The Internet TESL Journal

Using Authentic Business Transcripts in the ESL Classroom

Jonathan Clifton
University of Antwerp, (Antwerp, Belgium)
This article demonstrates how transcripts of authentic business interaction can be downloaded from the web and used for consciousness raising activities in the classroom. Such texts provide the teacher with an interesting supplement to the (largely) non-authentic materials found in mainstream course books.


Teachers and materials designers have become increasingly aware of the potential gap between intuitively imagined talk in course books and 'real' business interaction. However, at the same time as being aware of this gap, the use of authentic  materials has proved problematic. Firstly, it is especially difficult and time consuming to make and transcribe recordings of real interaction in a business environment. Secondly, the fact that you are using authentic interaction does not necessarily make the materials intrinsically more interesting or effective. The purpose of this article is to present some ideas for using transcripts of authentic business interaction in the classroom as a supplement to existing materials. I shall be concentrating on two areas (presentations and meetings) that currently make up core units of any business English course.

Gaining Access to Authentic Interaction

With the rapid expansion of the web and the drive within certain organisations to greater transparency, it is now possible to find transcripts of real meetings and presentations on the web. If you type meeting or presentation transcripts into google you should be able to find several transcripts with ease. Such transcripts of authentic interaction are thus easily accessible and usable for classroom materials.

The Use of Authentic Materials

Obviously, the potential use of such materials is endless and the final use will depend on your particular learners and circumstances. However, I'd like to suggest the possibility of using transcripts of authentic interaction for consciousness raising (CR) activities and I'd also like to provide a few examples of the kind of authentic materials that we are using with third year business students at the University of Antwerp. Consciousness raising activities basically work on an inductive principle whereby the students are asked to examine an extract of (authentic) talk, preferably in pairs or small groups so that English becomes the medium of classroom communication, in order to discern certain linguistic patterns apparent in the text. The idea being that once they have carried out a linguistic analysis, they will become more aware of how English is used in the 'real world' and consequently more receptive to the acquisition of these points.

Some Examples of Consciousness Raising Activities and Authentic Materials

The Use of Politeness Strategies in Business Meetings

Traditional business English courses have a tendency to ignore the aspect of politeness which is essential to business interaction. A lack of politeness might entail a valued judgement as to the learner's character rather than their proficiency in English. In a business environment, in an extreme case, failure to use politeness strategies may mean that the learner is labelled as 'difficult to work with' or arrogant and so on. Thus, it is essential that our students develop an awareness of how politeness strategies are employed in the 'real world'. The following exercises are examples of how the use of politeness can be addressed using CR activities and a transcript of a 'real' meeting downloaded from the web.

Exercise 1. Giving Criticism

Sometimes, when the participants feel strongly about an issue, their criticism of others is direct as in the following examples.
However, criticism and disagreement is often hedged (softened) so as not to offend the persons criticised and to maintain a businesslike relationship with the other participants. Work in pairs, underline and comment on the linguistic techniques used to hedge criticism in the examples below.

Exercise 2. Ways of Modifying Utterances

Look at the following examples taken from a real meeting. They all have one modifying technique, concerning the use of tenses, in common.  What is the technique?

The Language of Presentations

The teaching of presentations is another core theme for most business English courses. The following three examples show how CR activities can be combined with authentic materials in order to:

Exercise 1. Creating a Rapport with your Audience

A presentation is a two-way process and so it is very important to create a rapport with your audience in order to make them feel actively involved in what you are saying. In the following examples underline and comment on the linguistic techniques that the speakers use to establish a link with the audience.

Exercise 2. Conclusions

Read the following conclusions to business presentations. Work in pairs. Discuss the following questions:

Conclusions for Discussion

Exercise 2  Making your Speech More Powerful

In this section you will see a number of linguistic devices that the speakers use to get their message across more effectively. For each extract, try to give a label to the device exemplified and then comment on its effectiveness. 



It is not my suggestion that current text books should be abandoned because the texts used to teach meetings and presentations are not authentic. That fact that materials are not authentic does not disqualify them as 'good' teaching materials and nobody would argue that many of the materials currently available fail to equip our students with key lexis, expressions, listening skills and so on that could be employed in professional situations where English is used. However, the use of authentic materials outlined above could be a useful supplement to your teaching repertoire and students (and teachers) might appreciate the contact with 'real' business language in use.

Suggested Answers and Points for Discussion


Exercise One

The following expressions are hedges;
my understanding was, it seems to me, I felt, there seems to be, just, and the use of modals   should and could.
They act to minimise any possible criticism of other participants.

Exercise Two

The technique is the use of the unreal past. The use of the unreal past can be seen as a politeness strategy to make the utterances seem more hypothetical.

Business Presentations

Exercise One

Exercise Two 

The speakers sum up the key message they want to convey.

Exercise Three

The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. XI, No. 4, April 2005