In teaching English for specific purposes (ESP) to students in the business school
at the university, one of the most common problems has been that of learning technical
vocabulary. For example, a well-known term in business English is turnover, a word
referring to the total value of the goods or services a company has sold during a
particular period of time. However, this word also refers to a delicious small piece of
pastry. This is an example of a vocabulary problem in language activities.
Our objective has been to minimize these confusions by using visuals with written
and spoken words, and to find effective ways of promoting learning and generating
In this article I outline an activity that has helped our students learn by
association and has allowed them to enjoy the activity as they do it.
Stock market vocabulary activity
University teachers often believe that learners may find a task childish if it
involves using imagination, games, or drawings. However, we discovered that the more
amusing the exercises, the better and more successful were the learning results. Since our
preliminary goal has been to introduce students to the specific meanings of business
vocabulary and to avoid confusions, we have used visual illustrations.
One specific context where double meanings often occur is in stock market
terminology, an important area for business and economics students. We initially focus on
the animal world, because several animal expressions and terms have particular meanings in
the stock market.
The main purpose of this activity is not only to introduce the students to these
specific terms, but also to use a methodology that allows us to reach our desired goal.
This exercise is handed out at the beginning of the year to show students that the
vocabulary they will need in this area is not so difficult. The activity is divided into
three different stages.
First, the students are given a sheet of paper with pictures of the various animals
(See Figure 1). The learners are asked to write
the names of these animals under their pictures. Then students are asked to imagine what
the meanings of these words might be as they relate to the stock market. Finally, students
must match the financial meanings of the terms with the appropriate drawings.
After the students have completed this first exercise, in small groups, they
discuss the possible meanings of the words.
The students are provided with blank grids where they can list the particular
characteristics of the animals under various headings. This gives the students
opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge of the specialized terms they need to find
out. When they have completed their grids, they are given one that we have completed (See Figure 2). Now they continue their
discussions, but this time they are able to support their conclusions with additional
After the students have finished, they are given the list of expressions and terms
that correspond to the animal illustrations (See
Figure 3). Working individually, students
concentrate on finding out the answers so that they can recall both the animals and the
meanings more easily.
At the end of the term and without advance notice, the learners are asked to do the
same exercise again. Our intention is to discover how well they remember these stock
market terms, and if they can use the images of the animals to trigger their memories.
The first time the students did the exercise, the results were not very
satisfactory. The first stage, which consisted of naming the animals, presented no
difficulty to the students. However, during the second stage, (the chart), the learners
could identify only four out of the fourteen: bull, bear, dragon, and snake. The rest of
the drawings were either unexplained or misunderstood. The students did much better on the
match-up exercise, but there were still four terms that students could not match: cats and
dogs, dog, stag, and rat race.
These results were not completely disheartening because it was the first time the
students had done this type of activity. In addition, many answers were related to the animal features. In spite of the fact that
this was not the main objective of the exercise, the brainstorming session proved to be a
very resourceful tool in the learning process.
The results the second time were more positive. Most learners matched the animals
to one specific term or another, and were able to recall the specialized terms. This led
us to conclude that images do help students not only to learn the specific words, but also
to remember them.
After completing the exercise, the students were asked for their impressions of the
activity. Most stated that it was easier to acquire specific vocabulary by linking the
drawings with the meanings. Thus, pictures helped establish a relationship between the
animals and their significance in the stock market.
One of the main objectives we seek is not only to teach students specific and
useful vocabulary, but also to help them assimilate the new words. This exercise has proved to be an effective way of increasing
learners interests and motivating them. The different stages in the activity led
them to finding answers, thereby reinforcing their learning process. Moreover, when the
groups discuss the possible meanings of the words, students become aware of the variety of
possibilities and are able to recall all the information they knew about the stock
exchange. When trying to guess the meanings of the words, students focus on
characteristics of the animals. Once the exercise is completed, students are provided
immediate feedback by checking the answer key.
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Alcaraz, E. and B. Hughes. 1996. Diccionario de téminos economicos,
financieros y comerciales, Barcelona, Spain: Ariel.
Goddard, C. 1994. Business idioms international. Hemel Hempstead, UK:
Lozano, J. M. 1989. Diccionario billingüe de economia y empresa.
Madrid, Spain: Pirámide.