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The e-team.

English or Mandarin?

Some clients often ask us about learning Mandarin and whether it´s actually worth it so we did some research on whether students should consider learning Mandarin.

China has a population of approximately 1.33 billion, while the world population is just above 6.77 billion (source: World Bank). That means that if you put all the people in the world in a bag. shake it,  and pick out 6, at least 1 will be Chinese.

In the ranking of most spoken language in the World, Mandarin is 1st (over 1 billion people), followed by English (around 600 million) and Spanish (around 400 million) (source Infopedia).

If you look at the figures, Chinese would be the first language you should learn, but figures are not the whole truth when it comes to our everyday lives and needs.

English is officially spoken in over 50 countries, while Mandarin is spoken in China, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Philippines, Singapore, South, Africa, Taiwan and in Thailand. Spanish is spoken in just over 20 countries.

In summary, if you happen to live or do business in any of the countries where Mandarin is spoken, you should learn Mandarin. If not, you are much better off learning English (and Spanish) if you don´t know these languages already.

We encounter examples of the importance of knowing English almost constantly. Here are some examples:

1. Research
If you need resources for research, almost 95% is written or translated into English. You will not find many resources in Mandarin. Let´s say you need a glossary on fish species. Google it and compare the number of resources in English vs. Mandarin (or Spanish, for that matter).

2. Communication
Almost all people of all continents target English as their second language, which means you can communicate with almost anyone, anywhere in English, including main cities in China. We have attended meetings with people from all over Europe, and the chosen language was always English, whether the executive was Italian, German, French or Polish. We have also been contacted by  dozens of Chinese teachers offering to teach Mandarin in exchange for English classes!

3. Education/Literature/Science/Medicine, etc.
English is the language of choice for most terms due to its flexibility. English is by far the most flexible of all languages, and the most widespread in almost all fields of study. whereas before, German and French were more commonly used in some fields, English has since been increasingly used in all fields.

4. Technology
The language of technology is English, no way around it. If you work in this sector, English is almost elemental.

There are other countless reasons why English should be the second language of all non-English speakers. Although all languages are useful and powerful in their own right, in order to communicate, learn, study, work, travel, and just about any other language-related activity, English continues to be the most important language in the world. To speak English fluently (and Spanish, if you live in South America, for example), has become a basic requisite in almost all companies, including Chinese companies, and is therefore the most powerful communication tool an individual can have.

Using the N word

A teacher once told me that she was horrified to hear a student say Nigger to refer to a black person. She patiently explained that the N-word cannot be used under any circumstances. The student was shocked and said he had always used it because it was used in films. He innocently thought it was the right word to use.

This type of misunderstanding or misinterpretation can have serious consequences, including jail in some cases. Students must be very careful when adopting “jargon” from films and should always check if a certain word is commonly used in certain situations. The same goes for just about anything, from phrasal verbs to idioms and expressions. The wrong use of a word or phrase in the wrong context can be disastrous and very embarrassing.

The N-word in the United States is ONLY used among black people in VERY informal situations. People of other races can NEVER use the N-word when speaking to or about a black person (the politically correct word “African-American” is only used for North American people of the black race).

People of all races prefer not to hear any descriptive labels regarding their race. If you can avoid it, do. When talking about someone and there is no real need to refer to their race, don´t do it. It´s that simple.

If you must use a term to describe someone of the black race, use “black” or one of the politically correct terms (African-American, African Brazilian, etc.). Some black people do not like the politically correct options, so, again, try not to refer to race at all when possible.

Whichever expression you choose to use,  NEVER use the N-word!

Using Titles

Titles always cause confusion among non-native speakers, especially here in Brazil. The other day I was in a conference interpreting for a German scientist with a PhD. At one point she whispered to me, “Why does everyone call me Doctor?”

In Brazil, people with a PhD expect to be called Doctor, regardless of the field. In English, we use Doctor to introduce someone if they are specialists in the field of medicine. In the case of professionals with a PhD in other fields, you can use Professor (if they teach at a university) or simple use their full name. Europeans and most native English speakers find it embarrassing to mention they have a PhD during an introduction, unless it´s before to a lecture or speech. Keep in mind that others usually know they have a PhD because it is added to the end of their names on the programme, card, etc.

The same goes for judges. A judge in Brazil once shot a porter because he forgot to say Doctor. In English, you would just say Judge + Name. In court, you use Your Honour.

In letter writing the same rules follow. You use the full name and then add the title. If the person is a professor, you add professor before the name, and then the remaining titles (PhD, etc.). As a rule, job titles (professor, etc.) precede the name while degrees or qualifications come after the name.

Here is an interesting link on the subject of titles

Cipriana Leme

A little about L.G. Alexander

e-Advance uses the Common European Framework as a grading standard for students and material, and adopts the Communicative Language Teaching approach and the Direct English syllabus. For this reason it is only natural to learn a little about the great English teacher and writer, L.G. Alexander, my personal hero and the reason I love teaching and creating material.

L.G. Alexander wrote the best (in my opinion) and most stimulating course books of his time, and maybe of all time. His simple, intuitive approach makes teaching easier and more pleasant for the teacher, and stimulating for the student. L.G. Alexander always worked hard to create material based on the student´s AND the teacher´s viewpoint, something which all Curriculum Designers know is extremely difficult.

Due to the incredible flow of coursebooks created almost daily, New Concept English and incredible works such as Look, Listen and Learn are often forgotten in the back rooms of bookshops, but L.G Alexander is a master of his craft and should be re-discovered by all lovers of the English language.

Facts about L.G. Alexander:

He sold 4.7 million books in 1977, which was recorded in the Guinness Book of Records as the greatest number of copies sold by an individual author in a single year.

He realized teaching of English as a foreign language was stagnant when teaching in Athens, and subsequently decided to create his own syllabus.

He wrote incredible courses such as Look, Listen and Learn, which were all internationally successful.

He sat on the Council of Europe´s committee on language teaching and collaborated with the Common European Framework, with the Threshold and Waystage levels.

His grammar books, Longman English Grammar and Longman Advanced Grammar are the result of enormous research and analysis.

I personally urge teachers to buy his books and use them with their students. At -eAdvance they are a permanent sources of information and activities, namely Fluency in English, Developing Skills and Essay and Letter Writing.

As the Direct Method does not allow the use of extensive grammar explanations, we have also adopted the Grammar Practice Self-Study series, which is an excellent grammar book for students to use at home or to improve certain grammar topics.


New trends in language training

I have recently noticed some slight shifts in student preferences and trends regarding language training and courses that I think might change the way schools provide their services, if they detect the trends. Here are some:

1. Companies are cutting down on language training for their employees

They are either hiring native speakers of other languages to then train them in whichever department they will work in, or hiring language consultants to work part-time alongside their executives. Language training also requires the company to pay extra for logistics, material, etc. Getting execs to fend for themselves is much cheaper and equally effective due to competition and pressure.

2. Immersion is still strong but not always in Brazil.

Most executives now prefer to travel abroad for immersions as the price is almost the same and quality is assured. It´s almost impossible to get bad training in a country where everyone speaks the language you want to learn. You also get to travel and meet new people.

3. Students want their teachers near them.

Executives and students that need languages for work are not content with the regular school setup anymore. They want a teacher that is always available to help them prepare for presentations, conference calls, etc. This can be tough on schools as too much intimacy with a teacher can be bad for business and they loose control over both the teacher and the student.

4. No intermediaries please.

Consequently, students are now hiring private teachers that can follow them around or offer immediate support when needed. Private teachers are also easier to negotiate with and more willing to cut prices because they have no extra costs.

5. Students don´t always know or find what they want.

The English course setup is not working as effectively as it did because students feel they need to learn things regular textbooks are not teaching. They need updated information and to be able to talk about their work and interests, as opposed to talking about Jane and Fred´s problems and lifestyles. Despite this, they do not always perceive this new possibility or do not always find it in their providers or teachers, causing frustration and again…immersions overseas.

There are lots of training and teaching schools offering “custom” courses, but the students are afraid of the extra costs this implies and are not always sure what is being offered. The fact that they can “choose” almost everything from material to duration causes a little suspicion and insecurity.

6. There are just too many providers out there.

Language training is booming, language teachers are being sucked up by companies to fill the language gap, and material and resources are too abundant and unspecific. Custom courses are too expensive while regular courses are too vague. There is still room for innovation in the language training sector but few seem to have tapped into the opportunities or are unable to communicate their new approach to students to make them willing enough to pay extra for it.

7. The new market is covered by university language centres.

There is a huge new market out there for schools and teachers: university students. However, universities have been quick to notice and are now offering their own language training programmes, although not all of them are good enough. Some major universities have recruited linguistics students to provide the services, resulting in poor quality teaching. This does not seem to matter as the intention is to keep students within university walls.

…so what can your school do about it?

e-Advance is currently conducting research and trials to determine the real needs of language students. Consequently, we are offering short courses with maximum coverage of business terminology and situations. Effective courses sometimes mean jumping sticky grammar topics or offering these topics separately.

We have created new, one-month 2 to 4 hour-a-day courses for students at pre-intermediate and intermediate levels to improve their language skills almost immediately using basic language structures that are repeated throughout the course for natural assimilation. This has rendered some impressive results.

Another strategy is to cut the costs of immersion by offering one-day training courses or immersions near the student´s home. Student just aren´t willing to pay for logistics, teacher accommodation and classroom rental anymore.

If you have any trends you would like to share, please leave a comment.