The focus on grammar over content in corporate foreign language classes is often too much for achieving the level of conversational proficiency most clients are looking for – after all, does one learn a language in order to describe it in grammatical terms, or does one intend to learn how to communicate in the foreign language? How is corporate language training often delivered and is it on target with client expectations? The answers to these questions demonstrate that this topic is a point of frustration and an incredible opportunity. They are a part of the age-old debate of content vs. grammar: which is more important for language training?
As adults, we approach learning a foreign language much differently from children who are native speakers. Whereas children never use a book to acquire the grammar of their native tongue, most adults learning a foreign language tend to rely on grammar in order to piece together sentences and longer responses. But is this the best approach to learning?
Part of the problem when focusing more on grammar is that the learner tends to concentrate on accuracy in language production instead of communicating ideas, often resulting in a painfully slow conversation. When language instructors use a lot of explicit error correction, this also negatively reinforces the perception that the student must be accurate. This tends to increase the “affective filter,” as coined by linguist Stephen Krashen, which is to say that stress and emotional reactions due to inaccurate production in the target language can lead to a negative feedback loop that inhibits communication. If learning how to communicate in the foreign language is the goal, then why are we so stuck on traditional approaches to teaching?
CORE Languages is using a different tactic as it builds out new curricula and ideas about how to design language courses. We are bringing job-specific vocabulary, common turns of phrase, and other content into our group courses. In other words, if you are a supply chain engineer in a logistics company, what use do you have in the ability to explain verb conjugations or how to order food at a restaurant, if you are learning a foreign language in order to better communicate with your counterparts in Brazil? Doesn’t it make more sense to learn how to talk about your job duties, projects, etc. in the target language?
But what about learning valuable skills like how to order food at a restaurant if you are going abroad on assignment for work? Sure, these situation-specific bits of targeted language use are very helpful to learn for a particular segment of our clients; however, why would you offer a one-size-fits-all approach when you could receive customized language training?
We are moving away from using only textbooks and standardized syllabuses or course plans in favor of a modular-based approach that complements courses and allows every instructor to hand-select the content of each course to specifically address the needs of the client company and their employees. Are you a biotech company that wants your employees to learn Portuguese to better discuss research from your South American division and work efficiently together when you go on site in São Paulo? Why not have the latest vocabulary in R&D as well as the conversational structures to help get your ideas across the language gap?
If this sounds like too difficult a task to deliver on – sophisticated scientific discourse taught in a foreign language – then maybe you are satisfied with your current language services provider, despite poor class attendance, lack of motivation, “interference” with work duties. What if, however, you could make the language training your employees are receiving not only highly relevant to their daily work, but, in fact, utilize it as a way to improve their work and relationships across your entire global organization? What if your employees learned from fellow professionals in your industry who are native speakers of other languages and are already familiar with the complexities of your business, industry, and clients?
So let’s forget about memorizing all of the prepositions in French, all gendered nouns in Spanish, the cases in German, and focus more on learning how to communicate in the chosen language(s), and finally embrace the global marketplace without fear of being misunderstood.