31 Mar 2012 20:42 | Armelle Loghmanian

An interview by Alessandra Zocca


An interview of Karen Hodgson, Director CERAN Brussels

PWI – Karen, what is the state of the art for language schools?
Ms. Hodgson – The best language schools are slowly coming to the idea of dealing with communication instead of just with learning languages. Communicating is not just coming out with a string of words you put together … it’s all about communication.  Communication does not only mean speaking, you have many aspects in communication; for instance what we used to call “presentation skills” was just based on the language used. Now we mean for instance:
• How do we give a presentation?
• How do we make sure we keep our audiences’ attention?
• How we communicate personally, how do we come over to somebody,
• What do people think of us when we are speaking, do they understand us, are we clear enough, are we using the right body language (because in every language the body language changes)?
• Am I not being offensive when using certain words or expressions?
All this is fundamental because you have to captivate your audience, even if you are giving a presentation on something that is already well known to your own employees, your body language is very important, because you will either hold their attention or not.

PWI – Karen, how has the business of language schools evolved in the last years? In detail I refer to the impact of the cultural changes in our heterogeneous society, the increased immigration, travelling, tourism and expat relocations ... 

Ms. Hodgson – We have remarked a difference in the languages that are actually requested and I deliberately didn’t use the word “demand”. Dutch makes it to first place in language requirements.  As far as we are concerned, second place goes jointly to English and French, followed by a third place for Spanish.

PWI – Have teaching methods evolved to cope with multilingual students?

Ms. Hodgson – In terms of teaching methods, all the language schools that I know of, have the “oral” approach. Of course I do not mean that nothing written is given out, but in the majority of cases the teacher is a native speaker who will only present the work program in the target language, they will only speak the target language. By using any means of communication you like : body language, the expressions on your face, drawings or even little Lego blocks, as long as you get the students to understand what you are talking about, you do not use any of the students’ native languages. Teaching students in the target language means also treating a multi-lingual class equally.

It is the opposite of schools where we send our children, there you learn the foreign languages by using another language. For example my niece has been taught Dutch by a French speaking teacher explaining in French, the lessons were given in the student’s native language and words were translated to the target language. She learned a list of foreign words, not to speak Dutch.

PWI – What are the future trends in the language & communication business?

IMs. Hodgson – We all know that the best way to learn a language is to go and live there for 6 months to one year.  Of course, not everyone can do that.  Nothing will ever replace a lesson given face to face, but distance coaching is making great progress.  By using the internet, students can also take part in language courses whether they are in the same city as the teacher or on the other side of the planet.  We at CERAN already use this methodology.  Why not imagine a virtual classrooms with students all over the world in all the different time zones, all connected at the same time.  Let’s face it, the pace of the world is moving so fast, that such technology will have to be developed whether we like it or not.  The question then is how to guarantee the sale quality as you get with face to face teaching.

PWI - Karen, how then will then students interact with their teacher? How will you teach communication without personal interaction?

Ms. Hodgson – Alessandra, very good question… Learning methods will have to change as well, but anyway you will still lose the personalized touch, it would be very “artificial”, but I still think that’s the way it will end up. Today we use webcams, audio-visual equipment costing tens of thousands of Euros, maybe in ten years we will have something different, but it is so impersonal, whenever you are filmed in front of the camera your reactivity changes, the way you speak changes, whatever you do is less natural. 

PWI – These impersonal teaching methods might not improve language learning, which, I guess, is often difficult for adults (compared to how quickly children learn languages)?

Ms. Hodgson – Actually, it’s just as easy for an adult to learn a language as it is for a child, but there is one big difference: as we grow up we forget how to learn, why?
Let’s take the example of a baby who is starting to speak, what does the baby do? The baby will listen, will look at your lips and then little by little will start to imitate the sounds which will form the words. There are two things which come into action: the eyes and the ears, all around the globe we invariably focus on the face and see eyes and lips at the same time. It is much more difficult, if your head is turned, you would have just to use your ears then.
Adults, do not learn like this is their native language; instead, they start translating the new language into what’s known, meaning their native language; so they are too busy translating each word or sentence into the language they already know.  They are too busy to listen and the main organ that they need are ears. They are concentrating so much on translating that they are not even looking at the teacher; they lose track of what is going around them, they hear words but not the actual meaning, the intonation in the voice, the different frequency in which the language is spoken (each language has a frequency).
The brain can only learn what the ear hears, but if your ears do not hear, your brain doesn’t hear. That’s why when we were small all we did was listening.
Let me make another example: music, I am musician as well, I play clarinet and I used to sing in a choir when I was in England. When you play music, you automatically use your ears; so if I hear a new song on the radio, I say “oh what a nice song” and I immediately forget when the song is finished, but a couple of days later I hear the same song and I realize I heard the song before, and on and on until I start listening to the music and I actually start to sing the music without knowing the words, then later I pick up the words because I am listening.

PWI - Don’t you think that the “passion for their country and language” of teachers makes the difference? Don’t you think that learning languages is a way to create a sense of community?

Ms. Hodgson – Yes to both of your questions. If you have a passionate teacher who transmits the love he/she feels for his/her language, customs, the history and all the traditions of his/her country, then the lesson becomes interesting.

PWI - In a world where English is the most used language to communicate amongst foreigners, what still triggers people to learn other languages?

Ms. Hodgson – The need to communicate with each other.  Let’s take a look at some examples :  Russian, Chinese, Japanese, German and Dutch are usually learned for professional reasons. In Belgium, everyone knows that you need to speak Dutch and English to be able to get a good job.
Italian is more associated with holidays; Spanish is in between because it can be associated with business in Latin America, but also because people love to go on holiday in Spain. And in Spain people speak only Spanish, the surprise is also that in Germany you need to speak German, go to Aachen to the beautiful Christmas market and try to speak English to the store holders there…

PWI - Tell us, Karen, about your new challenge in the business of learning languages ... Why this choice?

Ms. Hodgson – Languages are my passion, being artistic, I consider a language as being an art.
I started teaching English and Dutch - because those are my two native languages – seven years ago and I taught languages for four years and then I was requested to run a school in Brabant Wallon. It wasn’t the best decision I had made in my life, but I had the feeling that something else was going to pop up and I stayed put, I just waited.
One day I received a call from a company of head hunters who asked whether I was interested in the position of director of a training centre in the capital Europe …. And here I am.  So since the 1st of September Ceran has opened up here in Brussels to fulfill the requests of many of its clients for a communication training centre for middle/top managers.
PWI - In your role as director of the CERAN language schools are you more focused on the administrative side or are you involved in the methods to improve teaching?

Ms. Hodgson – Ultimately I try to divide my time into three different sectors: there is obviously the administrative part, which results in a third of my time, a third of my time into the construction of new courses and another third will be going out to meet clients, the commercial side where I try to sell my passion for languages. But that is still only theory !  The majority of my time is spent planning and re-planning courses, recruiting the best possible trainers, helping my colleagues to train the teachers …. A CERAN trainer cannot start teaching until he/she has completed their initial training.  We then give them courses, and then we make class visits to see how they are getting on.  The participants also receive evaluation forms so that they can tell us how they feel about their lessons, are they happy with the content, the teacher, is it up to the expectations?
PWI - Karen, do you think I transmit passion for PWI?

Ms. Hodgson – Definitely, this is why I came, it is thanks to you, Alessandra. My CEO is a woman and she told me about PWI and said that in my new role it would be interesting for me to go and see. I was completely open, you convinced me, and I became a PWI member.

  Short Biography
Karen was born in Castleford, West Yorkshire England.  She studied Economics, Law and Languages and then went on the work for the European Commission in Brussels in the then called DG VIII, Development.  After 27 years, Karen left the Commission and after having tried various different temporary jobs and a sabbatical in Norway, she decided to use her skills in language training.  Her organization skills were never very far away, and after 4 years of teaching, she let herself be persuaded to run a language training centre in Wallonia where she stayed for just under 2 years.  She is now running the Brussels Training Centre of CERAN, which officially opened its doors on 14 November 2011.
Karen Hodgson, Manager CERAN Brussels
T. +32 (0)2 515 07 94
M. +32 (0)491 37 43 27
Rue Ravenstein 4
1000 Brussels - BELGIUM  

  Disclaimer - Any views and opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CERAN, nor do they constitute a legally binding agreement.
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