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Measurability and Accountability

I went to a conference in London the other day about the teaching of business English and where it’s going and what it’s doing and what it is even.

I learnt some interesting things. Probably the most expected was that 70% of training managers say that language training is not a priority. Then the two things that training managers rate as important when they DO consider language training are price and quality of trainers. Price is the single most important determiner in deciding on which course, where, for whom and for how long. But once the selected bums are on the cheapest seats, the expectation is for top class training. Quelle surprise and ’twas ever thus. My idea bucket on how to address this anomaly is empty.

The next thing I learnt was that training managers expect more measurability and accountability from the schools, teachers and trainers if they do send their staff on training courses. Now measurability can be undertaken at a certain level, but it is costly and problematic. Employing someone to test speaking and comprehension at the beginning and end of a course against some recognised standard is subjective, difficult to control and more often than not reveals no difference or perhaps one that is a little disappointing. And then there are those tests that try to gauge speaking ability through multiple choice tests online. We’ve all been there. How one “measures” an improvement in linguistic skill after a week or even a month, is not an easy question to answer.

Then there’s accountability. It is generally assumed that it is the teacher who is solely responsible for the progress of the student and certainly that is what training managers seem to think. If the student doesn’t progress, the teacher is accountable. Should a student return to work and be seen NOT to have progressed according to some arbitrarily selected barometer, there ensues either a rapid email exchange or a phone conversation between the training manager and the principal or academic manager where a lot of grovelling, flannel and/or freebies are proffered as a sop. The school is put on the “dubious” list and the teacher may be given a “talking to” and told to shape up or ship out.

I don’t for one second think that there aren’t reachers who need to do just that, but in my experience most Business English teachers are dedicated, professional, experienced, extremely well-prepared, knowledgeable and good at their jobs. It is the students that need to be held accountable in a very real way for their own learning. Just as an example: I have a student here this week who received, during his 90 minute private lesson yesterday, 14 phone calls from his boss and various other bodies. Yes, I asked him to turn his phone off. All that produced was him getting more and more agitated and clearly not concentrating at all. He eventually shrugged and looked helpless and turned it on again. Yes, I asked him to tell his caller to call back later and all that produced was nothing. I asked him to speak in English on the phone so that at least we could look at the language he used when he got a chance. He did that for 5 seconds, then continued in his native language for want of vocabulary.

Now hold me accountable if you like, but I honestly believe that when he returns home tomorrow, his lack of progress cannot reasonably be laid at my door – and I shall tell his training manager so if he dares to call or email me.


4 responses »

  1. For significant progress in any language, there’s no substitute for regular, applied study on the part of the student.

    Most involved in business hardly have time for their families or partners. They hardly have time for life. To expect them to find time to learn a language is patently absurd. Miracles don’t happen.

    For anyone thinking of going into one business the message is this: Languages are learnt at school and university. If you don’t have them in place by the time you graduate, you missed the bus.

    • Hi Glennie
      Thanks for stopping by. You are absolutely right. So many of our students have squeezed in their training in a “quiet” week, which turns into a nightmare. They spend every free minute on the phone, they often have to cut they stay short and how much they actually learn is debatable. This begs a lot of questions, but I think there needs to be a radical change in expectations – both from the student and the training managers – and what is delivered and how.

  2. Pity that prospectuses and brochures don’t start off explaining the old proverb about leading horses to water, which is all any of us can do. Instead they sell students the idea that teachers can make it happen all by themselves. Thank God we were not privatised where I teach or we’d be in the same position. As it is, we can kick ass when necessary.

    • Quite. The brochure our previous clowns put out showed a lovely graph with 12 weeks along the bottom and Beginner to Advanced on the vertical axis and a lovely straight line from bottom left to top right. WTF they got that LUDICROUS notion, God only knows. Makes my boil bleed, to be honest…


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