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And so we go into our eleventh (or is it twelfth?) week of enforced, albeit slightly relaxed, lockdown due to the Corona virus. It is so easy to lose track of days and weeks given the change of routine and so many new things to now consider. Of lesser importance, but nonetheless under consideration, is whether there is adequate hand sanitiser, gin and elderflower tonic and burger buns to see us through another week.

Sitting in the garden over the weekend, no gin in hand this time, honest, I started to pull together a summary of some of the key changes that I have had to make in the last couple of months regarding the delivery of foreign language lessons and client engagement and thought it might be of interest to others so am sharing a few highlights here in this first episode of HW Language Services’ Lockdown Lessons:-

I like to think that a core strength of HW Language Services is me! How very un-British of me to blow my own trumpet, but I stand by the fact that for any type of learning the trainer’s personality, expertise and enthusiasm to the subject make all the difference. My passion and skill for foreign languages alongside my extensive international business career (there I go again blowing that un-British trumpet!) means that I am lucky enough to have been asked to provide German, French and Russian language courses to a broad variety of corporates, SME’s, agencies and individuals – mostly face to face on-site. COVID 19, however rendered on-site lessons no longer possible from late March onwards so I had to think long and hard about the commercial and operational viability of online group sessions whilst maintaining quality, enjoyment and relevance for clients.

My top 5 considerations included:

1. Which if any clients were willing and able to switch to online lessons?

A number of my clients were unable to switch to online lessons, but for those groups who were, depending on in-house IT security and firewalls, lessons are delivered on either Zoom, Teams or Skype for Business. We also make good use of the virtual school platform Edmodo where I can upload new lesson slides weekly, download activities and worksheets, post updates and messages to learners, share audio files and videos and set assignments etc – this works really well.
I use Edmodo now not only for my business clients, but also for KidsLinguaKlub which is part of HW Language Services, aimed at primary and secondary school ages.

2. How would lessons be setup and, once online, how would they work?

At the outset a protocol is needed which includes the specific platform to be used, the lesson schedule, login and contact details, instructions on how to access lesson materials, agreement on the use of video / microphone muting / how to ask questions/how to avoid interruptions and background noise and finally the etiquette regarding sending advanced apologies for non-attendance.
Compared to face to face(F2F) sessions online lessons go at a slower pace just because of the medium so this needs to be factored in to lesson content and the quantity of activities to be included.

3. How could I replace group interaction and activities?

This was perhaps the biggest challenge. Ordinarily, my language lessons involve a lot of moving around the room, acting out situations and working in small groups/pairs for situational role plays. In F2F groups interactions work well usually because individuals feed off one another’s energy – the acting skills too are a sight to behold!. With online lessons individuals are no longer together in a room so it is necessary for the trainer to facilitate much more, prepare and share much more material in advance, divide up the time such that learners have equal opportunities to practise speaking, ask questions and still interact with one another. It is imperative to check back for questions and understanding more often than F2F because there are no body language cues, especially if you are using a shared screen too. I very often have a list of learners to hand written out alphabetically and work through the list repeatedly to make sure nobody is left out, but when things get nice and competitive I also encourage learners to nominate and challenge one another to answer questions to keep them on their toes – it is fun and works well. It also means nobody can sneak off for a cuppa without me knowing.

4. How could I play external audio?

Trying to simulate realistic situations such as rail announcements from a German train station or checking into a French hotel prior to a client meeting or shipping a consignment to a Russian agent (that sounds a bit dodgy) to hone listening skills relies very much on playing native speaker audio externally. For some reason which I have yet to fathom many of the VOIP platforms such as Skype and Zoom seem to go to extreme lengths to make this challenging. My solution so far as been to play external audio off a separate device connected to an external speaker and this has worked well – hardly digitally advanced or innovative, but nonetheless my clients are totally satisfied with the quality and I continue to investigate any alternatives that may improve this yet further.

5. How can I keep clients motivated?

In between lessons clients are having to face challenging times both work and home-related so I wanted to supplement lessons in a less formal way. As a result I “produced” a few short videos, audio clips, interactive online games and quiz sheets as well as sector specific bite-size modules to keep things fresh and bespoke. Many of these have also been shared with other clients whose lessons are currently suspended but they wanted to keep practising until such time as F2F sessions resume. The feedback on these additional resources has been really positive and is something I will continue to do post COVID.

Would I have done anything differently?

I sought client feedback recently to help me answer this question. Thankfully, there was overwhelming satisfaction with the “new” mode of lessons so the actual delivery seems to be aligned with former F2F lessons. Operationally, however, I think there is definitely scope for further sector specific bitesize language modules and perhaps more video content so that I can accumulate a repository of ready to go materials in particular for certain industries such as renewable energy, autonomous vehicles, marine and construction – areas where I have enjoyed previous experience in international sales and marketing.
But for now, it’s back to lesson planning and another Joe Wicks workout …..

If you would like to learn more about HW Language Services or KidsLinguaKlub, please do get in touch:

Vielen Dank, merci beaucoup, благодарю вас

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