John Crowther-Alwyn has written two books in the Cambridge Copy Collection: Business Roles and Business Roles 2.
Each book provides 12 simulations with prescribed roles that leave students free to concentrate on practising their communication skills and improving their fluency while participating in lively discussions. The authentic situations are set in manufacturing and service organisations around the world.
We spoke to John about the way you can use these simulations with your students.
Q: Who are the two Business Roles books for? What Level of English is required by the students, and how much business experience do they need to use the books?
J C-A: The books are written for students both in work and pre-work, who need to improve their fluency in Business English. If you choose the simulation carefully (I’d suggest The Chocolate Factory from Business Roles, for example), and are working with a class of students who are very keen to get talking and are prepared to ‘take the plunge’, you can try my books with pre-intermediate Level students. However, the usual recommended Level is intermediate.
It’s obviously easier for the students to improvise if they already have business experience. But it is perfectly possible to use these simulations with students in higher education (I do it every day!) who have little or no business experience. And I do claim that you can use Business Roles with students of general English. Try No Smoking from Business Roles 2. It works wonderfully!
Q: How do the books function alongside English coursebooks which the students might be using?
J C-A: It is vital to get students talking, and this is where my books come in. Business Roles are all about fluency development. If you want your students to be able to use their English spontaneously, you must give them lots of practice finding their words, understanding the others, reacting and communicating. Coursebooks will give them the tools, simulations will get them to do the job.
Q: How international are the simulations? And how wide a range of business/industry types do they cover?
J C-A: Business Roles 2 is even more international than Business Roles. It contains twelve simulations in twelve different countries all around the world from Japan and Korea to South Africa and India. While Business Roles mostly concerns situations in manufacturing industry, Business Roles 2 is more service industry oriented, with problems to be solved and decisions to be taken in the film industry, in a media group, or in a computer servicing company, to give a few examples.
Q: Do your books give students any introduction to the general language of business discussions before they start on the simulations?
J C-A: Business Roles 2 contains a photocopiable page in the Teacher’s Notes called Language of Discussion. This gives students useful phrases to use during the debate.
Q: How do the simulations work on a practical level? Is there an ideal group size? Can they be used with particularly large or small groups of students?
J C-A: Business Roles are based on real events, and they are often quite amusing. And students, even if they are rather shy, want to talk, and are always glad, after a little initial apprehension, to get the opportunity to be able to put into practice all that they have acquired.
There is really no ideal group size. You will find that the simulations work well in groups of four, five, six or seven. Take a role yourself if you have very small classes.
And of course the Business Roles books are easy to use even with enormous classes. I did once do a simulation with a class of fifty students. It was very noisy, but good fun. I regularly use simulations with classes of thirty, and it works well – you simply break the class up into four or five groups.
Q: Some teachers may be unfamiliar with running simulations like these. What advice would you give to them about the distribution of the various roles and management of the simulations in general?
J C-A: Chairing the meeting (always Role A) can be quite challenging, especially when you first start doing simulations. So for the first two or three times you use Business Roles, give this role, and Roles B and C, to competent and confident students - and give Roles F and G to shy or less competent or confident students. But let it be known from the outset that all the students will chair the meeting and do the more challenging roles sooner or later.
Q: What elements of the business roles included in your books ensure that the discussions are lively and therefore valuable to the students?
J C-A: The most important thing is that giving students prescribed roles - in other words telling them what they think in their various roles - ensures that at the beginning of the meeting at least, the participants don’t agree with each other. This is what leads to hours of heated and lively discussion.
Q: How do you suggest that teachers handle correction and evaluation of the students during and after the simulations?
J C-A: I keep correction during the simulation to a minimum, leaving it until after the discussion is over.
I give my higher education students a mark from 0-4 for every simulation, based above all on their participation, as this is what matters most if your aim is the acquisition of fluency and a lively discussion.
Q: How do you advise teachers to balance the language skills as opposed to the meetings skills of their students?
J C-A: Quite honestly, I don’t concentrate much on meetings skills. I aim for fluency development and active vocabulary acquisition (and I get them!). Of course I insist on students listening to the others, waiting their turn to speak and so on. But this is simply in order to have an ordered discussion. What I want to avoid above all is their being stuck for words in their next meeting or anywhere else.
Q: In your extensive experience of teaching English to business students, what have been the main changes in approach that you have seen in the way this particular field of English is taught? And what developments do you predict for the future?
J C-A: When I started teaching Business English, it was thought that business was a terribly serious area and that the first skill to acquire was to learn how to wear a frown. Fortunately this has evolved, and it is now admitted that you can have fun doing business, and learning Business English. And I assure you that your students can have a lot of fun using Business Roles.
It's obvious that one very effective way of acquiring a language is to go and live in a country where it is spoken. I think it will become more obvious to language teachers and students alike that another effective way of achieving the same thing is to do simulations in the classroom.