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LIT Journal 1999

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Language and Intercultural Training
ISSN 0267 - 7466

Volume 17 No.1


Business English Teacher Development - integrating the business element
Brian Shields
The Role of the Consultant in Meeting Customer Needs
Evan Frendo
Training for Different Learning Styles
Philip O'Connor
Training Trainers - an intercultural and interdisciplinary case
Adrian Pilbeam


The last issue of Language and Intercultural Training in 1998 focussed on the topic of training in a changing environment. The main messages that emerged from the articles in that issue were the importance of trainers continuing to develop their knowledge and skills, and the need to adapt to the changing needs of clients. A key message was that trainers and consultants, both in the language and intercultural field, need to be aware of the business plans and strategies of their clients, so that they can deliver an appropriately tailored service. And where that client is a truly global organisation, as in the case of British Airways, trainers also need to take into account the cultural issues when designing and delivering training programmes to BA staff throughout the world.

All four articles in this first 1999 issue of Language and Intercultural Training continue this theme, and deal in detail with different aspects of trainer training and trainer development. The main focus is on improving, adapting or advancing the skills that trainers have already acquired, so that they can develop as professionals and also offer a more varied and ultimately a better service to the client.

Understanding organisational behaviour
In the first article, Brian Shields stresses the importance for business language trainers of looking beyond traditional concerns of language teaching and linguistics, and examines the need for them to develop a deeper understanding of business and management issues.

His proposal is to look at the area of Human Resource Development (HRD), and at the ways in which organisations train and develop their own staff. The best way for business language trainers to understand the real needs and concerns of their corporate clients is to develop an understanding of organisational behaviour, what he calls the human side of organisations. In this way they will gain a deeper understanding of the way people communicate in business, which in turn will give added credibility and confidence to their teaching, and enable them to work more as equals with practising managers.

The trainer as consultant
The next article, by Evan Frendo, develops these ideas with the example of the added value that experienced business language trainers can give to their clients by acting as consultants and advisers on language training needs. Basing his observations on his experience of working in the German market, he argues that, by using the services of an independent consultant, the client can be much surer of getting the right product from a training provider. The role of the consultant is threefold. They can help the client specify their needs clearly. They can then identify a shortlist of suitable providers from the many on the market, and can evaluate the quality and suitability of their proposals. Finally, they can monitor and evaluate the delivery of the training. In many respects his article follows on from that of Barbara Mattison in the last issue of LIT, where she described the trend towards the use of consultants in France.

Teaching and learning across cultures
International issues in organisational development are at the heart of Philip O'Connor's article. In the context of the much discussed 'globalisation' of organisations, he concentrates on the impact of this trend on teaching and learning across cultures. The globalisation of organisations means that an increasing number of people are now having to work with people from outside their own culture; trainers who once worked only in their own countries now frequently need to work with culturally mixed groups. To do so effectively they should consider and adapt their training styles in order to cater for the different types of learner they encounter. This means an understanding of different learning styles and how they differ from culture to culture, as well as from person to person.

He proposes Kolb's experiential learning model and its related Learning Style Inventory as a useful tool for describing different learning styles, and gives the results of a small research project covering business school students from France, Quebec and Germany as an example of how learning styles do differ across cultures. But he also raises the warning that, because international business is dominated by the Anglo-Saxon model of business, most of the widely accepted theories and practices in training come with this cultural bias. The result of this is that training on an international level is often ineffective because the training style does not fit to the trainees' learning styles.

A train the trainer case
Adrian Pilbeam’s article provides a specific example of how trainers need to adapt their skills and apply them to unfamiliar training situations, both in terms of content and culture. He describes his work on a trainer training programme in Poland to help a pharmaceutical company design a company specific sales training programme for its medical reps. The case raises a number of important issues. To what extent does the trainer trainer need to know the content speciality of the trainees? Do training approaches that work in one culture transfer easily to neighbouring cultures? Is the trainer trainer's role in fact more that of a facilitator than a trainer? How can you give participants on a train-the-trainer programme ownership of their own future training programmes? What part does a knowledge and awareness of different learning styles play in the development of a training programme? And finally, how can a western "expert" avoid the accusation of cultural imperialism when working in Central and Eastern Europe? .

Language and Intercultural Training
Volume 17 No. 2


Your Negotiation Skills Training: what's missing?
Bob Day
Politeness Counts: intercultural negotiating and politeness
Ron White
A Data-Driven Approach to Intercultural Training: putting research into practice
Pamela Rogerson-Revell
Listening to Presentations: the needs of a multinational audience
Isobel M. Mahoney


The four articles in this issue of Language and Intercultural Training deal with different aspects of training in business communication skills. Two of the articles deal with negotiating, one with intercultural meetings, and the last with presentations to international audiences. The articles touch on themes covered in a recent issue of LIT (16.1), namely the importance of being aware of the role of politeness strategies in interaction between cultures, and the role of international English as a medium for effective communication between native and non-native speakers of English.

What is negotiation?
Both the articles about negotiating define what for them distinguishes negotiation from other kinds of interaction. Bob Day defines three essential elements of negotiation - there must be an element of conflict, because the parties to the negotiation desire different outcomes; there must be a degree of uncertainty about this outcome, which is resolved in the negotiation process; and there must be a possiblity of compromise, so that the parties can reach a mutually advantageous agreement. He quotes several examples of where one party in an intercultural situation may not see the matter under discussion as negotiable, which inevitably leads to misunderstandings.

Day believes that many courses in negotiation skills fail to address this very basic idea of "what is negotiable", and also take little account of external issues, such as people's real motivation to negotiate, the relatively small degree of discretion or independence negotiators from some cultures may have, and the role of power relationships which can distort the often quoted "win-win" model of negotiating.

Politeness strategies in negotiating
The influence of power relationships in negotiating is considered from another perspective by Ron White. In his article, White concentrates on the importance of politeness strategies when negotiating interculturally. Drawing on the work of Brown and Levinson, he links the use of politeness strategies - either positive or negative - to the whole issue of positive and negative face. Cultures that adopt positive face display sociability and solidarity in their interaction style, often using informality, friendliness and use of first names to show "inclusiveness" or lack of distance. This approach may sit uneasily with members of a culture who adopt a position of negative face, showing deference and distance to other parties for fear of offending them or threatening their face.

This mismatch between proponents of positive and negative face, and their corresponding positive and negative politeness strategies, can go a long way to explaining why the open, direct and clear style of North Americans does not fit well with the silence and attentiveness that characterises the negative politeness strategies of many oriental cultures.

The friendly but sometimes pushy North American will often offend by expressing assumptions about a buyer's wants or needs, using such phrases as "I think you'll find this an excellent machine for your needs", thereby unconsciously imposing on the other party, who feels more comfortable with a deference politeness strategy. In fact, this tendency to make assumptions has been identified as a characteristic of less successful negotiators even in North America and Northern Europe, where it was given the label of "irritators" after research carried out by Neil Rackham and the Huthwaite Resaerch Group (see LIT 14.1 for more on this).

Conflicting styles of interaction in meetings
The importance of using an appropriate interactive style is illustrated in Pamela Rogerson-Revell's article, in which the focus is on intercultural meetings. Based on an analysis of different meetings in the same international company, Rogerson-Revell describes a range of meeting styles from collaborative to adversarial, and identifies the variations in behaviour that create the climate of the meetings. In the collaborative meetings, which are chaired by native English speakers, the style is fairly formal, though friendly, and there is a clear use of considerate, orderly behaviour, which is shared by all the participants - an example of style convergence. In the adversarial meetings, which are chaired by a non-native speaker of English, there is evident style divergence, with the meetings being dominated by native English speakers who overwhelm the deferential politeness style of the chairman, and are a clear example of face threatening behaviour. Good international communicators express themselves in a culturally neutral manner, displaying respect for other cultures. Developing an awareness of differences in interactive norms and standards across cultures is the first stage in the training carried out by Rogerson-Revelll and her colleagues. This is followed by training to develop skills in international communication, especially in the ability to "style shift". She ends her article by advocating the use of a deferential, depersonalised style, which, she believes, is the characteristic of "international English".

International English in presentations
The last article, by Isobel Mahoney, advocates the use of a culturally neutral style of English when presenting to a multinational audience. She illustrates her argument with the case of training conferences run for the European sales dealers of an American multinational selling medical equipment.

The company felt that many of the dealers were not able to follow the training presentations, given in English, at the regular sales and product training meetings. But it turned out that a bigger problem was the language and style of the presenters at these conferences. Both native and non-native speaker presenters displayed faults in their presentation style, ranging from speed of delivery, use of too many idioms and jargon, through to poor use of visuals. The training recommended by the consultant called in by the company concentrated more on the presenters - a small number - than on the much larger group of dealers. The presenters were urged to use a more culturally neutral, more depersonalised style of English.

Language and Intercultural Training
Volume 17 No 3


Content Evaluation in Corporate Language Training
Barbara Mattison and Richard Stevens
Business English Assessment: matching the test to the user
Ben Knight
Benchmarking Intercultural Training: is experience its biggest competitor?
Ursula Brinkmann and Karen van der Zee
The International Management Assessment: how to choose international managers
Benoît Théry


The four articles in this issue of Language and Intercultural Training deal with the subject of evaluation and assessment. This is an increasingly important area in training, for two reasons. Companies want to measure the effectiveness and efficiency of their training, so they can assess their return on investment. Equally importantly, assessment tools are important for identifying employees who have the right skills – linguistic and intercultural – for international assignments. The articles in this issue deal with all these aspects of the subject.

Evaluation in language training
Evaluation is nothing new in language training, though the word covers a wide range of tests and exams for many different purposes. Some of these are dealt with in the article by Mattison and Stevens in the context of corporate language training in France. They make the important distinction between testing language knowledge and assessing performance in a language. For many years most tests and exams have focused on the former, as knowledge is easier to test, and the tests and exams that do so are simpler to administer and score. But are they what the client wants?

Assessing performance
In order for a company to measure the effectiveness of their language training programme, and even more to assess its impact on business performance, they ideally want to know what a person can do in the foreign language. Can they, for example, take an effective part in negotiations, or give a presentation to an international audience? Designing tests to measure such specific areas of performance needs to be done using tailor-made, qualitative assessment tools, according to Mattison and Stevens. But is it worth the considerable investment?

Matching tests and users
The solutions proposed by Knight in his article are based on two different approaches chosen by UCLES in Cambridge, one of the world’s largest and best known language examining bodies. UCLES have distinguished two types of user – the individual learner and the institutional client - and designed different tests for each. The individual learner wants a widely accepted qualification to prove his or her level of language ability to current or future employers. Companies want a flexible test that can be given on demand and in different formats, including by computer. UCLES have therefore designed two types of test or exam, trying as much as possible to assess skills required for real-world situations.

Assessing intercultural competence
Language knowledge, competence and performance can be measured in different ways, because the end product of language use can be recorded and observed. But intercultural competence is more intangible. It covers not only knowledge and practical skills or behaviours, but, more fundamentally, it concerns a person’s attitude to people from different cultures. But assessing a person’s intercultural competence, and therefore one aspect of their suitability for international postings and assignments, should play an essential part in the selection process for expatriates.

Two quite different ways of trying to assess aspects of intercultural competence are described in the articles by Brinkmann and Van der Zee, and Thery.

Assessing intercultural sensitivity
A person’s attitude towards people from other cultures is an essential part of their ability to succeed in a foreign culture. An instrument that attempts to measure this is the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), developed by Hammer and Bennett in the US. The IDI is an objective, questionnaire style of assessment tool, and as such will always be open to questions about skewed responses due to the age, education, or life experience of candidates, and the degree to which some items may evoke a "socially desirable" response. The article by Brinkmann and Van der Zee closely examines the effectiveness of the IDI as a predictor of intercultural effectiveness.

They also consider the roles of international experience and intercultural training in developing intercultural competence, and pose the question - what can intercultural training contribute to intercultural learning that intercultural experience cannot? Their general conclusion is that international experience is an important factor in developing intercultural sensitivity, with one exception: it does not necessarily lessen people's defensive attitudes to cultural differences. They recommend that intercultural training should therefore focus particularly on this area.

Selecting international managers
Measuring intercultural sensitivity is, however, only one element in selecting managers for international assignments. Other criteria included are professional experience and competences, motivations for wanting an international career and an aptitude for international operations. How to assess this aptitude, including skills of analysis, decision making, readiness for learning, adaptability and diplomacy, is the subject of Théry’s article.

He describes the use of an assessment centre approach, using a specially designed tool called the International Management Assessment (IMA). Based on the observation of candidates during a day of simulations and case studies, the IMA is a much more labour intensive approach than the IDI. But it does produce a more complete profile of a person's skills and aptitude for international assignments, as well as providing a strong element of intercultural coaching during the extensive individual feedback sessions. Given the costs of sending expatriates and their families abroad, and repatriating them early if there are problems, the preliminary investment in selecting the best people is relatively small in money terms, compared to its importance in human terms and for achieving company goals.

The contrast between the IDI and the IMA harks back to the one about evaluation in language training – testing in a format that is objective, relatively quick to administer, producing a quantative score versus testing behaviour, skills and attitudes in a tailor-made, more subjective but qualitative way.

Click here for LIT Journal 1998

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