Paula Swenson

learning materials review-detailed ~950 words

Title: Intelligent Business

Authors: Pre-Intermediate – Christine Johnson, Irene Barrall, Nikolas Barrall

Upper-Intermediate – Tonya Trappe, Graham Tullis, Louise Pile, Christine Johnson, Irene Barrall

Publisher: Pearson-Longman in cooperation with The Economist

Review Date: June 2006

Reviewed by: Paula Swenson

Summary: Topic-based English for Business materials produced in collaboration with The Economist and benchmarked to the Cambridge BEC exam suite and the Common European Framework.

The collaboration with The Economist is immediately apparent when you turn to the start of the first unit of the Course Book.  The opening page of each unit is designed to look like the cover of an issue of The Economist, complete with a full color photos and ‘headlines’ which refer to major aspects of the unit.  It is a clever visual connection lending instant business credibility to the text and possibly luring new readers to the magazine. But the collaboration is deeper than appearance and marketing, giving strong Business content to each and every lesson.

The concept of Intelligent Business is to present the teacher with multiple components, which, while they can be used all together, are designed to meet the needs of a wide variety of Business English learners. Components include:

Ø    The Skills Book – geared to experienced business people

Ø    The Workbook – which caters to BEC candidates

Ø    The Course Book – designed with pre-experienced learners in mind

Ø    Teacher’s Book

Ø    Video

Ø    Website support

I’d like to start with my favorite component, the Skills Book.  Targeted towards experienced business people seeking to improve their English, this book and its Interactive CD-ROM are the pick of the litter. Designed to be used either as a 30-hour Intensive (very) course, or spread out over weekly/biweekly lessons the material is well organized and straightforward.

Each unit contains 3 topic-based, practical speaking tasks, a brief “Culture at Work” section which addresses points where cultures may differ on “how it should be done” (e.g. attitude toward procedures, saying what you think, etc), listening, analysis + self-assessment.  There are 15 units; each one intended to fill one 90 – 120 minute block.  In addition there are 5 Writing Units, also each designed to fill a class session, perfect for those busy executives who need homework practice, but never find the time!

Back-of-book features lead off with a series of Good Business Practice suggestions, grouped by topic (e.g. meetings, presentations, negotiations) and also referenced to units.  There is also a wonderfully useful Cultural Profile page that gives scales of reference for the Culture at Work points.

The Interactive CD-ROM packaged with each Skills book is a hidden gem, providing far more than mere listening tasks.  Each Unit has six self-correcting computer practice exercises.  The exercises are handily cross-referenced to the unit, by business skill, and by language skill.  The program is intuitive and simple to use from the start, running on Windows, Mac or Linux platforms with equal ease.  This is a tool you can assign students to use on their own with full confidence in their success.  To round out the CD-ROM at the Upper-Intermediate level there are 5 videos with accompanying tasks.

The Workbook can be used with the Skills book and/or the Course Book – in fact all three correlate by topic and Culture Points, with the Workbook providing supplemental practice useful for both experienced and pre-experienced Business English learners. Every Workbook unit ends with an appropriate writing task, and the answer key provides a suggested response for comparison.  In a rather clever move, the authors have chosen to not only provide additional practice via the Workbook, but also to meet the needs of another sub-group of Business English learners – those preparing for the Cambridge BEC exam suite.  Many of the exercises mimic BEC tasks and the Workbooks finish with a full BEC practice exam of the appropriate level.

Each Workbook comes with its own audio CD, allowing for listening as homework or additional classroom practice. In a brilliant move, which will be praised by teachers everywhere, the listening tracks are labeled with the actual track # in the book, at the introduction to the task. (why, oh why, don’t publishers do this in all course texts?)

The Course Book is organized into 15 units, with 5 two-page review segments consolidating language points and vocabulary every three units.  Each unit tackles a topic and all 4 language skills plus vocabulary and a language point.  There is also a ‘Culture at Work’ section, as in the Skills book, and a career skills tip in every unit. 

Each Unit ends with Dilemma & Decision, where students are briefed on the Dilemma, look at 2 or 3 differing inputs, discuss/decide and write up their decisions. Then, having worked with the issue, they read about or listen to the ‘actual’ decision that was made.  In my opinion, this section could be one of the most useful crossovers in a classroom that mixes pre-experienced and experienced learners.

The Course Books also come with a smaller-format Writing Styles Guide tucked inside the back cover, something many students will value highly.

The whole lot comes with website support that includes free weekly Economist.com premium content downloads (probably more helpful at the Upper-Intermediate level.

The Teacher Book with what the website describes as “heaps of photocopiable activities for the Course Book and the Skills Book as well as photocopiable frameworks” wasn’t available for review, so I can’t comment on that.  Nor did I get to examine the videos & video reference book, which may not be available at present.

All in all it appears that these new materials are a solid addition to the English for Business area – but for starters, I’d have to recommend checking out the Skills Book with CD-ROM – definitely a keeper!  

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