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In-Company training versus In-School training

First of all, allow me to apologise for the long hiatus I have taken from this blogsite.
I have been blogging regularly, but for the website ETprofessional.com
and would now like to make up for my absence from my own website by re-blogging some of my previous posts published on ETprofessional.com

The first of which is a very personal account on my experience moving from teaching at a language school to doing in-company training.

Leadership - mentoring

Most CELTA courses briefly touch on the teaching of Business English and in-company teaching, but most CELTA centres are language schools where Teaching Practice is naturally conducted with students who are within the school compound.

The only time CELTA trainees get to have a taste of what it might be like to be an in-company trainer is when they actually get a job teaching in company. And the first day as a newly qualified teacher being surrounded by the piercing stares of men in ties and women in suits can be more intimating than being confronted by a difficult grammar question.

Along with my recent move from London to Munich, my teaching context also changed rather drastically, and I was taken out of a comfort zone that I had firmly established for myself over the 10 years of teaching in language schools in London.  I was now plunged into a world of in-company teaching. I hope that in sharing my experience, it will help pave the way for new in-company trainers who do not quite know what to expect.

Having taught years of Business English and trained Business English trainers in Cert IBET courses, on top of having dabbled in some in-company work in London during my early days as a teacher, I knew to expect logistical variation from my career shift. But ultimately, I had believed that the difference between a language classroom or a company meeting room was simply a matter of geography.

I soon found out that geography was no small matter. Geography can determine the facilities available to you. It can affect class atmostphere, rapport and motivation levels. Geography could affect attendance. But before I go into the differences, let me outline the nature of my two different teaching contexts.

My teaching contexts

The language school I worked for in London is a well-respected institution that has a steady flow of students registered to have classes for an intensive period of time. For General English students, this period could last from 2 weeks to a year. Class sizes go from 1 to 15. In our Executive Centre, many of the Business English students are subsidized by either their government or their company to work on their level of English, and usually would stay for a period of 2 weeks to 3-4 months.  Classes are smaller in the Executive Centre, and had a maximum of 6 clients, and lessons took place everyday. Each lesson would usually last for 2-3 hours, and some students might have 2 lessons a day.

As an in-company trainer in Germany, I would travel to different companies on different days of the week for lessons that are usually held in one of their company meeting rooms. A productive day would involve 2 or more classes taking place in the same company on the same day, which would essentially save me travelling time.  Classes are usually 90 minutes to 2 hours long, although on occasion, there would be intensive days of 6-10 hours, especially for courses dealing with specific soft skills such as Presentation English or Negotiations in English. Classes do not usually contain more than 6 students.

Perhaps saying that my move to in-company training was a culture-shock might be a bit of an exaggeration, but here are some of the things I quickly learnt about in-company training.

 

Diverse business group meeting

 

Facilities

 In a language school, one might be equipped with Interactive White Boards, CD players or some kind of multimedia player, and even computers. Wifi connection is often provided, and students often have access to the internet through 3G on their smartphones.

When teaching in company, be prepared for lessons with little more than a flip chart. Markers are usually provided, but bring your own just in case. White boards are not common, which means that any exercise which involves rubbing away parts of sentences or phrases will need to be rethought.

CD players and multimedia players are not always provided, so if you are relying on a listening activity or a video clip, make sure you have it on your iPad or laptop and bring it in yourself.

Many companies don’t allow visitors to have access to the company’s wifi due to security reasons. Some go to the extent of putting up firewalls so that you (or your students) do not have 3G access on your smartphones while in the building. In some cases, you could request to have a special password which might allow you access from certain terminals, but if you plan to show students a particular website, taking screen shots beforehand, and printing them, or pulling them up on your iPad might save you a lot of hassle.

shutterstock_69307333

 

Attitude and Motivation

Students could seem less motivated. It is likely that these students have not paid for these lessons, nor have they travelled a long way to get to their lessons. Some they might be in the dark as to why they have been sent for language training.

The fact that they are in their own home ground and within their own office building means that their mind would always be partially on that urgent reply they need to give their clients or that proposal they need to read and sign off before midday. You can’t blame them for not switching off completely because they are technically still at work.

Not only do they have trouble switching off mentally, getting them to switch off their devices might be a tough call too. Expect interruptions from ringing mobile phones and buzzing pagers. That student who is constantly glancing at his watch may have a meeting to rush to straight after the lesson. We even had a client who once attended an hour-long conference call during his lesson. And disciplining students regarding the right classroom etiquette might not be appropriate. That million-dollar contract may be more important than coming to grips with the Present Perfect Continuous.

 

Communication Skills rather than tenses

Conversely, some say that in-company learners can often be more motivated than General English in-school students if their learning is directly applied to the working environment around them. This would mean doing a more detailed Needs Analysis at the beginning of the course and finding out why and how they might need to use English. Avoid teaching language for the sake of teaching language, and focus on helping learners improve their ability to communicate.

Prepare lessons that are directly related to what they are doing at work. You can:

  • Adapt published ELT materials so that tasks are current and relevant to the learners.
  • Make use of authentic materials, e.g. news articles, case studies, infographics, TED talks, etc as a springboard to discussions, skills practice and language input.
  • Consider tailor-making your own role-plays and get your learners to contribute to creating their own scenarios to enable for more realistic simulations.

Remember that your in-company clients do not necessarily want to be treated like school kids. Games and role plays are great, and can be extremely motivating, but be aware that boring grammar gap fills and following coursebooks to the tee might be less tolerated.

Tailor your lessons to suit your students needs and make them relevant to their use of English.

Four Taylor mannequines.

 

Attendance

Attendance can be sporadic. You might have two students one week, and then two completely different students the week after. This might make revision and recycling of language extremely difficult but bear in mind that there are many factors that could affect your learners’ ability to attend:  company trips, important meetings, annual leave, the odd days off sick are all part and parcel of in company classes.

For the same reasons, students could have issues with being on time for classes. Despite this, in-company clients are not always tolerant of the class overrunning, and a teacher not keeping to the specified times. Understandably, if you have urgent work that needs to be attended to, or a lunch appointment with your manager, you might be less likely to leap for joy when your English teacher gives you an extra 10 minutes of class.

 

Homework

With all their daily responsibilities surrounding them, you might find some students less inclined to revise or do their homework. Some might even find the idea of homework reminiscent of their yawn-inducing rebellion-encouraging school years.  Several trainers have found that re-naming homework ‘action points’ or ‘tasks’ and ensuring that homework tasks continue to be interesting and relevant to the client’s work could help get around this tricky issue.

 

What ‘geography’ can also mean

Finding your way to the company could require some navigation skills, especially if you are new to the country you are teaching in. But thank goodness for transport and navigation apps on smartphones, because now, a person with no sense of direction like myself can somehow make my way there.

Once you get there, you might need a visitor’s pass in order to enter the building, and you often have to make known to reception the person you are here to see. Taking the above into consideration, ensure that you allow for travelling time and for the time it would take for you to be collected at reception.

Making use of a company meeting room as your classroom could mean last minute room changes, or even interruptions during a lesson due to confusion in room bookings.

It is quite common for in-company lessons to run for 90 minutes to an hour without a break, emulating a company meeting. If you are scheduled for two different 90-minute lessons, back-to-back, this could mean teaching three hours straight without a break for you. Don’t be shy about asking your second lot of students if it’s okay you have a five-minute break. And make sure you keep it to five minutes.

Unlike intensive courses where you see your students every day for a short period of time, most in-company courses occur once a week over a longer duration. I know a trainer who has been with the same group of students for more than 3 years! Although, this might mean that students could take several weeks before they warm up to you, this also means that you are able to truly get to know them and their area of work, and to shape their progress in a way that ensures that they are indeed making improvements to the way they are communicating in English at work.

Portrait of business people discussing a new strategy

 

Most importantly, try not to be intimidated by the piercing stares of the men and women in suits that are your students. Make sure you dress smartly and look professional, and remember: You might not be an expert in their field, but you are certainly the expert in dealing with language and communication issues. And with your expertise, you can help them do their job better.

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About chiasuanchong

I am a teacher and teacher trainer in the EFL industry, and have been teaching General English, Business English and exam classes for the last 9 years. I am interested in teaching approaches and methodologies, especially in Dogme and coursebook-less classrooms, and Sociolinguistics, and am fascinated with the interplay between culture, communication, language and thought.

23 responses »

  1. Very useful article, Chia, as usual!! I love the homework renamed tip. Brilliant idea!I will use it, as I’ve had homework issues with my business students.

    Reply
  2. Thank you for the post, it was very interesting to read..I have the opposite experience of mostly teaching in-company, moving around the city during the day, changing completely different environments in different companies’ offices: from a strict and dull oil company’s premises to a bright and exciting internet company, from a financial institution to a trade company. I still have to admit, I love it when I get an opportunity to teach in a language school – there are much more facilities available, all the books are within reach too, and attendance, rooms and homework become more secure here..but still, there is something fascinating (or just close to life) about teaching in-company, as long as you are lucky with the students and conditions)) in that case, your course can really last for a long time, allowing you to tailor the course to your students’ needs and expectations, which makes it all really rewarding!

    Reply
  3. Hi Chia! Just tell you I always read your posts as soon as I get them in my inbox and I find them all very thought-provoking. Most of the time I feel relieved when you put a name to things I’ve been experiencing but haven’t been able to put them into words.Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    • Thanks for that lovely comment, Mirna.
      It’s really made my day.
      There’s nothing I like doing more than provoking thought and getting people to really reflect and re-consider what they do and what they believe.
      Some might just say I like stirring things up a little…hahaha….

      Yours,
      Chia

      Reply
  4. Well, teaching is like a stew, you need to stirred it up every once in a while haha . Thank you for taking the time to answer my comment! :)

    Reply
  5. Dear Chia,
    You could have been me! I live in Germany too, and after decades of “comfortable” Adult Education classes to nice, indulgent housewifes with time on their hands (I’m exaggerating only slightly), I suddenly found myself putting on my Power Suit and driving to a company to give a group their weekly 90 minutes Business English lesson. The worst “culture shock” I had there was that the language school AND the company constantly sent out feedback forms to the students, with the help of which my own performance was to be assessed. This was grossly unfair because of questions like “Is the group homogeneous? “or “Was the course book good?” No it wasn’t, in both cases, but I had no say in either who to teach or what to teach with.
    The other huge difference was that the company AND the language school, both was expected quick returns on their investment plus tangible results, in one case expecting me to coach B1 level people up to B2 standard and get them through an external exam at the end of only one year (38 lessons, as we kept school holidays).

    And the pay? 22 euros gross per 45 minutes is no way enough to live on in this country.
    Luckily I was able to end this experiment after the first year!

    Reply
    • Hi Di,
      Thanks for commenting.
      The expectations of the HR department or whoever commissioned the training can often unrealistic…which is why I believe it is important that whoever negotiated the contract ought to present the facts to them (this might be the trainer herself or the agency/school that is obtaining the contract)

      Yes, it is possible to show a return on their investment without relying on unreliable language tests, and no, we can’t guarantee that learners will get from B1 to B2 level in 2 months when we are only having training once a week,because language acquisition simply does not work that way.

      It is certainly unfortunate that you had feedback forms that included questions that were not relevant to your teaching…Perhaps it was a generic form that they issued to all sorts of training….which is often the case…and the management of the training department would then choose to take note of and ignore the feedback depending on how relevant it is to language training. Was there a way for you to feedback this to the management?

      As for the pay, I think €22 per hour is very good pay indeed…especially compared to how much English teachers are paid in other countries. I know a school in London that pays £6.50 per hour, and the best schools in the UK pay about £16 per hour (that’s 60 minutes).

      It’s not a luxurious salary and may not be able to support an entire family…but enough to get by in Germany (trust me, I got by on £6.50 in London where the cost of living was much higher…) Perhaps it’s just about how many hours you take on? (I was doing 10-12 hour days when I first started teaching!)

      Yours,
      Chia

      Reply
      • Regarding the pay: I do realise that many people have to get by on much less than 22 Euros/hour. However, if you read up about the employment situation for teachers of English in Germany (e.g. on this site:http://www.tefl-germany.de/), you will find out that even 22 Euros per contact hour/lesson is not really enough to live on in the long run. The reason is the high cost for freelancers of health insurance, the compulsory pension contribution etc. plus the fact that it is not always possible to acquire, say, 35 teaching hours per week for 52 weeks a year, especially if you are not located in a major city. The only language school teachers I know in Germany who are happy with their pay are the fortunate few who have managed to be given a contract, i.e. who are no longer self-employed.

        What you say about the unrealistic expectations of the HR dept. of the company and the language school is unfortunately something frequently encountered . It is not often possible for the newbie teacher to “educate” their superiors about what makes for effective language teaching. In my case I was not allowed to deviate from the proscribed book at all. Luckily I was in a position to be able to leave this particular school and in retrospect I learnt a lot from the experience!.

        Reply
  6. I feel for you Chia. I’ve been teaching businessy people in a school for over a year and some in-house and online. The other day, one guy texted t say he’d be 15 mins late, then another message and another. Eventually, the class was 90 mins later than planned. As this is a private client, I don’t feel like I can say “OY!” but I did make it clear that we had a planned time and I have other classes. Maybe I should have logged off.

    I also have the issue of ‘I don’t know what I want to learn and I don’t actually want to do anything’ with some. This even involves picking up a pen.

    One class/session has actually evolved into helping the client with a project he’s doing but I slip in reformulations and help with lost words.

    My favourite student has lunch with me in different places and we just talk. This is a C2 learner who just wants to ‘keep up his level’. I have a lot of these who really don’t want lessons. even B2/C1 students don’t like to be ‘taught’ so to speak and I won’t get into trying to correct CFOs and CEOs.

    Sometimes I feel like I’m not really teaching (the TEFL method) but I am giving them what they ask for and without any clear achievable goal, it is a bit like rummaging round in the dark to see what they like and need. More of the former.

    I recently applied for an official trainer status and was put through the grill by the local council training woman. Basically, she didn’t think that I could be a company trainer as I was a foreigner and I didn’t have a company. Even though I had a contract, qualifications and relevant documents, she was still unhelpful and demanded more than what is legally required. I found this strange when plenty of other teachers don’t even have the CELTA. With these kinds of problems, it’s no wonder that the French economy doesn’t move much. It’s a shame when companies want to hire trainers and trainers want and can teach them but some silly admin woman in an office just wants to exert her power. Grrrrrr!

    Going back to my previous comment…..The more I teach/train BE clents, the more I understand that 1)My CELTA approach is completely unsuitable 2)99% of them don’t want Business English at all.

    Reply
  7. I know just what you mean, Phil.!
    Some of these “business” people regard lessons as a nice break in their routine – paid for by the Company, of course – and they really only want to chat in English. They do not treat the trainer as a fellow-professional whom they have an appointment to meet at a certain time and place but as someone who is at their beck and call. As soon as something only remotely more important turns up, they cancel.
    The only way around this is no longer to be there if they are more than 10 minutes late (and charge all the same), also to insist that cancellations have to be made at least xx hours in advance. This approach only works, however, if it is written into the contract between the Company and you or your language School.
    At lower levels in the Company heirarchy it works best if the students have to clock out before the lesson and clock in again afterwards. Thus they are at least investing their time. This then has to be made up for, often by staying later on the same day With any luck this way you get the more motivated ones enrolling for the course.

    Reply
    • Yes, sounds very familiar, Di. That is until, you say you have other clients but then you may not see them for a month. One school I work at has that. From what I gather, students sign up for X hours but then choose days and times whenever they can and also cancel the day or 2 days before. This raises the whole cancellation issue. Personally, I think a 24 hour one is too short as if I block out a Wednesday morning slot for X client and he cancels on Monday then I can’t book anything else. There are then the ‘I’m busy for a while’ brigade and those who start off with weekly lessons and then you end up emailing them just to get one class a month.

      I don’t like dealing with cancellation pay issues so at the school, well, I don’t but I get less pa as a consequence. With privates, it’s still a thorny issue that I find uncomfortable raising but, quite nicely, one of my clients usually just says “bill me for it”. It’s that kind of relationship that makes me more flexible and willing to let some difficulties slide. And it also creates a reputation which has helped me get other clients.

      Respect has a lot to do with it too. I’ve seen trainers and bosses in the past who just didn’t respect business clients and some who were quite rude to them. One of these went bust, I wonder why?? For me, these managers/directors are.very qualified and experienced people who I thoroughly enjoying spending time with and most of them are extremely dedicated and manage to squeeze in half an hour here and 90 minutes there of English.

      Reply
  8. As Di has said above, yes, hourly rates do vary around the country, and also from country to country. And yes, it may be difficult to fill one’s schedule when one doesn’t live in a city with a lot of demand. It’s a simple question of supply and demand though, and the relationships between the client, the supplier (i.e. training provider) and the deliverer (i.e. the trainer). Hourly rates are dictated by what the market will stand (both up and down) in relationship to the service and quality being provided. Trainers with specialisations and niche expertise can command higher rates. It’s a s simple as that, so trainers who aren’t happy with the rates the market can stand for what they’re supplying need to be offering added value in order to command higher rates – i.e. get experience/training in specialist areas and use transferable skills to offer either skills or industry specific, or ESP, training… or something else.

    Phil’s example of helping his learner with the project he’s working on (through the medium of English) is a good example of this. In this case, you’re not giving language training, but something else. So why charge for language training? Is it the lack of the ‘trainer’ status locally? And if so, what’s standing between you and that? Is it a mere label? Would consultant be a label you could operate under more freely? These are questions I guess I’d be asking myself if I were in that situation.

    Di, why not send your learners email meeting invitations which will be fixed in their Outlook schedules? This may 1) help them to see the training more like a meeting with a business partner, and 2) reduce the likelihood that they’ll cancel or be absent. As Phil said, relationships play a huge role, and if we are truly providing value in their eyes, then they’ll prioritise the appointments. If not, they won’t.

    Ultimately, we are in charge of the decisions we make, whether it’s about an hourly rate we accept, a course book we have to rigidly follow or tolerating a tardy learner. And in all of these things we do also have the power to say no, or alternatively said, to decide to do something about it.

    Reply
    • Good points Mike. I love Google Calendar as without it, few of my students would remember our classes. I have also started using Flipboard and making podcast feedback and audio feedback on docs and I only use iPads in classes now. I got fed up of using paper while students had them and also of links not working. I think these definitely add value.

      The pay issue is a continual point of debate I think. What I do hate though are moaning teachers. I have known some who moaned about getting 20 Euros for language school BE teaching but they had no Celta. From point of view is that they are very lucky to even have a job and that pay is actually better than some other qualified people I know.

      I agree with Mike about supply and demand but sometimes there is no demand as people are not aware of the service. For instance, tailored courses or online classes. In fact, several government people here have said that the last isn’t real training. I also see a lot of ‘talkers’ who have no real qualifications or e pertinence but manage to get contracts through networking and sounding like they know what they are on about but don’t. A few people like this seem to move from teaching to translation and interpreting depending on what pays. Now, for me, you either have an MA in one or the others, not all of them. This kind of poor service which demands good pay, makes us look bad and can actually drive prices down if they want. Then, when you ask for more pay as you have X, Y and Z, they can say that you are too expensive. Well,math at is in relation to the previous cowboy.

      Going back to the travel issue mentioned by Chia in the article, I am too old for this really and I don’t know any schools that pay travel time or companies that pay enough to cover it. Yes, I can get lower pay in a school but I can get back-to-back classes and not be delayed due to buses or traffic. It’s also very tiring and at night, can be a bit dodgy when you go to business parks or industrial areas. For 90 minutes or even 2 hours, it really isn’t worth it.

      OK, one last point. Does anyone do co-working? I was thinking of going into it. It seems to be where you base your company from a rented shared space with wifi, photocopying, a work space and private rooms and your own post box. The advantages are that, legally, you are based there, you are out of the house, you can network with other business people and you can use rooms for classes or training AND they tenets be near or in the business areas. This seems to be the next step for a growing freelance business.

      Reply
      • Thanks Mike, Phil and Di for carrying out a very much-needed debate on the matter of the remuneration and the expertise of the Business English trainer.

        I would tend to agree that we are moving more towards helping our learners become better communicators, rather than simply better at English lexico-grammar, and this shift often includes coaching our learners in their business skills and soft skills like negotiation, presentation, problem-solving, building relationships, etc…
        Of course, to be able to do these things, the trainer has to invest time and money to professionaly develop him/herself and become a more credible communications coach/trainer.

        When we can offer that added value and show our clients that they will see a return on their investment in our expertise, we can then charge more.

        Having said that, some teachers don’t fancy being experts in such business skills and prefer to stick to language training. And that’s fine too.
        But the market rate offered for in-company language training in a country like Germany is in the region of €20-€30 per hour for most schools and agencies (and I understand it’s a lot lower in other countries). So if one has to do more hours in order to compensate for the lower hourly rate, then one has to really look into ways of marketing oneself, getting involved in virtual training, and ensuring that one gets good feedback from the clients to ensure repeat business and word-of-mouth recommendations.

        C

        Reply
        • I just got an add for an in-comp job for 17-19 Euros before tax. Reminds me of when I was offered 12. Shocking.

          In France, many teachers are freelance and we tend to forget about the tax we will have to pay later on. Thus, the 17 Euros above is more like 15 maybe.

  9. Hi, Chia! I really admire your effort to write this post complete with pictures. I’ve recently shifted from academic to corporate training. And there are some downsides with company training. In my case, I teach medical staff who have varying shifting schedules. They come late in class. Sometimes they do not see why they have to study business writing. There’s more pressure from the company that they have to pass exams. Sucks!

    Reply
  10. Been there, done that, got fed up with fighting straw men and kept aspiring for bigger things. Now doing a PhD on motivation, a way better situation for me. Thanks for the thought inspiring post, it’s good to know I wasn’t imagining things. The hard part for me in the Swiss system was that language teachers in general are hardly more than part of the furniture, cleaning ladies earn more and get more respect than we do. On the one hand they’re still used to the old image of teaching, to an elderly lady with a stick and think British accent having them go through drills. On the other, thanks to their wonderful education system, they believe that languages not learned at school or is childhood are lost to them forever. Almost impossible to dislodge them from either, and very demotivating for a teacher — and motivator. It can be an inspiring challenge, or a life draining chore. I wish anyone venturing into this jungle the best of luck! ;)

    Reply

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