Business Vocabulary in Use
||Business Vocabulary in
Back in the mists of TEFL time, Raymond
Murphy wrote a self-study grammar book with the simple formula of a two-page
spread for each grammar point, with the explanation on the left sides and the
exercises on the right. He could hardly had dreamt then that it was the
beginning of a range of similar books for CUP that would include 8 grammar and
vocabulary books (plus American versions). Although they have been written by
various authors, they are all known in our staff room by the name 'Murphy's',
as in "Does anyone have the Elementary Vocab Murphy's?". Criticisms of the
other 'Murphy's' books have included the fact that the example sentences are
contrived and not derived from corpora, and that the vocabulary books do not
provide enough context (and therefore collocations) for the presentation of
vocabulary. My own bugbear with them is that they maintain the 'present then
practice' model rather than any kind of discovery or test/teach/test approach,
and I find it hard to believe that students gain a lot from starting by reading
through an explanation. They remain, however, among the most popular TEFL books
in the world. I was therefore interested to see how much how much had changed
in the writing of the latest member of the family. Alex Case has
worked as an EFL Teacher, Teacher Trainer, Director of Studies and EFL Editor
in Turkey, Thailand, Spain, Greece, the UK and Japan. Alex Case is Reviews
Editor of TEFL.net.
The book starts with
47 two-page topic units, starting with 'Work and jobs' and ending with
'Business across cultures 3'. These units are subdivided into 'Jobs, people and
organizations', 'Production', 'Marketing', 'Money', 'Finance and the economy',
'Doing the right thing' (e.g. 'Ethics'), 'Personal skills' (e.g. Time
management) and 'Culture'. The 'topic' sections are followed by 6 units on
'Telephone, fax and e-mail' and 13 on 'Business skills' (e.g. Presentations').
Students were generally very positive on the topics included, although some
students thought it strange that letters were not covered at all. I generally
find that students using self-study vocabulary books are more likely to
complete topic-based units than units on 'make and do' or 'suffixes'.
The first thing you notice when you open to one of the two page spreads
is the professional 'business-like' presentation, with more colour photos and
graphs than cartoons, and good use of shading and boxes to divide up the page.
In typical 'Murphy's' style the language is presented on the left hand page in
several separate sections. For example, 'Profitability and Unprofitability' is
divided into 'A: Profitable and Unprofitable products', 'B: Budgets and
expenditure' and 'C: Economies of scale and the learning curve'. Each of the
sections deals well with the differences between British and American English,
and with common language errors. The discussion of cultural differences also
comes up several times through the book. The texts used to present the language
are fairly long, and provide lots of commonly occurring collocations and fixed
phrases. This and the fact there is a big 'Cambridge International Corpus'
symbol on the back! suggest that they language is taken much more from real
texts. The examples are obviously not themselves taken straight from real life,
however. One example of this is people explaining the vocab they are using as
part of a 'dialogue'. This does allow the author to avoid lists of dictionary
type definitions, and the format does allow clear differentiation between topic
areas. It also means that useful language can be absolutely packed into quite a
sparse two page area. It also, however, means that the texts seem no less
contrived than those TEFL 'dialogues' containing 25 examples of the present
On the right side of each page are the practice activities.
There is generally one for each of the sections on the right hand side, which
can be very useful if only one of the sections are relevant to a student's
needs. Whilst the book generally continues the 'Murphy's' 'present then
practice' methodology, the fact that the left hand side pages use context more
than definitions to explain the language means that some of the exercises do
feel slightly more like a 'discovery approach', e.g. 'Find expressions in
Section A opposite that mean
' The fact that the texts are so contrived,
however, means that these exercises are little use for training students to
guess from context.
These practice sections are followed by a freer
'Over to you' section (with pretty 3D arrow) which gives students a chance to
talk (if they are in class) or write (if at home) about the topic. Students all
said these were a good idea, but the fact that none of them asked to me correct
any writing makes me dubious about how much they were actually used.
After all 66 units, there is the answer key and an index. The answer
key seems to be accurate (it's amazing how often that isn't the case), although
the fact that the introduction to the book gives the wrong number of topic
units (66 instead of 67) makes me suspicious that there must be some more
inaccuracies in there somewhere. The best thing about the index is that it
gives the phonemic transcription for each word, although it might have been
useful for them to have spared a page to list the sound of each symbol.
Despite numerous attacks on this simple formula, and much better
attempts to use real language in context (e.g. the book 'Key Words in Business'
- Collins Cobuild, edited by the author of the book being reviewed here), it is
hard to think of a more user friendly book for student self study. I would
particularly recommend it for students who need to study 'Business English'
without yet having any clear idea which business they will be working in. For
the more specialized business student, and for small needs-driven classes such
as one-to-one, it will never be a substitute for brainstorming the language, or
pulling it straight out of the pages of the Financial Times or the