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The Apprentice

I frequently teach business English courses at our Holland Park School and I often show business DVDs in the class room. The two most popular ones are definitely The Apprentice and Dragons’ Den, both currently showing on the BBC. Today I’d like to tell you about The Apprentice as I believe that there are some lessons to be learnt from watching it.

The Apprentice is a highly popular business show that is now in its sixth series. This series started in the USA with Donald Trump and has been copied all over the world. The aim of the show is to find a suitable ‘apprentice’ to work for the self-made multi-millionaire Lord Alan Sugar in one of his many organisations.  There are 16 candidates chosen from members of the public who are all desperate to get a job within his organisation.  Each week, for 12 weeks, they are set a business task which they perform in two opposing teams, each led by a PM (Project Manager) and at the end of each episode the losing team goes into the boardroom with Lord Sugar and individually battle to stay in the competition.  This is where it gets serious and the gloves come off.  When he’s heard enough Lord Sugar finally utters the dreaded words ‘you’re fired’ to some young hopeful until in the final episode when he delights one of the two finalists by saying ‘you’re hired’. 

The reason this makes such good viewing is that the candidates are not only chosen for their business acumen but also because they can be argumentative, arrogant or sometimes just plain bonkers, you find yourself picking your favourite.  Lord Sugar himself is a straight talker who uses flowery language and is not always an easy character to deal with.  The business tasks are serious and are designed to give the would-be apprentices the opportunity to show off all a variety of business skills such as innovation, creativity, negotiating, selling and plain hard graft.

Last night’s task was a negotiating task, the girls were against the boys and they had to buy ten specific items from a list at the cheapest possible price, sounds easy eh?  I found it interesting because the girls approach was totally different to boys; the girls located most the items by phone first and then set off, the boys left almost immediately.  Both methods seemed to work but it the results that matter.  

My students thoroughly enjoy watching it and do so without understanding every word.  It gives you the opportunity to listen to different accents and see how different people tackle the same business task.  Yes, you have to remember this is made for television and you have to forgive Lord Sugar’s colourful use of the English language and his poor grammar at times but it all adds to the drama!  


  • Apprentice – (n) a trainee, especially in a skilled trade.
  • Opposing – (adj) competing
  • The gloves come off – (exp) the fight or argument begins seriously and with reserve
  • To utter – (v) to say
  • Dreaded – (adj) greatly feared
  • To fire someone – (v) to dismiss someone from a job
  • To delight someone – (v) to please someone
  • To hire someone – (v) to give someone a job
  • Business acumen – (exp) – business insight or knowledge
  • Arrogant – (adj) acting superior and overly proud
  • Bonkers – (adj) crazy
  • Straight talker – (n) says exactly what he or she means
  • Flowery language – (adj n) a polite way to say bad or swear words
  • To show off – (phr. V) to display pretentiously or in an obvious way
  • Graft – (n and v informal) work
  • To set off – (phr. V) to leave
  • To tackle – (v) to deal with or solve
  • Colourful language – (adj) same meaning a flowery language

By Heather

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