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Members hear what client think at BEUK 2014 AGM

12 12 2014

What do agents, companies, training organisations and technology users think of the UK’s business English sector? Some of these useful secrets were revealed at Business English UK’s annual conference this week, in a programme inspired by member feedback.

“Last year people told us they wanted to hear more from the organisations they work with, and that’s what we did with this year’s programme,” says BEUK manager Sarah Wang. “I think it’s been one of the best BEUK AGMs ever, with some really solid information,” added chairman Maurice Cassidy.

One of the insider sessions at International House in London came from Krister Weidenhielm of the ESL Education Group, of one of Europe’s biggest agencies, who talked about adults’ motivation for taking English courses. His statistics showed that an overwhelming majority opted for General English courses with an element of Business English, rather than specialist Business English courses.

Mr Weidenhielm provided an analysis of a “typical Business English persona”- aged 30-50, in a professional job, and with an English level which might vary between A2 and B2 but was often at the lower end.
“They don’t have the English skills for professional courses, and what they need is the confidence side of things.” What they needed and looked for was a centre where they could perhaps afford to stay for up to four weeks, where they would feel welcome, where they could cope if they hadn’t practiced their English in an educational context for many years.

The element of socialising and enjoying a different experience was also an important factor. “One of my colleagues said they’re too young to have VIP treatment,” he said, suggesting that while Business English schools could be proud of their product there were moments when they had to be creative, perhaps creating core packages for this group of customers with the option to add elements for those with larger budgets.
He suggested also that some form of “medals” in the form of test scores should also be part of the package, as well as elements of socialising, and that it might also be worth considering how to structure courses to take advantage of subsidies available in Germany and France. “There’s a need to do almost English with jokes – there’s nothing more important than to laugh with colleagues and learn how to be funny and get the right tone, but that’s general not business English… English shouldn’t be a goal but a way and a personal development element of courses,” he said.

Another insider presentation came from Ahmed Osman, training specialist in Training and National Development, the Qatar Foundation, who discussed how he manages employees learning English overseas. His organisation had started in-house English programmes tailored to company needs, and only those who got to an intermediate level qualified to do courses overseas.

He also tried to look at English schools in terms of quality rankings, site visits and nationality distribution – one barrier to achievement was having too many Arabic-speaking students in courses. They had tried targeting schools with lower numbers of Arabic speakers, but found those less suitable for other reasons so now wanted a mix of all nationalities in classes.

Mr Osman said the organisation now did site visits for schools and requested monitoring of student progress, though companies trying to link tuition payments to the supply of progress reports had not worked out. Other problems for the government or companies in sending students abroad to study included pressure from students to move them up a level. Sponsors now looked for diversity of nationalities in schools, schools which operated as partners, consistent quality reporting on progress, schools with trained admin staff and schools with a strong quality management orientation.

The conference also heard about BEUK’s plans to create a Strategic Partner scheme to work more closely with certain agents and for its new website. Other presentations came from John Heffernan, who explained some of the do’s and don’t of using social media and integrating it with other marketing activities, and from Mike Hogan of York Associates, talking about the changing market, who suggested that schools make full use of students’ own smartphones and tablets, and might consider investing in the best possible broadband speeds.

Amelia Hastings of Inlingua Cheltenham was at the event for the first time. She said: “There have been some really good topics here today and in some of them, like social media, you often feel you don’t learn anything new from it but I was really pleased with what we heard – it was really relevant. I’ll come away feeling refreshed.” Norman Renshaw of InTuition had come before deciding whether to join BEUK. “It was really good: focused and relevant and quite positive about 2015.”

See BEUK facebook page for more pictures on the day.