English Business Class

Last year (that's 2007), I was imagining a new school. I didn't just think of it as another English language school - Hangzhou already has plenty of those, rather a whole new class of school. Here's what I wrote then:

It's a school which doesn't really feel like a school when you first enter it. It feels a bit more like a wealthy person's home, a bit old fashioned, in the English style.There's plenty of wood around, maybe just the faintest smell of polish, but you can't quite be sure of that. On the walls there are prints and old photographs. The furniture is on the soft and comfortable side, not just in the welcoming reception area, but also in what might be called the classrooms. They're not really classrooms though in the traditional sense, since they don't have tables in rows and chairs behind them, or even those really uncomfortable plastic chairs with awkward hinged plastic tables attached to them. No, the easy chairs aren't arranged so that everyone looks at a teacher at the front, rather they're arranged more circularly, so each contributor can see the others easily without getting a twisted neck. There are tables too, on which students have placed their cups of tea. The acoustics have been considered, so there's no 'bathroom' effect as sound splashes around. There are drapes and decorations on the walls which help with this, and the colours are rich. The lighting is halogen, not fluorescent, so lends a gentle evening sunlit feel. On one wall, there's a large computer driven video display which is used to provide occasional visual enhancements and for watching movie clips. Class style is completely different too - instead of one teacher at the front, there are two teachers as facilitators, discussion co-ordinators. Instead of the teachers doing all the talking, the atmosphere is relaxed and casual which encourages everyone to take part. Dialogue is the mode of learning.

In autumn 2007, I had a bit of a rethink and became clearer about what I'd like to do. The new insight came about as I was working for a travel company, and working with colleagues to help improve their customer service skills. I realised that what I was doing there was an essential component of business training and that just discussing business issues would never be enough to result in people who were competent at business. What was necessary to train people at customer service skills was, naturally enough, CUSTOMERS ! My original plan, which is outlined above doesn't include customers - a fairly basic error I now think. Well it did include customers - the students themselves, but that's not quite the same thing since they're customers of a school, the training I offered could only be for fellow teachers, not for the students. So, for 2008 I'm planning something subtly different - the same emphasis on environment you read about above, yet with real customers asking for real services. This is a bit more radical, so do read on....

I have registered a domain, www.carryustochina.net whose title conveys the idea of what I'd like to do. Actually, I won't be doing it- this is a team effort, I'm just the starting seed with the idea, the rest comes from teamwork. The basic notion is that this is a non-travel travel agency. A contradiction ? Naturally ! Its non-travel because it has no travel products. It merely facilitates travel - allows people (predominantly English-speaking Westerners) to be carried to China by their own efforts, and expedites this process. Its thus a completely service-oriented business, and the purpose of that is that it is (I believe) an optimum vehicle for offering customer service training. The web site itself is a website with one aim - a 'how to' guide to China, one which will begin in Hangzhou and then gradually grow outwards. It will co-ordinate with www.studypond.com which is another website I'm already involved in, a 'how to' guide to the Chinese language.

..to be continued...

If you'd like to read an American professor's critique of the West's educational system which partly inspired my imagination, go here

And for a rationale for this new approach to improving English, see this article about another American professor's research into one way of learning a language