Interview - Robert Hall - Business English for real
Robert Hall is an American business professional who has been living in Brazil (with his Brazilian wife) for the past two years. Teacher "by chance", as he never really planned that, he enhances his classes with his own experience in the business market. Get to know more about him and about how to teach (or learn) Business English.
Tell us something about your background, education and experience. Robert - I am from Texas, and have lived in Texas until I started to travel. I studied Spanish at Texas Tech University, and after graduating, I decided that I wanted to become as fluent as possible, so I decided to live in Mexico. I first started teaching, but I also did some work on translations. I then worked for the state government of Guanajuato (Mexico) in promotion of international trade and foreign direct investment, which was a very interesting and educational experience. After, I decided to go back to school to complete an MBA program, which I finished at Thunderbird in Arizona. At Thunderbird I was focusing my studies in marketing, specializing in business to business marketing. I then began working in the electronics manufacturing industries as a sales engineer for suppliers of tooling, machinery, and other engineered materials. I have extensive knowledge of the northern border region between Mexico and the US, where you can find a large concentration of manufacturing industries. My wife is a Brazilian who accepted an opportunity to transfer back to Brazil from Mexico, so here we are. I have been in Brazil for almost two years now.
How did you become a teacher? How does your experience in the business market help you prepare your classes? Robert - In reality, I'm not a teacher. I have been teaching English from the perspective of a business professional who happens to have a deeper understanding of language derived from learning foreign languages. My international business experience is useful to my students because of the unique perspective I have both from the formal educational experience and from the real-world, for example, with the requirements of reporting, visiting customers, working with business partners, etc. It is difficult to understand the challenges of international business communication unless you have that kind of experience.
Many students, even when they are fluent, 'block' when they need to speak in a more formal situation, such as meetings, presentations or negotiations. What would you suggest them? Robert - My suggestion for improving fluency is to listen to as many podcasts and watch as many videocasts as possible. By hearing other people discuss issues and respond to difficult questions, you can learn from other presenters. By listening to English language discussions as much as possible, you program the brain to process the information, and little by little you learn key phrases and other useful language to use in similar situations. Try to find podcasts with audio script files, so that you can check your comprehension. It would be very nice to use the blog to encourage as many of those of you out there to share your ideas on where to find good information.
Case studies are also very useful. I recommend reading and researching as much as possible to learn about the company, the products, the business, other issues, strategies, etc. You can find a surprising amount of information on the internet by carefully choosing the search criteria. Discover new vocabulary, new expressions, new phrases, etc. Learn how to use this language to say the same thing with different words. To stop the mental block, you need to know how to continue the communication, even when you don't know what to say. Explain what you are thinking, try to confirm what you understand, or even answer a question or two with another question of your own. Not everybody has all the answers all the time. Learn how to express yourself, and if you don't have enough information to form an opinion, say so.
How similar or how different are the strategies for a good negotiation in Portuguese and in English? What are some of these strategies? Robert - I think that the basics are the same. Be as knowledgeable as you possibly can, respect your negotiation partner, understand the root values, etc. Study the history of the company you are going to negotiate with. If you are negotiating for a better job, talk to other people who have had to do the same thing. Knowledge is power. Being able to negotiate across cultures is the difficult part. Study the country culture, the company culture, and even the resume (CV) of the person you are going to negotiate with. What if you have some shared interests? That can be very useful to make the negotiation much more friendly.
What are some hints you can give to students who need to negotiate in English? Robert - Practice what you want to say in different ways. I think that many times language classes focus too much on saying things one way. There are many different ways to say the same thing, and it is important to be able to both understand and be understood in different situations.
What should students focus more on when they need to talk to other businessmen, native or non-native: improving vocabulary, grammar or pronunciation and intonation?
Robert - I think that most people try to speak too fast. In my opinion it is far better to speak well, even though more slowly, than to speak as fast as you can just because it seems to be more fluent. Speak slowly, take the time to pronounce well, and take the time to paraphrase what you understand to confirm that you're both understanding each other. This also gives you more time to mentally organize your thoughts. Know how to paraphrase. In other words, know how to say the same thing using other words and phrases.
How can teachers better prepare their students for the situations above?
Robert - Motivation is key. Teachers should also help the student to practice, taking on the role of their negotiation partner. Ask as many difficult questions as possible.