Vol. 4. No. 4 R-6 December 2000
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The Working Week. Spoken Business English with a Lexical Approach
Anne Watson-Delestree and Jimmie Hill (1998)
Hove, England: Language Teaching Publications
ISBN 1-899396-85-3 (paper)
Pp. 136

Teachers' edition:
Anne Watson-Delestree and Jimmie Hill, with teacher's notes by Morgan Lewis (1998)
ISBN 1- 899396-90-X (paper)
Pp. 167

ISBN 1-899369-95-0


The title and sub-title of this course book clearly state the type of students and the situation of use that the authors had in mind when choosing the methodological strategies of language teaching and designing the plan of the units.

As they announce on the back cover, The Working Week "is an intermediate business English course based on situations which arise daily in ordinary businesses from Monday to Friday." Since the course is designed to teach students to understand and speak English at work, each unit is based on dialogues that are immediately relevant to the students' needs. Given these premises, it is natural that The Working Week presents a situational and functional syllabus where communicative ability and fluency are given prominence over grammar.

The course is organized by setting each unit in a different company during a morning or afternoon of the five working days. The resulting ten units each include four or five parts devoted to the acquisition of language functions and vocabulary as well as to grammar review.

Each unit opens with a photograph that provides context and stimulates interest. The photographs and cartoons are not mere illustrations, but serve to either contextualize the dialogue or to stimulate discussion of wider issues. Then a short paragraph provides the details of the company in which the unit is set.

Part 1 always presents one or more "problems" (e.g., orders not sent, supplier can't supply raw material, customers' complaints) presented through conversations that are exploited in one or more listening activities. The language of the conversations is further re-used in the follow-up activities. For example, students' attention is drawn to pronunciation and in particular to where to pause in speech.

Part 2 contains the "solution" to the problem, again presented in spoken form. The language of the solution is exploited through a short written follow-up or pair work/role play.

Before introducing Parts 3 and 4, students are given the chance to relax and talk. The "Coffee Break Discussions," which are designed to break up the more formal language activities, contain discussion points that raise issues relevant to topics related to work and employment. In some units, Part 3 focuses on expressions and idioms that are common in business English; in others, it proposes writing or listening activities. The "Grammar Review," which generally forms Part 4, has a twofold aim: On the one hand, it ensures a comprehensive revision of basic points; on the other, it proposes exercises that are useful for extrapolating grammar points from the dialogues. [-1-]

A "Vocabulary Review" is provided at the end of each unit, in Part 5. It is meant to draw together the lexis, collocations, and expressions presented in the unit.

Since The Working Week is based on a lexical approach, the syllabus is shaped around four complementary strands:

  1. Most of the language and skills work is presented through situational dialogues.
  2. Combinations of words, collocations, and immediately usable multi-word expressions are widely exploited to provide students with an extensive range of lexis so as to build their mental lexicon.
  3. The four skills are balanced, even though listening and speaking are given prominence because they are the most useful skills in a business context. Those combined skills that are needed at work (such as reading while listening, taking notes while listening, listening and then making a note, writing a summary or letter after a discussion) are extensively practiced.
  4. A comprehensive review of basic grammar reinforces the acquisition of structures useful in business contexts.

There is extensive listening practice of different kinds: a) listening for gist; b) listening for specific information; c) listening for the exact words of a phrase or expression; d) listening while reading; e) listening and taking notes; and f) listening for details. The main speaking activities entail: a) fluency work; b) speaking in public; and c) answering the phone. Reading activities include: a) reading informal notes; and b) reading business letters. Writing activities include the following: a) writing a letter of confirmation; b) writing faxes and letters; c) writing a memo; and d) writing a speech.

Since the course teaches all four skills of listening, speaking, reading, and writing, more emphasis is given to those activities that combine two skills at the same time: a) listening then writing; b) reading while listening; and c) listening and speaking.

The cassette that accompanies The Working Week offers a series of recordings that present realistic language at natural speed and with different accents, thus providing learners with authentic practice of language as it is used in real business outside the classroom.


The input of the course is based on the idea that students need to use the English language when they have to face problems that typically occur with foreign customers or suppliers in real business, administrative, and management situations. Thus, each unit is built on situations that typically occur in business offices; the aim is to enable students to handle problems competently in English. This entails the need to place great emphasis on the acquisition of relevant vocabulary for handling office problems. The building of the students' mental lexicon is the principal aim of The Working Week. [-2-]

The course is based on the Lexical Approach, which, as is well known, puts strong emphasis on the primacy of meaning in both language learning and language teaching. This derives from the fact that "meaning-carrier words" play the role of meaning activators both in communication production and in communication reception. The lexis and the generative power of words programmatically shape the course, since the authors consider that successful communication is more basic than grammatical drilling. This opinion goes hand in hand with the functional approach. If the principal aim of a business course is to enable students to communicate effectively and efficiently in business contexts, then the teacher's main goal is to help students learn as wide a vocabulary as possible. It is natural that the development of the mental lexicon, that is the representation of words in the mind, be the basic inspiring idea of the course.

In speech, communication is achieved only when the participants--both speaker and listener--are able to successfully match the sounds of words with meaning, and at the same time to associate the word with the correct set of morpho-syntactic properties. A further ability consists of recognizing the salient cognitive meanings of words as well as the semantic associations and connotations that the chosen words are related to. This is an essential stage in discourse understanding, since words may be synonymous at the cognitive level but may differ consistently in the associations they trigger. This principle has certainly guided the authors when planning the activities of the course. The question now is: How can teachers train their students to store in mind a wide vocabulary that is helpful in their future jobs?

The extensive psycholinguistic literature in the field of semantics (see, for example, Hankamer, 1989) suggests that words are stored in mind in a very orderly and structured manner. This is in line with any other cognitive process, since it is in the nature of human memory to work more efficiently when information is highly structured. As a matter of fact, it is structured information that allows speedy and correct lexical retrieval. But how lexical information is stored in human memory is still a controversial question. According to Taft (1981), morphologically complex words are not stored in their whole structure but rather separately through a process that involves morphological parsing: It is as if in word recognition we behaved in the same way as we do when looking up the root of a word in the dictionary. In 1983, Butterworth proposed a different model in the psycholinguistic study of word formation, the Full Listing Hypothesis (FLH). In this model parsing is resorted to only when unfamiliar words are encountered. Familiar words are recognized in their fully assembled structure; in these cases, complex words are destructured into simple unaffixed word and bound root (see Bybee, 1987). Thus in English language teaching, morphological parsing is a helpful tool whenever the students have to cope with unfamiliar complex words.

These theoretical approaches may have guided the authors when they inserted into almost each unit of their course a section devoted to morphological analysis. Making students aware of how English words are formed is useful to enable them to recognize unfamiliar words without resorting to looking them up in their dictionaries. Not only will this procedure facilitate comprehension but it will also improve students' confidence in their linguistic competence and render their communication more effective.

If we now turn our attention to speech comprehension, we need to approach the problem through a twofold perspective: speech understanding and speech production. Hankamer (1989) explains that "the role of mental lexicon in human speech comprehension is to mediate between two fundamentally distinct representational and computational domains: the acoustic-phonetic analysis of the incoming speech signal, and the syntactic and semantic interpretation of the message being communicated" (p. 3). [-3-]

In speech understanding, the listener has to decipher the phonological substance and, simultaneously, to attribute meanings to the heard sounds. This procedure is practiced in the course through matching activities as well as exercises meant to identify collocations and polywords.

In speech production, the speaker first selects the meaning, then the syntactic outline and the content words, then selects the affixes and the function word, and finally specifies the phonetic segments (see Clark & Clark, 1977). This entails two distinct stages in speech production: the choice and search in the mind for the semantic lexicon, and the choice and search for the phonological lexicon to pronounce correctly the accessed words (see Fromkin, 1973). For the purpose of speech production the course proposes exercises meant to grasp useful phrases in selective listening, or drills and cloze for the recognition of lexical phrases. Strong emphasis on pronunciation is given in the cassette, since the matching of sounds and meaning is fundamental for communication to happen.


All the activities within a unit may be used in class or assigned as homework. They may be used in the order suggested or skipped and returned to at a later stage in the course.

On the whole the course offers teachers good procedures, and students helpful activities that are grounded in what they will have to do in their jobs every day.


Butterworth, B. L. (1983). Lexical representation. In Butterworth, B. L. (Ed.). Language production, Vol 2: Development, writing and other language processes. London: Academic Press.

Bybee, J. L. (1987). Morphology as lexical organization. (Working Papers in Linguistics). Buffalo: State University of New York.

Clark, H. H., & Clark, E. V. (1977). Psychology of language. New York: Harcourt, Brace Janovich.

Fromkin, V. (Ed.). (1973). Speech errors as linguistic evidence. The Hague: Mouton.

Hankamer, J. (1989). Morphological parsing and the lexicon. In Marslen-Wilson, W. (Ed.). Lexical representation and process. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Taft, M. (1981). Prefix stripping revisited. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 20: 289-72.

Annalisa Baicchi
University of Pisa, Italy
<baicchi@angl.unipi.it >

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