“I didn’t speak one word of French,” he said with a laugh, “not a single word.”
Thomson has worked in global finance for many years, and travels extensively for work. He realized that by not speaking French, he was missing a number of opportunities.
“It is important for me to be able to connect with people. The more I travel, the more I see the importance of French,” Thomson said. “I have a lot of friends in the Caribbean, and business associates who are based in Montreal and Paris.”
It was just a matter of finding the time in his schedule to take a course, and connecting with the right program. This fall, Thomson decided to take the plunge. He enrolled in the Executive Total Immersion Program offered by the Berlitz Learning Centre in Montreal. It is a week-long course of private study designed to accelerate the learning process.
“It has been so seamless and non-tiring,” said Thomson, on how easily he was able to pick up the French language using the Berlitz method. “You don’t sit down and learn lists and lists of vocabulary. You almost learn through the process of osmosis. It is very natural.”
This organic, personalized approach to learning was pioneered at the first Berlitz language school nearly 140 years ago. Since then, the company has expanded to include hundreds of learning centres in more than 70 countries around the world. People with international careers, such as Thomson, can start a Berlitz course in one city, and pickup their studies halfway across the globe.
While Berlitz courses are open to everyone, large corporations often turn to the school for help with language training. Instruction is available face-to-face or online. Berlitz has worked with banks, airlines, governments — even the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the U.S.
“Communication is the lifeblood of a company,” noted Sylvain Leblanc, the learning and instructional supervisor for Berlitz in Quebec. “Mastering a second language can improve performance, and how companies work as a whole.”
In today’s global economy, it is important for businesses and individuals to be able to communicate in a number of languages. Data from a 2014 study by the U.S. Committee on Economic Development (CED) found investing in language skills can lead to significant financial benefits. Nearly 80 percent of business leaders surveyed by the CED say their companies would do better with multilingual employees on staff. The CED calculates that American companies lose more than $2-billion a year on language or cultural misunderstandings.
“Speaking more than one language makes you more marketable by facilitating your career advancement within the company you work for; it opens doors,” said Leblanc, adding that Berlitz has a unique, proven approach to learning, custom-designed to fit the specific needs of students.
The Berlitz approach involves three phases: presentation, practice, and performance. The small class sizes give students more time to engage with instructors. One of its key principles is, “exclusive use of the target language.” Berlitz has developed techniques that allow learners — even beginners — to speak only the target language during class time. Those new to a language can point at pictures, for example, to illustrate what they want to communicate.
The classes simulate the experience of living in a foreign country, where you are surrounded by a language you can’t decipher, at first, but come to understand fairly rapidly.
“When a person is thrown into an environment where everyone else speaks a language that they don’t, their brain goes into this kind of ‘survival’ mode,” Leblanc explained. “It relies on the knowledge the person has already acquired, and associates words in the foreign language with familiar words.”
Berlitz also provides its clients with personal coaching, and can adapt the program to address any challenges they might face. Students have more opportunity to speak, practise, and, ultimately, gain a strong command of their chosen language.
The Berlitz Multicultural Division also offers cultural training for employees being transferred to a foreign country. They can take a two- to three-day workshop to help them prepare for potential challenges they might encounter as they begin an international assignment.
Thomson began his French studies on a Monday in late September. By Friday of that week, he was having conversations in French and gaining confidence. He liked the classes so much that he signed up for a second week of private lessons.
“The instructors managed to integrate the Spanish language skills I have with the French level I am learning,” Thomson said. “They showed me I actually understand a far greater degree of French than I could have possibly imagined. It is absolutely amazing.”
For Thomson, learning French is like a gift. He just enrolled in a third week of the program, and hopes to be completely fluent in about six months. He is confident that his new language skills will provide an important professional advantage, and that is just the beginning. The ultimate reward is having access to a new and vibrant culture.
This story was created by Content Works, Postmedia’s commercial content division, on behalf of Berlitz.
By: Heidi Westfield