Wednesday, October 06, 2010
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Drinking the Kool-aid: Reviving My French
Our company often works with European partners. As a result, proficiency in French is becoming a valued skill, with managers all being given the chance to study. Few in our group can work with it at all, it seems, so I have set myself the task of resurrecting my command of it. I've been analyzing the task. I studied French in school, but since then have overlaid it with Chinese, Russian, Classical Chinese, and Nepali. At first, there wasn't much to start with.
Challenges. Besides the natural memory erosion over a period of 25 years, my task is complicated by all the subsequent languages I have studied, mainly Russian and Chinese. Often when I am thinking of a question to pose in French, I want to complete it in Chinese, just to get it out. Add to this the paucity of materials suitable for studying professional and IT French, as opposed to conversational, belletristic French, and you can see the scale of difficulty. And whereas ESL enjoys a vast realm of materials, with many exactly focused on the needs of business professionals, no such resources seem to exist for FSL. Quel bien dommage!
Materials and Approach. Fortunately, since I never throw out anything, I have some good materials to work with, ranging from the FSI (Foreign Service Institute) French series, to an ALM text and a couple of basic/intermediate conversational texts, to some Usenet-sourced audio materials, to a couple of books from the newsweekly L’Express. Listening comprehension is a major skill for this, and I have been looking for French podcasts, with very little success. For this aspect of skills development, then, I have been using the FSI tapes. On this dull, durable foundation, I will build to the Audio-Forum Business French series; if the latter is too difficult, I’ll use the French in Action series for audio support. With these done, I’ll acquire French in Business (0340846925 for the book and 0340846992 for the tape or $35 and $55 respectively). That’s at least three major French language texts; I should be able to carry my weight thereafter.
Writing. Naturally one must also write in this world of ours, and for models in this, I am saving examples of French prose from our colleagues. Once I have enough, I might try to consciously organize them into function areas:
- Requests for help (pouvez-vous prendre en charge de cette demande do XX…, pouvez-vous verifier..)
- Standard openings (pour votre info, je reviens vers vous…
- Analysis (je pense qu’il s’agit…)
- Vocabulary. This also necessary: common items such as account, permissions, adjust, open a port on a firewall, log on as administrator, global group, etc.
Listening Is The Foundation. I have been planning to start with the FSI stuff, because it is very systematic. Also, since it has 12 tapes, I can work with it in the car going to and from work for three weeks or so. After that it will be Business French mp3s. Then, LearnFrenchByPodcast’s materials. This and subsequent audio materials will form the architecture, on which vocabulary acquisition and writing will be based.
The plan seems sound, as long as perspicacity is not in short supply.
Maximizing ESL Revenue, Part 4: One Way to Build Your Portfolio
So, anyway, here's an incredible suggestion which:
1. I never saw anyone do
2. Would have yielded someone an awesome client portfolio when I left.
These comments are geared towards folks in Taiwan, but are 95% applicable anywhere. In your work and leisure, you should work to met some people at AIT and their spouses. Same with the UK and Australian representative offices. Go to national day celebrations, cultural events, etc. Besides the general networking and self-enrichment opportunities these present (and great stories!), it gets you exposure among a professional elite for whom networking is everything. Then, cultivate a few good contacts based on mutual interests (sports, politics, kids, whatever). Then, let them know that you're a training professional, and if any AIT (or UK office or whatever) spouses are leaving soon, and would like to give their students to a qualified person, you'd be happy to help. After all, these folks rotate every few years, and most of the spouses look for some sort of gig like ESL. Naturally, they command premium rates, and are a great source of kuan-hsi! And all too often, these portfolios are yours for the asking!
In fact, when I left Taiwan, I looked long and I looked hard for someone to take over my corporate clients. But I couldn't find anyone professional enough. In fact, often you would _sell_ a successful consulting practice, and I was willing to give it away, just to get the best possible person for my clients. Yet as the emails came to me after I came to the US, no one had been able to bring the right talent, personality, knowledge, and background to my former clients.
So, bottom line: Look for people leaving the country, especially those with high-end clients. And don't ask for their furniture! Ask for their clients and introductions!
Sunday, September 24, 2006
Maximizing ESL Revenue, Part 3
But. I do not go to work to be happy. And when I oh-so-slowly realized this in Taipei, I started watching my rates raise easily. And here's what I did. There is an inner and an outer and an inner component. Hold on and you will see what I mean.
Inside #1: On the inside, I set my target. In Taiwan, there are generally three venues which pay really, really well:
- Teaching children
- Teaching business professionals
- Teaching the affluent
For me, business professionals were the easiest to reach, and I set the corporate training world as my target. You might choose another, and I'll try to make my comments general enough to be useful to you, even if you teach children.
Once I knew this, I knew how to answer the other two.
Outside #1: I started dressing formally, or should I say, professionally. Oh, how I hated it! But I remembered what lawyers do. They practice in a sumptuous, expensive environment, so they look like the hundreds of hours an hour they charge you. That's what I did over a couple of months. I got a couple of formal suits (my wife was thrilled), some good shoes, retired my cheap-ass Casio watch, and got some very spiffy business cards made (English on one side, Chinese on the other). They said "language consultant". (If yours say "English teacher", throw them away and get new ones this week.) I got a leather bag, and retired my old-style glasses.
Key concept: If you look like an English teacher, people will treat and pay you like an English teacher, like the franchises do. On the other hand, if you look like a professional, a "language consultant", then that's how people will look at you and pay you. It's always your choice what you want for yourself.
Inside #2: After I had a market and I looked the part, I had to do more. I had to be accepted as a member of the club. Here's what I did. Every time I entered an office building, I looked at the front desk to see what newspapers and magazines were being delivered (lots of Asian Wall Street Journals, International Herald Tribunes, Fortunes, and very few China Posts, and no China News). I started reading them. Now I have to say, this also went against my grain, since I had gotten my BA and MA in comparative literature. But no one was going to pay me to talk about semiotics or post-modernism! So I learned the language and concepts of my target audience. For my Big Pharma clients, I learned about clinical trials and drug research and development. If you like to teach children, read up on childhood development and psychology, so you can communicate with parents and peers.
In short, when I learned a lot about the things my target clients cared about, they started to view me as a peer and not a commodity resource. In fact, when one of my clients merged with another, I was brought in to help the senior management team plan their presentations, questions, and communication strategy. Why? Because I was a management consultant, not an English teacher.
For clients like this, in the mid-late 90s, I chaged NT$1400-NT$1500 an hour, and simply submitted timesheets every two months. I set my rate. I raised it annually. Not one was ever challenged. Why? Because I created such value for them. In many cases I had helped them keep their high-level jobs.
When I started posting at Dave's ESL Cafe about my experience making money in Taiwan, some were skeptical, a couple frankly unbelieving. Quite understandably! But these are the basic principles I used. Nothing esoteric, nothing any of you could not do. But you have to have some ambition, tenacity, customer intimacy, and creativity, and not just wait for your school to give you a plate of students ever 8-12 weeks.
Maximizing ESL Revenue, Part 2
We all know the type of ESL professional who watches things happen, but let me focus on a couple of salient characteristics:
1. Most people in our business think of themselves as “English teachers”. So when they have a 20 or 25 hours a week, most weeks a month, and have a few privates, they think they have it made. They save a few hundred US$ a month and they’re high on life. If they’re happy, more power to them! But they could do more….
2. When private students come their way, they tend to take whatever they get.
Does this characterize you? It characterized me for many years, I’m ashamed to admit. But to meet the needs of my clients, I started reading business magazines and newspapers, and started thinking differently. I started thinking of myself as a consultant, responsible for creating my own business, and not waiting for someone to arrange everything for me. So, how did I make this metamorphosis?
I have already discussed one key mental breakthrough, which was to stop thinking of myself as an “English teacher”, and to identify myself as a “language consultant”.
But the second step was to become keenly aware of opportunities. Let me tell you about the one that changed my life. Calculating though I am, this one happened totally by chance!
One day I was sitting in my office at the training center I helped run, perusing the day’s mail. One item caught my eye: a letter from one of Taiwan’s leading business magazines, written in bad English, soliciting our participation in a survey. Like many of you, I could have laughed and tossed it. But that’s not what I did. I saw it as an opportunity.
So, I re-wrote it in perfect professional diction, and sent it back, with a letter describing my services. Out of this I was hoping for an editing gig, maybe ten hours a week. Sure enough, they called me and asked to meet with me. Alas, they did not want an editor. Instead, they wanted someone to teach them! But I accepted it. However, that’s not all I did. This is what I said (paraphrasing from memory):
1. “I have extensive experiencing in teaching writing (from cram schools and from the University of Iowa), and I would be happy to work with you.” Note: I took what I could get, hoping to leverage it later, and affirming my premium qualifications.
2. “At the same time (I never said “but”) this is very specialized training, and usually I ask for NT$700 an hour for work like this (this is back in the 1980s), so I hope you won’t mind if I ask for my standard rate”. Note: In fact, this was my first time at this pay level. But I knew I was selling exactly what they needed. And since their company was paying, the premium rate would not hurt them. And by explaining my special strengths, I had made it possible for them to justify this to their manager.
Sure enough, they agreed. And I taught these three people for five years, eventually reaching NT$1000 an hour in the early 90s. Over the years I taught a couple of dozen editors and staff. I edited letters to their foreign business partners. I wrote a few speeches for them. Basically, I expanded my range of services as their needs grew. Besides the good money, two other things came from this.
1. I could give them as a very high-profile precedent when working with other prospects. This made it easier to justify my premium rates, again and again.
2. Through word of month from them I got work at numerous other high-profile clients, from TV stations to consumer goods companies. In fact, one of these clients still pays me US$5000 a year for emailed editing!
Now, why do I share all this? Because anything I did above, you could do as well. The biggest things to learn from this are to be alert to opportunities, and to negotiate your arrangement optimistically/aggressively. And anyone can do that. This is what is known as making things happen.
Or you can watch things happen. It’s up to you.
Maximizing ESL Revenue, Part 1
1. Change how you see yourself
Why mention this first? Because if you don't do this, nothing else I say will work for you. It works like this. If you think of yourself as "an English teacher", that is what you will always be: an interchangeable commodity. Instead, you have to think of yourself in a more distinct, high-end, less commoditized fashion.
Over the years, I identified myself as:
- Language consultant (my favorite, and the one I put on my business cards, English on one side and Chinese on the other)
- Language trainer
- Executive coach
- Corporate trainer
This is important for three reasons:
1. If you think of yourself in terms of a higher professional identification, you will grow into that role. This is extremely important for your success. Mark my words: you will grow into what you describe yourself as. So aim high.
2. It makes you stand out from everyone else. For example, when you go to American Chamber of Commerce networking events (and you _do_ attend these, right?), you introduce yourself as a "staff development specialist", and explain that you "help business professionals communicate better for their bosses". This presents you entirely from saying "Oh, I teach English at LTTC/ELSI/Hess/Gramm/whatever".
3. I save the best for last. When you are talking to a prospective client, and you say "I'm an English teacher", the prospect immediately pegs you at NT$500-NT$700 an hour. You're pigeon-holed. You have to negotiate upwards. However, on the other hand, when you say, as I always did, "I'm a language consultant", the client has no fixed expectation. Then, when I said, "This is very specialized training you're talking about, and usually I charge NT$1500 an hour for work like this", you make it easier for him or her to say yes. Because (and forgive me for repeating the obvious), they're not thinking of paying for an English teacher, and this frees you to charge more.
That's my point for today. And next time you are talking about some training for a new prospect, try this approach out. It worked for me 85% to 90% of the time. It helped me book more than 10 billable hours a day.
Friday, June 23, 2006
Improving Listening Comprehension Easily and Cheaply
We have to know what we want.
We have to have good materials.
We have to use them well.
Let’s review these below.
1. How to Choose What to Study? With such an overwhelming variety of material, the question is frequent: how to find something worth listening to? First, start with your professional requirements: in the next five years what will you need to discuss? This will answer many questions. So, for example, if you want to go into sales, you might liten to something by Napoleon Hill or Zip Ziglar, or listen to the audio version of the Harvard Business Review. This will give you the best value. And since more repetition will always be better than less repetition, is preferable to have something shorter, like an interview or article, than something longer which you will be able to review less.
Once we know what we want to learn, the next question is inevitable:
2. What to Use?
We must have material which is close to our own interests, not too expensive, and easy to use. Fortunately there are three good sources for this.
2.1. www.audible.com (or other comparable sites). For fifteen dollars a month, you can download two books a month. Audible partners with other audio producers to give you awesome access to hundreds of titles, in history, business, current events, self-help, chicklit, and best sellers. They even have programs and versions of magazine, such as the Harvard Business Review. So their resources are fabulous. With a subscription, you can download two books a month for no extra charge. These can be saved in many different formats. You can listen to them on mp3-players or your car stereo or your computer or a stereo. This gives you immediate and convenient access to great materials.
2.2. www.npr.org (among others). At the National Public Radio site, you can download mp3s of interviews, news, and current programs, for free. These range from a few minutes to 45 minutes or length. Again, once you have these, you can listen to them on mp3 players, computers, etc. These are better than books on tape in that since the programs are shporter, you can more easily repeat them twice or thrice a day. And obviously the more you repeat and practice, the more progress you will make.
2.3. Public/University library. Find books on tape which look relevant for your learning needs (book catalogs, web sites, and Amazon are excellent sources for this). Then borrow these from your library. When it is not available, you can often get it through inter-library load. These are available on cassette or CD; I favor the latter for its extreme electronic portability.
But once we know what we need, and we have identified some materials to use, how can we find the time for this? Happily, this is possible for almost everyone.
Fortunately we all have slices of time during the day which can harnessed for listening comprehension improvement and review. When you have your material on an mp3-player, you can listen while cooking, while driving to work, while folding clothes, while waiting on the phone, while walking, while standing in line, while shopping, etc. And listening to a short section (say five minutes) ten times a day is better than listening to it repeatedly for one sitting. So your busy schedule can work to your advantage here.
Thus, assess the need, design the solution, and master the logistics. You will definitely see real progress in your ability to listen. Work on it every day, and you will be sure to see progress, and maybe sooner than you think.
N.B.: I do not encourage blindly watching TV for this. If you hear words once, with no elaboration or repetition, you will grow slowly, if at all. Look for something you can repeat. In my experience, after watching Chinese news programs with my wife for several years, I can only think of a few phrases I have learned. So the Return on Investment is dismal.
Sunday, June 11, 2006
ESL Classics 07: Lexicarry for the Win with Vocabulary!
Many students love words. They seem to associate vocabulary with wealth, and thrill in learning as many as possible. I once had a student in Taiwan who every day memorized one page from a dictionary! But in reality, we don’t need to know every word in English, only the words we need. That’s what makes Lexicarry so valuable.
The book has two huge sections. The first one covers dozens of types of interaction: offering refusing, complaining, suggesting, etc., with simple cartoons. The teacher then can explain what to say in these situations, using model dialogues in the back or providing alternates. The range of situations is breath-taking.
The second section covers vocabulary, pure and simple: farm animals, parts of a car, types of fabric, cooking paraphernalia, air travel verbs, etc. Each page has a content theme, with drawings. No words are seen here; the relevant vocabulary is in the back of the book. Almost anything for daily interaction in the US is included right here!
And that is it! For new immigrants this is a fabulous resource. It can be used for self-study, and can be used (with some imagination) in classes and pair work. Few other books successfully cover as much useful vocabulary as Lexicarry. I just with I had a book like this for Chinese or Russian.
Recommendation: Must-have for tutors and teachers of immigrants. And, unlike so many ESL classics, this one is still in print!
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Now that the semester is over, many of you are thinking of anything except ESL. And who can blame you, after months and months of stress and effort? For sure, summer is a time to relax, and pursue other goals. But it’s not the time to forget what you have worked so hard to learn. So often in the fall, I find that the first thing I have to do is help students regain the level of ability they had at the end of the spring semester. Let this not be you. Instead, take a few easy steps known to safeguard your learning investment.
1. Manage Your Time
Find ten or fifteen minutes a day. If you have kids, this can be tough; here are some possibilities:
- When waiting for meat at the delicatessen
- When sitting on a bus
- - When watching your kids play at the park or at the beach
- When you would normally be watching soap operas
- When you are stuck in traffic
- When you are folding clothes
- When you are waiting for a service rep on the phone
- When you are standing in line to register at a doctor, dentist, or college registrar
- When accompanying your kids to watch the buzziest kids movie
- When you would normally be watching TV or surfing the Net at night
- Get up fifteen minutes early
I used to do this ages ago when teaching myself Nepali. I reviewed vocabulary while shopping, and when speaking to shopkeepers would translate my sentences into Nepali. It works!
2. Set Your Goals Realistically
You studied for four months or so. Don’t try to re-master everything in a week or two. Here are some detailed tips for various ESL subject areas:
Granmar/Conversation. For grammar classes, work through your textbook/workbook a few pages at a time. Re-do the exercises. Hand-copy dialogues. Review them or memorize them. If you have tapes/CDs, listen to them regularly. This will all help you retain what you have learned and prevent memory decay. Review all the little things that are so hard to master, like prepositions, articles, and irregular verbs.
Reading. Review your texts again. If you had a reader, read through the essays again to make sure you continue to understand their grammar and vocabulary. If you read a novel, read through it again, to make certain that you do not lose what you worked so hard to gain. Just fifteen minutes a day!
Writing. Writing is the hardest language skill to acquire. Don’t make it worse by forgetting what you learned this semester! Preserve your writing skills in three ways:
- Re-write old essays, including comments and corrections from your teacher. Consistently doing this will help you overcome bad habits and build new ones.
- Keep a journal, and write about anything you like for fifteen minutes a day. It’s a liberating feeling, and gives you excellent practice. Don’t just keep a diary, where you only write about the day’s events. Keep a journal where you write about anything on your mind. You will enjoy this more. I did this in college when studying Russian, and found it tremendously helpful.
- Copy writing that you like and that seems useful for your goals. Focus on professionally useful writing, not literature. This is immensely helpful. And of course this is also a great way to improve your reading and vocabulary.
Writing will never improve without serious practice. The summer is an excellent time for this.
3. Be realistic
There will be days when life gets in the way. But work consistently at review, using small units of time, and you will find yourself better prepared for the fall. And, most satisfying, you will not lose what you worked so hard (and spent so much) to gain!
See you in September…
ESL in Foreign Lands- Thailand
It's interesting because he discerns a common problem affecting the industry: locals taking it over and treating it like any other cashcow business, trying to satisfy customers with any foreign face they can throw in a classroom. Ahh, the good times in Taiwan which this evokes! Dustin's solution is regulation. This idea is only as good as the regulators and the enforcers. Personally, I favor it because it's great for the ESL teachers. After all, when the supply of a service is regulated/controlled/decreased, the demand inevitably escalates. For the remaining teachers this brings on higher rates and better gigs. What's not to like?
Sunday, May 21, 2006
Recommended Resources: Academic Reading
Printed in 2004 and readily orderable, EC 1 and 2 are outstanding high-end readers for students working towards academic ends.
They are outstanding because they focus on what people actually read in college: textbooks. Ten chapters in each book each cover topics such as the origin of life, the power of social influence, ancient Egyptian art, and geocentrism. Each chapter has an introductory reading and a main reading, differing mainly in length and complexity. There are abundant pre-reading activities. The post-reading activities are excellent, ranging from analyzing dictionary entries to word roots to teasing out one of several possible readings for a word. Content questions are similarly well-thought-out.
For students contemplating or entering college, these two books give an excellent survey of the types of reading and language characteristic of college textbooks. Readers will absolutely be better prepared for academic success after reading EC 1 and 2. Furthermore, any high-end reader will find these chapters exciting and rewarding.
My main recommendation for Ms. Smith is to include more on finance, economics, business management, and MIS in a third edition, since these are such common majors among foreign students in the US (as opposed to art history and Egyptian religion, for example). Otherwise, I can only say I wish I had been able to find material like this when I was studying Chinese and Russian.