Skills for Business English
If, like me, you have been disappointed in the past by fantastic publicity claims you will be pleased with this material. Not only is it what it claims to be; a set of course books with class cassettes for Business English covering Elementary to Advanced levels; but it also offers what it's title mentions - skills, practise that is.
This series is written for students who need or want to improve their use of English in professional and real life situations and particularly for those who are preparing for the Cambridge BEC exams. As a set of course books for the BEC exams it readily achieves its stated aims, whilst for non-exam students it's a great sourcebook of varied situations and language functions. Indeed, one of the features of this series that both my students and I particularly liked is the variety in these books and cassettes. Not just the variety of situations and settings, but also the variety of voices, accents and attitudes of the speakers on the cassettes. Not only were we able to work on the ( obvious) language points, but also the way the speakers presented themselves and handled their situations with dialogue, manners and attitude. It was very interesting to analyse and discuss how many of the difficulties in certain situations were due to language difficulties or cultural differences, and what was due to attitude. My students had to plenty to say about the attitudes of certain speakers! Possibly the most important comment on the books comes in various forms from a number of my students, who range from post elementary to upper intermediate levels - they found the material interesting.
On looking through the well laid out contents, or "map of the book" as it is called, first impressions, fulfilled by further examination, of this set of books are that they are both well organized and cover a wide range of topics and functions. Oddly enough there no page numbers included at this stage. Unit numbers, yes, but no corresponding page numbers. Although I would have liked to see page numbers it is only a minor inconvenience in an otherwise clearly presented overview of the contents.
Each unit deals with different language functions that are both relevant and useful to Business English students. For example, book 1 unit 4 deals with the language of business meetings and expressing opinions in a way which more useful for BE students than most current General English course books. In units 9 and 10 we learn how to negotiate, which can be a very delicate matter needing some care and skill; and how to give technical information, which can have potentially disastrous consequences if not handled correctly. The material concerning ergonomics in unit 6 of book 3 gave rise t o a great deal of lively discussion in one group of students, perhaps because this group contained two section supervisors and a number of their supervisees
Each unit of each book contains a "before you start" or "key vocabulary/concepts" section. I found this very useful for focusing both the students and myself on the task in hand, for pre-teaching vocabulary and as both reference or revision notes.
The Teachers' Guides work well when used in tandem with the Student's books. They are clearly laid out, with the tape scripts and answer keys embedded in the text of each unit in the same order as in the Student's books - no undignified, noisy and unprofessional scrabbling through the book to find the appropriate section! Each Teachers' Guide also contains a useful introduction, which includes guidelines for using the course, and some quite detailed instructions on how to conduct the various activities. This section would definitely be both comforting and supremely useful to any inexperienced teacher who may find themselves mercilessly thrown into "the deep end" of a BE course for the first time. The practice tests for the BEC exams are, of course, useful for students who are preparing for these exams.
The only thing I wasn't sure I liked was the slightly unusual colour scheme of the student books - several shades of blue, including the printing, and turquoise on a white background. The students, however, reported that it is more restful on the eyes than black print on a white background. It doesn't photocopy particularly well, but then it's pretty rare that we photocopy from a course book anyway, isn't it!
In short, these books work well for the students they were written for, BE students. Having said that, I find I like using sections of the course, and particularly the tapes, to supplement adult EAP and general English courses.Kaithe Greene is currently teaching in a small private language school in Spain. She also teaches on-site business courses from time to time, and yearly participates in summerschool courses in the UK.