Plaza Bami 1 bajo
28017, Madrid
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Feb 26, 2009

Let There Be A Future

It’s incredible how the crisis seems to affect the logic behind everything we do. Having money yet not spending it on our health just because we are afraid we won’t be able to make it into the next century will certainly not help us get there!
In countries with emerging economies there seems to be a Catch 22(1) that is unavoidable. If you can’t feed your family, get the kids (2) to work. Get the kids to work (3) at the expense of (4) their education and find that you can then feed your family but you are still in the hole, unable to get out.
In our experience in the teaching field, we feel that a lot of companies are being pushed into taking decisions that, although, may be good in the short term, will not allow them to gain a competitive edge (5) in the long term.
It seems that although many companies are struggling to pull through (6) instead of planning on how to survive in a more rational way; cutting on training costs always seems to be the answer.
Many companies have spent thousands, even millions of Euros training their people, employing language consultants to help their best assets- their employees, to learn English. They have eagerly made this investment during times of economic prosperity and without questioning the pace at which the process of learning takes place. Little by little, they have been able to see that their employees are now more able to communicate in English and therefore, in many occasions cut deals (7) that would not have been made without the skill of communicating effectively.
It seems however, that when there is an economic crisis, quality is no longer important and effective communication becomes a secondary tool to selling. According to what I read in the newspapers, selling and making a profit are most companies’ sole purpose of being. Therefore, why would a company decide to reduce costs by stopping all training and hamper (8) the skills that would guarantee them a profit in times of recession or at any other time for that matter?
Unfortunately, and most would agree, learning is a slow process that needs effort and commitment by both the student and the company paying for said training. Stopping the process means the student will quickly lose fluency and vocabulary, leading to a feeling of frustration and aversion to the language that will remain even when the student resumes his/her learning. How long does it usually take a person in Spain to reach an Upper Intermediate level and truly feel comfortable and self confident communicating in English? A life time perhaps? Why is it different in northern European countries? Is there anything we can learn from them regarding how to set our priorities straight and stick (9) to them?
I believe short term goals usually do not get anyone very far. Perhaps, included in our goal to teach people English, we (all educational organizations and students alike (10)) should start by helping employers see the benefits of continuity.
I, myself would not like to see my future as being a toothless and weakened entity supported by my uneducated, overworked children because I was unable to plan during a time of crisis!

1. A situation in which a desired outcome or solution is impossible to attain because of a set of inherently illogical rules or conditions.
2. Slang: children.
3. Get somebody to work: to cause or bring to a state or condition (i.e. work)
4. At the loss of.
5. Favorable condition.
6. Striving to succeed.
7. To negotiate an agreement.
8. To prevent the free movement, action, or progress of.
9. To persist or persevere.
10. In like manner.

Feb 25, 2009

The Perpetuation of Mispronouncing English

I was watching the television the other day and during the commercials listened to the way the different products (English names) were pronounced (badly in general) and realized that part of the problem that most students have with pronunciation and understanding spoken English is perpetuated by the commercials and announcers mispronouncing brand names, titles, people’s names, etc. Can somebody explain the logic behind the pronunciation of Colgate (col-gueit) as col-ga-te but Nike (nai-qui) as naik????? Or how about the recent Oscar winner “Slumdog Millionaire” has somehow become “Slamdo Miyonayr”! I could go on and on. Why don’t the announcers stop to at least try and listen to the correct pronunciation? As to commercials, one would think that the companies would be more vigilant as to the pronunciation of their product, right?
My beef is that this slipshod way of presenting things is perpetuating the mispronunciation of English that is endemic to the Spanish student. As it is, everything is dubbed (and for the most part badly translated) in this country. A student must make a very concerted effort to hear and speak in English. In schools for example and for the most part, the “English teacher” does not speak English. Students spend their time translating and studying grammar.
So where am I going with this? For the serious student of English, USE YOUR DICTIONARY!!! I mean the English/English dictionary. You can find the CORRECT pronunciation, definitions and the various uses of a word- which in English can be quite extensive- with examples of the uses, etc.; in other words, the whole enchilada! If you have a really good dictionary it will also give the origin and how the word has transformed over time.
The point being to learn English you MUST use the dictionary – whether it is the one on your table or on the internet. Take the time to say the word out loud paying close attention to the pronunciation given until it feels comfortable. (Remember to put the accent on the correct part of the word!) Make it a habit! I assure you that very soon you will see an improvement in both your speaking and LISTENING skills.

Feb 11, 2009

Telephone Classes? Are you serious?

Actually, very serious! Phone classes are an excellent way to improve listening and speaking skills and can be taken on a stand-alone basis or in conjunction with presential classes. They also have the advantage of not having to physically go to a place but can be taken anywhere there is a landline. At Emerson, the phone classes are very structured and follow guidelines so that the student doesn’t just “babble”. But the biggest asset that we have is the teachers themselves. It takes a very special type of person to be a phone-teacher: informed, organized, patient, internet savvy, good diction and enunciation, loves to talk on the phone as well as be a good listener, are just a few of the characteristics necessary and we have been fortunate to have found teachers who not only possess these characteristics but embody the essence of being true ESL teachers. While at first glance it may look like an easy job, it is not – it is a lot of hard work and can be more trying than face-to-face classes. Because the student cannot see who is on the other end of the phone, the teacher needs to work twice as hard at establishing a rapport with the student. This can be especially difficult when a student is shy or insecure, but once the teacher has managed to help the student overcome his/her fears the learning curve suddenly becomes a steep incline! So, “telephone classes, are you serious?” Yes, very!!!