The McMaster and Commander

As I promised, I've still got to update you on the other two workshops I attended at ELTAF 2008 teacher-training conference! So am back...Planet EarthIII by Aaron Escobar

Both workshops dealt with the issues of globalization and their effects on language learning.

I'll start off with Comfort's commanding presentation of Best Practice, an intermediate and upper-intermediate course book, published by Heinle.

NB: Unfortunately neither the Comfort handouts or the book have arrived as yet so I'll be blogging only from memory and quick notes.

Jeremy Comfort is one of the directors of York Associates, a firm specializing in intercultural training for the corporate sector. For yonks he's been developing methods and materials which integrate an intercultural dimension into language learning.

And as we all know, this is a real buzz topic at the moment. Perhaps even more so, with the financial crisis unfolding and business partnerships moving and changing.

York Associates does intercultural training for teachers, not just corporations. One of these workshops is called "Developing People Internationally." It's pricey as all get out but you can get 20% off if you belong to a teachers' association.

The Best Practice course books are Business English textbooks, not cultural briefings, sort of a cross between your standard BE book and a guide to intercultural intelligence.

Jökulsárlón, Iceland
They reportedly look at culture, not only from the perspective of different countries but also down into the depths of company culture - particularly those of the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India & China).

During his presentation, Comfort went through the familiar images of the iceberg - what is seen above is only a part of what is seen below:

i.e. Artefacts, words, behavious being obvious and visible, above the surface; while customs, norms, attitudes, assumptions and thought processes lie hidden below.

Colourful onionsHe also touched on the models of Hall and Trompenaars and gave us an overview of the onion, the layers of cultural meanings and discussed the skills involved in developing transparency of communication, attitudes of tolerance and exposing intention.

Comfort explained that mostly his corporate clients are interested in developing their managers' Leadership abilities - intercultural competence skills fall in with this. He went through the various factors involved, from business knowledge to language ability, personality, motivation and business skills.

He also discussed communicative skills: how influence, establishing rapport and developing active listening skills are crucial building blocks of any successful cultural competence course.

But, to be absolutely honest, although Jeremy Comfort is a very commanding presenter, and I was very pleased to get to see him in action, his slides were a bit jumbled.

How can I describe this and still be nice?

Er, kind of a "mindmapping" circles and sticks leading out into various directions on powerpoint.

From my own cultural perspective, this was a bit disconcerting. Still, the books sound awfully interesting.

IanMcMasterMcMaster took us from the world of English to the German market.

As Editor-in-chief of Business Spotlight, (an English language learning magazine published for the German, Austrian, Swiss markets) Ian McMaster is well equipped to do this.

First off, he challenged us to an exercise involving a quadrant on the advantages non-native speakers of English have over natives in business situations(!) and vice-versa.

This then led to a mini-presentation of the Business Spotlight, great mag, and then he got on with the meat: back in Spring 2007, Business Spotlight did a survey of Germans who speak English for business purposes and what problems they have when communicating.

Their results were really quite fascinating and in many ways surprising.

Did you know that France is Germany's main trading partner (import and export)?

The US is second, the UK third.

And although 52% of the respondents they surveyed said they speak English to both Non-natives and Native speakers, 31% speak mainly or only to non natives.

Me at workAnd who, do they find easier to communicate with?

Yes. That's right: not us.

39% think that we're the problem.

Alright, not completely the whole problem but the difficulties Germans face when talking to native business partners range from speed (86% say this) and

60% of us use unknown expressions, 57% use far too many idioms, 56% say the words we use are too difficult, 56% that we don't speak clearly enough and 45% have declared our accents too thick.

"Mr Graddol says the majority of encounters in English today take place between non-native speakers. Indeed he adds, many business meetings held in English appear to run more smoothly when there are no native English speakers present."
Michael Skapinker, FT, 9 Nov 2007.

So, NATIVE-ENGLISH business leaders: would you just slowwwwwwwwww down!

Are you ready to call it a day yet? Pack up and go home?

Oh, come on, you're a language teacher! You know we don't still speak that way.

Later on that year, in Sept 2007, Business Spotlight did a follow-up poll of their respondees and asked them where the people were from, the ones who they have the most problems understanding - 192 (of the 1,330 who initially did the survey) answered.

This time the Chinese topped off the list at 34%, the Americans following close behind at 32%, French at 24%, Indians 22%, Japanese 21%, British 21%, Russians and Italians sharing 12%.

I hear that in another presentation across the hall, in Ian Badger's room, his survey results revealed slightly different statistics:

in fact, the real culprits are the Scottish.

But that might just, could be just, a rumor.

What does this all mean for us, on the ground and in the classroom?

onionOur German students have a clear need to communicate interculturally and they need materials that reflect a global world.

What you do with this information is down to you.

But my personal top tip would be to read this book, recommended to me by one of my colleagues: it's excellent and really challenges you to have a look at who you are, as a language teacher, as a person living overseas.

Culture from the Inside Out: Travel--And Meet Yourself: Your Personal Strategy for Crossing Cultures

Useful extras:

You can also view last year's presentation by Ian McMaster at the BESIG 2007, most of the slides are the same - all statistics (very clearly presented, potentially great for a lesson on the subject with your students) are contained within. Click here.

You can get a full report of the survey on the Business Spotlight website if you're a registered subscriber.

Business Spotlight is also now published in the Czech Republic, Ukraine and Bulgaria.


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