OUP Forum Day

with Cornelsen and Oxford University Press
5 June 2010, at Indepencia in Hamburg

Reviewed by Janine Bray-Mueller (HELTA)

Steve Martin in The Pink Panther has to learn the "terrible American accent" and engages "Sophie, the best pronunciation teacher in the world" to do this. A hilarious 1.54 minutes where Sophie - with commendable discipline - teaches Steve Martin how to pronounce "I would like to buy a hamburger"1.

Allison Antalek, the Oxford University Press Senior Consultant for Germany and Austria and an American living in Berlin, could be another Sophie. Crutches couldn't keep her from giving her own event or Marc Frye, Cornelsen Marketing Representative for Northern Germany, who assisted in the planning, organisation and smooth running of the enjoyable OUP2 Forum Day: three well-focused and well-prepared presentations for those thirsty for information on fluency and a catering that included a hot lunch for the hungry appetites that pursued the quest for knowledge.

Allison gave the first presentation on Fluency In The Classroom. She focused on the difficulties a non-native English speaker can run into, causing loss of confidence when trying to understand or say similar sounding words. Many of the participants attending were native speakers, yet she adroitly proved her point with a series of pronunciation activities taken from Headway B1 Part Two. For example: find a person in the room who has the same sentence. The hook? You were only allowed to utter your sentence - not show it. Her native English-speaking attendees were quickly convinced how much difficulty non-native speakers have in understanding similar sounding words.

Andi White, teacher trainer in Hamburg and Helta's Chair, continued the theme of fluency in business environments with her presentation on Getting real (Business) Results. Where Allison Antalek had focused on pronunciation difficulties, Andi White focused on the difficulties teachers run into - especially beginner business English teachers. She demonstrated her purpose with a picture of an iceberg - but below the iceberg's waterline were not problems. She wanted us to understand below the waterline was the support she had discovered in Business Result's teacher trainer resources, its interactive workbook CD and its additional online support.

Andi's focus was on the interactive exchange between teachers and their business students, and in particular a teacher's harrowing start into "case studies" should a teacher have little or no business experience. And this of course means there is no way around "blended learning" in a business learning environment. We were asked "What is blended learning?" Prompt came the response: "Whatever Pete Sharma thinks it is today!"

Blended learning is not just a way of learning for students. How can a novice teacher, or an inexperienced teacher of business English, work up the courage and skill to offer their students business case studies? Need to know how a typical case study lesson should run? Play back the teacher resources on the Business Result's CD-ROM. There are short private lessons with how-to instructions and video lessons demonstrating real case study classes which you can replay as often as you need until you feel confident enough to offer them in your own class.

Lack of confidence can cause stage fright, which is suffered by both teachers and students. The focus of the presentation from Martin Bradbeer (Oxford ELT Coordinator for Germany and Austria) was on oral exams in particular and how teachers can help build students' confidence. Martin explained how the speaking test is timed, and how the four areas of grammar and vocabulary, pronunciation, discourse management, and interactive communication are assessed by the examiners.

What would worry an exam student? Would the examiner be too strict in his assessment? That he is asked questions on topics he knows nothing about? What if his exam partner doesn't react or speak during the exam so he ends up doing all the talking? And of course - what if he has problems himself? The dreaded blackout syndrome, for example. Discussions evolved on the challenges teachers face in building an exam student's confidence: one strategy is the in depth preparation involved for exam students.

He wrapped up his presentation by showing us the online Oxford English Testing resources for Exam Practice Tests and Placement Tests3 on the OUP website, and pointed out confidence-building activities in the FCE Result student course book covered in exam assessment areas.

Allison Antalek closed Martin's presentation and the OUP Forum Day by summarising all three presentations' online and multimedia resources available for teachers and students. All attendees left laden with a free copy each of Headway B1 Part Two, Business Result (Intermediate), FCE Result with all the accompanying audio and video CDs, and an Oxford online placement test password to boot.

In all, three well focused and informative presentations with humorous elements.

Thank you Allison Antalek, Martin Bradbeer, Andi White, and Marc Frye for a well organised and most enjoyable day.

2Oxford University Press

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