A Case Study: John Vickerage

Vici Programme: 1:1 Language Coaching

Most of our language learning happens in childhood – whether that’s our native tongue or a foreign language. But as we get older and move into the world of business, many adults find themselves needing to communicate in a language they don’t know. When that happens, you can either struggle through with fractured English, or you can start taking steps to learn the new language and communicate effectively. That’s exactly what John Vickerage did when he found himself needing to communicate in German – despite having no previous experience of it.

Why Learn German?

Of course, there can be many drivers for someone to want to learn a foreign language, but for John his interest was mainly businesses related. He explained:

“My job changed a little in April last year, so my role now is to look after Northern Europe. Part of that is the DACH region, so Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and most of my time travelling now is spent in Germany. So what I wanted to do was learn a bit more about the German language. Mostly you know to get by. To ask for things in shops or get a taxi, you know, and just ask for things the right way.”

“I felt very uncomfortable going to Germany and not really knowing any of the language, so having to speak to someone in English straight away, felt very uncomfortable. I mean a lot of people in Germany tend to speak English, particularly in the regions I’m going to, but you can easily run into somebody who doesn’t speak any English at all, in which case I would have a major problem because I just wouldn’t be able to communicate with them at all.

But for John, there was a second advantage to being able to speak the language, that had nothing to do with being able to do business. 

“It was also out of politeness really. I feel that if I’m going to spend a lot of time going to Germany, I need to be able to start a conversation in German. I just felt like it was rude expecting everyone to be able to speak my language. I’m aware of the fact that it’ll take me a long time to be able to have a very detailed conversation with somebody, but at least if I can start things off in German and do the basics, then I would feel more comfortable about that.”

Creating Strong Leadership With Language

For businesses who have multiple offices in different countries, establishing strong and connected leadership can be a challenge. Language barriers can quickly create real problems in communication which have a knock-on effect for the business. For John, he noticed that English speaking leadership had a higher turnover and significant lack of rapport with their non-English speaking teams.

“Our office in Germany have experienced a lot of changes in leadership, and when that happens I think they feel like ‘ok you’re a new leader coming to look after our business, but how serious are you? Do you really just care about the UK and we’re just a side project for you?’ So I felt that, again, demonstrating to them that I’m taking the time to learn this language, out of my own money, was something to show them that I was serious about their work.”

This is something we see all too often, and it usually results in a demotivated workforce and ineffective leadership. By learning even basic communication skills, John was able to establish an effective relationship with his team, and showcase his commitment to their branch of the business.

The Business Benefits

Of course, it’s not just the individual learning the language who sees the benefit of the investment. In fact, there are many business benefits to learning another language, whether it’s the one your customers speak or one to help you communicate with other elements of your business. John comments:

“If you want to be taken seriously as a business person in any country like that, like Germany, you need to be able to show that you care. But also, if the business is prepared to put some training on for employees, to help people to learn languages if they’re going to be conducting business in those languages, again I think that’s a big investment in your staff. And it says, you’re important to us, we want you here for the long term, and we’re going to help you do your job, we’re going to give you the tools you need to do your job.”

In fact, John has seen so much success in the short time he has been working with Vici, that the business he works for is now considering bringing in a full language programme for their English staff.

“I know we’ve been talking about myself and Nathalie form the Vici is so that we can bring her in to meet with our guys who are running the European business to discuss with those who are in a similar positon to me. Who are English but spend time in Germany or in Belgium, Netherlands, Luxemburg, and whether they could learn as well.”

Nothing Like School

One of the bigger turn offs for people who want to learn a new language is that it will feel like school – because that’s where most people experience new languages. But at Vici, we take a completely different approach to languages, as John found.

“I found that schools have a very formulaic way of teaching language, whereas Vici feels like it’s built much more for me.”

Because obviously German is quite a complicated language with the major differences in things like pronunciation, so that’s where we started. The first few lessons were really about pronunciation, learning that there are different vowel sounds and consonant sounds in German than there would be in English. Then we got more into grammar, and things like verb endings in the present tense. And again, that’s very complicated. The focus is on learning pronunciation and grammar first and then putting the vocab over the top of that, and that’s quite a good way for me to learn this stuff, because theoretically it means I should be able to just add vocab as I go and communicate with it, rather than knowing a lot of words but not knowing how to use them or where they go, or how the verbs should end and so on. So that’s quite different to what I remember from school.”

We asked John to give us a flavour of a typical German lesson with Vici:

 “So a typical lesson might be a bit of a conversation about that grammar or pronunciation, introducing me to what area I’m going to be learning in, and some exercises around that. And the exercises could be flashcards, it could be a written exercise. We’ve done a couple of things with board games and card games, which we’ve  had to conduct in German to make sure I’m learning the correct forms of the verb and what not. So it typically will be a range of those things. And then afterwards, and then they’ll also be homework, so I’ll be given something to work on at home. So I’ll work on that in-between times and then go back to the lesson, We’ll revisit what I did, were there any problems with it, any questions that came out of it, and it’s always, if you have any questions in the meantime you can email me you don’t have to wait until the lesson.”

He was also keen to mention –

“They always give me a cup of tea first, which is always, you know, they never gave me that at school!”

So there you have it. At Vici, we are committed to making foreign languages easily accessible to all, with tailored language programmes to help you achieve your goals at a pace that suits you. For more information, just get in touch with the Vici team today.