Blog challenges are either super-exciting or super-awkward to respond to. This is both. It’s awkward and unsettling and difficult to re-live failures, and this is what the challenge is about. But at the same time, it is exciting to see what I can now learn from my failure – and it would be great to know that I helped some language learners or teachers out there. If you manage to avoid my mistakes – or if you recognize them and step into them more consciously next time – then this post will be a success.
Let’s get to it.
1. “Business English? That’s easy. Wear a tie. Shine your shoes. Be nice.”
Six months after getting my CELTA, I learned that my first one-to-one business client was not coming back. After two lessons which seemed to have gone quite well, and – I was assured – through no fault of my own. I got over it and went back to what went well – taught normal classes, exam courses, did my translator training sessions. In a few cases, I became quite good at what I was doing.
I can’t really say I was unhappy about losing that business language class – the policy at the school was that “smart casual” was OK for everyday classes, but corporate clients required a different dress code – and a different approach altogether. Coming back to my smart casual days felt like being let off the hook. So at the time, I didn’t give it much thought.
That would come later.
2. “Dear students, you’re all fired.”
I walked into the boardroom and told my class that I would no longer be teaching them. I told them about the replacement I found, and what would happen next. I delivered my last lesson and walked out.
One of the happiest moments of my life.
This – over the five years of teaching – would become a pattern of sorts. I enjoyed all classes – even the kids’ language lessons, for some reasons – apart from Business English. Sooner or later – even when the course was going well and everyone was happy and making progress – something would give. Sometimes my clients would decide not to continue. Sometimes – in many cases – I would decide to “fire my students.”
I then moved out of teaching, but kept close to English Language Teaching business – and kept on thinking about learning languages in general. Recently, I began looking back on those language classes. Here’s what I learned – about learning, teaching, about myself.
3. Dear former Self: 5 things I wish I’d told myself about business language courses
- “Being nice is overrated.” My rookie mistake: agreeing to (and with) everything my clients say. This, coupled with fear of correcting errors, led to some very nice, but very unproductive encounters: basically, my students would keep doing what they liked doing and never got out of their comfort zone. Or if they did and stumbled, they weren’t corrected or given another chance.
- Wants vs needs: I started every course armed with what I thought was a needs analysis. And invariably, what I got was a “wants” analysis. Ask me what I want from my German course, and I’ll tell you only the things that sound nice and fun and not risky. Why should I think of case system, noun-adjective agreement, the passive voice? And yet – that’s what I need.
- Motivation flows, but it’s hard to read. A group that looks super-prepared and ready for anything may walk into the room completely pumped out the next week – and yet, being professionals, they will put on a brave face and refuse to admit they just don’t care. A CEO who had been working on something big since the course started may have just got into a carefree, zen-like time at work – but, being used to the subdued nature of previous meetings, she will refuse to relax. Kids show this instantly. Adults won’t.
- Follow-up is king. Most of the time, I like to know where I’m going, what’s next on the agenda – and I like to have some influence in these areas. My clients were the same. So promising a certain type of lesson – and then failing to deliver – is always going to be a huge disappointment.
- Business matters. It’s OK to send a well-qualified language teacher to a business language course. It’s even better if that person knows a bit about the business her clients are in. In many cases, a keen desire to find things out was enough – but the best course I’ve had was actually one I knew something about and had an interest in. You can only fake it for so long.
4. Learning languages through business
If you’re a language learner, check out my post about language learning in business – and hopefully you’ll be able to recognize the above symptoms in your tutors!
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