Sep 2010

Why in-house language training?

Why not just go to evening classes? Well, let us imagine a little story. You need to see your accountant …

Sessions with the accountant run to a fixed schedule decided by the accountants themselves. So after work, at seven o’clock in the evening, you drive down to your accountancy firm’s Central Palace. (You know the sort of place: lots of glass and mirrors, gleaming curved panels, everyone in suits tapping away at computers.) You file into a room with flipchart and interactive whiteboard, and the solitary accountant does a little group warm-up so you can all get to know each other … There’s the local newsagent’s, wanting to file his annual returns; the finance team of Scylla Shoes Ltd, preparing for a corporate merger with The Charybdis Sock Company; the local tycoon, wondering whether Belize or Bermuda offers a better rate of tax avoidance; the finance manager of the biscuit factory, submitting his company for its statutory audit …

Of course it would never happen like that. If a company has a problem that it can’t solve by itself – be it accounting, IT, or just unblocking the drains – the consultants come to the company, so that they can give a solution specific to that company. And this is the philosophy of in-house language training.

If a company needs its staff to learn a foreign language, there’s usually a specific reason for it. The staff may be fairly fluent or they may be embarking into the unknown; they may speak the language well but be less familiar with the technical vocabulary for the particular interest that sends them off into foreign parts; perhaps those staff will have relatively little interaction with the company’s foreign contacts, but the company is anxious for them to know at least the polite formularies and not embarrass themselves. In-house language training is adaptable to such variable needs.

Knowing the language, anyway, is only half the battle, and decent language training will teach you the cultural norms of the other country. If you are hoping to do business abroad, errors of etiquette can be more devastating than linguistic errors – people take offence at insults rather more readily than at a failure to distinguish the subjunctive from the indicative. There are parts of the world where you should show your emotions and others where you should keep calm. There are places where it’s best to avoid eye-contact if you want to show respect, while elsewhere it’s more likely to show you’ve got something to hide. In some countries straight contradiction is terribly bad form and elaborate circumlocutions are necessary so that the other person doesn’t lose face.

But again, what constitutes good behaviour depends on the setting as much as on the country – are you negotiating a deal? Promoting a product? Discussing technical advances as one professional to another? Different companies are in different situations – which is why in-house language training, with the ability to tailor courses to needs, is the best solution.



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