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Success with BEC Higher

Success with BEC Higher

Paul Dummett with Colin Benn

Summertown Publishing, 2007


How do you spell success?  Spell it? Spell it, I can.  Act it out for a businessperson unaided, I can’t.  And that’s when I remember just why I didn’t go into business—I don’t have a business mind.  Yet, language I do have (albeit not always businesslike), as well as familiarity with Cambridge exams.  But could I potentially be paving the proverbial road of good intentions in teaching business language skills to business people? Luckily, the Success with BEC Higher seems like it could help keep my road construction crew at bay.

The text shows student and teacher alike how to be successful in a couple of ways.  To start off, the BEC exam papers are laid out in an easy-to-digest fashion, but, more importantly, exam-task-based activities and materials are provided that are both enjoyable to use and realistic.  What’s more, the Student’s Book, unlike a variety of upper level Business English books, doesn’t focus on high-end business.  Instead, it works on the day-to-day business skills that our non-executive students need for the work and, of course, are the focus of the BEC Higher.

As a classroom resource, it’s apparent when you open the book that it can be easily adopted.  The layout consists of a dozen chapters, each topic driven, subdivided into three parts.  Each chapter starts off with the thematic focus of the topic.  Then, each is followed by the added bonus of a business skills section providing language practice.  Bringing up the rear is the exam “spotlight” section which introduces students to the different exam papers and parts.  The language and business skills focuses make it so the book could serve as a general advanced textbook, especially when working with mixed groups, some taking an upcoming BEC exam and some not, since enough language, both formulaic and generative, is presented to be beneficial to even non-exam students.  Perhaps the underlying (and realistic assumption) for busy business people involves teaching a manageable amount of new language and well.

Ease of teacher planning is a bit trickier to report on, however, without seeing the full gamut of materials, such as the Teacher’s Book, the Class Audio CDs and the Workbook listed on the Summertown Publishing website.  The resource available for review was the Student’s Book (unfortunately for independent adult learners, devoid of answer key).  Therefore, it is difficult to say whether there are any surprises in store for students in the shape of “today you are going to have another exam task like you hated last week”.  Or what of teacher “surprises”, for that matter, those extra exam tasks besides the ones (exactly one task per exam part) included in the book?  The overall exam task practice may be seriously deficient, unless the teacher is prepared to get a hold of outside materials.  Additionally, the listening scripts seem solid enough, but who can state these texts’ effectiveness without hearing them?  One also hopes that the answer key for the whole book, along with extension activities and teaching tips, are printed in the teacher’s manual, for those of us teachers who don’t actually write in our own copy of the textbook!

Those mysteries aside, the colorful images and clean, crisp formatting included in the textbook, the handy and concise tips, the straightforward manner of presenting information (not too many little text boxes obscuring information) make the student’s book a fine BEC preparation guide, vastly easier to consult and more helpful to the layman than the official BEC Handbook, which, anyway, students generally don’t ever lay hands on.  However, given that there is only one exam task per part, that could be a good thing because the teacher may need it to supplement the text. 

In closing, let me just spell out that teachers like me, with a clear exposure to business language and the help of a user-friendly layout, might even have a chance, if you forgive a little (perhaps strictly North American) Business English metaphor, to implement language that’s being batted in the same ballpark as their students and, thus, not getting left out in left field.

Reviewed by Shawn Severson, IH Porto

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