Let me set the scene for you: you’re on a terrace, overlooking the beach in Mexico, sipping a glass of chilled white wine, and learning English at the same time… Intrigued? I hope so as our next IATEFL BESIG member to be interviewed, Grace Alchini, teaches Business English in a niche market. She also teaches in companies, at universities and is doing some non-BE training herself. How does she manage her time? Read on to find out more!
Originally from Argentina, Grace is a teacher of English, and a business communication and ESP trainer based in Mexico. She has over 35 years’ experience working at universities, providing in-company training and helping professionals (mainly businesspeople and sommeliers) with English in their work. She also volunteers for IATEFL BESIG as the social media supervisor.
Tell us about what inspired you to volunteer and your experience volunteering for IATEFL BESIG and being online?
Back in 2017, I attended and presented at the IATEFL conference for the first time. I knew no one there, and very little about the association. My presentation was included in the IATEFL BESIG showcase, and that is how I had my first contact with the SIG. I was really impressed by the quality of the talks and the spirit of the community, and I immediately felt that I wanted to belong to the group. I offered to be a volunteer, and believe me, that has been one of the best decisions in my life! In my time as a volunteer, I have learnt a lot about both BE topics and online teamwork, and I have met amazing people: warm, generous, and talented colleagues, many of whom have become my friends. As a lonely freelancer, it’s very important for me to belong to a group of like-minded ELT professionals.
How did you get into teaching business English and what led you to where you are now?
A few months before graduating as a teacher of English, a couple of my classmates started working for some language centres that provided in-company services, and, as I had always wanted to work with adults, I fell in love with the idea of doing that job. Soon after that, there was a vacancy, and I was hired. At the beginning, I taught general English but later there was a demand for Business English courses. What a challenge! How did I prepare for that? A combination of training offered by my coordinators, lots of self-study, and mainly plenty of learning from my students about their jobs. Once I moved to Mexico, I was hired by a leading private university and I was happy to find out their English courses were business-oriented, which gave me the chance to continue my journey in this field. Four years ago, I became a freelancer, and since then I have worked helping business communication university students, professionals, and employees in companies reach their language and communication objectives.
What does English for wine tasting entail?
English for wine tasting is a course I designed around three years ago, and I have run ever since. After taking several courses on wine tasting as a hobby, I had the opportunity to combine this passion and my job together. My tutor told me about the difficulties the students in his sommelier training programme had when using English in their job, even though they could speak English, as the language in wine tasting is very specific and descriptive, especially regarding colours, aromas, taste, and mouth-feel sensations. Some characteristics are described in a different way in Spanish and English, and social skills are essential for a sommelier too. After lots of reading and researching on my part, the course was launched, and it has helped many wine professionals to do their job in other contexts. And the news is… I’m about to start training as a sommelier myself to broaden my horizons in this teaching field and to share the wine experience with people who speak English.
How have you stayed motivated and enthusiastic about teaching during the pandemic?
It has not been easy. Because of the overall situation, many of my projects fell through, especially those related to in-company training. However, I found a new market in young professionals who wanted to take advantage of their flexibility at work and became interested in improving their English skills. I also had the chance to present at many conferences and events that I could never attend before, which was very inspiring. Of course, there was my amazing IATEFL BESIG team. I often wonder what would have become of me throughout the pandemic had I not been involved in this group. IATEFL BESIG always keeps me motivated and enthusiastic. There was a downside to all this buzz, though. I ended up overloaded with work and burdened with the pandemic itself, and my health started suffering. There was an important lesson I had to learn: self-care and work-life balance, a major objective for me this year.
Who do you teach and how do you tailor your courses to your clients’ needs?
Besides training sommeliers, I teach university students who have to pass a business English course as a graduation requirement, and professionals and employees working mainly in the automobile and IT sectors. Some of these are my own private learners and others take in-company courses with me. All my classes are tailored to their needs, and the programme for each of them is based on what they have to do at work using English. I like them to be able to immediately apply what we see in class in their jobs, and I feel that it’s very motivating for them.
How did you own intercultural experience of relocating to a different country help you develop as a teacher?
Moving to a different country was not as easy as I had imagined, especially because I had thought there would be no big changes, with both countries being Latin American and using the same language. However, I very soon realized that was not so. There were many things in common, of course, but also lots of different words to name things, even common items such as fruit and vegetables, different habits, different attitudes, and different mindsets. All this made me aware of what cultural diversity really is. I had to adapt to a new teaching context, and I also became very sensitive to the problems my students could have when dealing with people from other countries. That triggered my interest in intercultural competence, a field I like to learn about and I would like to specialise in.
What are 21st century skills in a BE context and how can we apply them in our teaching?
21st century skills, as we all know, are the abilities companies want their employees to have in order to meet the demands of the changing workplace. For a long time, I have believed we teachers should incorporate them into our programmes, especially when we train pre-service students, since our responsibility goes beyond teaching a language. The best way I have found to include them is by awareness-raising activities and teamwork, through which learners actually put many of those skills into practice. Last but not least, I think it is very important for us as teachers to model values and attitudes if we want our learners to develop them.
Questions by Mandy Welfare
Editing by Elizabeth Molt
13 February 2022
MEET A MEMBER is available to IATEFL BESIG members and non-members alike but only features our current members. Another reason to join us and “BE with BESIG.”