Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Business English

The computer room in the English Department of the Institute has not been functioning for some time.  Long before I came, students downloaded things onto these computers, infecting them with viruses.  Fortunately, I have made a connection with someone from the Poly-Technical Institute near-by.  With his help, I believe we have been able to erase the virus-infected computers, re-install and update this time with anti-virus software.  According to our training from PC, it is most important to IRP—identify the right people—and I think I did!  It is also good to have made this connection, since I believe with some years of experience in business as well as education, I will be able to offer some group classes to help technical students and business people hone skills to make them more successful in business dealings with the West.  A command of business English for example  is essential to be competitive.  Azerbaijan is a young country, having won its independence from the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s.  Prior to that, English instruction in schools was very uncommon, and instruction in Western business practices and methods was unheard of.  The younger generation seeks to learn now that which an older generation cannot from their own experiences pass on to them.  Indeed, even the Azerbaijani alphabet, which is now in use, has only been taught the past few decades.  This means that many parents and the grandparents of today’s children learned to read and write with a totally different (Cyrillic) alphabet.  And having been for so long a part of the Soviet Union, a communist country, learning English and independent business practices are not nearly as firmly established as in the West.  Where most European students become quite fluent in conversing in English, Azerbaijani students (and their teachers) do not have the luxury of traveling to English speaking countries to practice their skills.  Azerbaijan’s exposure to the West may have been limited in the past, but a change is about to become quite dramatic.  Baku will be the site of next year’s Eurovision Song Contest, one of the most popular and widely followed shows, and which was already quite a phenomena when Bill and I lived in Munich.  The little country celebrated winning last year’s competition in the streets of Baku, as though it had just won the World Cup.  The pride this has engendered will surely carry forth in the coming months, as Baku prepares, as the winning country, to now host the rest Europe for the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest.  But as excited as Baku is about the influx of Westerners, and the potential prospects this might mean to the Baku economy, regions outside of the capital have much to offer to, if only the right tools are available—good business English skills being one of them—to draw attention to what they can offer.  Hence, making a connection with the Poly-Technical Institute here and its students will hopefully be significant, if even in a small way, to contribute towards broadening the learning experiences of its students in ways that can help the economy of the country as a whole.

I have written before about the cultural differences and hopefully in a way that shows respect and understanding for those differences, as we, too, would like to be perceived in a positive light.  But some things are just too funny:

A store banner advertising a new detergent might have a tough time selling this product, and its good cleaning qualities, at home with a brand name like—“Barf!”  But at least they are not foolish enough to try to sell it in America, unlike an American company some years ago, whose marketing department made the faux pas of trying to sell its product in Japan, but had not bothered to research the fact that its brand name was a nasty word in Japanese.

In the photo I am wearing the typical professional teacher’s outfit—dark skirt, black tights—but I realize now, I could go for a fancier coat.  So I think I may bring this one home in July, when I come for Robby’s wedding, and swap it out for the beige leather coat I have, which is also much warmer.  Looking at those tights reminds me of another funny faux pas that I barely escaped.  I am so not used to wearing a skirt, let alone tights, and with the cold classrooms, I would be more comfortable in slacks—but a skirt it must be.  So one day last week, I decided to wear a pair of leggings/long underwear underneath the tights.  By the time I put on some more long-underwear, a sweater, a vest, and a scarf, I felt pretty well-dressed, left my room for the breakfast table, leaving my skirt behind on the bed!  To me it felt like I had so many clothes on, I didn’t notice.  Fortunately, before I left the house for the university, I spotted my skirt next to my book-bag.  Good thing!

Ever try consuming soup with a fork?  Soup in the winter-time is a staple meal, and delicious, too—broth with herbs, especially cilantro, chicken, onions, and potatoes, and more broth—but no spoon.  Why?  The potato and chicken are eaten with the fork, and the broth sopped up with copious amounts of white bread.  Since the mom in my host family makes her own wonderful bread, it’s actually easy, and tasty, to have a bowl of soup with a fork, but I must admit the first time I thought there had been a mistake—forks instead of spoons.  Tea (chai) is the drink of choice everywhere here, and always served to guests.  But if it is too hot…well, it is common to pour some from the cup (or glass, as it is often served—sometimes in special pear-shaped glasses to allow for the tea to stay hot at the bottom) into the saucer and then just slurp it out of the saucer.  In fact slurping and smacking of lips is common, too—it shows that one thinks the meal is tasty.  Tea is often drunk with a sugar cube in the mouth to suck on while drinking the tea.  This might result in dental problems though, since a lot of adults are missing a few teeth or have sometimes quite a mouthful of shiny gold teeth.  Love the glistening smiles.

I have been working long hours and come home tired.  The mom in my host family tells me that when I am gone all afternoon, she and the children miss me—especially 7 year old Ibrahim.  How sweet.  They make me feel so welcome, and I really enjoy these family connections.  Ibrahim has become my teacher of sorts.  I am rapidly losing some of my language skills, since I speak English now all day in my job.  So in the evenings I review my Azerbaijani language book by reading to him.  He’s a good help, and I think he feels quite proud to be able to help me with my reading and my pronunciation.  I call him my teacher and he smiles broadly.

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