Previously, we posted a link to the German and French versions of an article in encore! magazine. Here it is, translated into English by Richard Lewis.
When top managers study a foreign language, they need a swift and effective method. This is prioritized in Riversdown House, a 14th century Mediaeval Hall where English is learnt together with cultural communication skills, in an ideal country setting, far from the madding crowd. Report from a 5-star all-inclusive training establishment.
Tradition and globalisation. History and networking. Jane Austen and fitness centre…near the former capital of England, Winchester, whose ancient College trains the British financial elite. Senior managers and politicians from around the world come to fine tune and correct their English under Riversdown’s Mediaeval roof. The study formula is literally all-inclusive, since the students (10-16) mainly in their forties, sleep, dine, take private lessons, learn to play golf, play tennis, swim, use the gym, indulge in a sauna, go for walks (among pheasants) and converse all in the same place in the middle of nowhere, declares the son-in-law of the school’s founder, who drives you there from the airport.
It is true that one first drives along a motorway, then a main national route, then a minor road, then a tiny country one called Riversdown Road. Eventually, one comes up to a wooden sign, nailed on a tree – we have arrived! One has the impression of penetrating rustic nature, beautiful as is described in books. The expectation is that we shall meet landowners and gentlemen farmers, and that is what happens, except they are all teachers and instructors in jackets and ties.
Time is money
At Riversdown, luxury (fees are about £2,600 a week) is not so obvious or overpowering. And yet what is on offer is priceless: the possibility of concentrating exclusively on one’s linguistic aim. The intensity of study is variable, but it is never static. For instance, at meals, taken around two big tables, discussion is lively, with teachers contributing friendly (and sometimes ironic) remarks – a typically British mix. Often present is Richard D. Lewis, the founder, who also supervises management courses and asks students to contribute their views from many lands. Finnish ministers, Brazilian senators, Michelin managers from Italy and Germany, Zurich lawyers – all give their opinions in their improved English. One is quick to notice those who are in their second or third week. The lesson plan, always individual, is conducted by three teachers, who rotate round each student. Without let-up, the skills that each person needs for his or her job are practised assiduously. A businesswoman will learn to negotiate, hold a meeting, chair a conference, convince a buyer, sell a product etc. And what about grammar? Richard Carr, one of the resident teachers, explains: “People come here to improve their ability to communicate in English, so grammar is taught in the context of the various needs in their job situation.” And exams? “Counter-productive and eating up valuable time,” answers Max Wey, Director of Boa Lingua Business Class, the company that sends Swiss students to Riversdown. “Business executives, politicians, ministers, ambassadors have no time to lose. What they require is the assurance that they will be listened to and will be convincing, trusted and thereby enabled to succeed in their tasks.” Diplomas are for young people, when they had time to learn rules of grammar. (…)
In the old days, one tried to learn the language in its entirety. Today, one eliminates those parts that are not applicable or useful for one’s daily work in English. One learns, in fact, the competencies that are necessary for one’s career: how to conduct oneself on the phone, fixing appointments, knowing how to spell properly. (…)
Students’ requirements are as varied as the people themselves. Men often ask to be taken to a football match at the weekend (Arsenal, Chelsea, Southampton), others hunger for more historical excursions. Some play golf (on the Riversdown course) every afternoon. Business people extract every benefit they can from their stay in England – time is so precious. Max Wey points out, “You learn as much here in 2 weeks as in 6 or 12 months at home.” This is confirmed by the students themselves. Fernando, Michelin manager in Spain, returned to Madrid amazed at the top quality of teachers and the beauty of the environment. He regretted having only allowed himself one week, particularly as his Italian colleague, Maurizio, who stayed two weeks, was congratulating himself on his improved fluency acquired in the professional Riversdown atmosphere.
Over and above its dedicated team of experienced instructors, one of the secrets revealed at Riversdown is the complete change from their ordinary work schedule. The Riversdown routine is exhausting but exhilarating. Agreeable surprises, such as the tour of the 14th century interior, conducted by charming hostess, Jane Lewis. Executives and political personalities scramble like children exploring ancient staircases, oak beams and secret rooms. People say that after a while the very walls begin to whisper to you in the sweetest English. That’s what residential immersion is all about.
Article by Loyse Pahud, first published in “encore!” (a supplement of Le Matin Dimanche and Die Sonntags Zeitung), translated and adapted by Richard Lewis.