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Company classes

Every now and then a head of training finds she has some money left over in her budget. Unless she spends it, she will not get as much next year. So she tells the managing director that the staff need to improve their English to make the firm more competitive in the “globalisation era”. The managing director, on his way out to play golf and shag somebody, says, “Yes, yes,” and the head of training tells her assistant to find a suitable English language school.

The assistant phones his wife’s second cousin, who owns a share in your school. After a lot of secret negotiations and backhanders, a deal is struck. You are told to put on a tie or a smart skirt and take the bus to the distant outskirts of town at an hour when most English teachers are down the pub or still in bed.

On arrival, you cannot fail to notice that the company offices are a lot plusher than your school. A liveried doorman ushers you into an air-conditioned cathedral, where angelic secretaries glide past potted palms and purling fountains. Employees sprawl on sofas in front of satellite television or emerge fresh-faced from the company swimming pool.

The perfectly manicured receptionist is puzzled by your presence. She phones various people. Nobody knows anything about you. You are asked to wait, and sink into a plush armchair. After twenty minutes a bored-looking junior erk appears. He says there must have been a mistake. The class is due to start next week.

Next week the drill is repeated, but this time the erk escorts you to a lift. You ascend to the twentieth floor and emerge into a sort of indoor garden with a spectacular view. Employees are chatting, drinking coffee, playing computer games, using the company’s pool table or karaoke equipment. Not for the first time, you wonder why you became an English teacher.

The training room is full of magical artefacts, such as a revolving whiteboard that can print your squiggles on to paper. You gaze at these things in stupefaction. As the students trickle in, a range of sumptuous snacks is placed before them.

You introduce yourself. The first activity is a needs analysis. This looks professional and businesslike. It also takes half an hour—longer if you analyse the results and discuss them. You then put the students into groups to prioritize their needs and report back to the whole class. This fills the entire lesson.

The students appear frightfully keen. Do not be fooled by this. With the exception of a few sad gits, you will never see any of them again. Their curiosity has been momentarily aroused by the opportunity of seeing an English-speaker close up. Now they have verified how long your nose/big your bottom is, they will revert to their customary pleasures.

Next week the training room will be needed for something more important and you and the sad gits will be relegated to a dingy cubicle for the rest of the course.

At the end of the course you have to write a detailed report on each of the thirty employees who were meant to have attended the classes. Naturally, you do not know who twenty-seven of these people are.

On balance company classes are more hassle than they are worth. Occasionally the hospitality is lavish. Often it is not. At the Sheraton, a five-star hotel, I was only ever offered a glass of water.