Sun, 13 Apr 2003

Learning English to get a better job

Leo Wahyudi S Contributor Jakarta

Changes in business practices as a result of globalization have unavoidably altered the way companies recruit employees.

A formal education is no longer enough for potential employees hoping to hook on with most companies. Besides having a formal education, job seekers today also require additional skills.

This might explain why professional courses teaching skills such as foreign languages, computer proficiency and management are mushrooming in the country.

Many companies today, regardless of what sector they operate in, now demand English proficiency as a prerequisite for potential employees.

English courses have mushroomed in nearly every major city in the country, but not all of them are qualified to meet the needs of students.

For Global Step, one of major English courses in Jakarta, the priority is not only on providing the best programs possible but also on accommodating busy students.

Erikson Hutasoit, the English Program Director at Global Step, said his course now offered English lessons over the telephone for busy students.

"Most of our students are busy, which is why we have designed special learning programs that fit their schedules," Erikson said.

Regular classes in which students are required to sit in a classroom with a teacher are becoming a thing of the past. Today's students require more flexibility and need to be able to set their own schedules and take classes at their offices or homes.

"Learners who are preoccupied with their hectic schedule can, for example, dial a free access number for the course. Stand-by tutors are ready to pick up the phone at any time from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. to start the learning process," Erikson said.

Global Step has about 300 active students. Some of them choose to come to the course for private classes, while others prefer to do their assignments by e-mail or facsimile, he said.

Other programs take a different approach to the learning process. At EF Language Program Abroad, a well-known international English course, about 80 percent of the teachers at the Jakarta branch are native speakers.

The native speakers are needed to bridge the language and cultural blocks often considered to be stumbling blocks for foreign language learners, Arleta Darusalam, EF country director, told The Jakarta Post. She said a total of 250 native speakers were teaching at EF nationwide.

Besides hiring many native speakers, EF also offers a program that allows its students to practice the language in English- speaking countries.

Language Travel lets students travel and learn in an English- speaking country for between two and four weeks during the school holidays. This program is specifically for learners between the ages of eight and 18.

"The program is not compulsory as it is only for those who are interested and for those who can afford it," Arleta said, adding that EF was segmented for middle and upper-class students.

EF also offers the High School Year program for enthusiastic learners, in which students study at high schools abroad as part of a student exchange program.

"We have to follow a strict selection process in accordance with the government policies of the destination countries," Arleta said, adding that she is a former exchange student.

For more than a decade, EF has sent an average of 100 students a year abroad to take part in the program.

Students are also welcome to learn through the Internet. Arleta said she estimated that more than 1,000 people have studied English through EF's website

Each program and method has its own advantages and disadvantages, depending on the background and profession of the student.

For the 85-year-old Abdul Madjid, who is a member of the House of Representatives, studying English over the telephone might be the best choice.

"I prefer learning English over the phone because I can practice the language from my desk," Madjid said, adding that this method allowed him to converse in English with his tutors every day.

Madjid said that he also reads The Jakarta Post every day to improve his English, while at the same time getting the latest information about local and foreign issues. After reading the paper, he telephones a tutor to discuss some of the stories he read.

He said that for an elderly learner like him, learning a foreign language by practice was far more helpful due to his waning memory. He finds this method effective in improving his ability to speak English.

"It is important for me because I can discuss politics, democracy and the like in support of my position as a legislator in charge of foreign affairs," he said.

After all, learning will only be effective when the learners find a method they are comfortable with.