Learning Business English, and a Little Philosophy, in Tough Economic Times

AA: I'm Avi Arditti. Rosanne Skirble is away. This week on WORDMASTER, on the phone from Southern California, is English teacher Nina Weinstein. She teaches business English, among other things, and I was curious how she and her students are addressing the economic crisis. 

Nina Weinstein
NINA WEINSTEIN: "Well, I teach students from all over the world. In one of my locations I teach for the University of California, and I teach a graduate group of students who are working on professional certificates. And after they finish my course they'll go into the regular university with native speakers. So one of the things that of course is on everyone's mind right now is the stock market, and I always advise my students to listen to a radio station we have out here.

"We have local news stations that keep repeating stories, kind of in a loop, and so it gives them an opportunity, if they didn't hear it the first time, to hear it again and again and again as the day goes on. So what I've done is I've given them kind of the basic vocabulary that they need to know if they're listening to a stock story."  

KFWB NEWS 980: " ... Dow stocks went positive a few moments ago -- that was then, this is now. We're back in negative territory with the blue-chips down fifty-two points. Nasdaq stocks are down by thirty-one, and S-and-P lower by a dozen ... "

AA: "Your students are here from other countries, they're going to, presumably most of them, [be] returning to their countries, so they're kind of observers of this economic crisis that we've got in the United States. And obviously it has spread around the world. But what are they saying about their own reactions to what's going on in the markets?"

NINA WEINSTEIN: "I think everybody's scared, this is something that we haven't seen in decades, and I think especially for the younger students. The older students, when I work in private industry I have students of different ages, so they've had something in the past that they've also dealt with and so they can kind of put it in a perspective. But with the younger students, they come here, they're so excited and they're enthusiastic. This is their opportunity to do this final thing before they go out there in the business world. And I think they're scared.

"And so what I say to them is that, you know, these are cycles and even though this is a really bad cycle, there's a beginning and an end. And I say that what I really think is that this is a great opportunity to increase your skills. Whatever your skills are, this is a great time to train. And so when the cycle finishes and things get to be normal again, your training will be even better than what you had planned before. And so this is how I'm treating my own life, and my colleagues and so forth, and this is what I tell to my students."

AA: "So it's business English plus a little philosophy."

NINA WEINSTEIN: "Yeah! A little encouragement. I think everybody needs a little encouragement during these times. So yeah, I think that's part of teaching English."

AA: "Do you ever get questions that require an economist to answer, not an English teacher?"

NINA WEINSTEIN: "Well, actually I work with executives who are in finance and so sometimes they have questions about something that may have happened in their area. And what I do, because I have a background in vocabulary tools and this whole area of breaking apart words and looking at their roots and so forth, often -- even though it's a very technical area, often you can figure out just based on the roots and the context what the term actually means. 

"And so, fortunately I can do that. And if it goes beyond that, then I tell them that they need to ask somebody in their own department for that term or what not. But usually you can just kind of figure it out by breaking the word apart."   

AA: "And do some of the terms that we've grown used to hearing now in the news, in the depressing business news we hear every day, do those terms translate well into and out of other languages that your students speak?"

NINA WEINSTEIN: "I think that they do. I think that they just realize that they have to learn these terms that we use. The terms that might be used in Japan would be Japanese. It's not like computers, where you have terms that are kind of transcending different languages. And so I don't think it's a problem because they recognize that this is a different language, almost like English is a different language from Spanish."
AA: Nina Weinstein is an English teacher and author in Southern California. Other segments with Nina can be found at voanews.com/wordmaster. Our stock-market audio clip came from Los Angeles radio station KFWB News 980. And that's WORDMASTER for this week. I'm Avi Arditti. 


Dow = Dow Jones Industrial Average, based on stock prices for 30 leading, or "blue-chip," U.S. companies

S&P = Standard & Poor's 500, an index of 500 large U.S. companies; based on market value

Nasdaq = Nasdaq Stock Market, an electronic exchange with corporate headquarters in New York