You know, being an all or nothin’ kinda a girl, I’m not big on compromise. One size does NOT fit all! It never does and it never will, it’s a shoddy …It’s a shoddy cop out and my motto is, if you’re going to do anything in life, do it well or not at all. It’s no different in business and especially in training. When I was on the ‘Business English Circuit’, in Munich, Hamburg, Cologne and Helsinki, the prime example of this was the ‘force feeding approach’.
You see, typically English training is still sometimes seen by management as time wasting, back patting, time off, whereas technical training is an essential benchmarking criteria that will get the projects done. (Don’t even go there!) So typically the management and the learners have vastly different ideas of what an English course should include.
In time, a trainer that delivers relevant business training and clearly has a six pack of industry experience, normally earns their trust and they hand over the reigns to the language trainer to feed the right language skills on an appropriately sized spoon. At the beginning though, it is typically more a case of teach 25 of them a bit of everything and it’s up to them if they come or not.
Well getting ‘bums on seats’ as HR puts it, might be a sign of success for them, but for me, call me old fashioned if you will, I think teaching these professionals the language skills that lets them really excel in their job is far more important. For your account manager on the end of the phone to clients, or your project manager wriggling out of yet another change request, it’s their reputation on the line and a few business phrases is just not going to cut it.
My experience has been, that by the time that employees get onto an international project, their English has suffered. Actually it has usually almost disappeared. So despite the flash new business cards, proclaimimg a new job title, they still feel like a hoax because they are speaking English like they did in sixth form. School English on a web conference introduction, is painful at best. They say that learning to speak English again is like riding a bike but actually that is simply not true – this is a myth when it comes down to business English.
If you need to get back on a bike after years of not riding one, you can practice when or where nobody’s watching can’t you? English speaking practice though needs a partner. So if you are in an open plan office, as is often the case in technology, you’re going to feel like the whole world is listening to you (They’re not of course but it does feel like that!).
Learning and confidence go hand in hand and language learning typically has school hang ups attached. If you struggled with English at school, you have an additional barrier to deal with and going back into a (class)room with 20 other colleagues rakes up the language inadequacy nightmare all over again.
Lots of people never sign up for language training for this reason alone, even though they will of course put it down to not having time, being away too much, or some other reason or – dare I say it – excuse.
So surely it makes sense to choose a different setting, one where you can relax. Numerous studies show that we learn a lot more and easier if we are not nervous or feeling self conscious. So GET OUT OF HERE, I get you out of the office and into the fresh air. Most companies of course think that this is outrageous but actually it’s genius, here’s why.
Many technical staff have a very unhealthy lifestyle characterised by too much caffeine, too little activity or sport, sporadic and unhealthy eating, long hours in front of a computer screen and a healthy dose of stress as deadlines approach. By walking as you talk, you get fresh air, a cardio workout plus a much needed change of scenery.
It’s more effective too. Why? There are only six people in each group, so you get a lot more “talk time”, meaning that the time that you invest in language training is well spent. Relevance rules!
Sounds expensive you might say. Well that depends on your perspective doesn’t it? Do you pay for 25 people to learn very little, causing them resentment due to the time away from the project that they’ll have to catch up later. Or do you invest in six people to really take their English to the next level in a way that boosts their self esteem and health whilst adding value to the company as an international player?
Actually, some of the growth focused companies offer this “Language Energy” Programme as an end of project reward, instead of a taxable bonus to beat the post project blues. Staff retention is a major problem in a vibrant start up jungle like Berlin, where entrepreneurs need to be creative about perks to compensate for lower salaries. A kicker table is kinda fun and better than state of the art coffee makers that add to the sluggishness but for ambitious, hands on types, they’ll be wanting to work on their transferable skills and perhaps a sneaky escape route if they put “Fluent” on their CV.
After each outdoor session, you get a little extra ‘memory jogging’ via a quiz or game to see which of the new terms or grammar pointers they can remember. Fascinatingly, the fresh air and left/right brain stimulation that we build into the ‘language spots’ gives you the opportunity to recall much easier.
The quiz provides personal language reinforcement that is totally flexible and specific to the your job and communication needs. During the next session, I always make sure that a healthy dose of upbeat language reinforcement is woven into the conversation for a powerful aha effect, it’s that smile of performance satisfaction that puts a spring in their stride.
Language Energy can feel odd at first for people like me that feel compelled to write everything down, so there is always access to new vocabulary listings and a recording of the sessions. The fitness level is secondary to the language level. Currently we walk and talk in group and individual language energy sessions in the Volkspark in Potsdam, Tiergarten and Charlottenburg in Berlin.
In the past I have welcomed new teams, lots of female entrepreneurs and expat partners wanting to improve their English, so this a tried, tested and loved programme oozing with “give me more factor”!!!
The technology involved is simple for easy access, using Skype, videos, audio and webinars. So why not welcome colleagues to join you who are on maternity leave or self employed or in a start up, there’s nothing to stop us having Byte Buggy groups, management bark and byte groups for dog owners or board member ladies coming together for a fresh air conversation group on the go.
Language Energy is not conventional, but by golly it’s effective! This is especially true if you feel uncomfortable speaking English partly because there is less eye contact. It’s common to keep your eyes on the ground or take in the scenery, as you search for words or work out in your head, how to express yourself. No embarassing stares of expectation, pity, impatience or frustration to ‘stop you in your stride’, forgive the pun.
Despite the learning environment being more relaxed there is a clear structure that provides you with speaking opportunities that will prepare you for your work based communication, the beauty being that your walking partner isn’t necessarily a colleague but they are in the same industry and hence on the same wave length.
Language Energy will soon be available in podcast format for independent language learners, perfect if you already walk or jog, or just feel to embarassed about your English to even speak it yet and those outside of Berlin too. Listening to perfect grammar, relevant vocabulary, business idioms used in context and to interviews where the B2B women I interview talk about their businessses makes your language learning productive and enjoyable.
You can pay n play or tell your boss and get them to embrace a language learning solution that is a better fit for women on maternity leave and working part time because we all know that the corporate training from 7-9am is more of an exclusion than an opportunity. If you are one of the women that wants to be on a board of directors, but your English is pulling you back, this could be your secret weapon.
THIS IS HOW LANGUAGE ENERGY STARTED LISTEN
Here is a related link to how Linked in is using a similar approach… #languageenergy Check out where we meet for our language energy programmes here in Berlin