Business, Business English, English, language, Learning & Education

Business English is Boring – Apparently

Today we are going to learn some language for meetings…..

Time for Business? 

A collective groan fills the classroom. The teacher inwardly sighs, wishing he were somewhere far more stimulating, like Lidl. The students head fall with an audible smack as they hit the table, dreading the next turgid hour and a half of ‘stuff they don’t want to learn’, ‘things they already know’, ‘words and phrases they’ll never use’ , ‘a complete waste of time’.

Ever been there? Tasked with teaching a subject that is seemingly one the students hate and indeed one you as the teacher can not get enthused to teach?

Welcome to the world of teaching Business English. A world where the Director of Studies chuckles with an evil laugh as they draw up the next week’s schedule and pencil in someone for the ‘graveyard shift’. Post lunch, Business English class. A world where eyes role and knees tremble, hoping a bout of severe diarrhea wreaks havoc upon bowels and weekends so that Monday does not arrive and the teaching of Business English can be avoided. And some other poor bugger (hopefully the director of studies – oh the irony) has to teach the class instead.

Yes, for some teachers, Business English is a curse worse than a plague of boils. It is the last thing they want to teach, the area of English they feel least competent and practiced in. The area they wish to avoid at all costs. They would rather teach a class of delinquent 15 year olds the language of politeness and respect, than step up to the task of teaching presentation language.

But why is Business English feared by some and on the other hand, embraced by a few (myself included, I really enjoy Business classes)?

The reasons are various, but I would narrow it down to the following;

  • Lack of Business Experience – Left university, partied around S.E.Asia for a year and a bit, came home, worked in Tescos for 6 months, did the CELTA, started teaching in a far flung corner of China or Indonesia, never worked in a corporate environment, nor a temporary office job. Never experienced the world of ‘work’, of meetings and presentations, of financial information, of negotiations and international business class travel….
  • A Feeling of Inferiority – You are 25 years old, a graduate in media studies and fine art. You are faced with a class of 50 year old middle and senior managers, specialists in their area of business, more experience of the world of business than you have been alive, high fliers in their company. All eyes are on you. ‘What do YOU know?’. Are YOU a fraud? What can YOU actually teach THEM?
  • The Subject Matter – The language of meetings, diplomatic language, negotiations, dealing with people, conflict in the workplace, presenting, interview skills etc etc. You start looking through the Business English textbooks and immediately feel your eyes glaze over. Soporific, somnolent, snooze inducing stuff. zzzZZZZ. And you have to make this stuff attractive, interesting, easy to follow and practicable in  application. The wolves are waiting and they are hungry. Off you go…
  • Why Me? – It is a good question. In some schools the Business English class is seen as the least preferred class to teach. It is not ‘sexy ‘ English. It is not fun. It is boring, the students are dull, unreceptive, unwilling to learn anything new, sent by their boss and not particularly motivated. Why me? What have I done to deserve this? It feels as if you are being punished. Why? I was only 2 minutes late to class last Thursday….
  • Lack of Preparedness – It is Friday afternoon. The new schedule is posted. You check and find it is your turn. Pass the poisoned chalice. Monday Business class awaits. What on earth are you going to teach them? I don’t have any materials prepared….I haven’t got any cool handouts for them. Monday arrives and blind panic has resulted in photocopying a bog standard textbook (though to qualify myself, they are many excellent Business English textbooks out there)…OK then, page 1. Saying Hello at a meeting….. The groans grow louder
  • Not Wanting to Let Anyone Down – You are a professional. You take pride in your work. You enjoy interacting with students and creating and delivering effective, fun and useful lessons. You love to see the progress your students make. But Business English feels like a step too far. You can’t deliver anywhere near as effective lessons. You will let the students down and feel a failure. You want to do yourself justice, but feel you won’t be able to meet their expectations or your own. They might even go to the Director of Studies and…..complain!!!

OK. Stop. Breathe. Relax. 

Computer Says No?
Business English doesn’t need to draw a blank…

Business English is ….

FUN, INTERESTING, EXCITING, MOTIVATING, ENJOYABLE, USEFUL, SOMETHING EVERY TEACHER CAN TEACH, SOMETHING NOT TO BE AFRAID OF

There, I said it. Business English is an area of English Language teaching that is challenging, but can be approached in a practical way and can be as satisfying to your students and yourself as any other English lesson. Over the last 21 years teaching English to adults in a variety if professions and occupations, I have specialized in Business English. It is the one area that I feel most comfortable in. I have seen friends and colleagues go pale at the thought of teaching business and have coached and mentored them in how to approach Business English. Am I strange? No, not really. Everyone has their own preferred niche, but this should not preclude you from teaching any part of English, whether that is business, exam preparation, language for specific purposes such as medicine, law, engineering, aviation etc, any age group from young children to adults, etc. 

These are my top tips for teaching Business English.

  1. No one is an expert in everything – I have 6 years experience in management. However, this was a long time before I embarked on my career as a language teacher. Was I / Am I an expert in business? Absolutely not. I have experience that has supported me in teaching Business English and has been invaluable in classrooms, but I am no expert. What I have is an INTEREST in business, but moreover, an interest in my students and what they do. This forms the basis of many lessons, discussions and classroom activities . Remember that the students coming to learn Business English do not expect you to be an expert in their industry. Nor are they expecting you to teach them their job. They are looking to you to help them do their job better in English. Equipping them with better vocabulary and expressions, a more intuitive and fluent listening and speaking ability, an improved pronunciation that makes them understood more easily and the ‘English Toolbox’ to aid them deliver better presentations, meetings, negotiations. At the end of the day always remember that the student is the expert.
  2. Business English is Real Language – Business English is just English. With a specific application and relevance. The language of meetings is specific vocabulary used to do a number of functions; suggesting, offering, agreeing, disagreeing, interrupting, correcting, clarifying etc. And do we not do those things in everyday situations? It is true there are some words and phrases with unique use as Business English expressions (to table a proposal, to chair a meeting), but these are generally easy to understand from context.
  3. Use the Experience in the Classroom – People like to talk about themselves and are naturally curious. Let your Business students be a resource. Far too many teachers fall into the trap of believing every lesson has to be teacher led for 60 or 90 minutes. Business students love the opportunity to present in small groups, to discuss their own position and industry, but moreover are very interested in knowing about their fellow students and what they do. Small group sessions / discussions which can be filmed and played back will highlight key vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, direct / indirect language which can be used in the next part of the class. 
  4. Students Often Believe They Are Better Than They Really Are – Yes, you sometimes have students who know it all. Who think they have every part of this speaking English game cracked, they are perfect. Really? In my experience, every single student I have taught, even those who I would class as Advanced or Proficient make mistakes. Or fail to understand the nuances of the  language. Or have inappropriate intonation (The Russian students are often excellent, but speak with a low, flat monotone, that sounds bored, uninterested, unhappy and creates a negative response in the listener. Their vocabulary and grammar are excellent, but they don’t realise how poor they sound). While they are the experts in their job, you are the expert in English. 
  5. Even the Smallest Areas Can Trip Up the Best Students – Try this exercise. Spellings in English. Read out (or phone students) information for the students to write down. Email addresses, complicated addresses, foreign names, names including accents and umlauts. Even the most competent students struggle because it is not often practiced. But getting accurate information is crucial (especially if you spell an email address wrong….)
  6. Take An Interest in Business – Now you do not need to read the Financial Times back to back every day for a month. But listen to the business news on the radio, go online and read a couple of articles from online newspapers, watch the news, watch business programmes such as Dragon’s Den and The Apprentice. These are excellent sources of vocabulary and points of discussion. Dragon’s Den is great for negotiation language, using conditionals (what would you do?), selling, presentation language, body language, fast native speech, product design, entrepreneurship etc etc. The Apprentice introduces creative solution finding, strategic planning (or a lack of), delegation and management, decision making, conflict and conflict resolution. Business English is everywhere around us and there is so much beyond the textbooks that you can use in lesson planning; either as a lesson in itself or to supplement textbook exercises.
  7. Enjoy Business English – I have had some of the best fun classes teaching Business English. Your students are people. They are there to learn and to enjoy themselves while doing so. They are not always deadly serious and dull (in fact in 21 years of teaching Business English, 99% of my students have found the classroom environment invigorating, fun and enjoyable. Either in 1:1 or class situations, most students relish the chance to learn English, because they are NOT at work. It is a different thing to do. Many senior managers and business owners I have taught have the best sense of humour and are the most relaxed people I have taught. They want to learn, they want to enjoy the process, they don’t want to be bored, they have expectations, but they are easy to work with, they will also be proactive in telling you what they like and don’t like, and how they like to learn. 
  8. Be Relevant and Flexible – I always spend time with a new class or a new 1:1 student discussing learner expectations and do a needs analysis. I will then tailor my lessons to the needs of the student(s). I teach the students, and maintain a flexible approach, not what I want them to learn. I negotiate their priorities and design classes that fit these requests. Not everyone will have the same priorities, but doing a needs analysis will allow every student their input into the lesson content. Always have a back up plan. Always have a back up lesson or activity available. “We have done meetings, we don’t want to do financial language (Hurrah!), can we do a conversation lesson?” Be flexible.
Example of Needs Analysis for Business English Lessons

So, if you are dreading being asked to teach the Business English class, try to approach it in a different way. It is an English class, with highly motivated and intelligent, interesting people, who are interested in you, who want you and for them to succeed and above all, want to learn and to enjoy the process of doing so. I think of Business English the other way round. For me it is “English for Business”. My job is to provide the students with the English skills and language necessary to help them do their jobs better when required to use English. 

Good luck and have fun! Business does not have to be boring. But it does have to be interesting, relevant, useful, engaging and FUN!

If you would like to know more about teaching Business English please get in touch. I would love to hear from you. If you are a student interested in improving your Business English knowledge, let me know and I would be delighted to help you. Details of my Skype Online Lessons are on this website. 

Best wishes,

Tony

English, language, Learning & Education, Pronunciation

The Beauty of Accents

Gud afterrnuun. Wilcum to Norn Iron.

I come in PRAISE of accents, not to slate them.

Wait. Before you start shouting at me for vilifying the Northern Irish accent, let me state on record, that is one of my favourite accents in the British Isles. Together with Scouse and Geordie (for the uninitiated, people from Liverpool and Newcastle).

My wife and I recently visited Northern Ireland for the first time. The country was beautiful, the scenery breathtaking, the welcome warm and friendly, the people generous and kind. Everything I had heard and hoped would be the case. I was not disappointed. But to hear the Northern Irish accent, its rich tones and elongated vowels, its wonderful pitch from a lofty high to a guttural low, to hear the accent in situ, was magnificent. It made me want to just sit in Costa nursing a large cappuccino and listen to the soundscape around me, drowning in the mellifluous tones of that gorgeous accent.

You see, accent for me is an enhancement to place, a badge of identity and of belonging. A kinship and a sense of pride. The Northern Irish are a people with fierce pride in their homeland. Sadly, for a long period of history, a fierce pride that escalated to bloodshed, bombing, civil unrest and a very dark episode that left no one unaffected. Identity and belonging is an intrinsic part of the human make up. We all want to belong and we all want to be able to have and to share our identity. The people of Northern Ireland fought over sovereignty, over nationhood, whether to be part of a unified political state (Eire, Ireland, joining together politically with the south of Ireland) or to maintain its place within the United Kingdom, allied to Westminster and the government in London. But the one thing everyone in Northern Ireland maintained was their sense of identity and place. They were protestant or catholic, they were loyalist or republican, but they were all Northern Irish. Identifiable immediately from the deep brogue and pronunciation at odds with almost anywhere else in the UK (although perhaps closest to some Scottish dialects). And that accent, as with Scouse, Geordie, Brummie (Birmingham), Cornish, Welsh, Cockney (East London), Yorkshire, Lancashire, Glaswegian (Glasgow), East Anglian, Bristolian (Bristol), West Country or any other regional accent, are all things people are proud of.

Yet some people are embarrassed by their accent. Not because of where they were born, or where they grew up. Everyone around them would have had the same accent. It would have been the norm, nothing out of the ordinary. But branching out after leaving school or home to embark on a University education, a new job in a different part of the country, would bring them in contact with people who spoke with different accents. And who may perceive their accent as funny or odd-sounding, strange, difficult to understand, frustrating to listen to etc. Which is particularly unfair. Yet it is accepted that some accents are preferable and easier to listen to than others. The English ear has a tendency towards certain accents over others. Accents become stereotypes of personality and caricatures of the person, irrespective of qualification, personality or success. If I can summarize widely held opinions on some the major accents in the UK, the reactions to them tend to be;

  • Geordie – Newcastle = friendly, welcoming, open
  • Brummie – Birmingham = unintelligent, silly, comical
  • Scouse – Liverpool = friendly, funny, comical
  • Mancunian – Manchester = whiny, complaining, unfriendly
  • Received Pronunciation – standard English (BBC / Oxford) = posh, upper class, privileged
  • Bristolian – Bristol = unintelligent, not very clever, slow

These are very general stereotypes, and very unfair. Labelling people because of their accent is extremely unhelpful and can be a barrier to progress in careers and in being accepted socially. However, in a survey of the most attractive accents, Brummie, Scouse and Mancunian came out least attractive, while Welsh and Received Pronunciation came at the top. Interestingly, Geordie came in the middle, but many large companies have located customer call centres in Newcastle because the Geordie accent has such positive responses from the majority of people.

My own accent is neutral. I grew up in the south of England and speak without any strong accent. I have picked up some accent from living and working in Manchester and for the last 16 years in the West Midlands. But no one would accuse me of being from Manchester or Birmingham. As a result, I am fortunate that my teaching voice is easily followed and understood by my students. I deliberately pronounce with clarity and vary my speed and language dependent on the ability of the student. However, this is unrealistic in helping the student properly prepare for real interaction with native speakers beyond the classroom. It is therefore something I am always keen to focus on in lessons; making pronunciation a key element of their learning experience.

When you meet someone who has a strong accent, the difficulties as a language learner can be immense. Even the most accomplished learner with a high level, who learnt RP – received pronunciation or ‘Oxford English’, from the comfort and security of a classroom, will be shocked and surprised at how impenetrable some accents are. The words are the same. The sentences communicate the same meaning and intent. Yet, the words contain syllables and sounds that are variously mangled, squashed, stretched, swallowed, under or over emphasised, falling in tone or rising, soft, hard, guttural, stopped, trilled etc. Even for native English speakers, those who teach the subject, like myself, some accents can be very hard to decipher. A broad Glaswegian (from Glasgow), or Aberdonian (Aberdeen), will be a significant challenge to my listening ability. Add in certain vocabulary and expressions that are dialect and the result is confusion and frustration. Imagine what it must be like for a tourist stepping off the plane, arriving in Glasgow and trying to get directions to Sauchiehall Street, from a local Glaswegian with a strong accent;

“A’richt, yi”ll need tae tak’ this wynd fur 200 metres, cross ower tae th’ ither side ‘n’ caw left doon dalhousie wynd, a bawherr further ‘n’ ye’ll see it fernent ye”

Which translates as ….”OK, you need to take this street for 200 metres, cross over to the other side and turn left down Dalhousie Street, a bit further and you’ll see it in front of you.”

To understand accent, students need to be aware of the following points;

  1. The student can understand what is being said. Usually, they have a good grasp of the vocabulary and the grammar being used. The problem in understanding is specifically related to sounds, stresses and rhythm of pronunciation.
  2. To get used to an accent takes time. The longer you stay somewhere, the more exposure you have to it, the easier it becomes. My wife was in hospital in Liverpool for 5 months when our children were born very prematurely. She had real difficulties understanding the staff in the hospital. Scouse was impossible. One of the health care assistant even bought her a book called ‘Learn Yerself Scouse’. But after a few weeks, my wife started to pick out words and phrases and filter the pronunciation until she was comfortable and able to follow a conversation (My wife is from Indonesia).
  3. If you are going to move somewhere that has an accent, try to find examples of the accent being spoken on the internet, in films or on TV. For example, coming to Birmingham and being exposed to Brummie, try watching ‘Peaky blinders’ for a taste of the accent (although people will point out the accent is not Brummie, but ‘Black Country’ which is a few mile north west of Brimingham.)
  4. Even native speakers find some accents difficult. Be confident in asking for the other person to slow down and repeat if necessary. If you really can not understand, apologise that you find it difficult and ask if they would mind writing down what they are saying. Decent, polite people won’t mind. They will be aware of their accent. Some people may take offence, but as long as you are respectful, don’t worry.
  5. Accents can vary a lot within a small geographical area. Within 60 miles (100km) of where I live in the West Midlands the accent changes enormously, from Bristolian to the south, Herefordshire and Wales to the west, Brummie to the north and Oxford to the east / south east.
  6. Not everyone who lives in a particular city or region has an accent. We may grow up in one place and develop a strong accent from birth. But as adults, our careers and opportunities will often see us moving to other places. People migrate from other countries and will speak English in Eastern European accents, Chinese, Arabic, French or German or Italian. Although not native speakers, their accents will also be challenging to the learner. Some people develop hybrid accents, for example a Scottish-Pakistani accent (it is a wonderful thing to hear!) or a Welsh-Chinese.
  7. There is beauty in accent. If we were to all speak with a neutral accent, language would be dull and uninteresting. Accents are identity and personality. They should be appreciated, celebrated and welcomed.
  8. If you are a student learning English, don’t try to learn and speak in the accent where you are. Focus on learning correct English (ie received pronunciation). Get YOUR pronunciation right first, the correct stress in words and syllable, the correct intonation and rhythm. People will understand you better. If you live or move to somewhere with a strong local accent, and you stay for a long period of time, you may find you pick up the accent. I have taught nurses from the Philippines and India who have been in South Wales for 15 years. They sounded Welsh to me!
  9. If you have an accent, don;t be embarrassed by it. My job as an English teacher is to help students improve their pronunciation and minimize the impact of accents. Not to remove them. It is not possible to lose an accent and speak perfect Oxford English. But you can work on key areas that help you sound more natural.
  10. Finally, if you meet someone and they speak to you in a strong accent, show an interest. Ask them where they are from. Tell them their accent is really interesting. It will break the ice and help you communicate better with them. Don’t run away from a strong accent!

Don’t forget that via my website, , I am able to help anyone improve their English language skills, including understanding accents and fast speech, how to improve overall pronunciation and helping the student to sound more natural in English.

Get in touch.

Best wishes

Tony Frobisher

Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland
Learning & Education, Poetry and Writing, Travel

I want to write….But first you must read

20181022_133947

The written word is a splendid thing. It sits upon a page, decorating the paper in permanent ink, or it graces the screen, released from the confines of the keyboard, strung into prose by the creative, inquisitive, thoughtful mind.

I have long wished to write, professionally, personally, for payment or for pleasure. Writing is that most cherished of arts. An ability to share ideas and to connect with people far and beyond, in different towns and cities, cultures and countries. To have your thoughts impress, challenge, influence, please, entertain and create an emotional response from your readers.

But for one reason and another, I never had the time or the inclination to dedicate myself to writing. A career spent working 70 hours a week in the railway, the tiredness of the daily commute to London and back, travelling on business to Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow….Holyhead (er, yes. Holyhead. The Isle of Anglesey, North Wales. Next stop Dublin, Ireland. Great place to visit, but my word it is a long way there and back.) Then an extended period abroad, around 6 years of travel and teaching in South East Asia. A period in my life where I taught English, shared our beautiful language and helped others learn and discover its delights, as well as trying to demystify its complexities (still trying….it is a fiendishly complex language). But I taught English. I didn’t write it. However, what long periods spent travelling vast distances by train and bus and boat gives you is time to fill. Which other than looking out on majestic landscapes, passing people you would never meet and remarking on how different their life must be, you often spent a lot of time reading.

I travelled extensively from 1996 to 1998, before settling in Indonesia to teach English. In that 2 year period I travelled from Hong Kong to Athens overland, via China, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and Greece. I then travelled around India. Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Australia and Singapore.

This was the pre Kindle era. In fact the pre Internet period. Only in the latter part of the century was the internet developing as a key and implicit tool in every aspect of our lives. But back then, 20, 22 years ago, travel was a blissfully disconnected experience. No Instagramming your favourite temple and uploading it to your 3 million followers, no Facebook albums of every meal you ate for the last month. Even a phone call had to be done from an IDD phone booth, none of this Skype or WhatsApp video calling. The future had yet to arrive.

So to travel unencumbered by technology and by instant connection to the world ‘back home’, was incredibly liberating. Time was present and you had to fill it. Not by endless, mindless scrolling through Twitter feeds and Instagram stories. I say unencumbered, but before the iPod or MP3 player, I would be loaded with cheap cassettes bought in markets in Quetta or Xi’an or Antalya. And that brings me to books.

Books were the mainstay of travelling. I devoured as many books as possible. I sought out backpacker second hand book shops, or exchanged them with fellow travellers. I read and read and read. Sure, my backpack was a weighty affair, loaded with 5 or 6 books. Not the Kindle of today with hundreds of titles stored on it. I would have loved to have travelled with a Kindle. But I don’t think I would have seen any of the countries I was travelling through. Books were there to pass the time that was not fulfilled with the pleasures of travel. The joy of discovering a new city, of getting lost in labyrinthine back streets, finding a cafe populated by friendly , welcoming locals with whom you shared no common language  (today, just ask google to translate…where is the fun in that?). When night fell on a long train journey, books were there to pass the time. And what a joy they were to have. Travel can be immensely boring. Sorry to disappoint you. But it can. Try travelling for 60 hours from Xian in central China to Urumqi in the far north west of China. 60 hours. One train, through the featureless Gobi desert. You see one impressive set of dunes, you have seen them all. And how many games of ‘Shithead’ can you play in 60 hours? (Actually my great friend and travel partner Simon and I played marathon sessions of shithead – it is a popular card among backpackers. Well it used to be. I expect everyone it too busy on their phones now.)

Every travelogue written or documentary made will inevitably distill the journey to its salient and most interesting parts. The incidents, good and bad, the highlights, the sights, the most memorable and interesting people and conversations. But they rarely emphasize the tedium of long, hot (or cold), seemingly endless, interminable journeys through landscapes that do not scintillate, enrapture, enthrall or amaze. And I am 100% confident that the authors and documentary makers fill these voids with reading.

I have digressed a touch. My travels were enriching and enlightening. But without an array of reading material, it would have felt far more uninspiring, much more of a hardship. And travel should wherever possible, be something that gives pleasure and experience to remember and share. There are a few hardy souls who deliberately set out to experience travel in the raw. I met someone who was travelling overland from the UK to India and had £1,000 for everything. Every meal, every bus ticket, every hotel. He was dishevelled, looked like he had been dragged through a hedge backwards and looked as if he hadn’t eaten a decent meal for weeks. Indeed, you can travel very cheaply and £1,000 can get you a hell of a long way in places like Turkey and Iran and Pakistan. But I asked if he was enjoying his trip – sans comfort. Oh yes, it’s great! It takes all sorts. I experienced discomfort on many occasions. I endured long, uncomfortable journeys on overcrowded, overheating trains. I endured, but ejoyed the retelling later. A little discomfort is inevitable and should be embraced from time to time. But not every single day, every single trip, every single meal, or rough, flea-bitten hostel.  Yet he loved the discomfort, the rawness of the experience, the up close and personal, being one with the people he met, from the poorest villager and farmer to the middle class civil servant on a train. He was devoid of possessions, carried only a few clothes in a beaten up rucksack. But he read. He carried books and they helped carry him on his journey.

Since returning to the UK in 2002 my life has been one of immense challenge and difficulties. Our children were born 16 weeks prematurely. We had triplets, one of whom, Jewel, passed away after 17 days. Our other daughters Milla and Louisa were in hospital for 6 months. Milla had severe cerebral palsy and passed away in December 2016 aged 10. Louisa is doing really well and is now 12. She has sight problems caused by her premature birth; partially sighted in her right eye and blind in her left.

The stress and exhaustion of caring for our daughters put pay to any aspirations I had to write. It also severely limited my reading opportunities. Our evenings were constantly devoted to caring for Louisa and Milla, our days spent working and trying to function through a fug of tiredness. The moment I picked up a book to read, my eyes would glaze over and my eyelids became immediately heavy. I would be asleep in seconds.

But today I am able to give more time to writing. I am two thirds of my way through completing a novel. I have written an extensive range of poetry which can be seen on my other website or on instagram (@ajfrobisherpoetry) . Later this year two of my poems will be published in an anthology of poetry.

Writing is cathartic, an escape, a release and a way of expressing myself. I value the opportunity I have to write. But without the hundreds of books I have read, I would not be sitting writing this blog, my poetry or my novel. I have met people who proudly proclaim, ‘Books, nah, I have never read a book’. As if that is some sort of badge of honour, a decoration of the illiterati, something to trumpet and smile about. So much time is invested into our education, a free education at that. To have been given that chance to learn to read and then throw it away dismissively smacks of extreme arrogance and laziness. To read is to discover. My daughter Louisa has struggled to read. Her level of sight impairment is so pronounced that it has been detrimental to a ‘normal’ education. However, after years of patient dedicated assistance at her special need primary and secondary schools, last year at the age of 11, she made a huge step and began to recognise words. Then sentences, and eventually able to read paragraphs. It was incredible to witness and something we feared may not happen.

To read is to discover, no matter that it has taken years to reach this point. She is now discovering and able to do so herself. Not idly dismissing books as something uninteresting and unimportant.

So now I pride myself on being able to write, but also to have access to so many amazing authors and writers. To be able to consider opinions and ideas and to formulate my own in response, or separate to them. To be able to read a book and allow it to influence my thought process or not. To help me consider the words I choose to write and the purpose of them. The importance of what I wish to say.  The relevance to those who may choose to read them.

I now take pleasure from dipping into poetry books and savouring the sentences and poems crafted so intricately. To read and learn of Japanese philosophy, to understand the ideas of silence and mindfulness, to consider and challenge my own problems with anxiety, to escape into fiction.

To read is to discover, but to read is also to write. And long may it continue to be.

As Morrissey once said,

“There’s more to life than books you know, but not much more.”

Best wishes,

Tony

 

 

 

Learning & Education

The ‘L’ Factor – Language Learning

20181003_102418

Language Learning….Having The ‘L’ Factor…

Learning.

The ability to learn a language, is driven by a number of factors;

1. The personal motivation you have – why do I want to learn this language, how much do I want to learn it

2. The needs and reasons for learning it – are you moving abroad for work, are you going backpacking, do you need to learn it because you have been told to by your boss?

3. The interest you have in the language and its cultural / geographical context (No point learning Arabic if you are going to live and work in Japan)

4. The encouragement (or otherwise) you receive from others – do you have friends who speak the language and are keen to practice also. Or do children refuse to practice French with you because…’Dad, it’s embarrassing…’?

5. The environment in which you learn (to learn Spanish in Andalusia, to live and study /work immersed in the culture and landscape of the language is better than an hour a week in an office in Birmingham)

5. The time and opportunities to practice (interacting face to face or via Skype, reading or listening or watching information in the language, the presence or absence of stress / pressure from work or family commitments.)

6. The teaching methods used, or your own approach to learning (Do you write long lists of words with translations or do you select a handful of words and expressions and try to actively incorporate them in a conversation / email exchange etc?….ie actively engaging with the language as opposed to passive learning and not using it.

7. External Factors: Can you find 2 hours to sit and study, free of distractions, the television in the corner, your children playing, fighting, shouting, the dog insisting on that walk, the emails stacked up unanswered, the project deadline looming? Our brains are amazing things, but in order to be most effective at any task, they need a clear, uncluttered, focused approach. Too many distractions and things going on, will limit any effective learning. You need to create the time and space and provide you mid with the freedom to learn.

8. Confidence to use the language, and enjoying making mistakes – We all make mistakes. I do. Every day.  Even as native English speaker of 50 years and an English language teacher of over 20 years. So don;t expect perfection. Nor worry about making mistakes. Mistakes are the lifeblood of learning. I once asked for a cup of tea in Indonesia, without sugar;

“Satu gelas teh, tanpa gila” There was a look of disbelief, followed by a broad smile and a laugh. I repeated my request. More laughter

“Oh mister, satu gelas teh, tanpa gula?”

You see I had asked for “A glass of tea, without crazy.” Gila is ‘crazy’, Gula means sugar. Easy mistake, a funny mistake and one I immediately remembered the next time. The mistake and my confidence to make the mistake led to my learning. If I had just read the word ‘gula’ in a dictionary, it would not have had the impact, the positive impact, the mistake had.

So be confident. Try the language out. Make your mistakes and the learning will come.

Good luck.

Don’t forget, if you are looking to improve your English, for any reason, from work, to university studies, to travel, my online English classes are right for you. I will work with you to tailor the right course for YOUR needs.

Get in touch and let me help you learn English more quickly and effectively.

And by the way, when you are practicing your newly learnt English, mistakes are positive things. Make them!

Best wishes,

Tony

 

 

Learning & Education, Motivation and Change

Too Old To Learn

20180923_144642

I’m too old to learn. Honestly, I must be. I’m 50. I mean who reaches the age of 50 and says, yeah, let’s learn stuff? I need to learn lots of new things. I need to study more. Come on, let’s be a bit sensible here. At 50, I know everything. Right?

If only life were that simple. Go to school and college, maybe university and that’s your lot. That’s you all finished. Nothing more to learn, no reason to study anymore. Just go and work and enjoy your life, free of the pressures of discovering new information and ideas.

How terribly dull life would be.

At 50, I feel my capacity for learning has increased, not diminished. I am more curious about things than I ever was at school. School, the last great bastion of learning, but regulated and controlled by necessary structure and requirements. Little choice or flexibility in what YOU wish to learn about, rather than what the government imposed curriculum says you must learn.

Today my interests are broad ranging and eclectic. Not the stuff of secondary education curricula. Volcanoes and earthquakes, the importance of silence and mindful thinking, ambient and experimental music and soundscapes, road and cyclocross cycling, vegan lifestyles and cooking, language and culture, history and the arts, opera, flamenco guitar, poetry and creative writing, contemporary novels and travelogues. I could go on, but how many of those subjects are taught in the high school system, even briefly.

A bit of physical geography, history of course (bound within the general limiting world view of British history, not the global context) , perhaps music (appreciation as opposed to theory, form, structure and influence), English language and literature (again limited in its scope by the sheer weight of the English literary pantheon – yet at school I was spoon fed Chaucer, Shakespeare, Wordsworth and George Orwell. Spanning the centuries, yet barely scratching the surface of creative English expression).

Learning for me has come through the evolution of my own personal development, discovering new interests and finding some things I had dismissed previously as boring or too difficult, actually of merit and worth and surprisingly very interesting.

Take opera. I grew up on 80’s pop, indie and rock music. All synthesizers and wailing guitars. Opera was never music I had listened to, nor explored. Yet, my father loved the classic tenors, Pavarotti and Domingo, Carreras,  Gigli, Caruso, Bjorling. I shunned it at the time, but hearing Una Furtiva Lagrima, or la Donna e Mobile or the Toreador’s song must have registered somewhere. Because with age, I found a new appreciation for tenor singing, for the craft and skill, the dramatic and romantic voices that were suddenly projected on to a popular platform during the 1990 Italy World Cup. When football and opera collided in a perfect marriage of expression, beauty and enjoyment.

Subsequently, the world of opera opened. Not just the wide repertoire of the tenor, but the vast and dynamic field of opera. The enjoyment from watching the great ensembles sing in chorus, the comedy of Donnizetti and Rossini, the dramatic story telling of Verdi and Puccini, the lyricism and poetic beauty of Bizet and the musicality of Mozart. And the arias that elevated opera to world renown. Nessun Dorma, E Lucevan la Stelle, Largo al Factotum, O Mio Rimorso, E’ la Solita Storia, The Pearl Fishers duet, The Queen of the Night Aria.

screenshot_20180923-144148_instagram

But with learning comes the desire to know more, to delve further, to discover and unlock the secrets to this new world you have opened. And thankfully no longer do we need to trawl libraries and await monthly journal publications; although there is a joy in spending an afternoon in a library, consumed by words and silent wonder and a pleasure as the latest journal or magazine bounces on to the doormat. Learning has never been so accessible. A few clicks on the internet and you are taken immediately to wherever you want to go. The world unlocked, the door wide open and the vastness of knowledge awaiting you. Just walk through the door.

My father was a military man. A soldier and an officer in the army. 30 dedicated years. A passion for all he did, yet the inflexibility the military affords to its personnel. Times, dates, schedules, their whole life controlled and regulated. A time for rest, a time to play, a time march and train and exercise, a time for learning. But the subjects of the military’s choosing. Could a 20 year old private spend hours over the works of Verdi? Not to the detriment to their career, their job and the role they were training for.

What did my father do the moment he left the army in his mid 40’s? Learn. Study. He took ‘A’ Levels in politics and geography and passed with A grades. He went on to complete a Masters in Health and Safety management. He is 71 now and studying for a Phd, a doctorate. His thesis is about the ‘Efficacy of Managers in the Third Age’ – ie the effectiveness of managers in their 70’s and 80’s, using their wealth of experience and knowledge to the betterment of their (perhaps retired from) companies and their employees. At a time when many would be happy playing a round of golf and booking a cruise with SAGA holidays.

So, as I take inspiration from my father, I can see there is value and worth in continuing to learn. We are bound only by the limitations of our own curiosity, not by age. At 50, I am spending more time with my head in a book than I do listening to the diet of The Smiths, The Human League, The Cure, ABC, etc that I always used to do. These days you will often find me sat at the table, early in the morning, 5am while the world sleep, sat in silence. Alone in my thoughts, reassessing what I know and what I have learned and how I can apply that knowledge. Or sat, writing a poem, looking at photographs I have taken and critiquing them myself. Or sat reading, absorbed in the words and knowledge of others. Ready and willing to learn. Wishing that I was 15 not 50 and better suited to the rigours of education. And more prepared, as I am now, to give time and thought and dedication to learning.

We are never too old to learn. We can always learn from each other, from the world around us and the information at our finger tips. But as important is that we help open the door to learning and knowledge for the next generations. That we pass on not only our knowledge, but also our desire for learning and discovery. Today, the younger generation are very often consumed by smart phone apps and social media. A world of selfies and pseudo-stardom, minor celebrity, desire to go viral and a need for likes and shares and a validation of themselves by universal approval and acceptance of their ‘status’.

But I would encourage another way. By all means interact and use your Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. Take pleasure from it. But, let these apps fire your imagination. And let them lead to learning. You see a photo of somewhere you have never heard of. You can either dismiss it, swipe to the next post or photo, or you can be taken there, immediately. Open Google maps, Streetview, Wikipedia, visit their homepage, learn the history, the flora and fauna, the landscape, the climate.

We are bound only by the limitations of our curiosity.

And we should always have the capacity for learning and should never ignore that curiosity. No matter how old you are.

PS, if you have read this and have considered you are not too old to learn or improve your English…then get in touch. I would be only too happy to help you and unlock the door to the English language!

To read my poetry please visit

http://www.frobipoetry.com or go to instagram @ajfrobisherpoetry

Best wishes,

Tony Frobisher, Worcester, September 2018