Business English: Email

Video Lesson (B2) on the challenges of communication by email

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

This worksheet is based around an amusing video by Tripp & Tyler: Email in Real Life. It’s a great starting point for discussion on issues relating to business communication and the technology many of us use on a daily basis. We can identify with the problems such as unattached attachments, overflowing inboxes, not to mention spam and copying in the wrong colleague… They are all represented in one short, amusing video.

In this upper intermediate worksheet as well as plenty of opportunity to discuss these problems, there is also an activity aimed at helping learners to build listening skills by highlighting issues arising from connected speech in authentic spoken English.

This could be an excellent first lesson for adult professionals, whether or not they are on a business English course, as email has long been a part of our lives. Most adult learners will identify with a lot of the problems that are represented in the video.

If you like this one, watch this space as my next blog will feature another Tripp & Tyler video on Video Calls…

Decoding for building listening skills

For my part this is the start of my exploration into writing better listening lessons. As I mentioned in a previous blog, Keep on Learning, last month, I’ve started reading two books Listening in the Language Classroom by John Field (Cambridge) and Phonology for Listening by Richard Cauldwell (Speech in Action). I’m only 5 chapters in to the Field book, but I wanted to try some ideas out.

In fact this video is full of visual clues, so many of the ideas don’t rely too heavily on oral comprehension. Also it should be a familiar topic as it is likely learners will have experienced these problems themselves. However for two of the activities in this lesson the learners will need to listen out more carefully. These are the main points I’ve chosen to address in parts C and D of the worksheet:

  • Extensive vs Intensive listening and different levels of listening. There isn’t just one mode of listening, for example in some situations we can “skim listen” by listening with a low level of attention until the relevant information comes up.
  • Listening being an “isolating” activity as learners each have an individual understanding of what they hear. It can make learners reluctant to speak up during listening activities as they have no means to check if they are right and they can feel anxious that they haven’t understood. It’s also difficult for teachers to really know how much individual learners have been able to grasp.
  • Working in pairs or groups during listening activities helps to lower the affective filter as learners can work together and therefore feel less isolated.
  • Decoding authentic texts: it can be very challenging for learners to decode texts where words aren’t clearly pronounced and tend to be mashed together, missing out vowels, consonants and syllables.
  • Highlighting issues relating to connected speech to help learners understand what they’re up against when listening to authentic texts.
  • Inferring meaning. With video the learners can infer meaning not just from the context but from facial expressions and physical gestures, this can help with getting the gist.
  • Using a YouTube video means that if students have mobile devices they can watch the video in their own time, controlling when to pause, repeat etc. making the process more learner-centred.

This is my first attempt at trying to help learners build listening skills, rather than just test their comprehension. The more traditional comprehension approach is rather teacher-centred especially when the teacher is in control of the recording, this can make the experience more stressful for the learner and its very difficult for teachers to know how much each learner is understanding. To address this, I’ve suggested where possible that students watch the video on their own devices and for the more demanding tasks they work in pairs.

My research will continue on this front, I’ve got a lot more to learn, so if you use this worksheet in class, please send me feedback – it will help me to keep on improving my materials.

The Worksheet & Teachers Notes

The worksheet is suitable for adults, especially in a professional context, but not necessarily on a Business English course. There are also (perhaps overly) comprehensive teachers notes.

Level:                       B2

For:                         Adult (Business English)

Length:                  90 minutes (approx.)

Aim:                       Extensive (general understanding) and intensive listening (decoding connected speech). Discussion highlighting the challenges of communicating by email. Familiarising with and practice using email related language.

Previous Blog Posts

If you’ve enjoyed this post, or found it useful, why not check out my previous blogs with a whole range of free downloadable lessons.

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