15 July 2005

Dealing with adults

Since the beginning of our co-operation with schools it has been pretty obvious that the adult students’ issue is rather a painful one. Adult classes are necessary, but at the same time they are problematic, actually for the same reasons throughout the country. We started our 2005 annual market research focusing on the adult market and here are some interesting and useful results, I hope, ideas.
First of all, this year’s research methods became a bit more sophisticated. We approached a respectable sample of about 1200 employed adults as well as a smaller sample of about 800 tertiary education students. However, our research did not consist of only a set questionnaire, but an amazing 40% of both samples accepted to fill in a more in depth personal questionnaire, along with a short placement test in English!
It was amazing to see that 48% of the employed adults and 68% of the university students claimed to hold a B2 certificate, while 24% of them held a higher certificate as well, equal to C1 or C2. The average time since they took the examination successfully was about 11 years ago.
The shocking results of the second, more in depth research that took place exclusively amongst the adults that had a certificate, showed that their certificate hardly reflected their level of English! More specifically, the placement test we gave them showed that part of the sample could slightly reach B1 level, with the majority to confidently perform up to A2. Only 4% of the sample that moved onto the secondary level of our research proved to know in practice the foreign language up to the level that their certificate reflected.
The tasks given were highly related to their specific needs of using a foreign language, i.e. dealing with everyday and work environment spoken language requirements, and written forms to be encountered in a work and social environment, like application forms, short reports, faxes and e-mails. The tasks for the university students community included application forms, cover letters, letters of reference, CVs and short essays.
Interviewing managers or employers with activity in other countries, we saw that very few of them were confident enough to rely on their knowledge of a foreign language. Usually, when they travel, they have an employee who speaks the foreign language better with them, but with a lot of compromise, or sometimes a hired interpreter, or a non-official interpreter. Actually, about 70% of the managers/employers we asked do not mind the amateurism of a relative or an acquaintance, either for on-site support or translation of documents. This is, of course, so indicative of the business practices in our country, relating to the complete lack of competitive advantages in every professional field.
Another shocking conclusion from our research was that 100% of the sample do recognise the importance of speaking at least one foreign language well, but when we moved on with the more in depth questionnaires and placement tests, the vast majority of the sample answered the following:
a) They are highly interested in examinations and certificates only if and when these are pre-requisites for employment or a promotion either in the public or private sector or for studies abroad.
b) Almost 100% of the secondary sample replied that they do not relate or connect examinations and certificates to the good knowledge of a foreign language.
c) They do not feel that the good knowledge of a foreign language is in substance so important to them, and when they need it every now and then, they think they can get by with limited knowledge or help by somebody else.
d) They do not see the good knowledge of a foreign language as a real personal competitive advantage in finding a job, as most employers do not pay the necessary attention to foreign languages proficiency.
e) They do not recognise any foreign language knowledge standard in certificates apart from their role as an official qualification if and when required by employers or agencies.

This entire attitude, if not mentality, reflects both the tendency of Greeks to consider private foreign language education a necessary evil and the lack of responsibility in business and state initiative, ambition and success. However, it also shows the need for this nation to be trained in realising what the international environment we are part of is like and what it requires. The role of the foreign language teaching community has not been exploited to the full as, apart from teachers, we should all be carriers of another mentality, promoting cultural awareness, international communication and promote or design measures against our national isolationism. As a field, we take the need of knowing and speaking a foreign language for granted and all we advertise is that we teach foreign languages at our school, and sometimes that we also do it well! Our exclusive focus on the children’s/pupils’ community, which as long as the certificates are recognised can be taken for granted, has limited our scope into how we can help our students “finish English” in as few years as possible. However, we forget that young learners themselves hardly make the decision to go to a foreign language centre by themselves. And if the situation stays as such, then the only criteria in choosing the best foreign language centre will be just the distance from home and how cheap the tuitions fees are. Not to mention of course, that 38% of foreign language centre owners have not even been to the country of the language they teach even for a week…