Oct 2010

Why is in-company language training like a Pendolino?

Take a look at some of the earliest railway carriages. They aren’t the open-plan affairs we have now, with doors at each end and seats grouped in fours either side of a central walkway. Nor are they the Hogwarts Express kind where individual compartments open out onto a central corridor. The oldest carriages consist of a long series of compartments, completely isolated from each other, with doors on either side opening directly onto the platform. From the outside they appear as a long stream of doors, like a production line at a wardrobe factory.

Why? Simply because, before the railway train, the only form of overland passenger vehicle was the horse-drawn coach. A horse-drawn coach is generally a sealed compartment where two benches face each other. A steam locomotive can draw a lot more people than a horse, so the logical solution was to stick lots of coaches together. The idea that a railway carriage need not be modelled on a horse-drawn coach did not occur to anyone until later.

Rigid, linear thinking is one of the main reasons why systems don’t work as well as they could. People tend to tweak existing structures rather than creating something new. In-company language training has tended to be rather similar, and this is what in-company language training seeks to avoid.

It makes sense to teach children in schools – we can hardly send teachers round to pupils’ houses! As it stands there are between sixteen and twenty pupils to every teacher and that ratio isn’t likely to get much smaller. And thanks to the national curriculum they’re mostly learning the same sort of thing anyway.

But there’s no need to think all teaching has to be like this. If a business wants its staff to learn a foreign language, there’s no reason why they have to go out to an external location to follow a standard syllabus. Executives learning a language don’t measure their success against a nationally-determined set of criteria: they’re learning the language to get a specific job done, and it makes better sense to tailor the course to them with in-company language training.

And if each course is individual to the company’s requirements, then there’s no reason why it can’t be held on the company’s premises. Most other consultants would come to you – accountants, IT advisers, business advisers – for at least part of the time; there’s no reason why language tutors should be different, and this, fundamentally, is the rationale of in-house language training.

In-company language training isn’t just about linguistic fluency: it’s also about cultural awareness, which is something that can’t easily be taught in a conventional classroom. In a conventional classroom the students anticipate using the foreign language in different settings, and for each individual student a lot of the course may be irrelevant to their needs; etiquette for a tourist is somewhat different from the conventions of sealing a business deal. Corporate language training therefore solves several problems at once.

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