(authentic) resources for an HR English course

HR picI’ve recently finished teaching a one-to-one HR English course (which lasted, on and off, about 18 months), and I feel it would be good to share some materials I’ve been choosing, using and sometimes creating.

The situation

The course started off with a standard Oxford Business English “English for Human Resources”, but I soon got an opportunity to see that this book was not enough, and my student required much more: more authentic, more real-life, more challenging. I would say, the book is perfectly fine for pre-service students or junior HR employees, but my student is an HRD (which meant she didn’t need to be told how things are usually done in HR – and that’s the main ingredient of a usual HR English book), and her English, with some reservations, was around upper-intermediate.

As her level of English was already quite high, I opted for authentic resources to supplement and expand the book, and at first stages it was not too easy for her, especially reading the articles. However, when I look back at the results now, I can appreciate how much better she’d become. And another thing that immensely helped me use almost any of the materials for her benefit and to make a class really good and full of speaking opportunites, was of course her readiness to speak: as she is a proud employee of her company, she was always happy to tell and explain how some procedures and processes are carried out there, as compared to what we’ve listened to or read about, and what the up- and downsides of that could be. So this was the case of interesting classes both for the student and the teacher – I got a chance to hear a lot of great things, stories and practices.

Remembering how sometimes I was having hard time finding something really appropriate for the course, I thought I would try to make a list of some of my now favourite resources that you could also take to your HR English or just Business English class


A small collection of good motivation&success quotes – could be nice to start a lesson with if you ask students to match up and comment on the motivation and success quotes .

Infographs worked quite well for our lessons, especially if they were fresh and actual, because then my student could compare the data from them to the data she knows. CIPD site was generally a good source of reading, and sometimes you can find interesting infographs there, too. This one, on employees’ engagement, had looked quite interesting to me before the lesson, but at the lesson the info actually proved to be completely different according to my student. That, however, didn’t make the infograph useless, because (and it’s a thing I’ve often noticed again since then) a material very different from the student’s experience can be discussed even more intensively: first, a student can recount what they see there, then comment on it telling what is different from it in their setting, and what is better, and what is worse… and so a material that looks almost inappropriate for that student, appears to be very rich and thought-provoking indeed.

HR blogs that I’ve only discovered recently (when I was almost desperate in my search for interesting materials) became a great source of shared experience, inspiration and good vocabulary for my student. I really regretted not having come across them earlier. These resources helped me find good blogs and blogposts for my classes: http://wheniwork.com/blog/top-10-human-resources-bloggers-you-must-follow/ This is, for instance, one oа the posts (and the blog in general) I particularly liked: http://www.hrbartender.com/2014/recruiting/employees-need-success/ . The language in it (unlike in some other blogs) is pretty simple and yet the ideas are strong give a lot oа opportunities to think and speak. Generally I like taking blogposts to classes because they bring a feeling of equality, let a student relate to the mentioned issues, and all this, of course, results into more engagement and more speaking (and writing, definitely) opportunities

Speaking about reading, I have an important note to make: at the beginning of the course there was a lot of usual around-business vocabulary, words like suppply, demand, purchase, percentage, etc, that my students should have known and felt she needed, but still had difficulty remembering. And how happy was I to notice (and to share with her, too) that after having read and discussed extensively she finally seemed to memorize and to confidently use most of the words and phrases. I guess we have to thank here the fact that such words occurred again and again in the materials and we paid special attention to them. I suppose it could be named a sort of “narrow reading” in terms of repetition of the same words – so that she had no chance of not remembering them, after all.

The topic of what role an HR should play was quite productive and we came back to it several times throughout the course. Here is a blog post on various HR’s roles and personae I brought with me to one of our first lessons.

Another big thing was, of course, the future of HR and employment, and we spent several very fruitful lessons around “HR by 2030”. We started off with the book called “Leadership 2030”, or rather, its review on Amazon, and then continued with the report “Fast Forward 2030: The Future of Work and Workplace”, which brought us a lot of great vocabulary (and vocabulary revision&repetition, too), along with some interesting trends, looking realistic and unrealistic. Interesting and certainly provoking a lot of discussion.

One more topic that could work not only for HR, but generally for any Business English class is speaking about the language being used by professionals, and especially about the buzzwords, ot special lingo that you can hear in offices overused in some cases. I luckily came across a great article about such words and phrases at a great Mind Tools site (definitely worth looking at!) : lingo and couldn’t resist the temptation to take it to class, having made it into a worksheet first. It started an interesting talk about business language and comparing English office language to Russian office language (which is full of English words) and also let her learn some idioms and remember&refresh the others.


A brilliant Meet the Boss TV Interview: Best Practice HR tips from  Liane Hornsey, Google VP Operations http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FRsJbpppvEU + a simple task for watching, before you actually discuss what was said. Google HR VP gapfill . For my student it was just the right kind of material: it was interesting for her to see how things work in Google, and then she could explain how everything in her company (also an IT company), and why it is the way it is, and what should probably be done differently in the future.

Of course, we used TED talks. Some of them were quite general – like “8 secrets of Success” by Richard St John, and some were more focused on Women in Business, like this one, based on Cheryl Sandberg’s talk, and some were more focused on work and motivation, like the one from Dan Ariely. I used the script and gap-fill made by Vicky Loras for the first part, and supplemented it with a questions for the parts 2 and 3: dan-ariely_gapfill

One more highly productive area to discuss was (un)happiness at work. I even came across a professional Chief Happiness Officer. I wouldn’t say he strikes me as a great speaker, but the topic of happiness at work itself looks like a good thing to discuss. We started with 2 slides from the presentation listing the factors for unhappiness at work and I asked my student to predict which factors would be key ones, and then we watched more important bits of the video, cheсked her ideas and listened for the 5 ways to stay happy at work. No surprises there, but still: most of the ideas were accompanied by some best practice stories, and all this was quite an engaging listening for her.

One more thing, very niched though, was a videoconference on salaries in IT (my student’s company is in IT) – forecast for 2014. We could do a lot of listening, and then it became a good opportunity to see if the forecast had been right (because we were discussing it already in 2014) , and to speculate about the future. The video is almost an hour long, but we watched only about 10-15 minutes and left the rest as a homework. As a task I created a kind of matching exercise (there are several people speaking, so the task was to match the beginning and endings of the phrases, and then to remember who said what and what the context was. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find the task anywhere).

As my student’s company has several projects in cooperation with Turkey and UAE, the cultural issue was quite important. I used several videos to prompt the talk about culture, and the central one was naturally Dr Foons Trompenaars interview on cultural dimensions: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JqNI8le1bF4

By the end of our course the issue of dealing with crisis in an organization, overcoming it and adapting for the future has became important, and the materials appeared to be scarce. But after some research I came across an article “New Work World Requires HR Overhaul” and a video that became a great source of inspiration and speaking practice. Here is a small matching exercises and some prompts for discussion I made to structure the talk: Talent match . If you start discussing the article, it will be just logical to continue with the video “Redesign and reskill the HR function” + there are more webcasts around the same topic.

And so these are more or less all of the most interesting and motivating materials that I could remember. Hope some of them work for you and your students too.


About Svetlana Urisman

I am an ADOS and an English teacher (and materials writer) in a language school in Moscow. I have been an ADOS and a teacher trainer for a couple of years and a teacher for about 10 years. I am keen to share some ideas and materials I've developed in order to take them further and not to lose them. You are welcome to use any materials represented in this blog, and I will be happy to get your feedback afterwards if you take them to your classroom! ;-)
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2 Responses to (authentic) resources for an HR English course

  1. Vicky Loras says:

    Hello Svetlana,

    Thanks so much for mentioning my lesson plan! And I got lots of ideas from the other links you include in this post.

    Have a great week,

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