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ESL Students and Marketing

written by: Anne Vize • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 1/5/2012

Many ESL students struggle to understand English words from marketing and promotional material that they encounter in their daily activities. Brochures, flyers, posters, billboards, TV commercials and radio ads can all be confusing for an English language learner.

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    English Words From Marketing

    Marketing is a deliberate, conscious activity which will not always be familiar to an English language learner, particularly if they have not had a lot of exposure to marketing in the past. It is an action taken by a a company or business to try to sell a product or service to a consumer. English words and language from marketing take a particular form. The English words from marketing are often high impact adjectives and verbs, and there is also a strong emotional appeal to the reader. English language learners may not learn these words early in their building of a sight vocabulary, and may respond more to the visual images of marketing than the English words which are used in a marketing context. Examples of English words from marketing include:

    'fast, act, exciting, buy now, save, don't wait, take charge, hurry, costly' etc.

    English words from marketing and the overall marketing language focus relies on the ability of the creator to:

    1. attract the attention of a reader or viewer
    2. maintain their interest over the length of the ad
    3. persuade or entice them to a particular viewpoint
    4. inspire them to take action of some kind - call a phone number, send in a coupon, buy a product or service

    Help your English language learners to build a sight vocabulary which includes words commonly found in advertising and marketing materials, as well as those from the most commonly used words lists.

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    Target Audience - A Comprehension Challenge

    So who is the target audience in a piece of marketing, and how does understanding the English words from marketing help an English language learner to better comprehend the text?

    The target audience for a piece of marketing is the demographic or group that the advertiser hopes to attract. For example, the target audience for a tool set might be men aged in their thirties, while the target audience for a Bratz doll might be girls aged from seven to ten years (and their parents). By focusing on a target audience, an advertiser hopes to write material which will appeal to that audience. They use images, text and advertising forms which have direct interest for that group. They make sure the English words from marketing that they use are right for that target audience, and that they have been well trialled with a range of subjects from the audience they are aiming for.

    Challenge your English language learners to identify the target audience for some marketing examples you bring in to class. More confident ESL students could also write their own marketing text and design an image to accompany it for a given target audience.

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    Understanding Marketing

    ESL students often lack the more sophisticated understanding of English to help them deal with marketing strategies. They are simply not aware of the broader context of the English words from marketing which are used to attract and hold their attention, and entice them to take action. They may not understand clichés, culturally specific jokes, innuendos and plays on words. Teachers can help English language learners by explicitly teaching the basics of English words from marketing to their ESL students, and by using locally relevant examples of marketing material. Topics to cover include:

    • making word lists or class dictionaries on English words from marketing
    • the techniques used by advertisers to attract attention, including how these are often extremely effective with an ESL audience, due to a lack of understanding of the intentional aspect of marketing
    • exploring marketing and advertising through a variety of mediums, such as television, radio, the internet, newspapers, print magazines and e-zines
    • providing opportunities for students to generate their own questions and formulate research areas where they would like to learn more about a particular topic
    • making class lists of words and phrases from marketing which are based on local or cultural language, such as cliches, jokes, innuendos and comments or sentences that would not be readily understood by a speaker outside the immediate region or state
    • creating examples of marketing materials either by producing their own in student groups or by making display posters which explain and identify key language concepts in provided examples such as newspaper clippings or magazine pages.