Wednesday, 21 May 2008

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

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