April 2008 issue

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Widening the net

Executive courses focused entirely on the business market are becoming increasingly popular in many language travel destinations. And schools are investing in this sector of the business by providing specialist facilities and more tailored courses. Bethan Norris finds out what’s new in the world of executive language learning and also how this sector differs from other language travel provision worldwide.

Demand for executive language courses is growing, according to language schools worldwide, and is also appealing to a wider group of clients. Andrew Fisher from EAC in Edinburgh in the UK says that increased demand for executive English courses marks a natural maturing of the language travel market as a whole. “As the general standard of English speaking improves throughout the world, we are finding more and more students want more specific English courses and many of these are executive or business-related English courses,” he says.

Executive language programmes cater for the demands of the business community and as such are characterised by super-intensive language tuition combined with high-tech facilities and tailored training. As the business world becomes increasingly international, the need to communicate in more than one language is ever more apparent and companies may finance language trips for employees to brush up on required language skills.
Susan Wilson from LAL in Malta says that their school offers English for specific purposes courses in law, engineering, the travel industry, finance and IT. “These courses have become more popular in recent years as many European companies are using English as the common language of communication,” she says.

Language schools in non-English speaking destinations have also noticed an increase in demand for their executive language courses. Eleri Maitland from French in Normandy in France says that mini-group courses are popular. “We find that people prefer to go for a mini group business rather than general [courses] and then some one-to-one,” she says. “I suppose that now two languages are not enough and so people are brushing up or learning a third.”

Course trends
Executive courses rely heavily on input from the client, in terms of execution, course content and flexibility. Schools regularly survey their clients both before and during the course in order to perfectly tailor the content to their needs. Erin Corcoran from Don Quijote in Spain says that they started offering a Premium Spanish course in 2007 that allows a greater degree of customisation from its executive clients. The course targets “executives and other clients who need to learn the most Spanish in the least time, and who often need to learn Spanish for specific skills such as sales or negotiation, or the Spanish idioms and vocabulary of a particular industry”. She underlines, “We find that executive clients highly value the ability to request specific content.”

At its most intensive, the course offers lunch, daily, with the teacher, as a way to gain confidence in social situations such as at business lunches and dinners.

Tandem in Hamburg, Germany, has adopted a slightly different approach to course innovation. It launched a range of new business courses at the end of 2007. “We thought there were too many schools in the sector simply saying: ‘Whatever you need, tell us and we’ll provide it’,” says Henning Pruess at the school. “Since we are the language experts, we decided to take a hard look at what the business foreign language speaker actually requires appropriate to his/her level and so we defined appropriate syllabuses and materials for that. We think that the client needs to be made aware of their language needs. And of course, any necessary course tailoring can be made later.”

Natalie Dawe from Bell International, which offers executive English programmes at its London centre in the UK, says that they analysed their business course provision in 2007 and “realised that there was a need for English relating to the financial industry”. She adds, “Because of this, we have developed and launched a new course – English for Finance and Banking. Executives receive 21 hours of tuition over a week to improve their English language presentation and negotiation skills. They also have the opportunity to visit one of London’s leading financial institutes.”

A wider client base
The top nationalities for business courses tend to depend on the location of the school. In the USA, for example, Japanese and Korean business clients are among the most numerous, reflecting the school location and business links between the countries. However, worldwide economic and political changes ensure that new student markets are opening up and clients are increasingly travelling further afield. Alain Cabache from OISE Boston in the USA says that their top student markets are “Japan, Korea, France and Italy”, while Farouk Souleman from Village English in Mississauga, ONT, in Canada, adds, “We have trained several executives from countries which have recently joined the European Union (EU).”

The accession of a number of Eastern European countries to the EU in recent years has created demand for business language programmes in this region. Wilson in Malta confirms, “[Business English] courses have become more popular in the new European Union countries such as Romania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia etc, due to their [nationals’] newly acquired freedom of movement,” although she notes that nevertheless, “Our biggest student market is still the German market.”

Dawe in the UK says that demand for business English programmes grew by 59 per cent in 2006 and 2007 and adds, “The markets our executive courses were most popular in were Italy, Spain, Poland and the Czech Republic.”

The largest student markets for business programmes at Don Quijote in Spain are Germany, the Netherlands and the UK, although the school is hoping to tap into new markets by offering business courses in a new location. “In 2008, we are also offering the Premium executive course in Guanajuato in Mexico,” says Corcoran, “and expect it to be popular among Americans and other business professionals doing business in Latin America.” Corcoran also points out that business language courses are now appealing to different types of students, who may not be the typical executive client of the past. “Older couples, for example,” she says. “Or young graduates who want a strong base in Spanish before searching for a professional job in Spain or Latin America.”

At Liden and Denz Language Centres in Russia, Julia Patasheva says that their top nationalities have remained unchanged for the last few years. “Our biggest markets for executive courses are the UK, the USA, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, France and the Nordic countries,” she confirms. “These courses are extremely popular in Moscow, especially as the capital of Russia is constantly integrating and emphasising its role in the economic life of the world.”

Personal service and premium price
Executive language programmes are often at the top end of a language school’s pricing structure due to the very specific requirements of the clientele. These requirements may even go further than the courses themselves and cover every aspect of a businessperson’s time at the school. Suleman in Canada says that he makes sure that he has personal contact with all his business clients while they are at the school. “I make it a point to meet with these persons periodically, usually over lunch at local restaurants,” he says, adding, “We offer trips to New York and Quebec [and] we assist them renting cars and arranging their hotel accommodation.”

Cabache in the USA says that they use different teachers for their executive programmes than for their other language courses. “We employ more experienced teachers,” he says. “Ones with a background in business. We make sure that we know before arrival exactly what the students’ expectations are so that when they arrive they can see that we are well prepared.”

Another area where business clients have higher expectations than a general language student is in accommodation provision. Many schools offer their business clients a range of accommodation options varying from hotels to on campus facilities and executive homestay provision. Maitland in France says that their executive homestays have private bathroom facilities and from this year, executive clients will be able to stay in “a four star hotel in Rouen with a swimming pool that is 14 minutes walk away from the school”.

Fisher in the UK specifies that flexibility is often crucial when it comes to executive clients. “We are finding more and more, executives are wanting either hotel accommodation or residential self-catering options because they like the flexibility this brings,” he says. “The main thing they are looking for is good Internet access so they can keep in touch with their business, and high quality en suite accommodation.”

In contrast, Martha Hall from the New England School of English (NESE) in Cambridge, MA, in the USA notes that the majority of their executive clients prefer to stay in a specially designed dormitory. “All of the NESE’s dormitory accommodations offer Internet access and catered meals, but by providing students with an over-30 dormitory option, NESE gives students the chance to reside in a professional setting most conducive to learning and to their need to maintain contact with their offices abroad.”

High tech specifications
More than anything else, executive language clients expect to be offered the latest communications technology, both inside the classroom and outside and this has le d the way for some interesting developments in language schools dealing with this sector. Hall says that their executive clients have their own facilities, separate from other students. “NESE decided to create separate sections of levelled classes, a separate executive lounge and computer lab to allow professional students to take fullest advantage of their often limited time studying in the USA, while sometimes still needing to keep up with their professional responsibilities abroad,” says Hall.

In Spain, Corcoran says that Don Quijote offers free WiFi (wireless) Internet access in all their schools as well as Internet access in their executive accommodation while Dorothee Robrecht from GLS Sprachenzentrum in Berlin, Germany, says that their school has two buildings, one of which is used exclusively for students taking business courses. “Plus GLS offers a lot of amenities to clients, such as a caféteria, restaurant, bookstore and accommodation on campus,” she adds.

Future developments
Schools catering for the executive market usually offer students the chance to socialise or meet up with local business contacts and developing links with the local business community is something that many schools are concentrating on for the future. Maitland in France says, “We always try to introduce [executive clients] to someone working in their sector or a complementary service as this gives them the chance to network and to use their language in real situations,” she says. “I think this is invaluable.” In Russia, Patasheva agrees that gaining contact with local businesses is very important. “For this reason, we offer internships in local companies corresponding with a student’s job requirements,” she says. And this is a route that Tandem in Germany is considering going down in the future. “We are in the process of setting up internship and work exchange programmes for later this year,” comments Pruess.

With the market for executive programmes continuing to develop it seems likely that more language schools will start to offer such programmes. Martin McDonald from GV English in Australia says that currently business programmes “make up a tiny part of our business, although it is an area we may develop in the future”. He adds, “For the time being, the only executive students we attract to Noosa tend to enrol for teacher’s homestay, where we place them with a teacher with a specialist business background. We have seen a definite growth in this area over the past 12 months with fantastic feedback and hope to see this trend continue in 2008.”

Agents’ view

For agents, advising clients about executive courses brings certain challenges. Flavia Werneck from Master Exchange in Brazil says, “Students that require executive programmes are usually more demanding. They are more concerned about the education methods – if they are functional or practical. They usually want a more effective teaching method, with interactive learning. Sometimes they ask us if the school can arrange a field trip to big companies or a visit from a university teacher to have a seminar on a specific subject.”

France Arnaud from Boomerang Australia Studies in Australia agrees. “It is important to advise executive students with far more personalised attention and offer adapted courses to them,” she says. “The age factor is very important, the number of students per class must be low and we have to make sure that we mix them with mature students rather than very young students.” She continues, “The content of the course is also very important. It has to adapt to the vocabulary needs of their profession and they need more attention in each skill they need to develop.”
Business client expectations of a high quality service means that a good partnership between agents and their schools is essential, according to Murtagh Forde from Forde Consulting in Ireland, who says that it is “essential to work with a good partner who knows how to look after high flyers”. He adds, “The clients expect me to come up with a few proposals that they can present to the finance department or relevant people. Quality accommodation, efficient airport transfers and highly skilled trainers are high on the priority list, followed by the social programme.”

Agents also agree that demand for executive language courses is increasing and the sector is attracting a wider student base. Fernando Boeira from Cultura Inglesa in Brazil says, “I work with several large companies here who send a great many of their executives abroad every year, but also I send some students who are in the middle of their university courses and are willing to return to Brazil and finish their [course] with a differential in their CV by having lived/learned abroad. I would say that recently young executives are doing courses abroad much more than in the past.”

Marketing business courses

When it comes to marketing executive language programmes, schools report that methods often vary compared with other programmes. Julia Patasheva from Liden & Denz Language Centres in St Petersburg and Moscow in Russia says, “Though these programmes are also sold through our agents network, the percentage of direct bookings is higher than for general courses sales.”

Targeted marketing is very important when selling an executive language course, either through specialist agencies or by producing specific marketing materials. Erin Corcoran from Don Quijote in Spain says, “We’ll unveil a stand-alone brochure for our executive programmes soon. At the present time, more than half of our executive students come to us through our agents.”

Agencies have an important role to play in this market due to the high expectations of executive clients and their need for lots of detailed information. Eleri Maitland from French in Normandy in Rouen, France, says, “We market our executive language courses mainly through our agents, however, we do use other sources such as websites. Preferably the agents should specialise in executive language travel.”
Andrew Fisher from EAC in Edinburgh in the UK says that they market their executive courses through a network of partner agencies, although he acknowledges the extra challenges involved. “Within the marketing of our executive courses, an attention to detail is critical,” he says. “The more information that is obtained with regards each client prior to the commencement of each course, the better results for the client.”

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The following language schools, associations and accommodation providers advertised in the latest edition of Language Travel Magazine. If you would like more information on any of these advertisers, tick the relevant boxes, fill out your details and send.





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