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Business Benchmark Upper Intermediate

Business Benchmark Upper Intermediate 2nd Edition (BEC Vantage Edition)

Book Review: ETAS Journal Volume 31 No. 2 Spring 2014

Guy Brook-Hart

Cambridge University Press (2013)
ISBN 978-1-107-68098-2
208 pages

This new edition of Business Benchmark Upper Intermediate improves on what was already an excellent coursebook for learners studying for the Cambridge Business English Certificate (BEC) Vantage. It retains the layout of the previous edition with 24 units covering six areas of the business world, plus grammar workshops focusing on the main grammar points needed by Business English students at this level. The activities throughout the book relate to the skills of reading, writing, listening, and speaking, thus corresponding to the four exam papers. Many of the texts are adapted from authentic business-related articles and the listening material includes unscripted interviews with business people. Full tapescripts are provided, together with an answer key that not only gives the solutions but explains why they are correct. The Exam skills and exam practice section has been retained, providing a full past exam plus tips on how to approach each individual task.

What makes this book such an improvement on the first edition?  Firstly, there are a number of extremely useful additions. The 9-page Writing reference section provides exercises and advice for every kind of writing task, as well as heightening awareness of appropriate levels of formality. It also includes a 2-page Functions bank with useful framework language. In addition, there are monolingual word lists full of useful business vocabulary for each unit of the book (previously included in the Personal Study Book).  Perhaps the pièce de resistance is that CUP has used the Cambridge Learner Corpus (CLC) to produce updated grammar and vocabulary exercises using mistakes made by real students – mistakes of the sort that you and I spend a vast amount of our time correcting. These exercises focus on problem areas such as commonly confused words, prepositions in time phrases, and relative clauses, to name but a few.

The organisation of the material in the new edition is more logical. The focus on report-writing appears much earlier and is divided into stages. Whereas the previous edition waited until Unit 11 to introduce proposals and Unit 15 for reports, this edition includes information on and practice in writing a short paragraph for a report in Unit 2 and guidance on writing a full report in Unit 6, plus a section on reports and proposals in the Writing reference. I find this invaluable as it means that students can develop these skills from earlier on in the course. Similarly, a recording of two business students discussing a Part 3 Speaking task in Unit 1 enables learners to work on their discussion skills from the very beginning of the course.  

One problem with Business English coursebooks is that they become outdated so quickly. When the first edition of Business Benchmark was published, no one had heard of an app and BlackBerries were just becoming popular. This new edition is totally up-to-date and is full of interesting, topical and relevant articles with a full unit focusing on social media and business. In line with our ever-increasing desire to behave in an environmentally-friendly way, there is now a unit covering the relationship between business and the environment, and the final unit focuses on business across cultures, which is another hot topic in view of the global nature of business and our growing need for intercultural competence.

The accompanying Teacher’s Book (160 pages), CDs (2) and Personal Study Book (80 pages) are an integral part of this course and are also much improved. The previous Teacher’s Book gave very limited teaching ideas, whereas this edition provides comprehensive notes for each activity, including suggestions for extension activities and alternative ways of dealing with the same task. This is invaluable for recently qualified teachers or those who are new to teaching Business English. CUP has increased the number of photocopiable activities and they look more attractive, provoking a great deal of discussion amongst the students and encouraging them to recycle the language they have met in the coursebook whilst looking at the topics covered in greater depth. The CDs contain a wider range of accents than previously, reflecting the increasingly global nature of English, and comprise an excellent mix of exam-focused material and authentic interviews. The Personal Study Book contains 2 pages of activities per unit covering vocabulary, grammar, reading and writing, as before, but includes a new 15-page Writing supplement, which focuses on punctuation and spelling, organising and planning writing and sample answers.

All in all, the second edition of this course package is a vast improvement on what was already an extremely impressive range of materials. If you are wondering whether to change to the new edition, I would urge you to do so without hesitation for the reasons stated above. If you are looking for a package to use with your new BEC Vantage class, I highly recommend this one.

Sarah Giles