You're inspired!

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 June, 2007, 12:00am

Teaching young apprentices to navigate the hazards of New York's corporate jungle may be his claim to fame, but Donald Trump's services to the next generation of business leaders do not stop there.

Known for his punchy one-liners and at times icy delivery, the property tycoon is now being called upon to help local Chinese speakers negotiate the linguistic minefield of boardroom English.

A new DVD programme combines Mr Trump's reality television series, The Apprentice, with an interactive English language programme where learners can model their English on one of America's most powerful business figures.

While The Apprentice focuses on business English, language learners will also be able to pick up a few key phrases for their next beach holiday from the set of Baywatch when MovieLearn, the company behind the concept, launches the series later this year.

The interactive DVDs are just one of many novel inventions trying to gain a foothold in the booming do-it-yourself English language market.

Whatever students' preferences, there's an increasing number of options available for those wanting to boost their English skills without spending hours in a classroom.

From learning on-the-go via mobile phone to websites that promise to have users speaking English in as little as 10 days, academics say such programmes may be best used as a supplement to formal lessons.

While users need to be discerning, they say some alternative forms of language instruction can teach the everyday English often missing from formal classes.

MovieLearn, one of the latest concepts to hit an already crowded market, involves watching a television series on a computer. Users learn by stopping the DVD when they hear a word they don't understand. They can consult a translation in English or Chinese, listen to audio, view illustrations and read English and Chinese subtitles.

But for those who get too caught up in one of Mr Trump's legendary tirades to pause the DVD, other options are available.

'If you come across an expression you don't understand, you can choose to save that to your personal learning panel. Then when you've finished watching the movie you can review what you've saved on the personal learning panel,' said MovieLearn's vice-president Susan Macdonald.

Targeted at people aged 16 and over, MovieLearn is designed for those currently attending language classes or people who have learnt English to an intermediate or advanced level.

The interactive segments of The Apprentice, which costs HK$280 for two episodes, are designed by software developers and professional English teachers.

'It's not only giving people exposure to every day English but it's also focusing a lot on business English and giving the user an insight into US management culture, leadership skills, negotiation, presentation,' said Ms Macdonald, adding that there was often a huge gap between the type of language people learnt in the classroom and everyday English.

Nigel Bruce, principal language instructor at the University of Hong Kong's English Centre, said the principle behind MovieLearn's products was sound.

A television series that featured characters speaking everyday English could capture learners' attention by linking language and context, something traditional language classes often failed to achieve.

'That's the advantage they have. They have created a real environment that the learner can connect with,' he said.

Mr Bruce said watching a series helped learners identify with the characters, tune into their language patterns and style of speaking.

'If you keep just watching individual movies, they never get a chance to do that whereas over time if you can keep seeing the same characters you are allowing the learners to connect and identify,' he said.

Mr Bruce said there was potential for schools to use television series as part of their English classes. While Baywatch may not be appropriate for school students, he said a programme such as US sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond could be used.

Students would have a number of episodes to become accustomed to the characters' language style and, importantly, the show dealt with issues familiar to students.

'They're all about the kinds of things that families deal with. That's the kind of thing that would be very useful,' he said.

While the MovieLearn programme is designed for people attending classes or with a certain level of English, Mr Bruce said the programme could be successful on its own because users had to pay attention to the way people communicated.

'Anything that induces a learner to pay attention to language while at the same time being drawn forward by content, if the content is strong enough to get them to want to keep listening, keep paying attention, then that's got to be a plus,' he said.

However, Mr Bruce questioned whether many Hong Kong learners would adapt to the independent style of learning required to complete the programme on their own, given people were accustomed to learning from teachers.

In an era when people are constantly hooked up to technology, innovative companies are ensuring that people can maximise their commuting time by making language learning available via the mobile phone.

Nokia launched its English language learning service for mainland users this week while 3G phones offer allTalk, an eight-hour English language course created by the Linguaphone Institute.

The 3G programme allows users to download up to 15 audio clips covering everyday English and popular topics for a monthly fee of HK$98. The clips teach basic conversation, vocabulary and sentence structure.

And of course that modern day fount of all knowledge - the internet - offers countless options, ranging from the credible to the ridiculous. Reputable language providers offer a variety of online courses that provide detailed instruction, Web feedback and free trial lessons.

Even the BBC's website helps readers learn the meanings of key words used in the day's top news stories by providing explanations and audio.

At the other end of the spectrum are the seemingly miraculous courses that entice potential customers with claims such as, 'Start speaking any language within 10 days or receive a full refund'.

Mr Bruce dismissed websites that promised to have learners speaking a second language in days. 'They're just sucking people in like an advert,' he said.

While users may need to be discerning, Assistant Professor Daniel Churchill, from HKU's education faculty, believes learning via mobile devices connected to the internet will become increasingly popular. He expects this type of learning to catch on as connection costs decrease and more people buy portable devices such as the personal digital assistants that integrate a computer with a mobile phone.

'I don't know whether it will completely replace classroom learning but to a large extent it would reduce the need for having to spend a large number of hours in the classroom. You will be able to access the materials anytime, anywhere,' he said.

While learning via mobile phone may be more successful in boosting people's listening and speaking skills than their writing and reading abilities, Mr Churchill said this type of learning could complement their education and help people learn more in a shorter time period.

Professor Andy Kirkpatrick, head of English at the Hong Kong Institute of Education, believes these alternative forms of language learning could be most effective when supplemented with language lessons.

'If you're motivated enough, anything can help, but most of us need to have somebody to work with when learning language. It's a communicative activity,' he said.

'I would say for the great majority of learners they would be supplementary to communicative activity with other people who you can share your experiences with.'

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether 'Trumpisms' will be overheard in Hong Kong boardrooms. Let's just hope Mr Trump's trademark phrase, 'You're fired!' doesn't catch on anytime soon.

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Anything can help but most of us need to have somebody to work with when learning language

Professor Andy Kirkpatrick,

head of English at HKIEd