Mastering English for the workplace

by Ada Ng

Roy Adams (right), national services manager
Pierre Colliot, general manager
Wall Street Institute Hong Kong
Photo: Edde Ngan

Although knowledge of Mandarin is becoming increasingly important as the mainland economy expands, the English language remains crucial in international business communications and trade and the majority of Hong Kong employers expect their staff to be proficient in both.

In view of this, global English-language teaching organisation Wall Street Institute (WSI) Hong Kong employs a communicative teaching approach, equipping students to use the language in a range of business contexts.

Proficiency is not just about vocabulary and syntax, points out Roy Adams, national services manager, Wall Street Institute. It is also about having the confidence to convey thoughts and messages effectively.

The ability to express an idea in English in a global business environment is almost as important as the idea itself, he adds. "Simply studying from a grammar book is not enough. The key to language acquisition is to communicate and interact with others, and to learn how to use the language in different contexts," Mr Adams adds.

For instance, the WSI's English for Business (EFB) programme incorporates role play and other activities designed to immerse students in the language in a practical way, helping them to meet the English-language demands of a competitive employment market.

When prospective students sign up, they are asked to select one of seven specialist business areas or roles that are relevant or of special interest to them. The roles are general manager, personnel manager, marketing manager, management information systems (MIS) manager, executive secretary, finance manager and sales manager.

Students are assigned business topics, such as how to invest in a new business project, to discuss in a role-play scenario. This enables them to practice the specific vocabulary and phrases they would need in a real business setting.

"It's like a business development model or product launch meeting in the workplace, where managers from different departments in the company get together and discuss a business issue," explains Pierre Colliot, the institute's general manager. He notes that the objective of this approach is to get students to use the language and to speak with confidence.

While most students are excellent at memorising grammar rules and are able to give perfect answers when challenged on formal English usage, things can be different in face-to-face dealings with others, stresses Mr Adams. "In such circumstances, the focus is on meaning and communication, rather than on language rules," he says. "Class sizes are restricted to optimise learning for individuals."

Since quality interaction is crucial to facilitate learning, the WSI organises social activities to make acquiring the necessary language skills enjoyable. These may include resume writing workshops and newspaper reading, while cooking, wine-tasting and photography classes are also arranged to expose students to the use of the language in different settings.

Although these extramural activities are not mandatory, they do give students the chance to use the language in a fun and practical way.

Achieve practicality

  • Small classes maximise learning experiences
  • Interaction and communication key learning factors
  • Needs-based teaching meets individual students' proficiency levels

Taken from Career Times 29 January 2010, A9

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