MY EXPERIENCES IN TEACHING AN ENGLISH CONTENT COURSE IN FINANCES
Research Report by 1Jorge Restrepo G.
Universidad de la Sabana
This paper presents a brief description of English Content Based Instruction (CBI) as a process in which the student gains mastery of the language (procedural knowledge) and mastery of the subject learned ( declarative knowledge) along with the characteristics of the integration of the teaching process. Also, the author describes his experiences in planning and teaching a course in Financial Analysis using the techniques of CBI and student-centered learning in addition to the tools and procedures used in performing this task. Furthermore the experiences of other universities in giving CBI courses are analyzed in light of this experience. The result of a survey about the perception of the course among a representative sample of the students is presented and discussed. Finally the paper presents an analysis of a survey which suggests the importance of the CBI approach in teaching finance in English.
Key words: English content instruction, competences, student-centered Instruction, study guides.
The objective of this paper is to report the experiences obtained by the author during an English Content Based Instruction (CBI) course in financial analysis, and to provide information about the students? perceptions of learning finance in English. It has been part of the policy of the university and the International School of Economic and Administrative Sciences to offer courses in English based on a student-centered model. The results of the survey on the strategies for the course are analyzed in order to observe if these strategies had been used and assess the extent and success of their utilization.
English Content Courses
“Content-Based Instruction- CBI” methodology, is not new in education. The concept “Content” as
2a process of cognition as disclosed by Sticht, is related to the fact that all human intellectual
activities such as thinking, communicating, problem solving, and learning, require both processes
1 Jorge Restrepo G. Bsc. Industrial Economics- MBA-
Associate Profesor -Universidad de la Sabana
Escuela Internacional de Ciencias Econòmicas y Administrativas
Member of the Research Team on English Content Teaching since March of 2004
and content (knowledge): This suggests that merely raising people’s cognitive abilities to higher
levels simply by improving competencies such as “reading”, “writing”, or “critical thinking” is nearly
futile in the learning process. To perform these task at higher levels of thinking skills, it is essential to utilize content knowledge in the learning process.
From the above mentioned perspective we can say that the learning of mainstream subjects in a language other than the native one such as English, focuses upon the substance or meaning of the subject that is being taught such as the theoretical basis and practical applications of the tools for performing adequate financial analysis.
This paper focuses essentially in the process of acquiring several types of knowledge by means of an English Content course in a finance subject. It is my intention to explain two of the most important types of knowledge and how they are acquired by students by using the different strategies further disclosed. First, the meaning of two fundamental aspects of knowledge, declarative knowledge and procedural knowledge are explained and in the rest of the paper I expect to clearly demonstrate how the CBI approach to the course contributed to a successful processing of these types of knowledge.
Knowledge is in the first place “ a fluid mix of framed experience, values, contextual information
and expert insight that provides a framework for evaluating and incorporating new experiences and
3information” It’s clear that the content of the course in financial analysis, incorporated these
elements in the form of fluid explanation and understanding of logical bases, specific and organized procedures to train a critical and analytical mind to examine the financial statements of a company and use them to formulate diagnostics and suggest different strategies aimed essentially at increasing the market value of the enterprises to its owners.
Declarative knowledge: It comes from the idea that you declare something, such as “this is a
balance sheet” , this type of knowledge implies that you identify something and recognize aspects like objects, terms, definitions , facts and ideas. Declarative knowledge consists of descriptions of facts and occurrences, methods and procedures. In other words, the underlying assumption of this
2- “ The Theory Behind Content- Based Education” by Thomas G. Sticht- Focus on Basis Vol 1 , Issue D ,
Dec 97 3- Davenport , T and Prusak, L (1998) Working Knowledge . Harvard Business School Press, Boston , Mass.
concept is that the student acquires a set of facts which are organized to permit reasoning. Financial analysis is a properly organized science that clearly allows the application of declarative knowledge in the terms already explained with the purpose to identify and describe information related with the financial performance of the companies and most important to exert the reason to obtain conclusions and formulate proposals.
Procedural knowledge is the knowledge related to the action or “doing” a process. The concept of
procedural knowledge is tied to performing a process based in declarative knowledge previously explained. To describe this type of knowledge is to establish the steps or tasks necessary to perform something , it is also related to the competence or capacity of doing something. I can not think of more accurate examples of procedural knowledge in this context other than the tasks performed by the students in the course of a systematic analysis or financial statements in order to determine parameters of the company such as liquidity, situation of debt or profitability. This knowledge is closely related to the workshops assigned in the course and its pertinence are adequately measured and validated in this paper.
4So in a narrower sense, CBI courses according to Ward and Karet seek to increase the usage of a
foreign language ( in this case English) proficiency as the student takes a course in their academic discipline such as finance . The strength of this method is that it produces declarative
knowledge, what a person knows and procedural knowledge, what a person can do. Therefore,
usage of language is maximized as the process of learning financial analysis is accomplished. The Content-Based Instruction approach produces both types of knowledge as the student gains mastery of the language (procedural knowledge) and mastery of the subject learned ( declarative knowledge)
CBI as a pedagogic strategy for teaching finances : CBI allows the integration of a particular
concept : in this case the procedures for analyzing financial statements and to formulate diagnostics , while improving foreign language skills. The focus of a CBI lesson in finances is the subject being taught and foreign language acquisition occurs in the context. Therefore, foreign
4- Dana Ward & Julia Karet : “ The Content – Based Approach” Paper presented in The Asia World Wide
Web Conference, August 23, 1966 Beijing and The Second Hong Kong Web Symposium, August 27-28 Hong Kong
language leraning is never divorced from the understanding and practice of an interesting subject and content-based instruction provides a context for meaningful communication to occur. Second language acquisition is enhanced by teaching finances because students learn language best when there is an emphasis on relevant and interesting topics rather than on the language itself. People do not learn languages and subsequently use them but rather learn languages by using them. Hence,
Content-Based instruction in finances provides the bases for improving English skills because the subjects are presented in a motivating way through practical exercises which lead them to realize the importance of applying the topics being taught to real life situations. Moreover, the interaction of the students with their peers to solve financial problems allowed them to obtain more security for expressing ideas and concepts in written and oral workshops.
5According to Jourdenais and Shaw, Grabe and Stoller among others, CBI is by no means a new
concept in foreign language education. Since the 1960s a growing interest had been focused on teaching a specific language for specific tasks or educational purposes. Examples of this are Spanish for the medical profession, Japanese for business English or all the activities dealing with aeronautical operations and control. However, English Content Based Instruction is much broader in scope in that it seeks to gain complete language proficiency. In Canada the need for this approach stemmed from the importance given to develop high levels of proficiency in French since it is a second language for many Canadian students outside Quebec. Grabe and Stoller stressed that “ content based instruction results in language learning, content learning , increased motivation and interest levels, and greater opportunities of employment (where language abilities are
7Furthermore Jourdenais and Shaw , exposed several characteristics of CBI that are to some extent similar to our experiences in teaching English content courses in finance at our University:
- Learners are exposed to native language while learning content courses in English
5- Renée Jourdenais & Peter A. Shaw- “Dimensions of Content- Based Instruction in Second language
Education. Monterey Institute of International Studies- Monterey California- 2005 6 - Grabe & Stoller- Content-Based Instruction : A Shell for Language Teaching or a Framework for Strategic Language and Content Learning? March 2002- Annual meeting of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages- Salt Lake City.
- Content areas are relevant to academic and/or professional needs. This condition is
particularly important in finance as will be specified further on this paper.
- Language is contextualized through relevant content areas and hence relevant to learner
- Support is provided for learner’s linguistic development through a Foreign Language
Department through collaborative work with language specialists.
- Focus is placed on developing academic and/or professional language proficiency
- Authentic and useful materials in English are used to present content matter: See the
reference to the authors’ student guides in this paper
- The use of these authentic materials lends itself to the integration of skills, to increase
motivation and to the increased cognitive and linguistic complexity which have been
confirmed by the survey.
At the beginning of the academic year of 2004 and on the initiative of the Foreign Languages Department, a special research group on CBI was convened with the intention of: “Developing and implementing strategies based on autonomous learning through student centered learning as a medium for instruction on delivering content at the university level by considering
8student centered approaches”
9At this point it is worth mentioning the work of McCombs and Whistler who note that
student-centered teaching occurs when the topics studied are relevant to students? lives, needs and interests and when the student is actively engaged in creating, understanding and connecting their own knowledge to the course. The teacher is more of a guide in the learning process than a transmitter of knowledge. Furthermore, the students are encouraged to find their information using
7 Jourdenais and Shaw. Ibid 8 -Research Proposal on English Content Teaching- Paper by Foreign languages Department- Universidad de la Sabana. 2004
9 The Learner- Centered Classroom and School Strategies for Increasing Student Motivation and Achievement- San Francisco : Josey Bass Publishers - 1997
the material provided appropriately and working with their peers in understanding cases and workshops. Essentially, these authors argue that, “learners are treated as co-creators in the
learning process, as individuals with ideas and issues that deserve attention and consideration”
The CBI research group, of which the author of this paper was an active member, met every week for two hours and designed a research proposal that was finally discussed and
10approved by the University authorities.
During the second semester of the year 2001, I was invited by the head of ”Area de
Economía y Finanzas” to offer an English Content course in the subject of Financial Analysis beginning at the first semester of the year 2002. This particular assignment posed the following challenges:
1. To design the structure of a course that provides the students with the skills and
competences in financial analysis, including all the topics belonging to this
subject such as :financial ratio analysis , working capital structure of the firm,
cash flow analysis, financial planning models and financial and operative
2. To develop the strategies necessary to give an English content course for
Spanish speaking students with different degrees of proficiency in the English
3. Based on the teacher’s experience it is important to say that at the beginning of
the semester many students felt pessimistic about the outcome of the course
given the heterogeneity of their language skills. Since English is a foreign
10 As a further evidence of the cooperation between the author and the Foreign Languages Department this
ththSymposium took place in the University the days October 27 and October 28 of 2006 , this later day the author gave a
speech in English about the English Content course experiences , and a filmed interview was conducted with a student who gave also in English his experiences and opinions about the outcome of the course. This film is also apart of the back-up material for this article.
language their abilities in reading, writing and speaking are not homogeneous
hence many of them refrain from participating in the presence of more skilled
4. An important consideration had to be given to the fact that the topics in finance
build upon one another successively and an adequate continuity in English
content learning must be present in all the finance courses in order to smoothly
follow up abilities and competences obtained during previous semesters’ work.
Of course, it is easier to teach and learn in a native language but it is also
important to remember that “We are assured that second-language speakers of
English will soon outnumber native- language speakers in the world” as noted by
11O?Dowd. Therefore this is a reality in the modern globalized world were it is
important to address through several courses as there will be more opportunities
for English speaking business professionals around the world, particularly in the
case of Colombia which is in the process of signing a Free Trade Agreement
with the USA.
A complete program was designed well in advance with an appropriate bibliography in English, considering the student’s language level. Furthermore, the teacher prepared class guides
in English in order to enhance the learning process. These guides contained an adequate and easy to understand description of the course topics with problems and exercises to test the learning progress of the students. The course topics included:
; The objectives of financial function and the work of financial managers.
; The structure of financial statements
; Sources and uses of funds
; Financial ratio analyses- Du Pont analysis
; Financial planning
11 - O?Dowd, Elizabeth PhD- School of International Studies, Saint Michael College- Vermont USA –
Abstract :? World English and Bilingual Education : Legacy and Lessons for the New Millenium ? -1999
; Operational and financial leverages
In performing all these tasks I received the effective support and collaboration of the Foreign Languages Department of the University. This help consisted mainly of assistance in the review of the study material and guides, monitoring of the class methods, advisory work on class strategies and teaching procedures directed at improving the quality of the learning process. The number of groups and students of Financial Analysis classes in English from the first semester of 2002 to first semester of 2004 were as follows:
Year Semester Group No. Number of Total by
2002 1 1 39
3 39 118
2002 2 1 43
3 34 106
2003 1 1 40
3 39 120
2003 2 1 25
3 22 72
2004 1 1 28
3 25 69
Source: International School of Administration and Economic Sciences
As we can see the group sizes varied from 23 to 43 students with an average of 32 students per class. The results of group work and student-centered techniques are tested and measured in the survey later described in this paper. Of course the size of the course is important when considering activities in the teaching process, as in larger groups there is a lower attention span making it more difficult for the teacher to focus on specific student needs.
In the course of this research we found useful help from the experiences obtained in CBI from other academic institutions around the world.
12The Universitat Internacional de Catalunya of Barcelona, Spain supported its ESB efforts
through an English for Specific Academic Purposes (ESP) curriculum in the undergraduate cycle. This curriculum involves not only designing and writing ad- hoc classroom and self- study materials ( a subject that has been approached by the author through Financial Analysis Guides), but also training English teachers in aspects of disciplinary content areas, genres and specialized language features.
2. Another very important contribution in the area of ECBI is the view of the Macquarie
13University of Sydney, Australia through the use of scaffolded assignments given to the
non – English speaking students that are progressively starting in first-year accounting
teaching with communicative language teaching, using these assignments to check and
activate key concepts in finance. This is followed up with “knowledge transforming” writing
activities by giving the students increasingly difficult tasks both in terms of content and
language. The researchers of this study concluded that these progressive writing
assignments dramatically improved the ability of the student’s performance both in
understanding and expressing concepts and opinions in English.
143. The experiences of Belarus State University of Minsk which summarizes the
competences and skills that must be acquired by the ECB students of Finances.
Teaching Finances in English as a Foreign Language to students in order to fulfill the
12 Martínez, Marial Francisca & Corcó,, Joseph. Universitat Internacional de Catalunya of Barcelona,
Spain “ Delivering higher education in a non- English speaking country : a Spanish experience for a
challenging Project” Abstract of Paper. October 25/ 2004
13 Jones, Alan , Macquaire University , Sydney Australia: “Integrating content with language in firs-year
accounting: perceptions of scaffolded writing tasks”.October 24, 2004
14 Slepovich, Viktor, Belarus State Economic University, Minsk, Belarus, “Content as part of teaching
business communication in English” October 24, 2004
; Competences to obtain success in business by being positive, thoughtful, a team
player, interested, punctual , organized, prepared, polite patient and loyal.
; Special skills in telephoning and messaging including preparing and receiving
communicates , taking and leaving messages, conversation and preparing and
; Business correspondence principles including a variety of business letters:
enquiries, replies, orders, payments, polite complaints, fax and e- mail.
; The fundamentals for making different kinds of presentations, including problem-
solving and successful participation in conferences
; The abilities in preparing for job-seeking process including searching for job
openings. Preparations of personal background and different types of résumés and
going through an interview process.
The CBI process in finance also involved this practical preparation of students by following a continuous process in techniques such as accounting, financial analysis, international business, project preparation and evaluation, banking, fiscal, economics, price formation and social safety nets.
Based on the previous experiences we can suggest that the English Content Research of the Foreign languages Department must evaluate the extent to which these principles had been applied to CBI courses at the university, according to the procedures being successfully applied by other academic institutions.
Experiences in giving content teaching classes
Keeping in mind that the process for teaching English Content courses is a major objective of the University and a very important part of its Strategic Development Plan, our approach to this procedure was a positive one, pursuing the proper attitudes, adequate material organization and strategies , evaluation process and continuous feed-back in order to take corrective actions when