Leadership Communication In Business English Class

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

I recently had the opportunity to discuss the contents of a TED Talk (titled “This Is Your Brain On Communication“) with adult learners in a business English class. In the process of explaining the video to the students, I discovered an easy way to explain how leaders use language. In this TESOL Blog post, I will share with you what happened in class.

A description of the TED Talk states:

Neuroscientist Uri Hasson researches the basis of human communication, and experiments from his lab reveal that even across different languages, our brains show similar activity, or become “aligned,” when we hear the same idea or story. This amazing neural mechanism allows us to transmit brain patterns, sharing memories and knowledge. “We can communicate because we have a common code that presents meaning,” Hasson says.

What I took away from this TED Talk was its focus on the sharing of “meaning.”

In the TED Talk, I was particularly interested in an example of framing (that was used by Hasson in an experiment) which resulted in the creation of meaning.

We took a story by J.D. Salinger, in which a husband lost track of his wife in the middle of a party, and he’s calling his best friend, asking, “Did you see my wife?” For half of the subjects, we said that the wife was having an affair with the best friend. For the other half, we said that the wife is loyal and the husband is very jealous. This one sentence before the story started was enough to make the brain responses of all the people that believed the wife was having an affair be very similar in these high-order areas and different than the other group.

Fairhurst (2011) focuses on such framing as the language of leadership.

The TED Talk experiment made it very clear to me what is meant by the expression, “Leaders make meaning.” So after explaining the example above to my students, I asked the class to tell me how the TED Talk story is related to leadership. I went on to talk about how leaders have opportunities to frame various situations in the same way that the Salinger story had been framed in Hasson’s experiment.

The class discussion of the TED Talk also made me more aware of a phrase I had heard used in connection with public speaking: “brain to brain communication.” So, during class, I was looking at the students’ faces to see if “brain to brain communication” was occurring and if meaning was being shared. When I could clearly see it, I pointed it out to my students. For example, at one point in class, I asked the students how much time they needed for a short discussion activity. One of the students responded with the number of minutes, but I did not hear her clearly. Another student noticed that I had not understood and said slowly and clearly the numbers 1 and 5, which I knew to mean 15 minutes. I replied “brain to brain communication,” and everyone laughed.

I also think that meaning is being shared through the ESP Project Leader Profiles that I have been posting, because we learn what our colleagues are doing around the world. The next one will be posted soon!

All the best,



Fairhurst, G. (2011). The power of framing: Creating the language of leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

from TESOL Blog http://blog.tesol.org/leadership-communication-in-business-english-class/


Monday Quote

Hello everyone!
The definition of quote is to repeat someone else’s statement, phrases or thoughts.

Here is today’s!

Happy Teaching,
from Fun To Teach ESL – Teaching English as a Second Language http://esleld.blogspot.com/2016/05/monday-quote.html

Foreign Language Writing Instruction: My Experience

Thinking back to the time when I was studying German as a foreign language in high school and later English as a foreign language in college, both in Russia, I don’t recall writing to be a visible part of these courses, and when writing components were implemented in the lessons/homework assignments, they were limited to simple tasks that were supposed “to reinforce the orthography, grammar, and vocabulary” (Reichelt et al., 2012, p. 35) rather than help us develop critical thinking and the ability to express ourselves in a written form.

The only more or less substantial writing experience that we received was at the end of the 11th grade of high school: as part of the German proficiency final exam, we had to prepare a short presentation on a given topic (the topics were distributed in advance). Because none of us, of course, wanted to take the risk of giving an impromptu speech, we first composed our speeches and then merely memorized them sentence by sentence, prior to taking the exam. As there were about 10 or 15 topics (or more), I remember doing lots of writing preparing for this exam!

Writing instruction in college was slightly more sophisticated, but only because I chose German as my major. The teaching of English, which was my second foreign language (the knowledge of two foreign languages was mandatory for all linguistics major students), exhibited similar patterns of writing instruction—sentence-combining exercises, short reaction papers, and responses to reading comprehension questions. Frankly, I did more writing in a computer room, where I went every day after the classes were over in order to chat with friends online and write emails.

At that time, the Internet was introduced to our country and it started to become very popular (I became acquainted with the Internet in my sophomore year), and the online world seemed to attract many of us, opening up numerous exciting possibilities, including social interactions. I quickly made several German- and English-speaking friends in online chat rooms, and communicating with them helped me improve my language skills.

Reichelt et al. (2012) mention “survival activities” a part of foreign language writing instruction (p. 36): writing e-mails, notes to landlords, postcards, letters, voicemail, written instructions, shopping lists, letters of application, and dialogue journals. Somehow, they were never implemented in my foreign language courses. So, when I got a job as a manager of international logistics shortly after my graduation, I had to learn the conventions of business email communication all by myself, wondering why we had not received any training in that area in college foreign language courses.

Nevertheless, if one considers the role of English in Russia at that time, the lack of emphasis on writing skills in language instruction appears to be quite understandable and perhaps even justifiable. During my undergraduate years (1997–2001), the English language started to play a more prominent role in economics, business, and tourism. More and more people were able to afford a vacation to Europe or other countries where English was the language of social interaction. Being able to speak English was considered a sign of prestige and a higher status in society. In other words, if you knew English, you had more doors open for you.

Because of the increasing amount of international relations in business, the need for qualified interpreters increased tremendously. Many students in foreign language departments desired to obtain an interpreter certificate (both for the social status and for financial reasons). Oral communication skills were highly valued in business, communication, economics, and even everyday social interaction. (If you could fluently chat with a foreigner in English, in the eyes of your peers you would be a respectable individual.) Thus to react to the sociopolitical needs, English language instruction focused on helping learners develop oral communication skills, increase spoken vocabulary, and improve pronunciation.

The situation has been changing. Slowly. Because of the increasing role of written business communication and the growing popularity of studying abroad (which requires a passing score on the TOEFL), I would expect to see a shift from the absolute focus on oral communication toward the development of communicative competence both in speaking and writing.


Reichelt, M., Lefkowitz, N., Rinnert, C., & Schultz, J. M. (2012). Key issues in foreign language writing. Foreign Language Annals45(1), 22–41.

from TESOL Blog http://blog.tesol.org/foreign-language-writing-instruction-my-experience/

Making ESL Class an Entryway for Community Involvement

A bulk of our training to become ELL specialists involves the nuances of linguistics and how to adapt curriculum, but it’s not until we’re in the classroom for a year that we begin to see how the education is only a sliver of our students’ lives. We learn how they may have jobs that leave them with no time for homework, how they move so often they barely know their own addresses, or how hard it can be to get their parents to attend IEP meetings or other school functions. There are two ways we can handle this realization: We can focus on our jobs as teachers and stick to our activities and tests, or we can try to help our students to gain the skills they truly need to succeed in society.

If you read this far, I’ll assume you chose the second option. The first step is to consider what you know about the students so that you can properly assess their needs.

  • Are they working?
  • Are they aware of community resources, such as food banks and rental assistance agencies, that are available to them?
  • What subjects could they use tutoring in?
  • What are their immediate health needs (this is especially important for pregnant teens and young parents)?

One successfully way to do this is to make it into an activity for the student—they can pick a particular charity from a list, practice reading to find pertinent information about it, and have them write or present a summary of their findings. The most important thing is that they realize these options are out there, available to them.

After that, it’s time to consider the parents’ needs, which may mean you’ll ask more questions at parent-teacher conferences than parents will.

  • Are the parents aware of translation services in the area?
  • Would they be interested in pursuing ESL classes through a community organization or a program at the school itself?
  • Do they have skills or previous education that they could still use, even as volunteers or aides?
  • Are they pursing citizenship, and, if so, do they need legal help?

Finally, consider the students’ culture in the local community. This is a great opportunity for teachers to talk to representatives and experts with these populations, so don’t be afraid to ask them about their traditions for education, what some common problems and misunderstandings are, or anything else that you and your colleagues may benefit from learning. Such knowledge can help you take a proactive approach to resolving small concerns before they become big problems.

For More Information

  1. This blog entry by Sharon Jacobs gives a great example of how to assess the students’ needs and meet them with local resources.
  2. Colorín Colorado has a great overview of the subject along with several links for more information.
  3. This article from All About Adolescent Literacy has some advice on how to make ELL students’ parents active participants and even leaders in the educational process.
  4. Gettingsmart.com has an overview on how to foster community-parent collaboration through the school setting.

from TESOL Blog http://blog.tesol.org/making-esl-class-an-entryway-for-community-involvement/

Lingogo: Language Practice App

I have some good news for people who have been searching for language practice they can do from their smartphones or know students who could use more practice and/or motivation. There is a new app available!

Released in November 2015, Lingogo is an app developed by three women from New Zealand, each currently learning a different language, that encourages and motivates students to practice reading and/or listening on their own. The app provides dual-language stories for adult reading with varying degrees of support/scaffolding. The app is free, and so is the first story.

Each story is available in three modes: Get Started, Get Focussed, and Get Fluent. The story stays the same, but the level of support in the first language diminishes as students progress. According to the website, the intention of the app is enjoyment and language mastery, rather than explicit teaching, making Lingogo a great choice for supplemental practice especially because new stories are added regularly.

FTESOL blog - Lingogoor now, Lingogo is limited to English-Spanish, Spanish-English; English-French, French-English; and English-German, German-English stories. However, it looks as though they are open to receiving suggestions and/or requests for other language pairs. Additionally, the app is currently only available for Apple products, but Android users, like me, should be able to try it out in the near future. Have a look at what Lingogo is all about, check the blog for updates, and maybe even get involved by offering to write for them, too.

Lingogo is a very neat concept and something that I hope to see more of in the future. Personally, I appreciate that the focus is on reading material for adults and hope that there are appropriate materials there for very beginners, but am sure that the story and language selection will continue to expand over time.

Share your thoughts or the apps you and your students use by leaving a comment below.

from TESOL Blog http://blog.tesol.org/lingogo-language-practice-app/

Grit, Resilience, and Conation in Adult ESOL: Part 2

It was Gatlinburg in mid-July…

In the classic country song “A Boy Named Sue,” popularized by Johnny Cash but penned by Shel Silverstein, the titular toughguy roams the west in determined pursuit of his sworn goal: to kill the absentee father who gave him “that awful name.” When he finally finds his father “at an old saloon, on a street of mud,” a brutal fight ensues (en-Sues), and Sue emerges the victor only after losing a piece of his ear. Staring down the barrel of Sue’s gun, the father explains his choice:

Son, this world is rough, and if a man’s gonna make it, he’s gotta be tough,
And I knew I wouldn’t be there to help you along.
So I gave you that name and I said goodbye,
I knew you’d have to get tough or die,
And it’s that name that helped to make you strong.

Now, this isn’t father-of-the-year material. But in his own ill-advised way, Sue’s father was trying to bestow upon his son an essential quality. And  it’s not just the ability to fight. Sue thinks of his father, “Every time I try and every time I win.” The virtue Sue has demonstrated isn’t physical strength, it’s determination, perseverance, goal-orientedness, grit: “You ought to thank me,” says father to son, “for the gravel in your guts.” We intuitively understand the value of conation. We try to instill it in our children.

Justin Gerald, whose excellent session at the Meeting Challenges, Exploring Solutions conference introduced me to conation, says, “Many people think that these are not skills so much as inborn personality traits that cannot be changed, and throw up their hands to focus on more easily-measured capabilities.” But experts agree that, despite our conventional conceptions, conative skills are not fixed qualities; they can be developed and improved. In this post, I will discuss several strategies that can be used to develop conative skills in adult language learners.

First, a brief recap.

The Missing Piece of Mind

As we covered last time, the world of education is seeing these new terms pop up all over the place: grit, perseverance, executive function resilience, self-efficacy. The tricky thing is that they’re all interrelated and overlapping, part of the same tautological constellation: We can only seem to define one term by triangulation with a few of the others.

There is a reason, however, for this sudden upcropping of constructs; something important has been missing. When we speak of the mind, we speak of cognition and affect, but as originally conceived these are only two of the three essential components. The long-lost third was conation, the way that that our thoughts and feelings come together to produce behavior.

(A quick teacherly btw: the noun, conation, is pronounced with second-syllable stress, the O completely schwaed: /kəˈneɪʃn/. In the adjectival form, the stress jumps to the first syllable, where the O remains open: /ˈkɒnətɪv/.)

Conation in the Adult Ed Classroom

The tips below borrow heavily from the recommendations of Huitt (2005). For each, I present a summary of Huitt’s recommendations, followed by a description of their relationship to adult language learners, including some sample exercises and strategies for incorporating them into your syllabus.

The good news is that you’re almost certainly already doing much to develop your students’ conative skills. Teachers get this stuff. We intuitively understand the importance of goal-setting, of thinking about thinking, of positive self-image. None of what I suggest is going to be coming out of left field. What conation gives us is a framework in which to organize and contextualize these ideas. What might otherwise seem like scattered ideas are in fact importantly interrelated. With the construct of conation, we can frame those relationships and develop our students’ conative skills in a strategic, deliberative manner.

Developing a Mission Statement

A personal mission statement can help students to prioritize and set goals. Articulating one’s values and beliefs is a simple but important step in directing one’s will in a deliberative way.

This obviously lends itself to an English lesson: Have students look at some organizations’ mission statements and sample personal mission statements, and guide them through the process of drawing up their own.

Identifying Personal Conative Style

Much of conation is about self-awareness: recognizing what can motivate or demotivate us, how we respond to particular situations. Just as we have a cognitive style and an affective style, we have a conative style, the manner in which we prefer to take action. The self is at the root of many conative constructs (self-esteem, self-determination, self-control), and before we can develop these, we must understand ourselves.

This could work well with sentence frames. Provide students with frames that will lead to personal reflection. Start with concrete experience, and lead them toward generalizations and patterns:

One time that I felt motivated was when…
Something that sometimes demotivates me is…
Three ways that I can control my motivation are…

Identifying the Possible Self 

There is actually a good deal written about the possible self in adult ESOL (often called the ideal L2 self). Students who have a strong, realistic image of themselves as proficient speakers are more motivated to become that self.

Try having other ELs, perhaps students from higher levels at your program, visit your class and talk about their own experience as beginners, the steps they took to advance, how they felt as they improved, and how their life has changed as their English improved.

Backward Planning

Once your students have articulated a few goals (an activity in itself), it’s important that they establish a plan for achieving them. Often a backward plan will work best.

Have students start with one of their primary goals (e.g., I will own my own grocery store), and identify the stage immediately before it (e.g., I will be a U.S. citizen, have $20,000 saved, and have my associate’s degree in business). Keep walking it backward until a full plan, between the present and the goal has been laid out. This can be developed into a goal portfolio in which students track their progress over time.

Further Reading

This is just a small fragment of what is out there on the conative domain. I’m sure we can all see the immense value of conative skills to our learners, and hopefully much more will be written with adult language learners in mind.

An indispensable resource for both of these posts has been the work of William Huitt, which is a good starting point for further reading. He’s sort of a quirky writer—you’ll come across eyebrow-raising phrasing like “channel the conative energy,” frinstance—but his survey of the relevant literature is exhaustive and presented clearly, and, most important, he always ties the theory back to classroom applications.

Major Caveat

When buzzwords sweep across a field as rapidly as grit and resilience have in education, some pushback is to be expected. Unsurprisingly, conation (by its other names) has had its share of critics. I don’t agree with the whole of their message, but their critiques contain some important takeaways. Parul Sehgal, writing in New York Times Magazine, warns that resilience is “indistinguishable from classic American bootstrap logic when it is applied to individuals, placing all the burden of success and failure on a person’s character.” The risk, she goes on, is that resilience and grit allow the representatives of the status quo to divert attention from systemic failures and biases by what amounts to victim-blaming.

This becomes especially important as we incorporate a conation-orientedness at the ground level: While we work to develop conative skills in our students, we must take pains never to get into a mindset (or allow our students or colleagues to get in the mindset) that success or failure depends wholly on the individual and self-determination. The conative revolution must be one that empowers our students, never one that blames them. Of teachers, it demands more work, not less: deeper curricula, stronger support systems, greater differentiation.

Swallow Stones: or, Consider the Gastrolith

In nature, many animals who subsist on the tough, hard-to-digest plants that their environment gives them, do something curious to compensate: They swallow stones. One term for these stomach-stones is the amazing Latinism, gastrolith. In large animals like ostriches, these can be cobbles larger than a baseball. In smaller animals like chickens, much smaller granules are needed: grit. With no choice but to ingest the tough stuff that life throws their way, animals ingest, internalize, something even tougher. We can do the same.

from TESOL Blog http://blog.tesol.org/grit-resilience-and-conation-in-adult-esol-part-2/