When differentiating between general and executive courses I think it is important not to be distracted by terminology (‘general’, ‘executive’, ‘business’) but to focus on the objectives of the client, their background, budget and how much time they have available, before considering the content and context of programmes offered to see what is most likely to meet those criteria and objectives.
If the objective is ‘to improve my all round language skills’ and the client has two or three months to spare, then a general course may well meet that objective. If the objective is ‘to be able to take part in sensitive and complex business negotiations’ and the client only has a week to spare, something different is clearly required.
Although the obvious place to start may be with content, I believe that context is equally important. By context I mean the profile of the school (its size, facilities, focus), the profile of the typical student (age, background, objectives) and the profile of the teachers (age, background, experience). Many clients who have an urgent need to improve their communication skills in another language for work purposes will want to be with people like themselves with whom they have a lot in common. They will want to benefit from exchanging experience with like-minded people from a wide range of professional backgrounds, countries and cultures. Another aspect of context is group size – so-called executive courses have smaller working groups and often incorporate one-to-one training in combination courses. An interesting recent trend is the development of general courses targeted specifically at older age groups – this is recognition of the fact that many mature general language clients want an appropriate context for their learning.
Another key aspect of context is the accommodation and facilities offered – professional people will choose homestay, with all its inherent benefits, but only if it is with professional people as hosts, with appropriate levels of hospitality and interaction. Hotels and self-catering apartments should also be available and there are of course residential centres offering such programmes.
The content of a general English course varies from school to school but the focus is primarily on the development of the four skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking. Very often students work their way through one of the many excellent coursebooks available. There may be courses (or modules within courses) which focus on the language of business and are aimed primarily at students planning careers in business who want to improve their business vocabulary and awareness.
A true professional or executive course is for people who have an urgent need to improve their communication skills in order to do things: lead or take part in meetings and negotiations, make presentations, discuss business strategy and economic trends, take part in teleconferences and network effectively to develop new contacts. The emphasis is on training rather than teaching and the most effective programmes incorporate elements of soft skills training and cross-cultural awareness. The aim is to help people work more effectively in the target language. Materials used will often be created in-house by trainers with many years’ experience in this field. The return on investment can be measured less by level achieved than by acquisition of competences and confidence. At The London School of English we incorporate the participants’ own assessment of progress and confidence into our reporting system.
Some courses are aimed at a particular field of professional activity: law, engineering, banking and finance. Others focus on developing communication skills which are common to all professional people.
To summarise – matching course content and context to a thorough analysis of client needs is the key to successful recommendation.
John Miles is Managing Director of The London School of English, Canterbury. The School was established in 1991 as part of The London School of English group and traded as Canterbury Language Training (CLT) until the end of 2014.