Dealing with adults

Since the beginning of our co-operation with schools it has been pretty obvious that the adult students’ issue is rather a painful one. Adult classes are necessary, but at the same time they are problematic for the same reasons throughout Greece. We started our market research focusing on the adult sector and here are some interesting and useful results, I hope, and ideas.

First of all, this year’s research methods became more sophisticated. We approached a respectable sample of about 1200 employed adults, as well as a smaller sample of about 800 students in tertiary education. However, our research did not consist of only a set questionnaire, but an amazing 40% of both samples agreed to fill in a more in-depth personal questionnaire, along with a short placement test in English.

It was amazing to see that 48% of the employed adults and 68% of the university students claimed to hold a B2 certificate, while 24% of them held a higher certificate as well, equal to C1 or C2. The average time since they successfully took the examination was approximately 11 years.

The shocking results of the second, more in-depth research, which took place exclusively amongst the adults who held a certificate, revealed that the certificates barely reflect the adults’ actual level of English. More specifically, the placement test we gave them showed that part of the sample could only just reach B1 level, with the majority only able to confidently perform up to A2. Only 4% of the sample that moved onto the secondary level of our research proved to know the foreign language in practice up to the level reflected by their certificate.

The tasks provided were precisely linked to the specific needs of using a foreign language, i.e. dealing with the spoken language requirements for everyday and work environments, as well as written forms encountered in work and social settings, like application forms, short reports and e-mails. The tasks for the university students’ community included application forms, covering letters, reference letters, CVs and short essays.

Interviewing managers or employers with activity in other countries, we saw that very few of them were confident enough to rely on their knowledge of a foreign language. Usually, they travel with an employee who speaks the foreign language better, but with a lot of compromise, or sometimes they have a hired interpreter or a non-official interpreter. Actually, about 70% of the managers/employers we asked do not mind the amateurism of a relative or an acquaintance, either for on-site support or translation of documents. This is, of course, so indicative of the business practices in our country, relating to the complete lack of competitive advantages in every professional field.

Another shocking conclusion from our research was that 100% of the sample recognise the importance of speaking at least one foreign language well, but when we moved on with the more in-depth questionnaires and placement tests, the vast majority of the sample answered as follows:

  1. They are highly interested in examinations and certificates only if and when these are prerequisites for employment or a promotion, either in the public or private sector, or for studies abroad.
  2. Almost 100% of the secondary sample replied that they do not relate or connect examinations and certificates to the thorough knowledge of a foreign language.
  3. They do not feel that the thorough knowledge of a foreign language is in substance important, and when they need it every now and then, they think they can get by with limited knowledge or help from somebody else.
  4. They do not consider the thorough knowledge of a foreign language a real competitive advantage in finding a job, as most employers do not pay the necessary attention to foreign language proficiency.
  5. They do not recognise any foreign language knowledge standard in certificates, apart from as an official qualification if and when required by employers or agencies.

This entire attitude, if not mentality, reflects both the tendency of Greeks to consider private foreign language education a necessary evil, and the lack of responsibility in business and state initiative, ambition and success. However, it also shows the need for this nation to be trained to better understand what the international environment we are part of requires. The role of the foreign language teaching community has not been exploited to the full as, apart from students and teachers, we should be carriers of another mentality, promoting cultural awareness and international communication, as well as promoting or designing measures against our national isolationism. As a field, we take the need of knowing and speaking a foreign language for granted, and all we advertise is that we teach foreign languages at our schools, and that we do it well! Our exclusive focus on the children’s/pupils’ community, which as long as the certificates are recognised can be taken for granted, has limited our scope into how we can help our students “finish” English in as few years as possible. However, we forget that young learners do not themselves make the decision to go to a foreign language centre independently. And if the situation stays as such, then the only criteria in choosing the best foreign language centre will be just the distance from home and how cheap the tuitions fees are. Not to mention of course that 38% of foreign language centre owners have not even been to the country of the language they teach, even for a week…


Copyright© 2005  Yannis Stergis
Republication or use of part or all text without written permission from Yannis Stergis is strictly prohibited.