June 1997 — Volume 2, Number 4
Business Matters: The Business Course with a Lexical Approach
Mark Powell (1996)
Hove, England: Language Teaching Publications
ISBN 1-899396-10-1 (paper)
Teacher’s Resource Book: ISBN 1-899396-15-2 (paper); US $19.75
Cassette: ISBN 1-899396-20-9; US $17.95
Business Matters is an intermediate/upper intermediate business English book that stresses a lexical approach to learning the language necessary to discuss critical concerns regarding our ever-changing business environment. This lexically-rich text can be successfully adapted to be used with intermediate level university students, as well as corporate employees, either in small groups or for a one-on-one class with a senior executive.
The 16 units of Business Matters examine absorbing, present-day business issues including global marketing, enterprise, monopolies, corporate structure, brand management, prices and commodities, corporate entertaining, innovation, cultural awareness, sales techniques, quality control, working from home, management styles, environmental ethics, finance and credit, and economic issues. The nucleus of each of the units is a two-page article which has been carefully written to include the business language a student would need in order to discuss the topic. In total, the 16 articles contain 12,000 words, and the publishers state that one would have to read an enormous number of newspapers and magazines in order to find as much useful business English (p. 8).
The units are self-contained, so they can be studied in any order. On the first page of each unit there are pre-reading activities which are thought-provoking and give the readers a chance to share their opinions on the topic. Then, after the short articles, there are activities that check students’ general and detailed understanding of the article. These include Crosschecking, where the readers decide which points support the opinions expressed; Find the Expressions, which forces the students to carefully re-read the article in order to find the defined expressions; and Response, where students have to state whether they agree or disagree with the article, which helps to recycle the kind of language that must be stressed in business English classes.
Following the two-page article and short activities are five pages of exercises which include language focus, discussion topics, and fluency work. In all the units, the language focus includes word partnerships along with several of the following: quotes, word grammar, business grammar, opposites, discussion questions, or [-1-] humor. After the language focus, each unit has a different style of fluency work, which keeps the exercises from becoming predictable and monotonous from unit to unit. The variety of the fluency work gives students the opportunity to make short presentations, develop new products, play a commodities or cultural awareness game, role-play, brainstorm ideas, make sales presentations, or participate in group problem solving.
I worked through the exercises in Unit 12, “Management Styles,” which focuses on an article titled “She’s the Boss.” This article is about the increasing number of self-employed women, and it states that women “seem to be better communicators and less ruthlessly individualistic in their approach to business” (p. 99). The article motivates students to give their opinions, as do most of the book’s articles. Of the language focus exercises that follow the article, I think the ones on word partnerships are most valuable. Students have to match columns of words (e.g., “high fliers,” “risk-taking,” “hierarchical organizations”). How many times have we told students not to memorize a list of words, but to learn which words can be banded together to form usable expressions? A student might know the words “your,” “losses,” and “cut,” but wouldn’t it be more valuable if they understood “cut your losses”! The fluency work in this unit is based on four descriptions of employment applicants, and the students have to decide whether to accept the applicants, reject them, or call them in for a second interview. These descriptions are very authentic and will force students to evaluate their own feelings regarding sexual discrimination in the workplace.
For the past six years, while teaching business English, I have been eagerly awaiting a book of this type, because it gives our intermediate business English students the expressions needed to talk about serious everyday concerns in the business world. This is not a basic business English skills book, but a book that trains students how to discuss the crucial issues facing our changing business environment. The last article, “The Death of Economics,” states that “The single biggest economic disaster at the end of the 20th century is the emergence throughout the industrialized nations of a vast and permanent underclass of unemployed” (p. 131). All over the world, from the EU, which has a growing number of unemployed, to Japan and the States, who now have an army of working poor, our world economy is changing. This is an example of a real issue that we should be discussing in our intercultural business English classes, and Business Matters does a superb job of giving students the language they need in order that their voices may be heard.
National Chiao Tung University
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