners:

“I sounds unprofessional when I answer the phone. I speak not good so if no one help me, I put down the phone.” Croatian secretarial student.
“Sometimes my brain goes dead. The words I know go away completely and I suddenly don’t know what to say. When I remember it is too late, they are discussing something else.
I feel angry when this happens because in my language I can control the conversation, in English the people I am talking to control me.” German Business executive.
“Words are my life, my work. When I cannot use words I am not me.” Ecuadorian journalist.

crocodile shoes by sheilaellen flickr
Put yourself in their shoes!

Can you imagine what it must feel like to suddenly become that inadequate? 

Earlier that day they perhaps closed a €1.5million deal, are the kings and queens of their worlds yet when they swaggered into your English class they were suddenly unable to construct a simple sentence.

Pay special attention to your students’ lives, their prides about their lives and professions.

Think a little about the non-physical environment you create in the classroom and make efforts to keep it a safe, non-judgmental place: one where it is okay to try new challenges, make errors, be again five year old children or thirteen year old know-it-all-dummies. 

captain bob by lowjumpingfrog flickrYour role as their English teacher is to nurture, to coach them, to give them the tools which will allow them to express themselves

as themselves
within a foreign language.

One of the things I often do, especially with my captains of Industry is reminding them that I wouldn’t have a job if they were already perfect in English.   No job, no money, no life. We laugh when I say “Come on, please make lots of mistakes so that I can buy more chocolate/ pay my rent/ go on holiday!”

Do you have any useful tricks up your sleeve - things you do or say to make sure your students are comfortable with their errors?

Think about what else you can do to help your students keep their egos intact while extracting and encouraging their English conversational abilities.

Do you praise them often? How?

Are you, yourself, busy learning something new so that you can remind yourself often about what it feels like to be the ‘idiot’ in the room?

Don’t hesitate to let us know your own tips and strategies for managing pride in the adult Business English classroom

To read part one: knowing who your learners are, come here.
To read part two: finding out what your students are interested in discussing, come here.
Conversation materials and activities:

7 Responses to “The Role of Pride in the Business English Classroom”

  • Anonymous says:
    April 06, 2009

    I work as the DOS for an English department in Germany and completely agree with the above - I see this problem in many of the business people I interview pre-course, especially men 30-60 who have achieved a high position, and whilst used to challenging jobs, are not used to feeling completely inadequate and misunderstood, sometimes powerless and frustrated. They may even be at a high level in English and still feel this way. I have had teachers say "his English is really good, what can I teach him?" forgetting that the stakes are really high for this student and that good is not good enough. Motivating these students is quite a challenge - we need to acknowledge that they do have real problems, that not everyone out there is understanding and patient, but at the same time convince them to use the language skills they have with confidence, despite the mistakes! (may need to be good actors!)

  • Vicki Hollett says:
    February 08, 2010

    Oh yeah! Great post! I can think of lots of my students who would identify with the views here.
    My heart goes out to them - highly intelligent and articulate human beings in one language and they have to go back to basics and become limited in another - how frustrating is that?
    I think we have to apply all the skills and experience we can to the task - so what we think is going to help them achieve the biggest bang for their buck in terms of effort soonest.

  • vicki hollett says:
    February 08, 2010

    One thing I forgot to say - I don't think it's just 'pride'. When we learn another language we very understandably want to come across as intelligent and articulate if we are, but also as a decent and likeable sort of person. Perhaps that's pride but it's also about being worthy of time, attention and respect - and just being someone other folks might want to know and connect with.

    February 08, 2010

    I love it when an old post gets discovered! Thanks Vicki.

    I don't think of Pride as a negative (it can become arrogance) but yes, wanting to be known as the decent person we really are is very important.

    I had my first tears based on the BlendedLearning platform I am using the other day. The task had been to watch a video as if it were a meeting and to take notes as if the students were the minute takers of the meeting... Then all the students had to type (at the same time) their minutes and we'd check for

    -main points

    When we were checking through their minutes, it looked like one student had forgot to "save" hers.

    But at the end of class, when everyone had left she came up to talk to me - it turned out that actually she simply couldn't do the task.

    She was in tears: she is the one junior person in the class, the secretary, whose job it is to often take the minutes - the rest of the class include her boss.

    We talked it through - I asked her if the video was too difficult for her, she said no. She said she was so sure that she was going to do a bad job and that everyone was going to see her do a bad job, that she couldn't concentrate on anything happening on the screen.

    Anyway, that was a bit of a long story, the point being that even though I know this so well, that we must pay attention to issues like self-worth in the classroom, sometimes we set up activities that can lead to tears!

    If and only if our students are comfortable with us, do you even get the chance to recognize and discuss the issue and try to make amends!!

    (I got her to redo the exercise in the privacy of her own home where she could stop and start the video at her leisure, the aim of the lesson being concentrated listening).


  • Peter Travis says:
    February 08, 2010

    Hi Karenne

    You've mentioned my own favourite way of dealing with this: 'Are you, yourself, busy learning something new so that you can remind yourself often about what it feels like to be the ‘idiot’ in the room?'

    My own screw-ups with Greek whilst teaching in Athens were always useful anecdotes and hopefully went someway to helping students feel comfortable making mistakes:

    Screw-up 1) Saying 'Efharisto' (Thankyou) instead of 'Signomi' (Sorry) to a very elderly Greek woman when I trod on her toes attempting to get off the bus.

    Screw-up 2) Getting my pronouns totally wrong when asking a Greek couple for directions. Instead of pointing out my own limitations I informed them helpfully 'You don't speak Greek'

    ... and probably lots more embarrasing moments I wasn't even aware of.

    February 08, 2010

    Hee, hee Peter - those are classic mistakes!!!

    I love sharing these types of stories too -but would also suggest a bit of caution, sometimes if we really think through some of the huge mistakes we've made in another language (I got myself into big trouble once with a you should that should have been a could you) - sometimes these stories can even frighten!!


    p.s. Thanks for my first Greek word!

  • Anonymous says:
    January 18, 2011

    Oh, I can relate to that...What I did (and do sometimes):
    - Explain to SS that errors are very useful so we know where the problems are and fix them. When they are able to self-correct I tell them that they are soon-to-be experts :)
    - Explain briefly how the human memory works and deletes even useful info and that happens to everyone ... and that the phenomenon can be even stronger for people who are bombarded with info every day (higher positions even more than lower ones) .... and emphasize the need for constant revision
    - Use the local language for a short time - and there is enough room for improvement in this area for me - and show that even language teachers can face problems in learning a new language and there is nothing wrong with this...that perfecting a language takes time and patience, not only good memory or a strong will
    - Make sure that I spend at least half of the break and around 5-10 minutes at the end of the lesson listening to my students talking about various current events in their language - so they have the opportunity to restore their self-esteem
    - Sometimes I allow them to give an answer in their language first and then help them construct it in English

    Well...probably I do some things wrong cause I'm only in my second year working with adults but I try to be of help ...
    I would like to know opinions of more experienced teachers on my ideas...

    Thank you for opening this topic !


Visitors and Regular Readers


FEEDJIT Live Traffic Feed

Communities of Practice

Blog Archive

Directories, catalogs and Back Links

Adult Blogs - Blog Catalog Blog Directory Add to Technorati Favorites

The EFL ESL Blog List - ESL/EFL/TEFL Teaching Jobs and Teacher Resumes

International Blogging Directory

Recent Posts

Simply Conversations

Pedagogically sound materials designed to get your students actively talking:

Free Samples
Conversation Control

General English
Business English

Learn more on why these work