When I started working here, I was doing two new things- teaching adults and teaching by the seat of my pants (look Ma, no text book!). I depended heavily on my DOS to help me and guide me. I admired him enormously as a teacher and I listened to absolutely everything he said. I remember during one staff meeting, he said that he had this dream that on his last day of teaching he would to say to the student in front of him, “I don’t give a damn about your poxy job, now let’s get down to the Present Perfect.” That was 6 years ago – merely. And we all agreed. We were paid to teach English, not to sit and listen to people going on about installing SAP, merging with another bank, or making staff cuts. Six years ago, I would not have believed I would need to or even be able to hold discourse concerning the Economy (note capital “E”), the construction business in Spain, France’s employment law, the diverse portfolio of Banco Santander, investment banking, factoring (say, WHAT?), business development in the energy industry and – probably weirdest of all – for me at any rate – the stock market and HOW IT WORKS. Now I’m not saying by any means that I am an expert or even competent in any of these fields – I’m a language teacher, remember. But, like that rather unkind tag we pin on some of our students, I’m a “fluent fool” in all of them. Most of – in fact all of – the aformentioned quickly bore me to sobs. Money has never been something I choose to talk about or even take a vague interest in. Yet here I am week after week prattling away about it as if to the manner born and sometimes even making sense.
And with it came the soft skills. I had never heard of soft skills and quite frankly thought they sounded wishy-washy. Then I was asked to go and train at our head office in the delivery of a five-day “management” course. I found the course and its progression almost impossible to access intellectually: I thought it was unteachable because it was not generally applicable, had been translated and required far more teacher-talk than I was used to. What I did learn was that in order to teach something it has to at least make sense to the teacher; anything that has been translated directly from another language is at best not suitable as teaching material and at worst, dangerous. And so to the actual teaching of the soft skills: the BE Trinity that leaps out of every course book, every syllabus and every Needs Analysis document – Meetings, Presentations and Negotiations. Initially they look daunting and scary, but on closer analysis, all three are done by all of us most days. Meetings don’t need to be Big Important Board Meetings – many of my classes use the language of meetings in another guise. We don’t all need 400 people, a cutting edge beamer/IWB with interactive capability, print, scan and download functionality with 3-D powerpoint slides and animated colour graphics to do a Presentation or teach the skills required. Telling people who you are, where you work and why you are there is as valid a presentation as any other. And I think we also need to understand that we are not magicians -some people cannot present, never mind which language they use. Having control over English doesn’t necessarily bestow on one enviable Presentation skills. And so to Negotiations – show me a parent, a spouse, a child and I’ll show you someone who has negotiated. The skill is not new – the language may be. There’s no need to be afraid of teaching these skills – we all do them every day. It is a question of becoming aware of the language used, extracting it and analysing it and replacing it in the student’s context to be discussed, tried on, practised and assimilated.
And this is where I am now – learning on the job, daily, student by student, how to teach them to function successfully, effectively and hopefully more confidently in a global business environment that is as challenging as it is exciting. Yes the changes have been massive, surprising, eye-opening, rapid and extensive, but not too daunting or terrifying. And I for one, am quite pleased that my job no longer revolves exclusively around someone’s grasp of the Present Perfect.