Number one for English language teachers

Croatia: Teaching business English

A teacher based in the capital, Zagreb, gives an impression of a country steadily rebuilding itself.  

Imagine the difficulties of teaching in a war-torn city, ravaged by mortar fire and strewn with anti-personnel mines. I certainly did before deciding to come to work in the Croatian capital, which had recently emerged form a bloody war with Milosovic’s Serbia . Upon arrival, however, I discovered that my fears could hardly have been further from the truth. While the country as a whole had suffered unthinkable atrocities, Zagreb itself had barely been touched by the horrors of war. Rather than finding myself in a perilous situation, I found myself in a favourable one. The country had been plunged into economic and political depression and its people were faced with only one way out: to invest in themselves. For many, this meant learning or improving their English, the language of commerce and tourism. As I began my career here, I could not help but think of myself as some kind of linguistic mercenary, here to cream off the spoils of war.

In the years immediately following the war, the country’s infrastructure was in turmoil: bribery and corruption were the hallmark of both government and business; the big bucks on offer from various international bodies like the UN inflated rent prices out of all proportion; applications for visas and work permits were an Orwellian nightmare. The teacher’s lot was not an easy one. But these difficulties were mitigated by the country’s breathtaking coast on the one hand, and the rewards of teaching on the other.

I teach for a small private language school which specializes in teaching business English one-to-one on the company’s premises. Typically we’ll provide training in giving presentations, conducting business meetings, preparing a quarterly reports in English and so on. This kind of teaching is far removed from the kind of general English classes my basic CTEFLA had prepared me for. But rather than being a problem, it has often proved to be rewarding. Of course, teaching this way has challenges of its own.

The first thing that strikes you when teaching managers one-to-one is that there is nowhere to hide. There is no respite by having students get into pairs or groups while you think about what you’re going to do next. It’s just you and your student, face to face, and you have to be prepared. Other challenges to contend with include ringing phones, unscheduled meetings, and last minute cancellations. But the intense nature of one-to-ones really allows you to respond to your student’s needs, and seeing a marked improvement in a short time more than makes up for any difficulties you might have to face.

It’s now over seven years since the war came to an end, and the pedagogical landscape is slowly beginning to change. Plans are being developed to introduce ‘English Across the Curriculum’ in state schools, where subjects such as physics or maths will be partly taught in English. While this is good news for the schoolchildren of Croatia, the likely outcome for the average native English speaker may well be less positive, as demand for general English teaching dwindles. As it does so, English language teaching will have to become even more specialized, which in turn will demand more specialized knowledge from English teachers who wish to work here. Ironically, for me this means having to leave the country to pursue further training, as opportunities for training in Croatia are non-existent.

Before I leave, I’ll be spending a month on Croatia’s beautiful coast, which despite its clear warm waters, palm trees and endless sunny days, has failed to bring back the tourists in numbers it could boast before the war. It would seem that the idea of Croatia as a war-torn country, however erroneous, persists.

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