Monthly Archives: March 2020

Turn into a global professional via this English language course; 6 things to know

Can your English language course transform you into a global professional?

Employers today demand much more from their workforce than simply gaining the right degrees. They require skills for the 21st century or ‘employability skills’ that go beyond subject matter knowledge. Employees who demonstrate these skills often have better job prospects. The G20 notes in its Skills Strategy report (2015) that having the right skills can boost earnings, enhance opportunities and promote well-being. Professional environments are shrinking, in terms of access, and expanding, in terms of newer connections, at the same time—giving rise to the need for enhanced workplace skills. Today, there are many ‘soft skills’ that enable an employee to stand out in the crowd, especially when the world has become more connected, and businesses more global in nature. What are these skills and how can employees acquire them?

Staying competitive with soft skills

At times, even good performers find it difficult to advance to senior positions due to a lack of soft skills. As businesses transform to keep up with changing technology and socio-economic factors and the demand for multi-disciplinary skills increases, employees too need to adapt their approach. Apart from domain knowledge, other skills valued by employers are communication, digital literacy, learning agility and cultural awareness (India Skills Report, 2017). Effective communication is one of the most sought-after job skills. In some cases, lacking the necessary language proficiency may become an obstacle to career growth. In a British Council study, employers suggested that good English language skills are important for promotion to supervisory or management roles (English Skills For Employability Report, 2015). As English is the language of global business, being proficient in it is important for employees. There seems to be ‘a critical need for English’ for career success in many sectors. Hence, English proficiency is not a choice, but a necessity.


In the business world, employees are regularly required to use video conferencing and email for day-to-day work. They may also need to use social networking sites and micro-blogs. Being collaborative and knowing how to use digital technology to communicate can help an employee bring additional value to the workplace.

How to get started

As a first step, you can access free language learning material online, including tools that can help improve reading, listening and pronunciation skills. However, taking a taught language course is likely to boost not just your overall language proficiency, but also employability skills. There are a host of courses available for employees to bridge the language proficiency gap, but the biggest challenge that people face is paucity of time. With ever-increasing workloads, expanding social circles and transportation issues, taking out time for additional practice is tough. This problem can be solved using technology. In a country the size of India, with improvements in technology and connectivity, online learning solutions are readily available for determined knowledge seekers.

Why go online?

First, the advantage of an online course is convenience and flexibility. Learners can study where and when they like. Second, an online language course can boost learners’ digital literacy, by guiding them on the rules of ‘netiquette’, or polite online communication, and maintaining basic online security. In addition to improving English, they learn to communicate using modern media. Given the proliferation of remote working, collaborative sessions and video conferencing, this gives them a competitive advantage to succeed in the workplace. Third, online courses demand learners be well-organised, motivated and have time-management skills. Successful online learners demonstrate learning agility; they set goals for themselves and know their areas for improvement. Thus, any good online language course also nurtures the essential skills of time management and independent learning. Showing initiative and self-motivation are highly valued workplace skills, and an online course can help you develop in these key areas. Another benefit is the exposure to language as it is used globally, and access to internationally-recognised course content. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have seen an exponential increase in student enrolment over the years, underlining the appetite for learning. While MOOCs may offer limited interaction, other more evolved online courses offer a holistic experience with interactive classes that allow for real-time feedback, an appropriate teacher-student ratio and interaction with peers—all ingredients of a real classroom.

Picking the right course

Committed learners have a plethora of choices, but need to invest in the right options; the right course can enhance an employee’s confidence. For starters, check the credentials of the course provider in terms of the number of years of delivering language proficiency training, the qualifications and profile of trainers, the teaching methodology and the availability of on-course support for troubleshooting, among other factors. Analyse the delivery mechanism to gauge the effectiveness of the course. Remember, while most courses will offer standard features and services, it is prudent to find out more about the class delivery, interaction and engagement, guidance, etc, to ascertain the effectiveness of the course. When choosing a course, focus on the additional value it offers to maximise the returns on time and money you invest. For instance, a carefully designed online course should offer access to world-class content and expose individuals to global standards of communication. In conclusion, each aspect of an online course mirrors the workplace routine of today’s competitive and results-oriented employees, who are required to display interpersonal skills, critical thinking and problem solving skills. In most cases, successful online learners can develop these useful workplace skills. They can also develop capabilities for future job roles, becoming adaptable lifelong learners. For this reason, both employers and employees should view online learning as an opportunity to hone their skills and embrace the new horizons it affords.

By Neenaz Ichaporia
The author is academic manager for the British Council’s blended learning myEnglish courses. Views are personal

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Taking an Online English Learning Course? Here’s Some Advice From Successful Students !

From facing issues in presenting themselves with confidence to handling communication in a second language with ease, British Council myEnglish students share the secrets of their success.

We’re in conversation with Bhavana, Nupur, Sayed, Ashvina, Siddhant, Saba, Priyanka, Ramchandra and Ritesh who want to share their experience of taking the online myEnglish course, and how to make the most of it.


British Council myEnglish

1. Know your motivations

Communication, career and confidence are the common threads that motivated our interviewees to learn.

Bhavana, a homemaker, shares a common problem: “There are times when I have to respond to queries or write a small note, and I find it hard to express myself. I find I can do it in Hindi but not in English – if I can feel a little more comfortable with English it will be a big help”.

Nupur, an artist, agrees: “I used to think people will make fun of me if I did not speak properly”.

Ramchandra, an engineer, Siddhant, a content writer and Ashvina, an assistant professor wanted to improve communication skills for their career. Sayed, who works in IT, says, “I could read and write well, but speaking was a major impediment”. As Priyanka, an entrepreneur, says, “I have to deal with a lot of delegates from all over the world on a daily basis and speaking English was my biggest hurdle”.

Saba, a post-graduate in English literature explains: “[English] is how you communicate. Therefore I developed an interest in learning the language”. Ritesh, a chartered accountant, says “I love reading books, travelling across the world to understand varied cultures and it’s been quite some time since I wanted to improve my language”.

All of them decided to take an online English course. This may seem unusual, but Siddhant says: “Initially I was a bit hesitant choosing this course as it’s online, but I went on to enrol on myEnglish after examining the pros of having an online class – like avoiding travel and saving time”.

2. Communication is the key

Develop communication skills by practising with others as much as possible.

Bhavana says “I could use the course to interact with my fellow students in English and not feel bad about it. For me, this was of great help because it showed me a good way of expressing myself in day-to-day situations. The other big merit is the chance to interact with fellow students who have the same problems”.

Saba agrees: “You learn to take turns, talk, have a discussion. Now, wherever I go for interviews, maybe I’m sitting in a team, discussing anything in a cafeteria, it helps me with the pattern that should be followed. This is not just about formal conversations; it is also about informal chat and everything else”.

3. Course design is crucial

Look for progressive structure and useful content. Having fun also helps!

Ashvina tells us: “Grammar topics were covered really well during our virtual sessions. These helped me in the successful completion of weekly activities. My writing skills improved significantly as well”. Ramchandra adds “The course is a nice combination of traditional and modern methods. Apart from language learning, it develops the skills of interaction, presentation and study with ethics”.

Saba says “I enjoyed the different types of topics taught to us via the language. I learned a bit about crime and law, health, sports, and media. The topics were unique, the way it was taught was unique”.

This impacts learning even after the course: “I have stopped reading books on grammar, even after all the hard work it’s difficult to grasp many rules. Instead, I visit the web portals advised of and do exercises with more comfort and enjoyment” says Sayed.

4. The teacher is a facilitator

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A good course is not a one-way experience.

Sayed explains “It was not a ‘learn by rote’ methodology. I learnt many valuable things with fun, and I have always felt motivated as the teachers never dented my morale”.

Nupur adds: “My tutor has been friendly, helpful and effective in her teaching”. Ashvina agrees: “Our instructors were always ready to support us. They gave timely suggestions and feedback”.

5. Don’t be afraid to step into the unknown

Take risks and accept challenges when you are learning – embrace new ways of doing things.

“I was hesitant to join the course when I came to know that it’s online learning” admits Saba. “Obviously, the fun is about taking up challenges. I talked to many people from British Council, and they always maintained ‘It’s easy, you can do it’. There was a lot of support”.

Siddhant adds, “Virtual classes were something I was most hesitant about, but that ended up becoming the best part of the course. It was as good as a face-to-face class in the comfort of my house”.

“I got handy with the tools and technology” continues Saba. “That is one of the things which is much needed in whatever areas you want to apply them in, regarding your job or maybe even in your everyday life.”

6. Hard work pays off!

Taking a course makes a difference and effort yields results.

Saba notes “Now, if I go for an interview, I’m quite confident. The interviewer sees my CV, and the first question would be about ‘Oh! Have you done the British Council course?’ So it adds a lot of weight to my bio-data”.

Ashvina says “The results are amazing. I can read, write and converse in English with better fluency and confidence”.

7. The self-motivation factor

You get out of a course what you put in, and being independent and motivated is a success factor.

Bhavana warns “There is a lot of work to be done by the students on their own and there are no shortcuts”. Ramchandra counsels “Choose suitable resources, be honest to the trainer and work hard. It definitely leads to success”.

Ritesh echoes that: “Show perseverance. Complete the course with dedication, and you will soon see the difference”.

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Online language learning for CPD in low-resource contexts

Caldwell – Online language learning for CPD in low-resource contexts (PDF)

Presentation- recording

Development of English skills is a core area of focus for many Indian state governments interested in developing the capacity of their teacher workforce. The Teacher Professional Development Initiative (TOPDI) was a British Council pan-India pilot to offer a fully online English language course, combining self-access material with weekly live classes, to 571 state school teachers. An online course that can achieve positive learning outcomes in a low-resource context has the potential to impact the accessibility and scalability of language learning courses in India and the Global South.

The aim of the pilot was to gauge whether the design and the support mechanisms of the six-week course could maximise participation and retention and therefore successfully develop participant’s English communication skills.  Data around course access, attrition rates and completion were gathered, alongside qualitative participant evaluations (questionnaires, focus groups, forum posts) of the course experience.

Access and completion rates remained both fairly high and remarkably consistent for an online course. Participant’s self-rating of language ability rose significantly from pre-course to post course.  Ratings and qualitative feedback around elements of the course delivery model highlighted the successes of its design for maintaining and motivating access and completion. The evidence indicates that that this model for an online bring-your-own-device English language course can achieve significant results for language and skills development at scale and is therefore a potential delivery model for the Indian context and beyond.


Beth Caldwell is Head of Blended Learning at the British Council in India. She leads on the management, design and development of blended learning programmes, in particular ‘myEnglish’, British Council’s online English courses, which have welcomed over 4000 adult learners since launch in 2015. She has worked in English language teaching, teacher training and management in countries around the world since 1998 and has lived in India since 2011. Her professional interests include online and blended learning, materials design, quality standards and continuous professional development. She holds a Cambridge DELTA, has been a CELTA course tutor and is a certified e-moderator.

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Remote Teaching Communities: Lessons from British Council Blended Learning Courses in India – by Neenaz Ichaporia & Beth Caldwell

How do you create a cohesive team of teachers, across a country the size of India? How do you keep them motivated, without a traditional bricks-and-mortar teaching centre, meeting them face-to-face only a few times a year? This article discusses makes practical suggestions for managing the challenges, based on our experiences in India.

Over 20,000 learners engage annually with the British Council’s English Language Centres in Chennai, Kolkata and New Delhi. However, the demand for English courses is high in the other metropolises of Mumbai, Bengaluru and beyond. A suite of blended learning courses was developed to offer quality language learning opportunities in such cities.

When we started delivering myEnglish courses in May 2015, the team was small; an Academic Manager and two teachers. Since then, the team has grown rapidly to 16 teachers (and counting)!  The teachers are based in and around course cities, while academic management functions are carried out from Delhi and Chennai (north and south India respectively). Therefore, we adopted several teacher support resources to remotely manage and build our geographically dispersed teaching team. The varied modes of delivery outlined below were aimed at building a community, motivating staff in a relatively isolated teaching environment and promoting their professional development.

Online teacher support community

One of the first support resources we set up was the ‘myEnglish Teachers’ Café’, originally a Moodle discussion forum where teachers exchanged views on professional beliefs and experiences. Though this is moderated by management, anyone can start a discussion including teachers and operations staff. Typically for an online forum, while some members are very active and engage in detailed discussion, others are either ‘lurkers’ or do not engage. To boost participation and, as increasingly, teachers use ‘online social-networking tools to break the traditional isolation of the classroom’ (Menon & Varughese, 2013:80), we recently moved the Teachers’ Café to a closed Facebook group. This is also borne out by our finding that teachers make significantly more frequent use of an informal messaging platform than the Moodle forum (see below).

Reference e-Library

To ensure that relevant resources are available to our teachers no matter where they are based, we set up an e-library containing resources and reference material. It also contains links to videos and websites. To ensure that copyright is respected, only managers add resources to the library after careful screening. We send out regular email updates as new publications are added and teachers have made use of it, particularly when doing reading/research for their annual learning and development plans.

Teacher’s newsletter

This helps us deliver bite-sized news and development items on a bi-monthly basis. The ‘Blend-o-meter’ gives teachers a picture of the business and keeps them up-to-date with developments. A ‘Trending Topic’ directs teachers to discussions in the Teachers’ Café and invites them to share their views, while the ‘Development Dispatch’ section contains a link to a relevant development resource, e.g. a webinar, blog or article. Using Campaign Monitor (an email marketing application) to deliver the newsletter enables us to track engagement, including the number of teachers who view the newsletter and on which links they click.

Phone catch ups

We regularly call individual teachers to discuss course progress, admin-related questions and other issues. We aim to keep the tone friendly and approachable; appreciation of teachers’ work and support is given, as well as action points. We have found these are a valuable way of troubleshooting day-to-day issues that teachers face.

Synchronous online sessions

We hold monthly INSETT sessions on topics relevant to classroom/online learning pedagogy. We also host mandatory quarterly all-teachers meetings to share important news and celebrate milestones. Both management and teachers are involved in deciding on topics so it is not all top-down; teachers suggest topics through training needs analyses and individual learning plans. Where the management team perceive a critical need or skills gap, attendance is mandatory, while other sessions are optional. While attendance at mandatory and paid sessions is slightly higher, all sessions are very well-attended, probably as they have immediate practical relevance to teachers and they are involved in the planning themselves (Bolitho, 2014).

INSETT sessions are attended via video-conference (Adobe Connect and Zoom). We can share screens, links and documents and meetings are accessible via smartphone. We encourage teachers to use webcams when logging in to make the sessions as personal as possible. Adding a positive, personalised dimension to these meetings has helped to grow the team identity and foster a positive culture. As many teachers never meet face-to-face, the ability to see and speak to each other in these sessions also builds community.

Informal support group

In our experience, many important developmental and community-building conversations happen informally in the staffroom. Being able to talk to colleagues real-time is invaluable. This need led to the creation of a WhatsApp messaging group for teachers. Interestingly, this was a teacher-led initiative and we had not foreseen the preference for instant messaging over phone, email and the Moodle-based community. Teachers use this group to clarify points related to administrative and technical aspects of the course. By crowdsourcing ideas and tips, teachers have been able to resolve issues more quickly, and it has also enabled the academic management team to get a better understanding of the everyday issues teachers face. We have also found this group useful for signposting important news, emails and updates on other platforms, which improves the likelihood of them being attended to. Teachers also frequently share teaching- and technology-related links. This technology has an important informal, peer learning and community building function.

Peer observation and team-teaching

In training, new teachers are encouraged to do shadowing, peer observation and team teaching with more experienced teachers of both online and face-to-face lessons. This is underpinned by the principle that observation isn’t a ‘stand-alone activity’ and encourages sharing within a community of practice (AITSL). Teachers generally record their reflections on each stage of the lesson for later discussion, with the more experienced teacher providing support and developmental feedback. These have served to cement the peer support network. Given the success of this system, we plan to develop a peer observation network, so that all teachers can continue to develop through productive observation.

Scheduled city visits

We believe that face-to-face interactions still have a vital role in building interpersonal relationships, with both teachers and management finding these valuable. We have instated a programme of quarterly visits to cities where our teachers work. This has both formal and informal dimensions. On the formal side, we carry out observations of face-to-face lessons, feeding into the individual teacher’s learning and development programme. We also catch up with teachers over a coffee for a social, relaxed meeting. This enables us to further build relationships and community.

Emails

All teachers have a corporate email address through which we share official news, updates, course changes, documents and so on. Teachers are expected to check email regularly. However, as accessing corporate email requires several steps, we have found that some teachers do so less frequently and may miss important announcements. By signposting these on other platforms (e.g. WhatsApp, see above) we have managed to improve the access rate. We have also joined the mailing lists of teacher development sites (e.g. ELT publishers or British Council Teaching English) and share relevant sites, blogs and articles we come across with the team. Accompanied by a short note to focus attention on useful content, these serve as informal development tools.

To sum up, using a range of tools and platforms facilitated our building of a remote teaching team. The various solutions we use have helped us exchange important information in response to institutional or individual need and have facilitated learning and development and community building. We adopted varied channels for information to meet different needs and preferences. Mixing synchronous and asynchronous modes has ensured flexibility and immediacy of access. Smartphone-compatible solutions have also achieved success with our teachers, who value ease of access to resources. Making provision for face-to-face meetings (whether online or in person) was also vital. We have found that all modes contribute to socialisation, as long as they are not all top-down and that teachers are encouraged to respond to each other and share. Varying the interaction between informal and formal, mandatory and voluntary, individual- and management-led has allowed our community to build organically and in response to both personal and institutional need.

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References

AITSL, How-to’ Guide INTRODUCING CLASSROOM OBSERVATION, Australian Institute for teaching and school of Leadership Limited

aitsl aitsl.edu.au (28.01.2016)

Bolitho, R. The Dimensions of Continuing Professional Development Plenary talk.

Available online at: https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/rod-bolitho-dimensions-continuing-professional-development

Menon, M & Varughese, S. CPD through Social Networking amongst Indian School Teachers: An Action Research, in Bolitho, R and Padwad, A. eds. Continuing Professional Development Lessons from India, 2013, British Council, New Delhi

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