Connect, Grow, Thrive

Communicative Business English Activities

Book Review: ETAS Journal Volume 36 Number 1 Winter 2018

 Marjorie Rosenberg

Express Publishing (2018)

ISBN 978-1-4715-6860-2

222 pages, paperback

Many of you probably know Marjorie Rosenberg, the American author of a new, comprehensive, photocopiable, spiral-bound activities book geared to assist Business English teachers with communicative practice for their group lessons.Marjorie is an active volunteer for the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL), including having served as Past President and coordinator of the Business English Special Interest Group. She lives and teaches in Austria, which means she’s attended conferences and given many interesting workshops and plenaries you might have attended on the topic for which she’s now published this practical toolbox of activities.

If you haven’t met Marjorie yet, by all means try to attend any of her workshops or read any of her published books. She’s not only an experienced Business English materials developer and instructor, she also has an extensive business background from her years of working in advertising in New York City. I think her first-hand knowledge of how corporations function comes through clearly and convincingly in her books and presentations, one aspect of her work which I truly admire and value.

So what makes her Communicative Business English Activities different from the other photocopiable resource books you might already have in your personal library, you might ask? First, it is a longer book than many due to the very practical reason that she chose to list each activity on a separate page, even if the description of the task does not fill a whole page. I find this organisational approach very helpful and welcoming to busy teachers, because if I need to make copies of an activity, I don’t have to search for it on a page with several tasks squeezed onto it, or worry about not having the entire information on the copy I have made.

Another valuable consideration Marjorie took into account when writing this book was the list of learner types for which each activity might work best. If you are unfamiliar with learner types, she gives a thorough outline of two models on page 6, which I found informative, even though I was confident in my understanding of learner types prior to reading it.

Often Business English activities are limited to role-plays, in my experience, which she also offers, but which might appeal to a specific learner type. However, Marjorie’s variety of tasks go well beyond the obvious. I was particularly impressed by the cooperative crossword puzzles, which I find many of my classes enjoy and learn a lot from. The author suggests that in addition to reinforcing vocabulary and grammar, “The activities also help us to create both a supportive and energetic atmosphere in the classroom” (p. 5), which is often an underachieved aspect of ‘serious’ Business English, to my mind.

A further plus to this book is the vocabulary listed on each task outline page. For instance, when learners do a matching activity based on job advertisements, Marjorie offers definitions of 24 phrases and collocations found in the task, such as “able to juggle tasks” and “upward mobility”. If the teacher chooses, they can pre-teach those terms, but if the assumption is that the students already know the vocabulary and yet ask for a definition when undertaking the task, the instructor has everything he or she needs already defined on the instruction sheet.

If there’s anything I might suggest to the author for the second printing of the book, it would be to mix the topic tasks, for example, ‘making appointments’ as opposed to ‘presentations’, with the level of the learner. Currently, activities for A1- B2 students are at the beginning of the book, so in specific topics, like ‘daily office activities’, whereas the exercises for C1-learners are near the end of the book, in the ‘marketing’ topic area. Sadly, many of my C1-level students need review of grammar, such as present simple versus present continuous, which is in an easier task at the beginning of the book, which I fear would be completed too quickly by advanced learners.

When you look at the Map of the Book, however, you might feel as I did, that Marjorie covered every possible aspect in the organisation of her book, including level, learner types, types of groups, grammar, etc. Therefore, her complex and obviously well-thought-out approach will not need to be improved without making the book much longer. 

All in all, I can highly recommend this book to any teachers of Business English. It will certainly bring hours of enjoyment and learning into your lessons.

Amy Jost