Event update: TESOL France by Barry Tomalin 

Having just arrived back from his weekend at the TESOL France annual colloquium, author Barry Tomalin shares his impressions and gives a summary of his talk ‘What international managers need in France’. Barry’s latest book Key Business Skills has been nominated for the English-Speaking Union awards 2013. 


by Barry Tomalin

Dancing in the Place St Medard at the foot of the rue Mouffetard, Sunday morning

There’s a certain douceur in Paris on an early Sunday morning. It’s November and it’s not warm but there’s a soft light in the square and just a few people going about early morning business – church, baguettes from the bakery or coffee in the local café. Nice!

About 350 teachers turned up from all over France and beyond to listen to lectures and attend workshops on English language teaching. My session was on the key fears French managers have – dealing with us native speakers!

Our speed of speech, free use of idioms and, often, failure to take a breath to allow interruption, or so it seems, compels non-native speaker managers into resentful silence. I quoted the ‘non-native speaker’s’ lament:


THINK what you want to say.

TRANSLATE it into English.

OPEN MOUTH to say it.

TOO LATE! The conversation has moved on.


The two key areas of difficulty seem to be keeping control of and participating in meetings (both face-to-face and virtual) and negotiating. I offered a few ideas on these (you can download the slides in DOWNLOADS) but also get a couple of good ideas from the teacher participants. Here they are.



French managers, and not only French managers, need communication tactics in English to interrupt a conversation and express their point of view. I tend to teach phrases like ‘Can I just come in here?’, with ‘just’ suggesting you will be brief and to the point. However, one colleague suggested a much more abrupt way of interrupting. His one word interruptions were ‘Errr…’ and ‘But….’ And ‘Excuse me…’ expressed with some emphasis. This, he explained, would bring the conversation to a halt and allow the manager to intervene.


I believe that having a clear framework for any negotiation vastly improves the communication process. I use Professor Gavin Kennedy’s five stages of negotiation – prepare, debate, propose, bargain and agree – as a framework.

Kennedy observes that native-English speaking negotiators tend to move between stages and often back to a previous negotiation stage. The process doesn’t follow a linear progression. The problem is that the non-native speaker negotiator can’t interpret the linguistic signals and has no idea what stage the other native speaker negotiator is at.

The form below might help.



(State your position.)




(Ask questions about each other’s position.)




(Make a proposal.)




(Exactly that. Bargain.)




(Come to an agreement.)



I ask negotiators to take this into meetings and to write down examples of language they hear, in the appropriate category. Then they bring these into class for discussion.

One teacher introduced a great practice idea. Write each stage on a set of five cards and distribute one set to each member of the group. Set up a negotiation. Make it as realistic to their work environment as possible. The group negotiates and they must use up all their negotiation cards, using appropriate language. The first one to use up all his or her cards has reached agreement first. Nice idea.


I taught things to say and do when various human problems occur on conference calls, such as heavy breathing, silence or tapping computer keys or clicking pens while on a conference call.

In addition to that, it’s important to know what to say when the equipment fails, as one teacher reminded us. Let’s assume the communication counterpart can hear you but there are problems. What do you say?

Possible solutions:

‘Sorry, there’s a glitch.’

Or ‘Sorry, there’s a problem with the equipment, we’ll try and sort it out and start again in a few minutes.’

There are so many possible problems that it is difficult to think of a single phrase which will cover all situations. Do you have any suggestions?

Please do get in touch with your suggestions and send them to collins.elt@harpercollins.co.uk. We’ll happily forward them to Barry. Thanks!