Internet, self-learn courses, DVDs at knock-down prices or even free. The future looks bleak for English trainers.
Let’s face facts:
The Internet is awash with free or low-cost opportunities for learning a language. And with smartphones and apps, you can learn what you want, when you want, (more or less) where you want. With all of this content available 24 hours a day, what is the point of a language trainer?
The level of English skill with which young people are leaving school is getting higher every year. They already know (at least) the basics. Everything else they can learn by going to the country or on the job. So if no-one needs to learn the basics, why bother with a trainer?
Increasingly, firms expect new employees to come with the required English skills and are less and less willing to pay for courses. Factor in the financial crisis and one trend is clear: the lucrative market for company courses is declining. If the market no longer needs – and won’t pay for – trainers to teach English, what is the point of a trainer?
And what about older less „able“ learners, who feel nervous about their jobs because of their lack of English skills? For such individuals, going to an English course costs time, money and energy. Three things of which they have very little these days. The trip to the English trainer is only undertaken when no other alternative can be found. As a passionate self-learner who has taught himself two languages without ever attending a language course, I know that the language trainer can be happily bypassed. So who needs an English trainer any more?
The trip to Dr English
Who indeed? To answer that question, it is helpful to look at the commonly held attitude to language learning for adults in Germany. The default setting for anyone wanting to learn English was and still is … go to a language course in a language school. Many people believe strongly that the only way to learn a language is in a classroom and that anywhere else is not learning. So, off they go to the language school, where they are promised speed, effectiveness and lots of fun with a highly trained professional who will get them speaking effortlessly in no time – simply take the weekly dose of language medicine administered by Dr English.
The attitude is: „The trainer will give me everything I need to know. I only have to do what he/she says“. Through mumbo-jumbo sales talk about ‚innovative methods‘, the learner is made to feel that, without a trainer, learning will be slow and painful – perhaps they could even run the risk of making things worse! „And anyway,“ they say, „I’m too lazy to learn myself“.
Pretty soon, however, they realize that their (poorly paid) native speaker trainer isn’t as good as they hoped, or that the materials aren’t right and/or the speed of learning isn’t what they hoped for. On top of this, they are confronted with a terrible truth: they actually have to „learn“ this stuff!
And learning costs time. It is a sad reality that, for many learners, the only meaningful contact they have with English is in the language lesson. With an average of 90 minutes contact a week, it is not enough to achieve the speedy success they hoped for. A quick calculation illustrates why:
|If 8 people share a lesson for 90 minutes a week, and each speaks the same amount of time, that’s roughly 11 minutes speaking time per person. If you factor in the trainer’s speaking time, then this is drastically reduced (perhaps even halved). Multiply 11 minutes times a maximum of 40 weeks a year (length of annual course) and you have just over 7 hours of actual mouth-open speaking a year. If anyone can speak after this time, then they are truly to be admired.|
If the language learner has all the time in the world, then there would be every reason to accept that progress will be slow. Yet many language learners expect quick progress, both from themselves and from their language school. This speed will not be achieved through relying solely on the trainer to make it happen. It will only be achieved through lots of meaningful contact and 7 hours a year is not enough contact to achieve anything like fluency.
Perhaps you were thinking, „At some point he is going to give us arguments why the language trainer is actually, despite the negatives, a good thing“. I am aware that my article focuses on the negatives and that there are many people who are quite happy with the situation as it is and enjoy the routine, the camaraderie and fun of a regular language lesson. What we must say goodbye to, however, is the idea of the language lesson, with the trainer as content supplier, being the only way for effective learning to take place. In today’s world, there is just no real need for it, in particular in business.
In future articles, I will examine other ways in which English trainers can change to meet the new demands of the language training market.