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Jack's Design Narrative

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Jack Forestall
18 April 2013

H800-13B Ups and Downs on the Corporate Ladder: Corporate ESL Instruction from the top down and bottom up. 

I assist in creating and implementing corporate English language training programs as part of a team of professional instructors. This narrative compares and contrasts my experiences teaching at a traditional Japanese auto manufacturer in Tokyo, Japan and at a new hi-tech holding company in Istanbul, Turkey.

 This work was undertaken over the course of two 18 month periods in the offices of the client companies. Lessons usually took place in meeting and conference rooms. Instructors were tasked to create customized curricula based on specific student needs.

The Tokyo contract began with mid-level engineers and over the course of the first year, instructors were chosen for senior staff and the executive branch using student evaluations of their course and instructors. This method was chosen by the client in order to ensure that senior and executive staff received the most popular instructors.

The Istanbul contract began with private lessons for the Chairman of the Board and CEO two hours twice a week who wanted to make a personal assessment of our training program prior to our working with other staff.

The two companies were in very different corporate and cultural environments. The Tokyo offices were very formal in dress and conduct while the Istanbul offices were much more casual and colloquial.  

In both cases, sentiments were mixed. Some students were very enthusiastic about improving their English and others were somewhat preoccupied or disinterested. Everyone acknowledged their need to improve their communication skills but many were frustrated by the time needed of them.

Our objective was to improve our students’ English communication skills while instilling a greater confidence and desire in them to continue to improve on their own.

Learning was assessed with periodic written and oral examinations combined with evaluations by the instructor. There was no grading system for the students. Test and quiz results were used by the instructors primarily as a means of determining what material needed to be reviewed and what new material was to be added. Our primary measure of success was determined by student and instructor feedback.  

First, we’d determine the needs and expectations of our students and use this information to create custom material specific to their situation. Pedagogies included Callan, Direct Approach, Audio-lingual Method, Community Language Learning, Communicative Approach – Functional-Notional and Total Physical Response (TPR).  Activities included role-play and task-based games, readings, discussions, and written assignments.

As the course progressed, students often bonded as a group and contributed more and more towards new content. Particular student weaknesses and strengths were weighed by the instructors to determine the development of curricular content as each class began to focus more and more on job specific situations.

Some of the problems were had to contend with were a shortage of available rooms, tardiness and absences. Our host company dealt with space issues and, as instructors, we did our best to encourage promptness and attendance.  

Improving ones language skills depends greatly on the individual learner as time, age, background, receptivity, and dozens of other factors impact learning outcomes. Our job was not so much to teach our students English, but rather facilitate them in their current use of English for specific purposes.

Overall, we succeeded in what we set out to do. But, there were students disinterested from the onset and some whose schedules made it impossible for them to attend regularly. Many students finished the course with an expanded English vocabulary specific to their needs and improved grammar skills. Some students progressed very little. A very small number of students both in Japan and Turkey demonstrated what may politely be referred to as ‘ethnocentric’ attitudes towards learning foreign languages and consequently participated at a very marginal level.

In both situations, according to student feedback, the lessons were generally seen as a pleasant diversion from a busy work schedule.  

Attendance, although not obligatory was close to 100% in Japan compared to 75% in Turkey.  Executive officers in both companies had the highest cancellation rates and slowest progress rates as determined by their instructors. This can be attributed mostly to the time constraints they faced.

In the end we hopefully provided an enjoyable cultural exchange and fostered better English communication skills in our clients. As for evidence, well, I do keep getting messages from former students keeping me updated on their studies and their lives.

I wrote this narrative to demonstrate the influence of culture on a learning environment. In both cases, there was an immediate need for what was being taught, but not everyone took advantage of the opportunity. Success? Failure? Or just shades of grey?  

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