Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Website update 21-05-08

The website has had its quarterly update, see WHAT'S NEW on the front page. The 'Education, education, education!' page, featuring articles on education, has finally gone live.

EU's ERF cash up for grabs

By Matt Salusbury

This article first appeared in the English language teaching industry trade paper English Language Gazette, March 2008

The European Commission opened applications for its huge European Refugee Fund (ERF) in January this year. In the context of the EU’s English-speaking countries – the UK and Ireland – the fund will make available in its first year €1 million for English classes aimed at migrants to Ireland and other projects aimed at integrating refugees there, and £1.7 million for similar projects in the UK.
The ERF has a total of €759 million (£576 million) for the period 2008–13 to ‘improve the efforts of member states to grant reception conditions’ to refugees. In the UK and Ireland this translates into cash for Esol projects. The UK’s Border and Immigration Agency has invited tenders for projects aimed at refugees, including in its advertising references to ‘local authorities, adult, FE and Community Colleges wishing to offer or expand capacity for Esol courses’. In Ireland it is the Reception and Integration Agency that will distribute ERF money.
The ERF will fund up to 80 per cent of eligible Esol projects, which can last up to three years, with awards ranging from £30,000 up to a maximum of £303,000. Applications for this year’s round close on 31 May. Schemes need between two and 24 partners, all of which must be not-for-profit organisations. The director of an ethnic minority community centre in north London that runs Esol projects told the Gazette he believed community groups would stand a better chance of securing ERF funding if they became part of a bidding consortium with larger organisations.
The ERF succeeds the European Fund for the Integration of Third Country Nationals, which in the UK and Ireland provided some funding for Esol and citizenship classes for legal migrants who had arrived from outside the EU in the last five years.

Copyright: English Language Gazette

Russia row rumbles on - British Council in Russia

By Matt Salusbury

This article first appeared in the English language teaching industry trade paper English Language Gazette, March 2008

In the aftermath of the British Council closing its St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg offices in mid-January, the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has suggested that these could re-open if Britain restarts talks on counter-terrorism with Russia’s Federal Security Bureau, and on easing UK entry requirements for Russians. ‘Russia is for a legal resolution of the problem related to the British Council,’ he told the country’s ITAR-TASS news agency.
The Council said it had decided to close the two offices in order ‘to protect its workers’ after Russian nationals it employs were interviewed by state security-service agents. Also in mid-January, the director of the St Petersburg office, Stephen Kinnock, was briefly detained for alleged drink-driving. ‘The Russian authorities have made it impossible for us to operate,’ said Martin Davison, the Council’s chief executive.
The UK’s Foreign Office would not rule out the expulsion of Russian diplomats if intimidation of Council staff continued.

Copyright: English Language Gazette

No Spanish please! Spanish ban on Nevada school bus

By Matt Salusbury

This article first appeared in the English language teaching industry trade paper English Language Gazette, March 2008

The superintendent of a rural school district in the US state of Nevada has ordered Hispanic children to speak only English during their journeys on the school bus.
School district superintendent Robert Aumagher’s letter of 12 October 2007 announcing the ban went to thirty families in Dyer, a small farming community close to the California border. Most of the children whose families received the letters had been in the US for a year or less. Letters from the Esmeralda County School District announcing the ban were translated into Spanish.
The English-only edict appears to have followed an incident on the school bus in which a student was ‘disrespectful’ to the driver or a tutor, according to school board member Rita Gillum, who voted for the order. She could not provide details of the incident when interviewed by the Las Vegas Sun, but said that when the school bus driver ‘has no idea what they were talking about it can be very disrespectful’.
Newly arrived immigrant children ask for help with their homework from students who are more bilingual, and parents say that their children are now afraid to discuss homework assignments on the school bus.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada believes that the English-only order violates the US Constitution, and ‘students have a right to free speech, just like anybody else’.
In January 2007 English-speaking students were excluded from their school bus in St Paul, Minnesota after the route had been turned into a mobile Hmong-language supplementary school for the local Indochinese ethnic minority.

Copyright: English Language Gazette

So farewell then,

Lines on the demise of English language teaching's sweariest blogosphere rant

Matt Salusbury

This article first appeared in the English language teaching industry trade paper English Language Gazette, April 2008, as an editorial

Despite numerous attempts by school owners to get it shut down, the Tefl trade blog beloved by put-open English language teachers everywhere, has finally had its last post. It was ended not by libel writs but by the desire of its blogger, ‘Sandy McManus’ (not his/her real name) to ‘turn my attention to something a little more uplifting.’
The revelation that convicted peadophile James Fraser Darling (see September 2007’s Gazette) had been taken on by several EFL schools in Indonesia was just one of the useful bits of intelligence coming the Gazette’s way thanks to McManus and the Tefl trade blog. As well as turning its spotlight on serial malpractice in the industry in the style of UK investigative and satirical magazine Private Eye, Tefl trade was also consistently hilarious and its tirades against the industry could be guaranteed to contain plenty of swearing. Its Crap Jobs column (‘£7.50 an hour, anyone? Don’t all jump at once’) was a shocking but true barometer of Tefl’s race to the bottom for teachers’ pay, and the tendency of teachers to whinge rather than doing anything about it.
‘Sandy’ told the Gazette ‘I do have an MA to finish, as well as some other vague plans for continuing writing of some sort or another, but I need some free time to collect my thoughts, without the self-inflicted pressure of keeping Sandy’s UK Tefl blog going.’ You can still see the now static Tefl trade blog online, and more of the same on The TEFL Blacklist, which ‘Sandy’ admitted was his/her baby, but that he/she ‘passed the reins over early last year.’
We reproduce here in full Sandy’s last blog, expletives deleted:
‘So that’s it then - I’ve decided. There’s no point at all in my keeping this blog running, so this will be my last posting.
I mean, why should I waste my bloody time tilting at windmills, and to such little effect? If there are ‘teachers’ back in the UK who want to work for nine quid (£9) an hour and think of themselves as professionals, then let them - it’s their problem, not mine. Or maybe they just don’t give a s*** about the ‘profession’, and are quite happy to stagger into class and deliver a heap of s**** day after day. Again, that’s not my problem, is it? Why should it be my bloody concern?
Fact is, I’m not doing my health, both physical and mental, a whole lot of good by spouting so much negativity about a job that so few people really care about, anyway. ‘Never has so little been done by so many for so few pounds’, you might say.
And let’s face it - why should I spend hours every week hunched over a second-hand laptop, seeking out shysters (unscrupulous practitioners), and spouting my half-baked venomous drivel, when I’ve got my kids to play with, dozens of books to read, and crummy old videos of Mind Your Language (1970s sitcom about an English class for migrants) to watch - just why? There’s a life out there - something positive - and I need to start embracing it before I go completely crackers.
So that’s it, then. The rent on this site will be up for renewal soon, and I shan’t be paying it. Soon afterwards, the cyber curtains will fall, and TeflTrade will become part of history - or just forgotten. And to be honest, I don’t really care whether ‘Sandy McManus’ is looked back upon as a legend or a lout.
If I ever go back to working in English as a Foreign Language teaching in the UK (God forbid!), I might consider reviving the site - but I can’t really see that happening. Of course, if there’s anybody out there right now who’s keen to take over the site and do its dirty work, - well, just set up your very own ‘TeflTrade’ on I won’t be complaining.
In fact, I won’t even be looking.’

While the Teftrade homepage seems to be down, there still seems to be some Tefltrade activity continuing here , and McManus posts out alerts of occasional new postings to his/her invite only email list.

English dents caste system in India

By Matt Salusbury

This article first appeared in the English language teaching industry trade paper English Language Gazette, May 2008

Proficiency in English is an important factor in helping to free Indians, particularly women and girls, from the shackles of the India’s ancient caste system.
The caste system has proved hard to dent despite a series of quotas for university places and jobs to be filled by people of low caste and by Dalits (so-called ‘untouchables’, who lie outside the caste system). In a new study published in the American Economic Review, Indian economist Kaivan Munshi and an American colleague examined twenty years’ worth of data on school enrolments and income in Mumbai (Bombay). Over that time India has seen a big rise in non-traditional white-collar jobs thanks to globalisation.
They found that low-caste boys still tended to attend schools that taught in Marathi, the local language, and from which they would graduate into ‘blue-collar’ occupations traditional for their caste. However, some broke with tradition and enrolled in English-medium schools. In a 1990 sample of over 4,000 low-caste males around Mumbai, those with a command of English earned 24 per cent more on average than those with little English.
More dramatic were the changes that English proficiency brought to the lives of low-caste women. In 1980, very few low-caste women were in paid work. But low expectations of them meant there were fewer stereotypical attitudes affecting their choices in education, and many more ended up in English-medium schools than the boys. The impact of this was clear: roughly 2 per cent of women surveyed in an area just outside Mumbai and who had been to Marathi-language schools were in work, compared to nearly 14 per cent of English-speaking women.
Women have surged ahead in education and employment, so much that low-caste families are now willing to spend more on educating their daughters than their sons. Low-caste women are also breaking down social barriers by marrying outside their caste: nearly a third of those who had been to English-medium schools had done so, compared to fewer than one in ten who had attended Marathi-medium schools.
The study concluded that English was the most significant of various ‘forces of modernisation [that] could ultimately lead to the disintegration of a system that has remained firmly in place for thousands of years’.

Copyright: English Language Gazette

All change for ESL? - US presidential candidates on English as a Second Language issues

Matt Salusbury

This article first appeared in the English language teaching industry trade paper English Language Gazette, May 2008

Candidates in the US presidential race have all taken positions on the English language.

Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton says English should remain the ‘unofficial spoken language’ but should not become the official language if such a designation would permit all official documents to become English-only, as this would disenfranchise some Chinese who had lived in New York for 50 years, for example. Senator Clinton drafted the Federal Access to Employment and English Acquisition Act, which aims to help individual states meet the growth in demand for English language courses.

Republican front-runner John McCain says a requirement to learn English must be one step on ‘a path toward citizenship for illegal immigrants’. At the same time, he backs allowing state schools to continue teaching some subjects in languages other than English, a view unpopular with his party’s more conservative elements.

Clinton’s Democrat rival Barack Obama, has pledged his support for bilingual education and promises to help ‘limited English proficient’ students progress by making schools accountable for ensuring they complete their education.

Copyright: English Language Gazette

Update, May 2008; Obama supporter Senator Edward Kennedy has proposed extending the No Child Left Behind Act, which compels the 50 States to reach minimum targets for achievement for all school students, regardless of whether English is their first language or not. He proposes that all 'English Language Learners' (children whose first language is not English) be taught be certified ESL-qualified teachers at pre-school kindergarten classes as well as primary and secondary schools. Very few ESL-qualified pre-school teachers exist.

Irish evolution

The market for business English courses in Ireland continues to grow and evolve

This article first appeared in the English language teaching industry trade paper English Language Gazette, May 2008

The business English market in Ireland is growing. But, as Adrian Cummins of the Irish national association for English language schools MEI-Relsa told the Gazette, Ireland is keen to ensure that there’s a good mix of general business English courses and more ‘high-end’ intensive courses for executives, and a mix of nationalities on those courses.

Thirty per cent of the employees in Dublin’s International Centre free trade zone are reportedly non-Irish nationals, and most language schools in Ireland now offer business English courses, usually ‘combination’ programmes, with, for example, general English in the morning and business English in the afternoon. Students on combination business English courses are a mixture of executives, those relatively new to business and a new type of customer – longer-term students from international companies sent to Ireland.

The executive sector is a growth market which is being actively targeted, especially executives from Spain, who take advantage of Spanish government MEC grants to study English. Few EFL schools in Ireland offer business English exams. Some run courses that end in the Cambridge Esol Business English Certificate (BEC). Adrian says some business English students ‘like to be certified’ at the end of their course, and thinks these tend to be university students at the pre-experience end of the business English market.

Work experience programmes have always been a strong point in Ireland and continue to grow, with students from Germany, France and Italy particularly well represented. These are typically four to six weeks long and ‘cross sector’, with stints in all sorts of industries. A lot of work experience people find placements in IT or administration. Some schools offering work experience specialise in certain markets, with one school having won a contract with a Korean company for business English courses followed by an internship.

Current target markets are ‘those where visas are easier’, countries whose nationals don’t need a visa to study in Ireland for a stay of up to three months, like Korea or Japan.

With the relatively sudden influx of migrants to Ireland, there’s an embryonic public- sector Esol industry, with further education colleges offering general Esol to migrants, most of whom come from the EU. Adrian says that privately owned business English providers are already encountering competition from this new sector.

Gary Tennant, director of business English courses at Dublin’s Atlas Language College, says that when he came to the UK five years ago he found that in ‘quite prominent schools, business English was topic-based with a heavy reliance on textbooks’. Now schools like Atlas are emerging as business English specialists. Atlas now offers tailored programmes, with clients choosing from a menu of skills-based mini-course options.

Kilkenny School of English in the south-west of the country also seems to be branding itself as a specialist business English school, with tailored in-company business English classes, and by moving into the English for Specific Purposes (ESP) market.

How are teachers recruited for Irish business English courses? According to Adrian, ‘teachers recruited through the usual means’ usually have a the initial Celta qualification or the higher Delta or equivalent but not a specific business English qualification. Adrian wasn’t aware of any course provider in Ireland that offered specialist courses in teaching business English. He admitted that there were not a lot of business English teachers and that there’s a demand for ‘teachers with proper criteria… We’d like to attract more native speaker teachers, although work permits are an issue.’ Gary says that the quality of training courses has improved vastly over recent years, with accrediting body Acels ‘upping the standard every year’.

Celta - Cambridge Certificate in English Language Teaching for Adults
Delta - Diploma in English Language Teaching for Adults

Matt Salusbury, news and features editor English Language Gazette
Copyright: English Language Gazette

Indian destinations

Where are Indian students going to study abroad?

Traditional destinations shouldn’t take Indian students for granted as they look at more exotic options

Matt Salusbury reports

This article first appeared in the English language teaching industry trade paper English Language Gazette, May 2008

India is a huge market for English-medium higher education courses. We emailed India-based subscribers to our digital newsletter asking them about where Indians are going to study abroad.

According to ELT professionals the US, UK and Australia are the most desirable destinations for Indian students. One also mentioned Canada, while another identified Singapore as a big destination.

Which markets are growing as destinations for Indian students? ‘Australia is becoming more attractive. Europe is the next attraction because they are more friendly and affordable,’ said one. Another view was that ‘Australia, Singapore and Russia are gaining fast. Many medical students are also looking at options in China and Russia as studies there are less expensive than India and the US and the UK.’

Australia and Singapore are perceived by Indian students as countries for which it’s relatively easy to get student visas. Germany and France have a reputation for advantageous arrangements for student grants and tuition fees, with France in particular becoming a favoured destination for research students.

One respondent told us, ‘Many Ielts candidates state that they are going to Australia because they have heard that getting an Australian visa is easier than getting a visa to the UK and US.’ Universities Australia last year signed ‘international counterpart agreements’ on student exchanges with India, which should result in more Indian students in Australia.

When it comes to visa hassles for the US and the UK, we were told that these two countries are ‘feared’ by Indian applicants.
A sharp fall in the quota of H1-B work visas issued by the US for skilled professionals, capped at 65,000 visas per year after 9/11, was keenly felt by the non-resident Indian diaspora, and the assumption seems to have taken hold that student visas are also much harder to get.

What reasons do Indian students give for choosing a course abroad, and why don’t they instead choose to study at one of the over 113 higher education institutes in India? Admission to specialised higher education courses within India is seen as limited, with ‘candidates screened with stringent entrance exams’ and the policy of positive discrimination making access to these institutes difficult for those not covered by ‘reservation’ – keeping a percentage or quota of university places for applicants from lower castes. Other factors attracting Indians to study overseas are ‘better job prospects, greater status in society and larger pay packets after studies.

Indians abroad mostly study ‘postgraduate and technical courses – MBA, commerce-related and applied sciences are the preferred courses. Most students go abroad for postgraduate studies, although the number of students opting for undergraduate studies abroad is also up.’

It’s clear that the traditional destinations for Indian students had better watch out. Increasing numbers of Indians are going to study in countries that aren’t even regarded as English-speaking – Germany, which issues student visas to Indians for postgraduate study only, France and the rest of Europe, Singapore and even China and Russia for medical training.
It seems to be a difficult process to open a joint venture university in India, with probationary periods of state approval to go through and huge ‘security deposits’ payable to prevent a foreign university closing up after only a few years and stranding the students. But some of the traditional markets for Indian students are establishing a foothold in India beyond the usual recruitment office they have based there.

Former British prime minister Tony Blair’s India visit last year saw the launch of the UK–India Education and Research Initiative. Coventry University is now running a physiotherapy degree with Bangalore’s MS Ramaiah Technology Institute, and University of London’s external study business courses can now be taken at the University of Delhi. Open Universities Australia also has centres in four Indian cities. US universities such as Yale are hoping to open greenfield site campuses in India. It’s likely that more Indian students will in time go for a higher education course with a foreign university based in India, rather than actually going abroad.

Thanks to Francis Peter, who is a teacher trainer at Loyola College Chennai, and to Hutoxi Randeria, who is a freelance educational consultant.

Copyright: English Language Gazette

Head for the Highlands

Scotland’s distinctive higher education system is increasingly attracting international students from around the world

Matt Salusbury writes

This article first appeared in the English Language teaching industry trade paper English Language Gazette, May 2008

Scotland’s education system is widely regarded as the best in the UK. It has traditionally had proportionally more university places than the rest of Britain. Some of its universities are much older institutions than even Oxford or Cambridge, with one group of Scottish universities known collectively as ‘ancient universities’.

Figures supplied by Scottish Universities for students in higher education in Scotland put the total number of students (both UK and international) at 223,000. Of these, 12,500 were overseas students from other EU countries and 24,000 were from outside the EU. Some overseas students may find their school-leaving qualifications actually put them at an advantage when applying for Scottish universities compared to other UK entrants. This is because Scotland has a different system, with ‘Highers’ school leaving exams leading to a four-year degree in a Scottish university, compared to A-levels leading to a three-year degree in the rest of the UK. Susannah Lane, a researcher with the Scottish Universities association says the ‘perception of the four-year degree as the gold standard in education serves as a pull factor. Another big draw is Scotland’s ‘research base which is known internationally to be world class’. A comfortable majority of international students are in Scotland on postgraduate courses, and half of these are on research-based rather than taught ones.

Kelly Ferguson of Education UK Scotland suggests a ‘vast array of reasons’ why students chose Scotland, including ‘friends or family connections… safety and security on campus (and) culture - traditional and modern.’ She also cites the range of scholarships available for study there.

The most popular subjects for overseas students are business, which just beats engineering, then computing, biological sciences and ‘medicine-related.’ The ‘Watt’ in Heriott-Watt University commemorates Scottish engineer James Watt, and Napier University is named after a mathematician. Both of these universities pull in a lot of international students in these subjects, with Heriott-Watt recruiting many overseas architecture and business students too. Glasgow University seems to specialise in attracting overseas biologists. Strathclyde University had over 700 international students on its business courses in 2007.

But two less well-known universities seem to have carved out niche markets for foreign students. The Paisley-based University of the West of Scotland has the most business students from outside the EU, while Robert Gordon University has the most non-EU students in engineering, architecture and computer sciences. Dundee University seems to be doing rather well in recruiting non-EU students taking a variety of subjects.

The number of overseas students on further education (FE) vocational courses is surprisingly low. Of the 50,000 students who do FE courses in Scotland in 2005, only 310 are from other EU countries, and there are only 1,045 non-EU FE students. Non-degree FE courses are a growth market all over the English-speaking world, so this number can be expected to rise, especially given Scotland’s long-held reputation for excellence in technical subjects.

In 2001, there were students from over 100 countries studying in Scotland. The top ten countries of origin for sending students to Scotland as of 2006 were, in numerical order, China with just over 5,000, the US, India with nearly 4,000, Malaysia with over 3,000, Hong Kong with almost that number, closely followed by Ireland, then Canada with 2,000, Germany with 1,980, Greece with 1830. France is tenth, with1,500 students at Scottish universities.

The UK Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) has its own 2005–2006 figures for students from outside the EU studying in Scotland, and these list Norway, Nigeria, Taiwan and Japan as the biggest non-EU countries of origin after Canada.
There has been a steady rise in the total number of international students in Scottish universities. HESA figures list India and Nigeria as showing the biggest growth.
Non-EU international student numbers are rising much faster than for students from the rest of EU outside the UK. ‘Other EU’ student numbers have seen only a slight rise overall since the 1990s. While funding arrangements differ slightly in Scotland compared to the rest of the UK, the bigger increase in non-EU admissions could be partly down to the fact that universities can charge these students a lot more, so they become a marketing priority.

And let’s not forget higher education distance learning courses based in Scotland. Scottish Executive figures for 2006 put the total number of distance learning students based overseas at 18,000, and they outnumber the 14,400 who are based in the UK. Most of these distance learning students are postgraduate, with less than a thousand overseas students doing undergraduate first degrees by distance learning.

Matt Salusbury, news and features editor, English Language Gazette
with additional reporting by Michael Bowden
Copyright: English Language Gazette

Cultural conversions

English as a Foreign Language teachers tired of the same old grind make ideal candidates for conversion to cross-cultural trainers

Matt Salusbury talks to cross-cultural training experts

This article first appeared in English language teaching industry trade paper English Language Gazette May 2008

There is a lucrative industry in cross-cultural training (also called intercultural training) currently opening up, and English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teachers have obvious transferable skills that can help them benefit from a move into this area. (See pages 16–17 of the March 2008 Gazette for an introduction to the subject.) But what does the job entail, and how do EFL teachers go about becoming cross-cultural trainers?

Neil Payne, of Kwintessential Ltd Cross Cultural Solutions says that trainers come from all sorts of backgrounds. The majority have worked internationally and understand the complexities of working across cultures, are Tefl teachers, have been expatriaes or have grown up in foreign countries and gone into training, and then you also get people nowadays who have taken the academic route into training through an Masters Degree.

Recent graduates of cross-cultural training courses at International House (IH) London include Yu Sun, who teaches Mandarin and trains businesses to work with China, Bryony Kate Howard, who used the cultural training course to convert her language clients in Germany to cultural clients and to get new business, and Rie Ota, a teacher of English and Japanese. Neil feels that EFL is an excellent way into intercultural training as you’ve already had exposure to working and living in a foreign country, and can then become an ‘expert’ in that culture. And through teaching you develop a lot of training skills including confidence in how to manage a group of people.

Barry Tomalin, director of the Business Cultural Trainers Certificate at IH London, also feels that teachers can make good cultural trainers. ‘They used to say in the BBC that it was easier to turn a teacher into a producer than the other way round. It’s the same with cultural training but we need to recognise the differences.’

English teachers, says Barry, have the techniques to help students learn. Cultural trainers are judged by whether they meet the client’s agenda. The clients control the agenda and their agenda is improving business performance in overseas markets or working with overseas teams.

This agenda has to be delivered in blocks of one or two days or half a day, as business managers are extremely busy. It is much closer to management training than to language training. and can be a lot more stressful.

In cultural training the aim is to find out what people need to know to achieve a particular business aim, learn what the business issues are likely to be and then find the right way to address them. The feeling and approach in the training room is very different to the English Language Teaching (ELT) classroom.

What have EFL teachers got to offer? We are trained to be aware of and to be able to conceptualise differences in language. We are also trained to teach by activities. We follow the learning cycle of activity, debrief, conclusions and implementation. Cultural trainers tend to talk; language trainers tend to get people to do things. Most language trainers have lived and worked abroad so they understand what it is to live and work in a different environment and have experienced some of the psychological challenges of doing so. This is experience that we can use to the benefit of the managers we are training. We also gain, as a result of living and working abroad, a host of stories that we can use as part of our work.

Barry believes there’s a lot of ‘smoke and mirrors in cultural training. Most trainees have no interest in the culture they are dealing with as such, or if they are interested it tends to be a by-product rather than the aim of their work. Cultural training also has a number of business models, principally those presented by such theorists as Hofstede, Trompenaars, Lewis, Mole and Bennett. You need to know these and to be able to teach a system that your trainees can apply.

Ultimately, what you are teaching is life skills. When working with overseas partners and clients the rules change. Understanding the key communication and business cultural differentiators such as attitudes to time, relationships, decision-making and organisation are crucial to making the right business judgements with foreign clients and partners. What you are doing is teaching these skills and initiating an international mindset which will make your trainees more responsive to international business requirements.

There are three main kinds of course. One type is cultural briefing, exploring what is it like to work in or with people from another country. Then there’s mobility – training people to live abroad, training people to live in the UK or training people to settle in back home after a secondment overseas. And there’s international team building – working with a team which may be a virtual team that communicates through email, phone and video conferencing.

Cultural training and coaching can pay better than language training. Barry says that companies may charge between £1,500 and £2,000 per day and sole traders tend to charge £1,000-plus. Neil says trainers are paid anywhere from £500 to £1,000 per day, and 95 per cent are freelances who work for a number of consultancies. Very few would go into permanent employment as a full-time trainer although some consultancies do have in-house trainers too. Barry says, ‘Your clients initially will probably be companies you know and have previously worked with in the language field, although converting them from language clients to culture clients can take time.’

A number of training companies offer in-house training courses, and companies such as LTS Bath run five-day train-the-trainer courses for aspirant cultural trainers. The IH London Business Cultural Trainers Certificate offers a three-day intensive course in how to research, design, market and deliver courses for managers. There’s also highly rated seminar in Oregon, USA, which takes place at the Intercultural Communication Institute, Summer Institute, run by Milton and Janet Bennett.

ELT - English Language Teaching
EFL - English as a Foreign Language
Tefl - Teaching English as a Foreign Language

Matt Salusbury, News and Features Editor, English Language Gazette
Copyright: English Language Gazette
MA - Master of Arts, Masters Degree

Sex and the séance room

This article first appeared in Fortean Times issue 233, March 2008

Kittie Klaw, nipple tassle-twirling, fan-dancing Queen of Burlesque is one of Britain’s best known burlesque and striptease performers, as well as a manager of other burlesque acts and a tutor of striptease skills through her Ministry of Burlesque agency. She’s famous in the fetish scene as a cover model on the front of ‘bondage’ magazines, and as a performer at fetish clubs such as London’s notorious Torture Garden. But – stop tittering at the back there! - I wanted to talk to Ms Klaw about her other passion – parapsychology.

Kittie was celebrating the runaway success of Victorian Values when we met. This is her theatrical-length music hall revue, which sends up the dark side of Victorian hypocrisy, and which had its debut at the suitably grand old Hoxton Hall in East London’s Shoreditch last August. Victorian Values sends up the Victorian séance, and features girls who can carry off that Victorian look well, and who look the part in period ‘tight lace-up corsets.’ Kittie directs and plays several characters in the show, including the two de Winter-Fairbottom twins, Kittie and Lilly. One is a bit of a prude, the other is ‘more experimental.’

Of her plans for future productions of Victorian Values, Kittie says that ‘a West End theatre performance is the Holy Grail at the moment.’ At the time of writing, there was a possible TV adaptation in the pipeline in collaboration with Robin Ince, who is part of Ricky Gervais’ writing team and who appeared in The Office. Meanwhile, a shorter, stand-alone sketch taken from Victorian Values, that ‘sexualises’ aspects of the Victorian séance, is doing the rounds as part of Kittie’s regular repertoire. See for updates.

We began our chat by discussing the connections between Victorian music hall and Spiritualist séances. The expression ‘knocking shop’ to describe a brothel originally comes from the table-rapping spirit world of the séance. The preoccupation with death and ‘the other side’ was often a code for another taboo that couldn’t then be spoken about at all – sex. ‘Sex sells, death compels,’ says Kittie. The hint of eroticism around the séance – sometimes it was more than just a hint – was justified by an ethereal veil of Spiritualist respectability. If you said you believed in the afterlife, you had an explanation when the police came calling and found scantily-clad women in the dark behaving strangely.

Then there’s the example of famous 1850s girl medium Florence Cook (See Fortean Times 179: pages 30-37), who used to disappear into the ‘spirit cabinet’ in séances and give rise to the materialisation of ectoplasmic ‘spirit form’ Katie King, a bawdy character from a pirate family who looked remarkably like Cook, and who would move among the sitters and touch them with remarkably solid hands, and who seemed to enjoy letting the sitters touch her too.

Accordng to Kittie, ‘there has always been a crossover between music hall-style entertainment and belief. Burlesque plays on this.’ Some of the most famous stage mediums, especially the phenomenally popular Davenport Brothers, who started their act in 1859, acknowledged that they were always showmen and never claimed to be mediums. But the Davenports were caught up in the burgeoning Spiritualist movement of the time and their show was hailed as genuine proof of spirit phenomena.

Kittie’s Victorian Values sends up the ‘elaborate farce’ of the Victorian séance. The play’s protagonist, Lord Dashwood, estranged cousin of Queen Victoria, is based on the real Francis Dashwood of the Hellfire Club. In Kittie’s revue, Dashwood is running a fake séance when Queen Victoria walks in, looking to make contact with her dear departed consort Prince Albert. Lord Dashwood panics, but it would be giving away the plot to tell what happens next in the ensuing procession of fake and real phantoms and pint-sized, flapping vampires. Victorian Values also sends up the erotic appeal of Gothic Horror. Kittie describes Gothic Horror’s enduring erotic appeal as ‘legitimised S and M,’ with ‘lots of Freudian sex and death.’ For example, ‘Dracula is the perfect hybrid of Mr Darcy and the Marquis De Sade – ideal husband and depraved sexual mentor in one’.

Victorian Values takes the art of burlesque, which until recently enjoyed a somewhat smutty reputation, back to the traditional burlesque form. Kittie is one of the longest performing artists in the traditional form of burlesque, a tradition for which she vigorously campaigns. Traditional burlesque is a British invention from the 18th century, and to ‘burlesque’ (the word can also be a verb) means ‘to send up, satirise and parody.’ The very first burlesque acts were short operettas, which inspired Gilbert and Sullivan. Trad burlesque could be Blackadder-type historical satire. Napoleon was a favourite subject. P.G. Woodhouse’s Jeeves and Wooster are in the tradition of burlesque, which also mocked the class system as well as history, and told a funny story whilst it satirized taboos. The humour also included what Kittie calls ‘body satire.’

How, then, did the association with American strippers come in? The British burlesque performer and former pub landlady Lydia Thompson, after reaching the pinnacle of the British burlesque world, took her successful act to the US in 1868, with her troupe, the British Blondes – ‘none of whom were actually blondes.’ They may in fact have been among the world’s first peroxide blondes. They were dressed as boys, which meant they could show their ankles.

A variety of complex factors led to American burlesque dropping satire. The Depression, and Prohibition complicated US theatre licensing somewhat, and ‘there was no-class system’ to satirize in America, or at least none that Lydia Thompson and the British Blondes could easily discern. Striptease took over the American burlesque genre, but it was still called ‘burlesque’ because the strip acts alternated with stand-up comics.

Kittie, like Lydia Thompson, came to the performing arts early. Kittie was a professional child ballerina until the age of 12, and some of her burlesque dance routines are en point – right up on tiptoes, ballet-style. But from an early age Kittie showed strong academic achievement, which her school keenly cultivated her science talents. ‘As a girl, if you were one of the few who happened to excel in science, you were automatically pushed to have a career in science.’

A four-year Honours degree in Psychology at Glasgow University followed, with a thesis on ‘remote staring detection,’ in which Kittie felt she got ‘little or no support’ from her department. Glasgow University had just bid unsuccessfully for the Koessler Chair in Parapsychology, (see (See Fortean Times 201: pages 32-39), losing to traditional rivals Edinburgh. While an undergraduate, Kittie was active with the Scottish Society for Psychical Research (SSPR), along with astrophysicist Archie Roy. Kittie took part in investigations of a few a cases of hauntings and related phenomena, but never found anything that was convincing beyond someone’s ‘emotional needs.’

Kittie graduated from Glasgow in 2003 with a good mark in ‘straight’ Psychology and was taken on as a student under the personal supervision of Professor Bob Morris, who headed Edinburgh University’s Koessler Unit, to study for an MsC/PHd in Parapsychology.

Her only year at Edinburgh University was ‘the most difficult year of my life.’ The ‘exorbitant’ fees meant she held down a part-time job alongside her full-time research position, and had to scratch around for bits of funding here and there. She set up the Ministry of Burlesque agency at the turn of the 21st century, but the re-emerging burlesque ‘scene’ was still only in London, and she was travelling to and from London from Edinburgh twice a week to perform. She toured student unions and Scottish venues as one of the dancing girls for local cult band Hugh Reed and the Velvet Underpants. As one of the band’s dancing girls she often dressed in a makeshift burkha, which she would rip off for some appropriately costumed comedic belly dancing in the style of Carry On Up the Khyber. Her other dance routine was ‘naughty Nazis, satirical comedy rich in ironic slap-dancing and wrestling, very tongue in cheek.’

Meanwhile, Bob Morris was very supportive, and Kittie has fond memories of ‘many an eccentric chat, end of term parties at his house, (Bob) in his inimitable style, extremely charismatic.’ But Kittie’s research project was dogged by strange mishaps and coincidences.

The experimental part of Kittie’s Masters/PhD research followed from ‘remote staring detection,’ in the area of Direct Mental Interaction with Living Systems (DMILS, pronounced ‘dee mills’). ‘You don’t want to say “ESP,” it’s a wee bit “woolly”. It’s a loaded phrase, full of implications… The DMILS research is the examination of a communicative phenomenon which could easily be completely normal but not yet understood. Perhaps even evolutionary.’

At the Koessler Unit, Kittie looked into ‘anomalous transfer of information between creative individuals.’ She found acrobat twins and lifelong double act jugglers from the Edinburgh festival. There were reasonable questions raised by Koessler Unit staff about the definition of ‘creative,’ but Kittie says ‘nobody bothered to point out that the computer system was suspected of being broken at the time. Only after I reported it, did anyone offer the knowledge that it had been acting up for some time, unbeknown to myself or Professor Morris.’ The research seemed to be going OK. It involved one person in a ‘creative’ team meditating on impressions seen by the other in a different room, when they were being shown a random sequence of scenes on video. Kittie became convinced that the sequences weren’t showing in a random order, that they were in an organised pattern.

The department had to take apart the ‘broken’ computer system, to eliminate the possibility it was a computer fault leading to this apparent non-random pattern in video sequences. Instead, Kittie and Bob had to use slides from the 1970s, which were difficult to run, and the subjects they’d brought in for the original experiment with the video begun to move on as the festival left town.

Then ‘the rest of the equipment started to fail.’ Monitors and light bulbs started to go wrong, a computer cable melted. There were so many electrical faults that it became a running departmental joke that Kittie was jinxed. Bob showed her books on people whose very presence messes up experiments. Kittie was ‘trying to be cheerful’ about all this bizarre equipment failure. She called Bob, joking, after the third projector/hardrive/general systems failure: ‘One of us isn’t going to make it to the end of this,’ she told him. And then Bob died suddenly in August 2004 (see obituary in (See Fortean Times 192: pages 26-27) In the time leading up to his death, Kittie had prophetic dreams of attending Bob’s funeral. She took his death as sign that ‘I’m not meant to be doing this.’ Her performing work was taking off by then, and she decided parapsychology was something she could always come back to…

But the paranormal had come into Kittie’s life long before she chose a career in parapsychology. She had a near death experience aged 10, as a result of an allergic reaction. Another childhood experience she describes was a ‘bizarrely accurate vision of the death of Princess Diana a year before she died… A black shadow from the North West coming over Paris, the sensation of being trapped in a tunnel at high speed,’ the feeling that she should ‘watch her back.’ Kittie has also had shared dreams with people, or witnessed other peoples’ dreams as they dream them.

She grew up in East Kilbride, south of Glasgow, although she didn’t know at the time it was a UFO hotspot. The sky round her house would be full of the searchlights of helicopters chasing escapees from the mental hospital over the moors. She remembers one night watching a searchlight moving around in the sky above the woods for ten minutes, ‘then I realised there was no sound beyond the rustling of trees, I couldn’t see a craft, just the light – not a source.’

Kittie’s interest in Ufology extends to a friendship with Ufologist Nick Pope, who got in touch with her after reading her interview in a UFO magazine. Says Kittie of Nick Pope, ‘he’s a lovely gent.’

Fortunately, Kittie saw the funny side of Ufology, as evidenced by the three-minute alien abduction burlesque routine, written by Kittie but still awaiting a debut. This skit ‘burlesques’ (sends up) The X-Files with a chorus line of aliens. It’s got ‘a medical Carry On style sequence, complete with alien surgical clichés referencing what people actually report. Although, as it is a burlesque, we don’t show any of the more “intimate” horrors.’

On a more serious note, Kittie says ‘I still have a problem with electricity… I once famously crashed the whole library network at Glasgow University.’ Bob Morris saw her apparent allergic reaction to electricity, which Kittie’s business partner and fiancé James, an IT expert and world-class programmer, can confirm. Says Kitty, ‘I go through laptops at an alarming rate, I have been known to interfere with TV signals, I get headaches and rashes when vacuum cleaners and computers power up. Light bulbs rarely last around me, cameras often don’t work and I have allergic reactions to the London Underground (seriously!) – I’ve often wondered if it’s the electricity… I get dizzy, over-hot and develop that peculiar rash.’

Then there was the time she participated in an experiment in Glasgow in which electrodes were attached to her head, and they didn’t pick up any data from her at all. This is supposed to happen ‘only if you’re dead.’

BBC Scotland once engaged Kittie as a ‘psychic detective’ as part of a programme that followed young paranormal investigators working in the reputedly haunted Britannia Panopticon Music Hall at Glasgow’s Trongate. At 150 years old, the Panopticon is Britain’s oldest surviving intact music hall. It’s said that it didn’t burn down -– like all the other Glasgow music halls – as there was so much urine soaked into in the wood. Stanley Laurel debuted at the Panopticon aged 16 in 1906, and Kittie has done fundraising gigs for the venue.

The ‘proper investigators’ of Kitty’s SSPR team started with some serious archive research and then set up equipment in various parts of the Panopticon – ‘TV cameras, infra-red cameras, mini-disc digital recorders to record EVP, absolutely nothing happened.’ The BBC team suggested focusing on a mediumship demonstration from a circle of people who believed themselves to be psychic. The result was ‘wordy, incongruous to facts and rather dull actually. It wasn’t data that we could use.’

While Kittie’s team was setting up, there were – understandably given the age of the venue – ‘knocking noises from the pipes (which the BBC got excited about and filmed three times). The suggestion that it was in fact plumbing was vetoed.’ The whole investigation was a ‘non-conclusive event. Those who went in believing came out believing, those who didn’t were unchanged.’

Kittie stressed that the SSPR have many mediums among their members and on its council. SSPR mediums attended the Panopticon vigil as part of the SSPR investigation. For this investigation, ‘myself and a few colleagues were approaching from a scientific viewpoint and had designed the vigil as such. Were at loggerheads with the (other) mediums who showed little regard for the importance of protocol and ignored our requests for structure.’

After the death of Bob Morris, strange stuff continued to happen. During a photo shoot for a fetish magazine at the Erotic Museum of Hamburg, Kittie was posing with straw and porcelain Victorian theatre dummy, when a soft, masculine voice came to her in German, and the dummy’s eyes appeared to look at her. ‘No way! I’ve not enough sleep,’ Kittie told herself. She ‘didn’t tell anyone for a few hours, (thinking) it could be lack of sleep.’ Then she found that the incident coincided with the failure of the photographer’s camera, and her boyfriend said that at the same time he’d chased a light up the museum’s stairs, the same stairs which fellow fetish glamour model Morrigan Hell fell down on a shoot shortly before. ‘So many people had experiences’ of the space, Kittie found out. Photography equipment seizing up on Kittie Klaw modelling shoots is, she says, something that happens often.

For the moment, being a global burlesque glamour phenomenon pretty much precludes a return to professional parapsychology any time soon. Kittie says she remains a sceptic in the academic sense, ‘I haven’t yet formed a firm belief’ one way or another. How does Kittie’s grounding in the science of parapsychology inform how she feels about the strange things that keep happening to her? ‘Studying parapsychology keeps me rational about it. To say that I’m only going to consider certain possibilities, that’s ridiculous… I’ve always maintained my interest in the paranormal… I’m a sceptical enquirer in the academic sense, but a fascinated enquirer with a desire to be convinced.’

‘Sceptic,’ according to Kittie, is a word that has come into disrepute over the years, like ‘burlesque’.

See also

© Matt Salusbury 2007