One of the things I learned during my CELTA course was how to teach Reading lessons. Basically, you design the lesson, follow the steps, and if all goes according to plan, “bada bing bada boom”, your student develops their reading skills. However, I have noticed that these steps would rarely work when I had to teach a Business English reading lesson, especially related to Emails.
Teaching Business English seems quite similar to most people, I, on the contrary, feel that it is completely different. When you start teaching BE, especially in companies, you must delve into a world you are not so comfortable with. In this context, you are the language specialist, but your students are the real experts. If you do not understand and open yourself to learning with and from them, this symbiosis will not occur.
Time and time again, I noticed that when teaching a lesson on Emails, students would feel jumpy. They would incorporate a persona, and I could not fully understand why. The other day, one of my students told me how they received and email from a superior saying: “Remember to finish this report by the end of the day.” The student was absolutely appalled by this message, and even though I did not want to jump to conclusions, I thought they were exaggerating. Having seen my student’s reaction that day, I then decided to pay close attention to my other students’ behavior when reading or discussing emails. After 4 months of observation, I have finally found ‘it’. In each of these lessons, it was there, as clear as day: “the voice”. Every student had a different “voice” when reading an email. And that is when it hit me: Do we really teach Reading?
You must be reading this post right now and thinking: “Is she out of her mind? I follow all steps I learned, of course I teach Reading!” Here is my question to you: As you read this post, what is your voice? Is it filled with empathy, openness, warmth, despair, hate, frustration…?
Every reader (just like you and me) has an inner voice that will set the tone to the written word. If your reader is confused, the message will probably be confusing too, if your reader is stressed, the text will likely be translated into stress or anxiety.
In business, the reader must be sharp. They must be alert and aware of details, emotions are not the center of attention, neither should they be. Most of Brazilian workers have a chip on their shoulder, because many of them feel as if their bosses/clients/employees… have a hidden agenda. To be fair, yes, some emails are badly written and some emails are just purposely hurtful, but there are the professionals who most of the time are just taking care of business and answering your request, in other words, checking their To-do list. Take a look at the example below: Amanda writes to Mary about an order placed two weeks ago.
I am writing with regard to the FKW1 order placed two weeks ago. I was informed that the order would be delivered today, however we haven’t received it yet and your Logistics Department said that they couldn’t find the order in the system.
Would you mind checking that for me?
Question: Which voice have you used? Is your voice similar to the ones below?
Is there a “Voice 04” for you?
Question: Did you feel as if the British recording (or my attempt on the accent) came across as grimmer?
Well, here is what could have happened.
Scenario 01: Mary receives the email, reads it and answers.
Scenario 02: Mary receives the email, takes a moment to freak out and curse, and then answers.
Scenario 03: Mary receives the email, starts feeling paranoid (OMG, Amanda hates me! What did I do to deserve that? Is she mad at me?), thinks it’s better to answer it later, talks to her manager, shakes like a leaf while she answers the email.
(I could go on).
Scenario 01 is ideal, the one every teacher should hope for. Your student reads, focus on the task, and gets it done. Contrary to what most might believe, Scenarios 02 & 03 are very likely to happen, especially between Brazilians and foreigners. For instance, some of my students often mention that the British accent seems a bit more severe or rigid, that is for their Brazilian ears. Here is the moment for an intercultural note: Often times a foreigner has no intention of hurting your feelings, they might just be a bit more direct, and that is OK. Let’s not be biased.
I must clarify that I am not picking on women and Brazilians, and that it was never my intention. Truth be told, Brazilians are the warmest people, the friendliest, but when it comes to business, we mix personal and professional matters, and that is how we are, and that’s OK. We should just learn how to calm our “reader’s voice” and focus on what we have to do.
Having said that, my goal with this post is to help broaden our horizons when it comes to teaching Reading, let’s go beyond the words, it is time to understand the reader and the attitude we have when reading. I hope you have read this article with an open mind and warm heart.
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