executive impact

Turning English learning on its head

By Chris Betros

Jeff Genet, president of Nagoya-based Power Communication KK, talks about teaching English language communication skills, cross-cultural and corporate training, and eLearning.

Where are you from?

I'm from a small town on the Canadian border called Crystal Beach, Ontario. It's close to Buffalo, NY.

When did you first come to Japan and what brought you here?

I came here 13 years ago, running from the law - just kidding. I was looking for adventure like most everyone else. Actually, I love travel and a special person in my life had always wanted to travel here but couldn't. It was kind of a pilgrimage in her honor.

When and why did you establish Power Communication?

Power Communications was established six years ago but the school existed before that. I totally turned around a small, fledgling English school with the vision of turning English learning on its head. The Power English (PE) approach is communication based, getting people to speak and speak naturally. The big eikawas - believe me, I know because I started at one of the biggies - emphasize grammar and the mechanics of English, creating a nation of people who do well on English tests but have very little communication skills. Power English gets students talking from the get-go, providing real language for real situations. We extended this approach to corporate training and our elearning focuses on natural English and things that people actually ask and say as opposed to "what are your hobbies?" types of questions.

I see you have 5 websites. What are the main services your company offers?

Power English is the eikaiwa part of the business, with an ever increasing number of students. We go beyond the classroom and provide lots of opportunities for social interaction for students as well.

Power Business is exactly what it sounds like, English training for businesses with a emphasis on cross-cultural training for effective communication skills across different contexts. We provide in-house training for a variety of companies operating in the global marketplace that are tailored to their specific needs and industry. We also offer consultation for those companies just starting to globalize. In addition, we have pinpointed programs for such specific needs as presentations, negotiations and meetings.

Finally, Power Study is the newest member of the family. This is an eLearning platform to use as a stand-alone program or to enhance our live lessons and corporate training. The beauty about Power Study is, it can be created for a company's or school's specific needs. The eLearning platform brings fun to English learning and can be used across all devices, making it convenient for students to learn wherever and whenever they want. There are a variety of activities addressing every area; writing, listening, vocabulary, grammar and communicative activities for the classroom.

You are in a competitive industry. What are Power Communications’ strengths?

Our strengths definitely lie in our ability to be flexible and to customize programs for individual needs. Our system is based on an elearning program which to my knowledge is the only system whose curriculum is completely online with thousands of additional activities at students fingertips. We can completely customize curriculum's to perfectly match company's needs and get rid of the fluff that textbooks have. The system also pinpoints students needs as teachers can match activities from the online elearning library to exactly what they need and once again eliminate the fluff that so many workbooks have.

Was 2014 a good year for you in terms of sales?

The year 2014 was challenging to say the least but much of the hard work laid out over the year is starting to come to fruition. I have a passion for our products, especially the eLearning. We have put an enormous amount of time into developing and testing our system and are extremely excited about both what we have already done and where we are headed.

How do you market your services?

Our target demographic for Power English is young, single people and it helps that the office and main classroom is next to a sports bar that caters to that same demographic. One of our classrooms is actually in a private classroom in Nagoya's #1 international bar and restaurant. Advertising and social media are great ways - as well as word of mouth - to attract more students. Our many social events outside of the school help as well. The students bring along their friends and our clientele grows. For the business end, it is a lot of beating the streets, networking and creating relationships. The ACCJ has been a great way to open doors and other business associations have helped with this as well.

How has the language teaching and global leadership training industry in Japan changed in the last few years?

I'm not sure that language teaching has changed at all. The majority of major companies continue to use the lowest priced vendors and those whom they are most comfortable with. Thus the focus continues to be on textbook English and TOEIC scores instead of leadership and communication. I can't tell you how many students I have taught with very high TOEIC scores and absolutely no communicative ability. This obviously needs to change and needs major companies to take the lead so others will follow.

What is a typical day for you? What areas of the business are you hands on and what areas do you delegate to your team?

I'm typically in the office by 7 a.m. and busy at work with much of the focus on our new eLearning system. Our team is busy creating new content and courses as we prepare to test a new original curriculum in a junior and senior high school this year. I'm heavily involved with marketing, networking and promotion as well. Depending on the week, I'm also out on sales calls part of the time and always take a bit of time each day to hit the gym. I find it is creative and productive time well spent. Part-time teachers take the Power English classes that are held every day of the week, but to stay close, I also have a few classes of my own. Our Japanese staff handles communication with students, planning events, bookkeeping and other day-to-day operations.

Tell us about some of the intercultural events you host each year?

As a school, we hold monthly Gohan Club events, that take us to ethnic restaurants all over the city. Power English also gets involved with several annual festivals in the city and through the ACCJ, as chair of the Walkathon Committee, my students can take advantage of many intercultural events. An annual river BBQ and camping weekend and other activities outside of the school, together with my international staff, give the students great opportunities to learn about different cultures.

When you are not working, how do you like to relax?

When I'm not working, I'm active. This year, involving the students, I've gotten into running and have created opportunities, through running, to have even more team building between the students and the school. I also enjoy playing hockey and having a few beers on the weekends. I'm Canadian, after all. Travel is still a passion and I try to make opportunities for off-the-beaten-track types of adventures.

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hmm.. some title.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

The enthusiasm there and that is 90% of what a language program needs. Otherwise there is nothing knew here. Nor should there be. Anything toted as new is invariably a gimmick that will be quickly abandoned. Remember Silent Way?

Anything is better than stuffing new language learners with grammar and worse, testing and testing them. I am all for good old communication.

Best way to learn a language. Find a lover who does not speak your language. Beats grammar tests any day.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

I totally turned around a small, fledgling English school with the vision of turning English learning on its head.

Okay ... that sounds interesting. What is your new, inventive method?!

The Power English (PE) approach is communication based, getting people to speak and speak naturally.

Wow! You use the communicative approach, like 90% of North American ESL programs and about 2/3 of native English teacher led university and adult EFL programs in Japan! (Yawn)

9 ( +9 / -0 )

Seems like his school adds a significant number of social outings and group events to the mix with the monthly dining outings and involvement in festivals, too. I can't tell from the article how much of their approach to learning is truly new, but I favor the communicative approach as well and giving students opportunities to use what they've learned in a free-form way where they're able to relax a bit and have a little fun, too.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

how about stiffing the guy you bought the school from for over a million yen.is that part of the program too?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I can’t tell you how many students I have taught with very high TOEIC scores and absolutely no communicative ability.

Oh, tell me about it.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

All the power to you, my friend!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I imagine students like the several opportunities he provides each year for out of the classroom learning.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

And... what's new? High TOEIC scores and low communicative ability? So what. Students don't take language proficiency tests so they can chat with someone about their plans for the weekend or about their favourite actor.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I really don't see anything different any other foreigner who's started their own school (met a few in my time here) who's decided to "show 'em how it's done."

Hope he succeeds.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Looks like he's trying to make a go at owning his own business. All the power to him.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I don't see anything new here either. As Kabukilover stated, just get a friend or lover and speak with them in English only.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Eikaiwas are not to blame for creating "a nation of people who do well on English tests but have very little communication skills". Is that statement even accurate? Assuming it is, the fault lies with English education at the secondary level, driven as it is by entrance exams. .

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Good on him, I hope he does well, and ignores the naysayers.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Interestingly published on the same say as an article here suggests 58% of J students don't like learning English.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Yes, well done. Teaching effective communication skills... who would of thought of that ? So simple.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Yes, well done. Teaching effective communication skills... who would of thought of that ? So simple.

Would have

9 ( +10 / -1 )

@strangerland. I was hoping no one would notice. I should attend English lessons. That's what I get for being sarcastic.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Why all the negative comments? The guy has ambition and he knows how to achieve his goals. You other complainers should just be nice and work for him.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

good attempt.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Awesome job!

Communication is an essential tool for human interaction. I have my sights on pursuing a English Teacher career in Japan once I retire as a registered nurse. Why the transition from medical to educational? Because I can relate to my future students about going to a foreign country without knowing how to communicate.

Also, I firmly believe the skills I have learned in nursing is applicable to teaching English abroad. How you may ask?

1) Nurses are natural teachers for their patients. There have been numerous instances of where I had to explain to my patients what their conditions were and what treatments they will be receiving. I had to simplify medical terminology but also have my patients understand at the same time. This can be applied to teaching English in Japan because it enables the teacher to communicate properly with accurate information as well as confirmation from the student.

2) Comprehending doctor's order is almost as tough as trying to learn Kanjii for the first time. I understand that some students excel at grammar while others fall short in speaking and vice versa. What nursing has taught me is to be absolutely thorough with each order and to understand fully of what treatment is given to the patient. Moreover, this is applied in teaching English because presents the teacher what solutions are needed to create the opportunities for the students to excel. For example, if that student is struggling with 'Transition Words' like such as, for example, for instance. The teacher will provide those transition words but allow the students to make topics and subjects to match.

3) Nursing is a life-long understanding, learning and growing profession for the individual. I fully understand that having a 'Learning Plan' is critical in staying organized, thorough and precise in terms of presenting the information. However, that should not be the only means of solution for the teacher to communicate with their students. For example, I have ideas that will make learning English fun and applicable to everyday situations such as having groups perform a skit or drama using simple dialogue at first will encourage student participation as well as facilitating useful information.

4) Nurses are excellent observers when it comes to patient's mental and physical health. This skill can be applied to teaching English because we could sense if there is a decline or a change in a student's attitude or performance in class. With this, I focus on finding a solution first rather then focusing on the cause later on. I do not know the relations between teacher and student in Japan but I do care for student excellence as well as their health.

Overall, I strive to make the world as best as it can be and if teaching a group of Japanese students essential life skills would make their day a bit better; well I am extremely satisfied and honoured to do my part.

I have no experience in teaching English in Japan but do offer my services for free to anyone wanting to learn, communicate, understand the English language.

"Knowledge is a gift that should be given for free to those who seek it". -Me.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Good luck to this newcomer. Although I agree that the Eikaiwa industry, on the whole, does little or nothing to improve the general state od Japan's English speaking proficiency, I would state that it is merely the symptom, not the cause.

Eikaiwa meets the demands of mainly casual learners of English, offering the image of "fun" , non confrontational experiences for Japanese adults and children to practice speaking English. Couple this with the constraints and demands of a customer-based service industry ethnic, and what's left is baby-sitting for kids and a form of "English counselling" for adults.

The real culprit is the Japanese state education system, both for the awful level of English proficiency here, and the desire for the aforementioned style of "genki and soft" edutainment/psychotherapy, as a retaliation to the style employed in state schools across the country.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

*>When did you first come to Japan and what brought you here?

I came here 13 years ago, running from the law - just kidding.*

This is the start of the interview. Yes, I know it is his 'joke', but I am not sure that this ironic self-effacement is pragmatically useful.

In other words, on the face of it he starts by telling everyone he is a criminal and then a compulsive liar.

I hope that pragmatic strategy is not taught in his 'Power' communicative approach.

And anyway, often I wonder how much the English is the point of all the engagement in English programs anyway.

I was interested in the article because of the expression 'English learning' in the title. After all, that is supposed to be the point of it all - English teaching is JUST ONE WAY to facilitate English learning.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I have a big concern on an boom to learn English conversation in Japan. People began to tink that

English is a weapon that gets us through the battlefields of life and if more Japanese spoke English , it could change the way Japan work and thinks. People teaching English stress this argument and Native English speakers tend to be overvalued dispite of the lack of professional or knowledge.

Speaking fluency dose't indicate professionals in many cases. Many foreign people especially from America or England come to Japan and try to teach their language to us just because thery can speak Engish without enough qualification of teaching for non-native English speakers.

this boom could lead to the conclusion that speaking Engish fulency is the gage of quality of Japanese and it could form superior sense to people who don't speak English fuenctly.

I don't want to live a life in Japan looking up native English people as superior human-being.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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