An Interview with Marjorie Rosenberg, IATEFL BESIG Coordinator

Marjorie Rosenberg
Marjorie Rosenberg

Marjorie and I met two years ago, at the IATEFL BESIG Summer Symposium in Paris. What impressed me about her was her enthusiasm about her work and her willingness to help out and run what was a great conference. She is extremely supportive to our teaching community and we are all very fortuntate to be connected with her. It is a huge honour to have her here on my blog. Enjoy our interview!

Vicky: Marjorie, thanks so much for this interview. It is an honour to have you on the blog!

Marjorie: It is an honour to be here!

Vicky: Let’s talk about your journey into education. It has been a really interesting one. Could you tell us more about it?

Marjorie: I actually studied music in Buffalo, New York and wanted to be an opera singer.  While finishing my Master’s I took teaching qualifications as well and taught music in public schools for several years, before moving to New York City, where I continued with music by running a small opera company with a friend and working in advertising as my so-called ‘day job’.  I then took a chance and moved to Europe to audition for the opera houses and, as I needed a job, I began teaching English in an adult education institution. Bit by bit, this became my new vocation and I continued my training in the field of ELT by taking numerous courses and going to conferences. Ideas I learned in those early days have proved to be the staples I still use in the classroom.

Vicky: What a great story! Can you tell us a few things about your teaching currently? Where do you teach and what levels are your students?

Marjorie: I now teach English at the language institute of the University of Graz. This institute offers language courses for all students at the university, meaning the students come from a variety of fields, and in some groups, from a variety of countries. This makes class discussions fascinating as students are experts in many different areas and can contribute new perspectives to the conversation. As a balance to university life I very much enjoy teaching adults and have corporate clients in our local bank.  I have been teaching there as well some 25 years and work with people in different departments such as Human Resources or Project Management. The levels of the two groups are fairly similar, at the university I have students ranging from B1 to C1 as I teach both general English and a CAE preparation course and at the bank my students are mostly B1-B2.

Vicky: So university teaching, and Business English! Speaking of Business English, I first met you at the IATEFL BESIG Summer Symposium in 2012, in Paris. How did you become so involved with IATEFL? You are now the co-ordinator of BESIG.

Marjorie: I have been involved with teaching associations since the early 1990s when I first joined TEA (Teachers of English in Austria). I was quite active in the group and was Chair in the early 2000s. I attended my first IATEFL BESIG conference in Graz in 1995 and joined IATEFL at that conference. As IATEFL BESIG runs an annual conference every year, I found myself becoming a regular attendee and in 2008 joined the committee as one of the events organisers.  I had organised events with TEA and this seemed like a great opportunity to get more involved with BESIG.  In 2009 I was elected as one of the joint-coordinators and in 2011 as sole coordinator. Through the SIG-coordinators’ meetings I became more and more interested in the workings of IATEFL and when an opening became available on the Membership Committee I applied and began in that position in 2013. This has been a lot of fun as my job has been to organize the IATEFL webinar series which meant contacting people in the ELT field and setting up a program. What I am also proud of is that we have made the program quite diverse and at the end of last year, I officially applied for a Fair List Award for gender diversity in events in the UK.  This was for the for the IATEFL webinar series. IATEFL BESIG had won one for our Pre-Conference Event in Glasgow in 2012. The other aspect of IATEFL I find so important is the chance to meet people around the world, like yourself, who are active and interested in setting up sharing communities of practice. In addition to supporting initiatives like the Fair List, I have also contributed to the lesson plan bank of the Disabled Access Friendly website, a non-profit organization which promotes awareness of those with disabilities through ELT.

The Fair List Award Ceremony, IATEFL Annual Conference, Liverpool 2012, photo by Sue Leather
The Fair List Award Ceremony, IATEFL Annual Conference, Liverpool 2013, photo by Sue Leather

Vicky: What especially have you been able to do as BESIG coordinator?

Marjorie: I am very glad that we have continued and expanded our online events. Carl Dowse, our last web coordinator, began the idea of our weekend workshops.  These are online webinars run every month and are open to all. We then post the recordings for a week and afterwards they are moved into members’ area for them to view at any time.  We have been able to reach a number of members around the world with this. And what is so fascinating is seeing how people connect in the chat box on the web conferencing platform and exchange ideas with each other. This helps as well to build a global community.  We also began a scholarship for a ‘BESIG Facilitator’. This scholarship is set up to allow a BESIG member to travel to the annual IATEFL conference in the UK and the idea behind it is that the recipient will continue to work with BESIG when they get home.  Our first award, for example, was to Mercedes Viola who has been a valuable member of the BESIG Online Team, was appointed to ElCom team of IATEFL last year and was just co-opted to be joint web coordinator with Claire Hart. Another idea to enable more teachers from other places to attend conferences was to offer highly reduced rates to teachers from specific areas to our annual conference rather than awarding full scholarships to only a few. This has been very successful and we were able to have a large number of teachers from former Yugoslavian countries at our conference in Dubrovnik, Czech and Slovak teachers in Stuttgart and now teachers from Hungary and Poland in Prague. We also worked together with the local teaching associations and they put people up in their homes as well.  And the last initiative that we began in the last few years is our business English writing competition. This is open to all those who have not yet been published commercially. Winners then have their work published on the Cambridge University Press website, Professional English Online, and have the chance to win prizes. This extends our reach around the world and offers opportunities to budding writers of business English materials.

Marjorie with Mercedes Viola at the Annual IATEFL conference in Brighton in 2011
Marjorie with Mercedes Viola at the Annual IATEFL conference in Brighton in 2011

Vicky: What do you enjoy about being a SIG coordinator?

Marjorie: This has been (and continues to be) a very interesting experience.  I discovered for myself how important it was to be able to delegate to the right people while trying to keep an overview of what is going on in the SIG.  Another exciting aspect has been the creation of our ‘sub-committees’, the BOT which was started by Carl Dowse to help out with the online events and the BET, which was actually my idea. Although we have been holding annual conferences for over 25 years, we hadn’t published conferences selections recently and and it was thrilling to see the first BET publication, the Stuttgart Conference Selections in eBook format on both the BESIG and IATEFL websites.  And the Prague Conference Selections will be coming out in a few months conference selections. But what is so interesting about getting these sub-committees together is that we have the chance as a SIG to involve more people in the running of the SIG and also develop talent. Committees often tend to consist of people who have been in ELT or IATEFL for quite some time whereas these sub-committees brought new people into the fold. They get an idea of how the SIG works and when it is time to find people for the committee we have some who have already been involved in helping out.  The other part of the job that I like a lot is working with other SIG coordinators. It isn’t always easy coming in as a new coordinator as the job can be quite overwhelming and as I have been doing it now for a while it has been a pleasure to mentor some of the newer coordinators. There are so many little things that don’t need to be done from scratch and passing on the information can ease the transition from just being a committee member to actually being responsible for the SIG. In addition, it has been quite interesting working on a revision of the SIG handbook, looking at how the committees work and setting up guidelines for committee elections.

Vicky: You engage a lot and successfully in social media. How did you start using them, and how do you think they help educators?

Marjorie: I have to admit that I am a digital immigrant and have been learning how to use technology since I began teaching. But my first foray into active use of social media was when I finally took the plunge and got a smart phone. I was lucky in that two friends on holiday in Greece who were smart phone experts gave me lessons at the taverna every day at lunch so that by the end of the holiday I could use the apps on my phone. Through this I discovered the wonderful opportunities offered by groups like ELTChat which I take part in when my schedule allows. I also got on Twitter during that holiday and find it extremely useful for announcing events such as our upcoming PCE in Harrogate, our writing competition or the IATEFL BESIG conference I am organizing here in Graz. When I joined MemCom I began posting on Facebook pages to let people know about the webinars and in the meantime belong to a number of groups, mostly teaching organisations and associates of IATEFL.  LinkedIn is another of the social media sites I belong to and I find that the conversation threads in the groups are very useful for professional development. But perhaps one of the most important parts of using social media is the chance to develop a PLN (personal learning network). Although I have been attending IATEFL conferences for a number of years, I have to say that last year in Liverpool was a truly new experience for me. I got to meet people from my PLN, went to their presentations and expanded my knowledge of what is going on the in the ELT world in a way I hadn’t been able to do before. And through social media and the PLN, we can stay in touch throughout the year.

Vicky: You write a lot of class materials. What kind and what level are your preferred ones to write?

Marjorie: I think at this point I have written for everything except for primary school although years ago I recorded a cassette with children’s songs in English. Here in Austria where I live, I wrote a series of books for lower secondary and am just finishing a series for upper secondary technical high schools. I have been writing for Cambridge University Press for almost ten years, starting with a book of photocopiable activities for business English.  A few years ago I wrote two of the personal study books for the new Business Advantage Series, write regularly for the website, Professional English Online and just finished two projects for CD-ROMs to be used with coursebooks for the revised FCE and CAE exams. I have also written a book on banking for Pearson and revised a BEC Vantage book for Cengage-National Geographic.  Last year at IATEFL I was thrilled to launch ‘Spotlight on Learning Styles’, my first methodology book published by Delta Publishing in the Teacher Development series. This had long been a dream of mine to do and working on it was an incredible experience.

Vicky: Do you have any other projects in the pipeline you would like to share with us?

Marjorie: There are several projects in the pipeline at the moment, although some are at very early stages. However, at the university I have just finished the second semester of a project with some sixty students on their learning styles by making use of learning styles questionnaires, self-reflection sheets and a final survey. I just brought the stack of papers home yesterday and am very curious about the data.  This will be published as a chapter in a book put out by the university and I hope to be able to present on it at an upcoming conference. The other project which is going on at the moment is a module for ‘From Teacher 2 Writer’ on how to write activities for different learner types.

Vicky: How would you like to close our interview?

Marjorie: I would like to say that it is really wonderful to have the chance to be interviewed by someone I so admire in the field of ELT. Vicky, you were one of the winners of our ‘best first presentation’ award at the IATEFL BESIG conference in Paris and what I love about the field of ELT is the support we give to each other. This has been an important part of my reasons for becoming involved in an organisation like IATEFL. The very first webinar we organized was with Professor David Crystal and it was truly inspiring seeing that we were reaching people across the globe who would normally not have the opportunity to take part in such an event. This inclusive atmosphere and sense of community is essential to me and one of the main drivers for working within the IATEFL organization.

Vicky: Thank you so much for your kind words – they give me a lot of strength! And a huge thank you for this wonderful interview.

Publications:

In Business (2005). Cambridge University Press

Business Advantage Intermediate Personal Study Book (2012). Cambridge University Press

Business Advantage Advanced Personal Study Book (2012). Cambridge University Press

English for Banking and Finance 2 (2012). Pearson

Revised Pass Cambridge BEC Vantage (2013). Summertown Publishing

Spotlight on Learning Styles (2013). Delta Publishing

Friends 1 – 4 (on authoring team) (2002-2005) textbook, workbook and teacher’s book for Austrian lower secondary schools

TechCon 1 – 4 (on authoring team) (2011 – 2014) textbook, teacher’s book and teachers resource pack for Austrian upper secondary technical schools

She has also written articles for English Teaching Professional and The Teacher Trainer and TA journals and newsletters.

She writes regularly for the Cambridge University Press website, Professional English Online (2011 – present).

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IATEFL BESIG Summer Symposium 2012 – Word of the Week and Other Ideas for Business English (Updated)

IATEFL BESIG (Image taken from http://www.besig.org)
I am a bit late with this post, but have finally gotten round to posting my slides and the text (the updated version) from my workshop at IATEFL BESIG Summer Symposium, which took place in Paris, on June 16th, in collaboration with TESOL France. I really enjoyed all the sessions I attended and will definitely be going to other BESIG events as well, as this was my first one and I loved it!

Here are the slides and some explanatory notes:

Word of the Week and Other Ideas for Business English 

My name is Vicky Loras and I am an English teacher, born in Toronto, Canada but of Greek descent. I have been living in Switzerland for two years and I absolutely love my work and life here.

What I like the most about my teaching here is that I have a lot of business people that I teach, be it in banks, companies, and so on. I find it very interesting to learn new terms and things about the business world – you see, I learn alongside them as well.
 
The idea I will present to you today was not planned in a lesson; it was a spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment, sure-let’s-use-this-and-see-what-happens decision.

I was reading the newspaper one day two years ago and saw the lines it was going to be a staycation. That last word totally hit me. I thought, great and I immediately looked it up to see if it was a recent addition to the dictionaries. It was, indeed, and I specifically found it on the online Macmillan Dictionary under the category buzzwords.  I immediately thought of telling the bankers I teach the next morning. I still teach them and they love learning new things! So, I presented the word to them and they were absolutely thrilled! The discussion that ensued and the language that was produced were phenomenal. They were talking about vacations and staycations – amazingly low TTT (teacher talking time), with me just popping in occasionally to make corrections or contribute. Anything else I had planned for the rest of the lesson was not used, but it was one of the best lessons ever. …AND THEN….

“Can I bring you one of these every week?” I said. They loved the idea!

But, I did change a few things:

● I did not present the word in a here-you-are-this-is-the-word way, like I did the first time. What I did the second time and all the times after that was this (and I would like to try a few with you):

daycation (simple): give me another word for holiday – lasting one day
Googleheimer’s (complex) : Think of the most popular search engine. Do you know of an illness where people have trouble remembering? Have you ever thought of Googling something and until you have reached the search box on the Google homepage you have forgotten what it was? What is the name of this new illness of the 21st century?
threequel (advanced) Do you like movies like the Matrix? First, they learn the word sequel – so what is the third one called, film number three?

What I do with these words is at the end of each month, I add them to a simple Word document – at the end of the month, they get the updated list with the definitions in English. I am thinking of having them contribute the definitions at the end of each month!

Some educators ask me (and they are right in a way), what do they need these words for? We don’t even know them and we are their teachers! How do they help our students?

Conclusions:– I don’t know some of them either. As a vocabulary fan I love learning new words!
– I don’t care if they don’t remember them afterwards (the interesting thing is that they remember a lot of them)
– It is what happens as they are trying to FIND the word of the week:
1. They learn words like sequel to a movie
2. and AFTER they have found it! The language production that goes on is unbelievable! I truly wish I could show you what is happening in our classes. They go on for ten minutes, half an hour, the whole lesson!

I help them with their vocabulary (I write a lot on the board) and their accuracy in grammar.

I am not here to tell you that I am a great teacher. I am here to tell you what my students, your students, OUR students can do with a simple thing! Just one or two words!

What we do with the Word of the Week:

Conversation: most of my Business English students have lessons to enhance their speaking skills, so this helps them a lot – that is what they want and they find it interesting, so they start talking without even thinking twice

– They can write a short paragraph or story in pairs or small groups, using say 5 words of the week – you cannot imagine what they come up with!

This is a goodbye card my students (IT specialists in a bank) wrote me when our course ended – full of Words of the Week!

– They actually FIND some of them in everyday life. A student of mine, from the group of bankers I mentioned at the beginning, called Werner, went to London on holiday and when he came back, he told me: “You won’t believe it! I was in London and I saw the word netiquette in a newspaper headline. I could explain it to my friends!” I see them everywhere as well. Lately, I have seen the word slacktivist numerous times, in newspapers, on TV, everywhere.
– They go back to their offices after their lessons and tell their colleagues who are not in our classes about the new words they learn.
 
They NEED to move with the times. Languages are living organisms, they breathe, they grow, they branch out. It is humanly impossible for them to remember all of those words/expressions, but even if they get 10 in the end, it is success. It also helps them decipher other words they find in the future. I have noticed that they do this now with many words. They are more independent now in deciphering the meaning of a word.
The point is that one single word can spark such a big conversation, can unlock the students and their potentials – they just start talking, and the language we get out of it is unbelievable!
This is our absolute favourite.

• Another activity we do is called difficult situations or Crisis! I have taken the idea form Paul Emmerson and Nick Hamilton’s book Five-Minute Business English Activities. I present them with potential problems in their work and have them discuss a course of action in twos or threes – when they have it ready and planned, then they discuss the way they would solve the problem and come up with potential solutions. Through this activity they learn how to use language to negotiate (as they might not always agree on a common course of action) and use expressions like I think, I believe that the best course of action would be… and of course practice their Conditionals (I have a great love for Conditionals and try to get them in there any way I can!) – If we did this, this would happen….If we had done this, this would not have happened… The only thing we should be cautious with in this activity is not to touch any sensitive issues that might stress them, or any topics we know they might have a problem with. It can be for instance something like this: informing my IT students that the new system they installed is having a few problems, so they have been told by their line manager that they have to work over the weekend to fix it and what they would do in this case.  Sometimes I go out of the room and pretend to be a partner or colleague of theirs who comes into the room and shouts Crisis! This and this happened. So it kind of prepares the atmosphere and the ground, let´s say, for this activity. It also depends on the culture of the students. Perhaps their culture is not so expressive so actually coming into a classroom shouting Crisis! is not the best idea.

• If you have Business English students who make presentations, then you might find it useful for them to give you an actual presentation as part of the lesson. It can be something they have done for their work (but there you have to vouch for confidentiality – some teachers even sign an agreement of confidentiality that no information will leave the room) or a presentation on anything. Some of my bankers use vaious ideas to present – a few of them presented their countries, along with Powerpoint slides, or bike races – it can be even something as simple as that and the language you get out of it is absolutely amazing. What I do there is I sit with the rest of the students while one of them is presenting and keep notes, of great things they have said or of mistakes they have made. I then present the mistakes altogether if I know they will feel uncomfortable. It all depends on the learners.

• I also practice telephone conversations with them – but because our classroom does not connect via intercom with another, what we do is we turn our chairs and backs to one another and pretend we are phoning each other – turning our backs, so that the other person cannot see facial expressions and so cannot anticipate what the call is about.

There are literally hundreds of ideas to use when teaching Business English and I have shared only but a few – enjoy your lessons!

The slides:

And those of us who were first-time speakers for BESIG were up for an award – I got third place! I was so happy to be presented the award by one of my favourite linguists, Professor David Crystal. Many thanks to Mike Hogan for the photos!

Professor Crystal, the judges and the award winners (Photo taken by Mike Hogan)
Getting my award from Professor Crystal – a double happy moment! (Photo taken by Mike Hogan)