Business English in the digital age

Posted by on May 31, 2011

The final week of Business English month here on the blog starts with a guest post by Pete Sharma. Pete is author of the essay on ‘New Technology’ in the Macmillan English Dictionary. His name appears as co-author on many books about technology in language teaching, including the Macmillan titles Blended Learning and 400 Ideas for Interactive Whiteboards. Pete blogs here and tweets @petesharma.

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I was delighted to be asked to deliver the opening plenary at the BESIG (Business English Special Interest Group) conference on digital technologies in June, in Preston, UK. I’m still preparing this talk, and have been thinking about how technology has changed the way people communicate in the business world. So far, I’ve reflected on four areas: social networking, communication, virtual worlds and vocabulary.

Social networking
Do you tweet? Do you blog? Do you Facebook? Are you on LinkedIn? Social networking has certainly impacted on how businesses do business. A CEO announcing something important needs to know his words will be tweeted around the world faster than the press release guys in the front row can write the story. Corporate bloggers write in a different style to the ‘company line’ followed by the rest of the website. Look at my informal blog entries on the PSA site for a good example of this. LinkedIn provides networking lifelines to many freelancers. The power of social media sites has certainly affected the business world.

Communication
Eyjafjallajökull. We cannot pronounce it, but when this Icelandic volcano erupted last year, many training managers thought twice about the costs of business travel as they witnessed stranded employees and the loss of business. There was a resulting rise in interest in video-conferencing, and holding virtual meetings through platforms such as Adobe Connect. A glance at one new book on communication (Communicating Internationally in English by Bob Dignen with Ian McMaster) shows there’s a whole new tranche of communication: virtual. We now need to prepare our business English students for multi-tasking in online platforms, or attending conference calls. There are many other ways in which technology has changed the way business people communicate. Companies create wikis in order to run cross-border projects. With sufferers of Blackberry thumb checking and sending e-mails in restaurants, I wonder if differing rules of etiquette are emerging.

Virtual worlds
Could you imagine having a corporate meeting in Second Life? IBM can. Giving a presentation in a virtual world is now second nature for some. Dressing your avatar as a Viking to attend a Nokia meeting sounds funny. Building a prototype hotel, and getting feedback from virtual guests is serious stuff. And saves you millions.

Vocabulary
There’s no doubt that technology is a huge driver of new lexis, with implications for teachers as well as business English learners. Here’s my initial list of new words and expressions. Do you now need to reach for your hardback / mobile / online dictionary?

app
augmented reality
back channel
blog
iPad
smartphone
tweet
txt spk
trending (e.g. What’s trending now?)
wiki
Web 2.0

So, that’s where I am with the first part of my talk. The second part will show how technology is changing every aspect of a business English course, from the online test and the needs analysis, through course delivery (face-to-face, blended or online) to the very materials we use (print or digital). I need to go now and prepare the rest of the plenary.

Oh yes, social networking is great for brainstorming before an important presentation. So, if anyone has any other ideas about how technology has changed the way we communicate in the business world, please comment on this blog post. Or tweet. Or Facebook me. Is Facebook a verb yet? According to the Macmillan Dictionary it is!

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