[Ken Thompson & Richard Haill. Berlin, Germany: Cornelsen, 2015. pp. 135. ¥2,960. ISBN: 978-3-06-451348-8. Teacher’s Book: 978-3-06-451355-6.]
Business Matters is part of a series of 17 vocational textbooks, covering topics from Technical and Office Matters, to Shopping and Dentistry. The textbook has 10 units which cover functional topics such as telephoning and presentations, as well as customer care and business travel situations. It is aimed at the A2/B1 level of the Common European Framework of Reference (Council of Europe, 2001), with some case studies targeted at the high intermediate B2 level.
The units are built along thematic and functional lines including: company structures and office tasks; ordering office supplies; marketing and effective advertisements; telephone enquiries and confirming orders; making customer appointments and organizing shipping; customer service mistakes and complaints; business trips; and presenting and job interviews.
In the introductory unit there are formulaic phrases, reading comprehension passages, and paraphrasing exercises as the students practice how to welcome a trainee and give directions, and describe their own daily routines. The gap fill exercise helps students build phrasal units and the role-play encourages them to generate their own language. This activity could be scaffolded by helping learners to predict relevant vocabulary and phrases, with some strategy instruction (Chan, 2009). A longer reading text follows for building content knowledge which is backed up by a summarizing activity giving learners an opportunity to practice more paraphrasing and structuring ideas. Similarly, the occasional summary and email writing activities throughout the book encourage students to produce their own language creatively. This provides more opportunities to receive feedback and reflect on their grammar usage.
There is a good example activity on modal verbs in Unit 4 which shows the grammatical differences between modal verbs, followed by gap fill activities. Then, to contextualize the grammar, there is a role-play between a server and a customer, highlighting the power and distance between the roles (Hofstede, 1983). As there is some imposition and inconvenience when requesting to change an order, modal verbs are naturally needed in this situation, making it a well-constructed activity. However, it would also be a useful addition to explain that modal verbs are also often used to reflect the necessity for hedging and politeness strategies in a variety of social relationships as language is used in context.
An audio-track which focuses on social relationships is a small talk extract in Unit 7, which just lacks some authentic response tokens and follow-up questions, which is a feature of all the audio tracks. All the audio files and transcripts are downloadable from the Cornelsen website. However, the sound tracks seemed a little staged and artificial. More natural production speed, with some hesitations and overlap would be better. There are a range of accents, such as American, English, German, Spanish, Irish, Indian, and Singaporean, with a slight bias towards European accents. One extract features a telephone conversation in which someone asks for clarification, with a tip about the importance of clarification skills, but the language is a little prescribed. It is a nice example of a clarification request, but clarification examples should also be built into more audio files to give frequent models of how people normally interact.
The textbooks have discussions about the appropriate use of formal and informal language in business situations. Indirect or polite language is taught for talking to customers via emails or telephone calls. This is structured to have an introduction, some background, highlighting the reason for the interaction, and then the action, such as a request or description of what is going to happen. However, often emails and telephone calls are not straightforward and multiple emails are needed to explain or elaborate the situation. This flexibility and the ability to adopt direct or indirect language as appropriate to the situation is not covered at this level of instruction. There are useful tips, such as explaining that different cultures have different preferences about social interaction, but no examples are shown of how these differences materialize in conversations.
Overall, Business Matters contains vocabulary recycling, synonym matching and paraphrasing. The grammar examples are progressive and linked into task-based activities. Spoken and written structure is taught. The role-plays include summarizing and presenting ideas to build paraphrasing skills. English for Specific Purposes genres provide opportunity to develop content knowledge and professional skills. However, comprehending changes in topic and more explicit relational features are not taught, and although there are self-evaluation role-plays, there should be more strategic learning advice or checklists to support autonomous development. I have used the Business and Technical Matters textbooks in my classes and do recommend them if you choose the genres, units, and activities, and adapt them to match your students’ needs.
- Chan, C. S. C. (2009). Forging a link between research and pedagogy: A holistic framework for evaluating business English materials. English for Specific Purposes, 28(2). 125-136. doi:10.1016/j.esp.2008.12.001
- Council of Europe (2001). Common European framework of reference for languages: Learning, teaching, assessment. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
- Hofstede G. (1983). Dimensions of national cultures in fifty different countries and three regions. In J. Deregowski, S. Dziurawiec & R. Annis (Eds.), Explications in cross-cultural psychology (pp. 335-355). Lisse, Netherlands: Swets & Zeitlinger.