[Andy Boon. Tokyo: Halico Creative Education, 2018. (Titles in the Series: The Job Interview, The First Week on the Job, The Presentation, The Meeting, The Email, Entertaining Overseas Visitors, First Business Trip Overseas, The Office Conflict, The Product Launch, and The Mentor) pp. 63. ¥800. ISBN: 978-4-909730-10-7.]
The Pocket Readers Business Series of graded readers is an insider’s view of the first year in a fictional Japanese company. Each book is approximately 5,000 words with 493–725 headwords per book. Many college students are concerned about finding a job after graduation, giving the books a wide appeal. Content is the key to this series rather than language level, and this series provides variety to a graded reader collection of fiction and nonfiction. The realistic stories are in relatively simple language and give students a chance to focus on the business situations and content, facilitating a Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) approach to teaching (Ball, Clegg, & Kelly, 2015). Planning ahead and paying attention to detail are recurrent themes in many business English classes. This series shows realistic situations, where those skills are necessary, giving students an idea of what happens when employees do not act formally in the workplace.
Throughout the stories, keywords are presented in boldface. There are no definitions given, but the story’s context provides the reader with clues—not only of the meaning, but also for the use of the word. Each book contains a simple Language Focus & Tasks section, where vocabulary is presented in sentences from the story or, in some cases, in original sentences. Space for students to write what they think the words mean encourages students to use context to understand the vocabulary. When the books are being read as a class, some teachers may use this section to introduce vocabulary. When reading as graded readers, I do not think pre-teaching is necessary. The target words are commonly found in many business English texts. Reading this series would give repeated exposure to target business vocabulary in a clear context, which are key factors in helping students move from merely recognizing words to understanding how to use them (Nation, 2013).
The books are designed for self-study in extensive reading, so the Language Focus & Tasks section also includes, a short, clear definition of each word in English. After the vocabulary activity and presentation, a Useful Language list arranged by function is given. The phrases can be found in context in the story, but alternative ways to say the same thing are given in the list. Students reviewing this list are able to focus on the way language is practically used.
The two books I found most useful to read as a class were The Presentation and The Email. The other books are good for extensive reading, but I did not find them useful as classroom material because they focused on business situations rather than on specific business English skills. With 10 books and a class of 20 to 30 students, a practical way to cover the content of the series without a full-class set is to assign each book to a group of students, then have students present a book report or role play, if it is being read as a graded reader or in a business English class, students could focus on the topics.
The last section of each book offers general reflective questions. This section highlights differences in formal business culture and casual situations. The stories demonstrate how to respond appropriately in business contexts drawing an important connection between culture and language study (Hadley, 2003). If the books were read as a class, the questions could be used for class discussion. In my classroom, I found the What Other Things questions useful to prepare students for discussion topics. If students were to be assigned a book, the questions could serve as an outline to help them prepare their own discussion or presentation.
As readers, they are very repetitive. Every book follows the same basic three-part pattern: setting the theme, an unsuccessful attempt, and then ends with a successful completion of the target skill. When read through as a series, they feel very prescriptive. The predictability of the books may have been a key reason students choose to read a few of the books, but not the whole series from. This insight came from observing that students who chose books did not choose to read the whole series, but another factor could have been that books were being borrowed by other students and therefore not available.
Overall, my students liked the stories. As an instructor, I liked seeing students reading non-fiction and hearing their reactions to the situations presented. In conclusion, they are a great addition to a graded reader library, and if class sets are available, some of the books can be very good introductions to themes in business English classes.
Ball, P., Clegg, J., & Kelly, K. (2015). Putting CLIL into practice. Oxford University Press.
Hadley, A. O. (2003). Teaching language in context. Heinle & Heinle.
Nation, I. S. P. (2013). Learning vocabulary in another language. Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139858656