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How to make business more social: the 5th annual Social Business Forum in Milan shows the way

07 Jun

It’s not all doom and gloom in Mario Monti’s Italy: this week in Milan the leading social business event in Europe saw hundreds of delegates descend on the city to discuss ways of making business better for companies and customers. The Social Business Forum 2012 was organised by OpenKnowledge, an international consulting firm that specializes in helping large organizations realize their business potential through open and collaborative approaches based on the Social Business paradigm. With keynotes from the likes of John Hagel, Co-Chairman of the Center for the Edge at Deloitte & Touche and Rawn Shah, Social Business Strategist at IBM, the SBF provided fresh thinking and lively debate, as well as some great networking opportunities.

Discussion and debate at the SBF in Milan

Now in its fifth year, the Social Business Forum has established itself as a regular fixture on the business innovation calendar and continues to attract not only the big name speakers, but an impressive gathering of key players and professionals from companies large and small – not to mention a healthy sprinkling of consultants and freelancers. The sumptuous surroundings of the Marriott Hotel in Milan provided an imposing backdrop to the event.

With an Open Conference running alongside the Premium Conference, the number of people who could enjoy the event was maximised – and everyone had a chance to visit the Expo Pavilion, where leading enterprise social software technologies were showcased.

Rosario Sica and Emanuele Scotti present the Social Business Manifesto

This year the Social Business Forum coincided with the launch of the Social Business Manifesto, a seminal text produced by OpenKnowledge and published with the Harvard Business Review Italia. As well as being a clarion call to business, the Manifesto contains 59 “theses” or propositions that are both observations and challenges for finding new ways of making business more about customers and employees and less about the companies themselves or their managers. (The Manifesto was written in Italian and sections are being published in English at regular intervals.)

Rosario Sica and Emanuele Scotti of OpenKnowledge presented a dialogue on the Social Business Manifesto and the theses, which include such nuggets as “The weak point of knowledge management is the management” and “Organizations react to stimuli in their market with a speed that is inversely proportional to their size”.

The Interpret the Future team

With so many international visitors it was crucial that as many of the insights and ideas being expressed could be shared. To this end, a special mini-project called “Interpret the Future” was established by OpenKnowledge and communications consultant Robert Dennis (the founder and editor of the Milan Business English Network). Interpret the Future brought together a crack team of young interpreters eager to gain additional valuable experience of conference interpreting. The project also aims to help the team explore new ways of promoting themselves as freelance professionals in a highly-specialised field of communication. A blog (called Interpret the Future) was set up by the team and they were able to use the occasion for networking as well.

The Social Business Forum lasted for two very busy days and covered a staggering range of topics related to the central theme of making relationships in business more human and personal and less process-oriented and target-driven.

You can find a wealth of background information and extras relating to the Social Business Forum on the main SBF website.

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What’s new on Network Milan?

22 Feb

Welcome

Welcome to NetworkMilan!

Hi! This is Network Milan – the online news magazine published by the Milan Business English Network. We have some great articles on a range of topics for people who are learning, teaching or using English for their work. Here you can read information on how to use your English to find a job in Italy or the UK – and how to improve your CV and covering letter. We’ve also got advice on where to find a qualified teacher who can help you with your communication skills – as well as tips on improving your speaking and writing skills. Plus news and links about business and study in the English-speaking world. Get connected today!

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Join the Milan Business English Network

Milan Business English Network

The Milan Business English Network is for people who want to develop their communication skills and meet other professionals who use English on a daily basis.

Want to get in touch with people who recognise the importance of effective communication in our increasingly interconnected world? Then here’s a good place to start. Click here to learn more…

We’re on both LinkedIn and Facebook. Sign up today !

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What are soft skills?

Improving your soft skills

There is a lot of interest currently in soft skills. But what exactly are soft skills and why do you need them? “There’s a saying that hard skills will get you an interview but it’s soft skills that get you a job,” says Debbie Hance of the Association of British Psychologists.
Read more about soft skills and emotional intelligence (EQ) in this article from the British Guardian newspaper…

Click here to read “The secret to understanding soft skills” …

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Robert Dennis of the Milan Business English Network joins John Peter Sloan and friends at Zelig for the launch of Instant English 2

Head to head: Robert Dennis and John Peter Sloan talk business at Zelig

To mark the launch last month of Instant English 2, the enormously successful follow-up to John Peter Sloan’s first bestselling English language book, he invited some old friends to appear on stage with him at Zelig Cabaret. Among them was a “new” face: Robert Dennis, the founder of the Milan Business English Network.

“This is the first time I have done any acting since university,” said Robert, who appeared in a Business English sketch with John.

Click here to find out what happened next…

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Lorna Allen of Live & Learn Homestays reaches finals of national business awards in UK

Lorna Allen, Director of Live and Learn Homestays Ltd, with learner Mauro

MUMPRENEUR 2011 AWARD

BIRMINGHAM BASED “MUMPRENEUR” REACHES FINALS OF NATIONAL BUSINESS AWARDS

Local mum and entrepreneur, Lorna Allen, has earned herself a place in the final lineup of The Mumpreneur Awards, an annual ceremony aimed at celebrating parents throughout the UK who manage the difficult task of juggling business with family life.

Click here to read more about Lorna Allen and The Mumpreneur Awards…
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Get ready to learn… and laugh! Italy’s favourite English teacher, John Peter Sloan, is back with “Instant English 2”

John Peter Sloan's "Instant English 2"

John Peter Sloan, author of the best-selling “Instant English” and “English in Viaggio”, returns this September with his “Instant English 2” and the unique brand of humour that has turned him into Italy’s favourite English teacher.

Packed with interesting and useful material, “Instant English 2” can justifiably claim to be the “most revolutionary English course of today” – and now it covers even more areas of the language.

Check out the Instant English website to find out more about “Instant English 2” and John’s other books, shows – and much more, too!

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Design will be at the centre of the UK government’s economic growth plans

Design for Growth

Today sees a high-level summit meeting of global business leaders, leading designers and Government, to discuss how design can contribute to economic growth in the UK.

The Government is to put design at the heart of its plans for economic growth in the UK. The commitment will be made by Universities and Science Minister David Willetts at Design for Growth, a summit meeting which is being co-hosted today by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Design Council.

Speakers include Jonathan Ive, Senior Vice President of Industrial Design at Apple and the British designer of the iPod.

Click here to get the full story on the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) website…

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Lorna Allen, Live and Learn Homestays: Improve your English and feel at home in the “Heart of England”

Lorna Allen, Director of Live & Learn Homestays

Live and Learn Homestays Ltd is a small English language homestay company based in Birmingham, the “Heart of England”, in the UK. Owned and managed by local entrepreneur Lorna Allen, Live and Learn Homestays combine high-quality language courses with friendly, welcoming accommodation in the tutor’s own home: a unique opportunity that allows students to not only learn English intensively, but also to experience family life right in the centre of Britain.

In this interview with NetworkMilan.com, Lorna explains what a homestay is and talks about its unique benefits for people who want to study English and experience the culture in a truly authentic way.
Click here to read our interview with Lorna and discover if a homestay is right for you…

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Should you use formal or informal language in a job interview?

Formal or informal?

Getting the balance right between formality and informality when you have an interview can be quite tricky (difficult). In a recent discussion on the Milan Business English Network an MBEN member asked about this important topic.

Click here to read the question and our reply…

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Use your English to find work in Italy or abroad

When can you start?

Are you considering changing your job? Do you speak English? If you answered “Yes!” twice, you may be interested in the answer to this question, which appeared recently on the Milan Business English Network:

What is the best way to find a job in Italy (or abroad) using my English? Read the reply…

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Make that call! (Part 1)

Learn to make business phone calls with confidence

Effective business telephone calls in English are not as difficult as you think…

Are you afraid of using the phone in English? Do your hands start to shake when you dial a telephone number and know that you will have to not only speak in English – but also understand the other person? Millions of non-native speakers of English face exactly this situation every day – often at work and in high stress environments, where there is no alternative to talking on the phone. Find out how to make the perfect business phone call

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How to get a job in the UK / US if you have an Italian law degree

Find work abroad using your law degree

Question: As a student of law, I would like to know what can I do with my Italian legal degree in the UK or USA. What are the different opportunities?
Answer: Thanks for your question. Well, I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you. The good news is that your law degree will help you find a job in an English-speaking country,
Read the answer here…

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Business English Questions and Answers

I've got a question!

What’s the difference between a CV and a resume (or resumé)? When do you start a letter “To whom it may concern”? What is “Dragon’s Den” and why is it so popular in the the UK? What do the acronyms CEO, CSR and CRM mean? Why are fat cats always in the British business news? What is a poisoned pill, a white knight and a golden parachute?
Get all the answers…

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What are the main differences between an Italian CV and a British / American one?

Writing your CV in English

There are lots of small differences – and one or two very big ones – between a Curriculum Vitae / CV (in British English) or a resumé (US English) and an Italian one. In this article we look at how you can make your CV more attractive to Anglo-Saxon employers.

Click here to find out how to adapt your CV for the international jobs market.

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What are soft skills?

22 Feb

Improving soft skills

There is a lot of interest currently in soft skills. But what exactly are soft skills and why do you need them? “There’s a saying that hard skills will get you an interview but it’s soft skills that get you a job,” says Debbie Hance of the Association of British Psychologists. Read more about soft skills and emotional intelligence (EQ) in this article from the British Guardian newspaper…

Click here to read “The secret to understanding soft skills” on the Guardian web site…

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Robert Dennis of the Milan Business English Network joins John Peter Sloan and friends at Zelig for the launch of Instant English 2

23 Oct

Head to head: Robert Dennis and John Peter Sloan have a Business English conversation at Zelig

To mark the launch last month of Instant English 2, the enormously successful follow-up to John Peter Sloan’s first bestselling English language book, he invited some old friends to appear on stage with him at Zelig Cabaret. Among them was a “new” face: Robert Dennis, the founder of the Milan Business English Network.

“This is the first time I have done any acting since university,” said Robert, who appeared in a Business English sketch with John. “I played a business analyst who tries to explain what’s happening to the Italian economy in these troubled times. John attempts to translate for the audience, but soon he’s completely lost in all the financial jargon. Finally, I walk off, leaving him trying to convince the audience that everything’s OK.”

Many members of the cast  have appeared with John at Zelig in previous shows, as well as in the Speak Now! series of DVDs and books published by La Repubblica and L’Espresso. The show also included Derek Allen and Herbert Pacton performing a sketch in which Shakespeare and Dante try to beat each other at Scrabble (Scarabeo). John also delighted the audience with some of his new stand-up comedy material in English.

At the end of the show, which also featured JPS regulars Corinna Grandi, Louise KissaneCarol Visconti and Marta Zoboli, John signed books and chatted with fans. Actors Daniela Di Muro, Michael Stone and Leah Dawson also appeared in sketches which looked at the battle of the sexes from both a British as well as an American point of view. Italian comic Francesco Friggione very bravely did his act in English, as did Corinna and Carol, which both surprised and delighted the audience. Behind the scenes, Angela Auriemma did excellent work looking after costumes, props and providing much-appreciated support.

John Peter Sloan and the Instant English 2 cast at the Zelig show say "thank you" to a great audience

Robert Dennis, who is currently working with John Peter Sloan on several English-related projects, told Network Milan: “I had a great time at Zelig, but to tell the truth, appearing on the stage in front of hundreds of people was about the most terrifying thing I’ve done since coming to Italy! John helped me a lot. And although he makes it look easy, believe me – until you’ve been out on that stage you don’t really appreciate what it takes to be a successful performer.”

You can see more photos from the evening on John and Robert’s walls on Facebook, as well as via the Milan Business English Network Facebook page.

Click here to visit John’s website. And you can get all the latest Instant English news here.

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Lorna Allen of Live & Learn Homestays reaches finals of national business awards in UK

22 Oct

Lorna Allen, Director of Live and Learn Homestays Ltd

MUMPRENEUR 2011 AWARD

BIRMINGHAM BASED “MUMPRENEUR” REACHES FINALS OF NATIONAL BUSINESS AWARDS
Local mum and entrepreneur, Lorna Allen, has earned herself a place in the final lineup of The Mumpreneur Awards, an annual ceremony aimed at celebrating parents throughout the UK who manage the difficult task of juggling business with family life.
The mother of 2 runs Live and Learn Homestays Ltd., an organisation offering personalised English courses and leisure activities to people visiting the Midlands region from abroad. Lorna’s customers (homestay guests) benefit from a full immersion experience where they are placed with host families and have the unique opportunity to improve their English skills and learn about British culture through sharing their host families’ lives.

Read the full story on the Live and Learn Homestays website. Click here.

Find out more about Lorna and Live & Learn Homestays. Read our interview here on Network Milan.

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Lorna Allen, Director of Live and Learn Homestays tells NetworkMilan.com how you can improve your English and feel at home in the “Heart of England”

02 Jun

Lorna Allen, Director of Live and Learn Homestays Ltd

Live and Learn Homestays Ltd is a small English language homestay company based in Birmingham, the “Heart of England”, in the UK. The company is owned and managed by Lorna Allen, a local entrepreneur who worked part-time as a homestay tutor and local organiser for a large, international language homestay company for over seven years. Live and Learn Homestays combine high-quality language courses with friendly, welcoming accommodation in the tutor’s own home: a unique opportunity that allows students to not only learn English intensively, but also to experience family life right in the centre of Britain. With the option of trips to places of cultural interest, such as Stratford-upon-Avon (the birthplace of William Shakespeare), as well as visits to some of the loveliest countryside in the UK, a Live and Learn homestay is the ideal way to improve your English – and gain a valuable insight into “real life” in Britain.

In this interview with NetworkMilan.com, the online news magazine of the Milan Business English Network, Lorna explains some of the advantages and benefits of a language homestay. She also talks about how her background, how she started Live and Learn Homestays and why individual care and attention is key to the success of her business.

NetworkMilan.com: Lorna, we know you’re busy at this time of year with people booking homestays. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us.

Lorna Allen, Director of Live and Learn Homestays Ltd: You’re welcome! Yes, this is the run-up (approach) to our busiest period, but I’m happy to spare the time. And thanks for the opportunity to tell you about Live and Learn!

Birmingham in the "Heart of England" offers easy access to Stratford upon Avon and the Cotswolds and is full of history. It's also got some great shops!

Homestays

NetworkMilan.com: Lorna, let’s start with a basic question: what is a homestay – and how is it different from a typical language school course?

Lorna Allen: That’s something I get asked all the time! A homestay is a unique opportunity for people to experience the language and culture of their host family in the most authentic way. Your host will welcome you as a guest into their home and share their family life with you, usually for 1 – 4 weeks.

A homestay normally includes full board accommodation in a private bedroom (meals are taken with your host family), local cultural excursions and a chance to participate in frequent activities such as pub lunches, trips to the theatre or cinema, shopping and so on.

As well as enjoying a stay with your host family, you can expect your English speaking and listening skills to improve as our host families will only communicate with you in English!

If you want to make even more progress with your English language skills, we can arrange private English lessons either with your host or a teacher who will visit you, at your convenience, to deliver your lessons.

We can also add a variety of leisure activities to your homestay such as English cookery (yes, really!), golf, horse riding, English crafts and jewellery making, and fishing, etc.

Homestays are suitable for people of all ages and language abilities (except for complete beginners). So far, our youngest homestay guest has been 12 years old and our oldest 75 years old!

I would say that the biggest difference between our homestay English courses and typical English language courses is that, by being placed with a native English-speaking host family in England, learners are isolated from their mother tongue and so make much more rapid progress with their English language skills. There is no alternative, really: you have to speak in English!

All of this is achieved by offering an authentic British context in which to “Live and Learn” English!

The Cotswolds: just one of the beautiful places you can visit during your homestay (Photo: David Iliff)

If you attend a typical English course at an institution, such as a language school, you will be encouraged to communicate in English during the lesson. But  as soon as the lesson is over learners usually just go back to speaking their mother tongue – especially if you’re with other Italian students!

With a homestay, it’s completely different: as a learner, you will not only be engaging in conversation with your host/teacher – you will also do things like watch English TV together, listen to the radio in English and talk about the content – so you will constantly be learning and practicing new vocabulary and grammar.

Another benefit of a homestay English course is that you have the opportunity to receive individual attention (reassuring for learners who are afraid of making mistakes with their spoken English in a class). And, of course, you get lots of opportunities to hear the language being spoken by native speakers in both formal situations (especially during lessons) and in relaxed, informal situations, for example, conversations at mealtimes or in the pub.

Toni, a Swiss Live and Learn guest and student, enjoys a pint of English beer at the Barton Arms pub

Courses

NetworkMilan.com: What sort of courses do you offer and how are they organized?

Lorna Allen: OK, so we offer a number of English courses. First of all, there’s our general English course. This is aimed at learners of all ages and abilities. It includes lots of speaking practice as well as grammar, vocabulary, writing and comprehension in English.  Then we’ve got our exam preparation course. This one is aimed at young adults or older learners who want study for an exam and it’s taught by our more experienced teachers. This course focuses on practice for exams such as IELTS, TOEFL, and Cambridge CAE. Finally, there’s our English for work course, which is aimed at professionals who wish to improve their communication skills for business and work in general. You will learn how to use the phone, write emails, and give great presentations. And you will also learn the art of making small talk (informal conversation) after work, too!

All of our courses include a diagnostic test (to assess your level) and an agreed number of hours of private English tuition per week (10, 15 or 20). You will also receive a certificate of attendance.

All lessons are delivered at the host’s home – so you won’t need to travel far to the class!

The first day is spent discussing your language requirements and administering the diagnostic test. Our teachers are all qualified (at least to degree level and most with an additional English language teaching qualification, such as the Cambridge CELTA).

You can decide exactly when you want to have your lessons, but we suggest having them on a weekday (Monday to Friday) – and then your weekends are free for sight-seeing, shopping etc.

NOTE: To see a sample timetable of a Live and Learn Homestay, click here.

Birmingham's Council House is a fine example of the city's 19th century municipal architecture.

Hosts / Teachers

NetworkMilan.com: Who are the hosts/teachers?  Can you tell us a little bit about them?

Lorna Allen: Our teachers are all native English-speakers and qualified at least to degree level (laureati). Where learners want more specialised teaching, such as for exam preparation, we use teachers who have additional English language teaching qualifications.

Most of our hosts are also able to teach English, but if the host isn’t qualified we will send a teacher to the home to give lessons to the learner at the time they choose.

Our hosts and teachers come from a variety of backgrounds and professions; we have school teachers, lawyers, social workers – quite a diverse range, really.

One thing that they all have in common, however, is their love of people and their desire to learn about different cultures.

When you stay in a homestay, learning really becomes a two-way process. On the one hand, you are learning about British culture – but on the other, your host will be very enthusiastic to hear about the customs and culture in your country.

Our hosts are very special to me and I personally choose each one by visiting them in their homes and assessing their suitability to host guests from abroad.

During these visits, I also speak to other members of the family to see if they are happy with the idea of sharing their family life with a homestay guest.

When I recruit new hosts, I look for a warm welcome;  a clean, comfortable home; qualifications (if the host is teaching); and a valid CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) certificate if they are hosting children.

My team of host families have become my friends. We meet socially and they know I’m only a telephone call away if they need to contact me.

Two young Italian learners enjoy a canoeing expedition in the “Heart of England”

Birmingham and the “Heart of England”

NetworkMilan.com: Can you tell us a little about Birmingham and the surrounding area?

Lorna Allen: Birmingham is a fabulous place to live and work. I was born here and moved to London as a teenager,  but I came back home to Birmingham 17 years ago.

After London, Birmingham is considered by many as England’s second city – and it has a rich cultural and industrial heritage. (Birmingham was known as the “workshop of the world” during the 19th century and was the cradle (culla) of the Industrial Revolution.) The city has recently benefited from substantial regeneration and investment and offers a world-class cultural scene as well as superb shopping. (The Bullring shopping centre, home of the ultra-modern Selfridges department store, is a must-see.)

Inspired by a Paco Rabanne sequin dress, the Bullring is home to Selfridges, Vivienne Westwood, Yo Sushi! and Starbuck's Coffee.

Birmingham is a really convenient location for visitors: it’s located in the “Heart of England”, and is easy to reach since it’s at the centre of England’s road and rail network. There are also easy connections with international airports at Birmingham and Coventry.

All our hosts enjoy taking their homestay guests on excursions to places such as the Cotswolds – a beautiful part of the English countryside featuring honey-coloured villages with limestone cottages. You can also visit historic Stratford-upon-Avon, where the greatest poet in the English language, William Shakespeare, was born.

Shakespeare's House in Stratford upon Avon. The author of Romeo & Juliet and A Midsummer's Night Dream was born and grew up here.

Our younger homestay guests particularly enjoy visiting the most famous chocolate factory in the world after Willy Wonka’s own fictional manufacturing works. Cadbury World offers a unique experience that includes 14 zones including the history of the Bournville Cadbury factory, an Aztec Forest zone, the chance to ride through a chocolate wonderland on a Beanmobile – and even to write your name in liquid chocolate with the help of an experienced demonstrator. Young guests / learners will also enjoy Birmingham’s state-of-the-art (high tech) Thinktank science museum with over 200 exhibits you can actually touch – as well as a Planetarium and an IMAX cinema.

With a highly-respected education programme, Cadbury World is one of Birmingham's largest attractions with 500,000 visitors each year.

Older visitors will love Soho House, the elegant 18th century home of industrialist and entrepreneur Matthew Boulton – and the meeting place of some of the greatest minds of the time. And if you’re a shopaholic, you’ll love Birmingham’s world-class Jewellery Quarter, which combines traditional and innovative jewellery designers and shops with a wealth of historic churches, art galleries and museums.

Soho House: Carefully restored, this fashionable Georgian house features period interiors with fine collections of silver, furniture and paintings.

If you want to experience the Great Outdoors and get some fresh air, you can visit the breathtaking (mozzafiato) English landscape of the Malvern Hills – a “mountain range in miniature”. And don’t forget Birmingham’s rich tradition of ancient and modern cathedrals.

I often give homestay guests a tour of Birmingham city centre and they are surprised to hear that Birmingham has more canals than Venice!

Walk along the towpath (alzaia) of the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, which links two great cities - and enjoy the countryside (and pubs)

Italian guests / learners

NetworkMilan.com: Have there been many Italian students at Live and Learn? What would you say to Italian people considering going to the UK for a homestay?

Lorna Allen: We have had many homestay guests from Italy, most coming from Milan.

We’ve had children who are now coming for the third consecutive year as well as adults who want to improve their English and experience British culture.

Our Italian guests gain a great deal of benefit from our homestays as they tend to be very interested in learning about the British way of life.

They are also keen to become integrated into their host family’s life – and I know that they are particularly curious about English food!

There is a perception that English food is quite bland (scialbo) and, while this can be true in a few instances, many English people have travelled widely and so have been influenced by other cuisines. Britain also benefits from having a wide diversity of ethnic cultures, each of which has enriched British food generally.

Our supermarkets now sell foods such as extra-virgin olive oil, fresh pasta and real coffees which means that you can still eat your favourite foods even if you don’t really like English cuisine (although we think we can change your opinion!).

Birmingham is also home to some very fine restaurants and pubs serving fantastic “pub-grub” (pub food) – so there is lots of choice available. I have personally taken some of my Italian homestay guests to Caribbean and Indian restaurants so that they can sample dishes (piatti) that may not be easily available back home.

Nicola, one of our Italian learners, visiting the Motor Museum with his host Pat

Young learners

NetworkMilan.com: You said that you organise homestays for young people. What assurances can you give parents that children will be happy and safe?

Lorna Allen: I really enjoy arranging homestays for young people and I’m pleased when they come back for a second and even a third visit!

There is no fixed minimum age limit but I ask that the child or young person is mature enough to enjoy their stay away from home. There is no advantage in a child coming if they are going to be very unhappy and home-sick for the duration of their stay!

I am a mother of two children myself so I know the importance of ensuring that young people enjoy a happy and safe homestay with us.

Parents can be reassured that we will take total care of their children and this care begins with the selection of suitable host families.

When host families express an interest in hosting young people, I ensure that they have a valid CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) certificate. The CRB is a ‘police check’ (controllo) to ensure that the applicant does not have any record of offences against children.

I take photos of the host, their family and home and send them to the parents so that they can see exactly what the family and home looks like before sending their children.

I should mention that homestay fees for young people include an “extra-care supplement” and this guarantees that the young person is always supervised by the host or an adult member of the host’s family.

Once the homestay booking has been confirmed, I then send parents the host’s contact details so that they can get in touch (communicate) and get to know each other (become acquainted) before their child’s arrival.

When the young person arrives in the UK, either I or the host family will collect them from the airport and, on the return journey, we will stay with them until the airline staff take over responsibility.

I will telephone the young person 2 or 3 days after their arrival to check if they are happy in their homestay. (I ask the host to leave the room so that the young person can speak freely). I also visit all young people during their homestay and report back to their parents.

Alex, a young learner, improves his writing skills - evidently inspired by William Shakespeare!

Lorna’s story

NetworkMilan.com: Lorna, tell us a little bit about yourself and why you started Live and Learn?

Lorna Allen: Well, I was born in Birmingham in the UK to Jamaican parents. I have two children, aged 21 and 17 and have enjoyed a long and varied career working to support children and their families.

About ten years ago, I was approached by a hosting company to host and teach foreign learners. I did that for a while and then I became a local organiser for the company.

I continued doing this for over seven years as a way to supplement my earnings from my main job.

It was a Japanese client who suggested that I started my own company as he was very pleased with the way that I had made arrangements for his group of Japanese students.

Hosting learners and, some time later, organising their homestays, gave me the opportunity to meet people from all over the world. I learned about their culture – and it was great for my children too, as they both went on to study languages at high school. I’m sure it was the hosting experience that motivated them to learn other languages!

I also gained a lot of satisfaction from seeing people progress very quickly with their English language skills after their two week homestay in Birmingham.

So, after a great deal of thought and discussion with family and friends, I took the bold step (made the courageous decision) of leaving work. I left in July 2007 and launched ‘Live and Learn Homestays Ltd.’ in April 2008.

And the rest, as they say, is history!

Lorna Allen, Director of Live and Learn Homestays, with learner Mauro

Business success

NetworkMilan: What do you think makes a successful business? And what are your plans for the future?

Lorna Allen: What makes a successful business? Mm – difficult question. Well, I suppose at the heart of any successful business is a person who is willing and able to take risks; a person who has the ability to communicate his or her passion for the business; a hard worker who leads with integrity; a team player; and a person who knows that, in business, “failure” is just another word for opportunity!

In the near future, I will be updating my website and adding our new leisure and cultural activities such as English cookery, jewellery-making, fascinator workshops (where you can learn how to make a fascinator, as worn by Kate Middleton – or the Duchess of Cambridge as she is now known!). We are also offering sports camps for young people, as well as fishing and canal trips. We will be adding even more activities in the future (so make sure you visit our website to find out what we’ve got to offer!).

I am also working on plans to develop our services so that we can take small groups of young people. I have been approached by an outdoor education centre and they have the facilities to accommodate small groups and offer an exciting leisure and English language package. So, if any of your readers would like more information for small groups of school-age learners who want to come to the UK in the summer or at Easter, please contact me at Live and Learn Homestays Ltd.

Many people have asked whether I’d consider expanding the business to offer homestays all around the UK. Whilst I’m sure there is plenty of scope (possibility) for expansion, I’d rather keep things local as by offering homestays within the “Heart of England” region, I can keep a close eye on (watch carefully) the quality of the service that we’re offering. The sad truth is that there are too many homestay companies out there that take your money and don’t care about the experience that you’ve paid for – and I never want to be like that!

Inspiration: view from the Malvern Hills, a “mountain range in miniature”, and within easy reach of Birmingham.

Booking your homestay

NetworkMilan.com: How can people book a Live and Learn homestay – and how much does it cost?

Lorna Allen: People can book their homestay through our website or just email me with your requirements and I will send you a booking form (modulo di prenotazione).

An average stay is two weeks in length and the price depends on the kind of homestay booked (for example, with or without English lessons) the number of hours of English tuition, the age of the homestay guest and leisure activities required, etc.

As a guide, a two week homestay starts from £220 (€250) per week and this includes half board accommodation (bed, breakfast and dinner) during the week and full board (bed, breakfast, lunch and dinner) at the weekend – this option is more suited to people who wish to spend only part of the day with their host family.

This represents excellent value for money especially when compared to a hotel room where accommodation (without meals) will cost from £65 per night – and you don’t have the benefit of interacting with a lovely host family!

St Phillip's Cathedral in Birmingham, a city with a rich architectural, industrial and cultural heritage.

The Live and Learn difference

NetworkMilan: There are a number of companies and individual tutors now offering homestays. What would you say makes Live and Learn different?

Lorna Allen: OK, firstly, I’m proud to say that we are different!

I know that we are different because many of our homestay guests have experience of booking homestays with other companies and they say we’re not like the others!

Also, our host families and teachers work for a number of companies – and they say that we’re special too!

I think the most important thing that distinguishes us is that we really care about our learners and homestay guests. We make sure that you have the best experience from the very first moment that you contact us to the time that you step foot on (enter) the plane to go home!

We endeavour to match guests with a host/teacher as quickly as possibly – usually within a few days. It can sometimes take a little longer as we strive (try very hard) to make sure that everyone has the most suitable host/teacher.

As a business owner and manager, it is vitally important to me to gain the feedback of every single homestay guest and so I maintain contact with all guests during their stay. They also have access to 24-hour telephone support in the unlikely event of an emergency.

I visit all of my younger homestay guests to make sure that they are enjoying their stay. I will often visit the adults too and we may go out for a meal in Birmingham or a tour of the city together. It’s a fantastic opportunity to find out about their homestay experience and they sometimes give me great ideas for improving the service that we offer!

Our homestay guests tell me that they have never received such a high quality, personal service from the other companies that they have used and this is why they return year after year.

Our hosts/teachers enjoy working with us because they feel get lots of support and are able to contact me at any time to ask for advice.

They also enjoy the fact that guests see their host/teacher profile and photographs before booking and are able to communicate with their guest before they arrive. This helps avoid any problems or confusion and goes a long way (is important) to ensuring that the homestay is both enjoyable and successful.

A number of homestay guests have invited me to stay with them in their own countries. So far I’ve been too busy, but I may well take them up on (accept) their offers later this year.

It would be great to be a homestay guest in another country and this time it would be my turn to “Live and Learn”!

Lorna Allen: "Live and Learn Homestays offers a high quality, personal service. This is why our guests return year after year."

NetworkMilan.com: Lorna, you’ve certainly provided us and our readers with a lot of really interesting and useful information about language homestays. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. We wish you and your tutors all the best – and hope that Live and Learn Homestays Ltd will continue to grow and provide a valuable and truly unique service to all of your guests.

Lorna Allen: You’re very welcome – and thanks to you, too, for giving me the opportunity of telling people in your network about Live and Learn . If anyone wants to find out about our homestays, please get in touch with me and I will tell you everything you need to know. See you in Birmingham soon!

Contact Live and Learn

If you would like to know more about Live and Learn Homestays Ltd and how you can both improve your English as well as experience family life with a professional, friendly host /teacher in the UK, please contact Lorna Allen ([email protected]). She will be very happy to give you all the information you need and to organise a homestay that is ideally suited to your needs.

Visit the Live and Learn Homestays website:
http://www.homestay-online.com/

© Robert Dennis, NetworkMilan.com 2011

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Should you use formal or informal language in a job interview?

21 May

Formal or informal?

Getting the balance right between formality and informality when you have an interview can be quite tricky (difficult). In a recent discussion on the Milan Business English Network an MBEN member asked about this important topic: here’s his question – and my reply…

Dear all,

I have been selected for an interview in the Investment Banking sector. I have some doubts regarding the type of language to use during the interview. In fact, I believe that both the informal and the formal ones have their own specific advantages. First of all, speaking with a formal and technical language makes you more professional but you will probably make  a higher number of mistakes. Conversely, speaking informally is easier and maybe, in a motivational interview, you can better express your real motivation and your passion…

I actually don’t know the solution to this dilemma…

Let me know what do you think about!

Thanks

Here’s my reply:

First of all, congratulations on getting an interview! You’ve cleared the first hurdle (obstacle) to getting a job in investment banking. You’re right to now focus on your strategy for the interview and, in particular, getting the right “tone” for your language.

The whole question of formal / informal language is definitely a key factor in communicating successfully in a business context in English. I have to say that (as with CVs – see my reply regarding the difference between Italian and British / American CVs), there is one big cultural difference between the Italians and the Anglo-Saxons, which is especially true in job interview. This is, basically, that in business Italian people tend to be TOO FORMAL (certainly when you have to speak to someone from Britain or the States. In Italy, of course, it’s perfectly normal to be quite (or even very) formal in a business situation, particularly when you don’t know the other person (which, obviously, is usually the case when you go for a job interview at a large company)).

Being too formal in an Anglo-Saxon business interview is a mistake, and here’s why:

People in business in English-speaking countries are generally more informal and relaxed with people they don’t know. You don’t need to spend a long time establishing a personal relationship with a business counterpart in order to overcome the barrier of formality. While the British are slightly more formal than the Americans, it is still generally the case that in a business setting people try and get to an informal level of communication as soon as possible. Why? It’s simple: because it’s easier to do business with someone without a lot of unnecessary formality. Yes, we wear suits and shake hands. But you will find that pretty much as soon as you sit down with your interviewer and start talking, they will try to establish an informal, one-to-one style of communication.

The reason for spending valuable time (and money) interviewing candidates for a job is that you can only tell so much from someone’s CV: you need to meet them face-to-face and find out what they’re really like. (In fact, many companies nowadays, particularly in younger industries such as web marketing, have abandoned formal interviews completely, deeming (judging) them to be too conventional and artificial. Instead, they ask candidates to form teams and undertake a mini-project, assessing their interaction, leadership potential and problem-solving skills simply by shadowing them as they complete the task assigned.) Nevertheless, formal interviews (particularly in more conservative sectors, such as banking, are still the main way banks and other companies get to know their potential colleagues).

You are quite right to draw (make) a distinction between the specific, technical jargon required and the softer, more personal language you use (especially when you are describing your individual qualities, professional goals and relevant experience from both your professional and social lives). With regard to the technical terms of banking and finance, any weak areas in your knowledge or understanding will be probed (explored) and tested. However, in my 20 years’ experience of teaching people from a wide range of professional backgrounds – as well as graduates applying for their first position – I have to say that the technical area is usually people’s strongest point: having either worked in the finance sector – or having studied the complex theories and statistical / quantitative methods that are required in order to operate successfully in this field – this is not, generally, people’s main problem. (Another point here is that most of the technical financial jargon is used in English anyway and isn’t generally translated.)

The main problem is in finding suitable, natural language to talk about your previous experience; how to bring the bare facts of your CV to life; and to inspire and convince your interviewer that you are a dynamic, capable person who can not only meet the demands of the job, but can also work well alongside colleagues quite often from very diverse backgrounds and nationalities (particularly if you are applying for jobs in London or New York).

While it’s useful to learn the key phrases that you can use in your interview, (e.g. in order to explain why you want this job, or what you consider your strengths and weaknesses to be), the main thing to focus on is PRACTISING your speaking skills so it becomes natural and automatic for you to talk about yourself, your experience and the company (or bank) you have applied to.

Of course, the best way to do this is with a teacher who can explain to you the exact force of each expression and help you with your pronunciation and grammar. But you could also just practice with a friend, each taking it in turns to be the interviewer or the interviewee.

I hope you have found this reply useful. If anyone else has a question regarding jobs, interviews, formal and informal language – or any issue relating to Business English, please start a discussion on the Milan Business English Network. We will do our best to help you!

© Robert Dennis 2011

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Use your English to find work in Italy or abroad

05 May

When can you start?

Are you considering changing your job? Do you speak English?

If you answered “Yes!” twice, you may be interested in the answer to this question, which  appeared recently on the Milan Business English Network:

What is the best way to find a job in Italy (or abroad) using my English?

Here’s the reply:

That’s a great question! Being able to speak English is now considered a necessity for many posts in Italy – and not just in international firms: even small companies now expect candidates to be able to demonstrate a good knowledge of English, plus the ability to use the language effectively in a business context.

Here are a few ideas you may find useful:

Join the Milan Business English Network! (If you’ve already done that: Congratulations!) Don’t forget that we have a parallel group on Facebook, also called the Milan Business English Network.)

– Write your CV (Curriculum Vitae) in English. Have two versions – one in Italian and one in English.

– Practice doing job interviews in English. Have a look at some of the posts on this important topic in the Discussions section of the Milan Business English Network.

– Apply for jobs where English is a main focus for the job, or an essential skill. E.g. (for example) jobs where you deal with international clients or need to speak to people from other countries in English. These might include sales and marketing, project management, international recruitment, travel and tourism or financial services.

– Take a specialist business English course with a qualified teacher. Learn how to speak in meetings, write emails and do presentations. A number of teachers are members of our group. (Click here if you want to find a teacher now.) You can also check out (look at / examine) Kijiji.it and bakeca.it for experienced and qualified private business English teachers.

There are also a number of highly reputable specialist Business English schools in Milan. EASYBIZ, for example, offers tailored courses that can help you develop your English language and communication skills.

– Join groups on LinkedIn and other business social networking sites. Don’t just look at Italian sites – extend your reach to include European and world English-speaking business communities.

– Take a business-related English exam and gain a qualification you can include in your CV, e.g. the Cambridge Business English Certificate (BEC). Employers will also be impressed by a good IELTS or TOEFL score.

– Work abroad! Yes, Italy’s a great country 🙂 but if you can speak English you increase substantially the number of job opportunities available to you.

Well, I hope you find these ideas useful. The key thing is to keep applying for jobs, don’t stop sending out CVs and join as many groups and mailing lists as you can. Registering with employment agencies (such as Adecco) and websites like Monster.co.uk are also great ways of highlighting your English language abilities and receiving offers of employment.

Good luck!

© Robert Dennis 2011

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How to get a job in the UK / US if you have an Italian law degree

27 Apr

Royal Courts of Justice, London

Question: As a student of law, I would like to know what can I do with my Italian legal degree in the UK or USA. What are the different opportunities?

Answer: Thanks for your question.Well, I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you.
The good news is that your law degree will help you find a job in an English-speaking country, mainly because it’s a degree and employers prefer graduates. The bad news is that it will be very difficult (if not impossible, unless you retrain / convert your qualification) to practice as a lawyer in Britain or the US because the Anglo-Saxon countries use the common law system, not one based on Roman law (widely used throughout the EU).

One option might be to get a job in some capacity (e.g. as an administrator) with a UK / US law firm and then retrain once you have established yourself in your “new” country. (Although, considering the length of time Italian people tend to study for, you may decide that you have seen enough of libraries and would rather put your knowledge and skills into practice, rather than keep studying.)

You could find a job with a British / American or Italian company based abroad that does business with people in Italy and where a knowledge of Italian law is relevant, but it is not necessary to be trained as an English / American lawyer. For example, an international estate agent’s that handles the rent or sale of property in Italy to UK or US nationals. Other sectors could include import / export, tourism, insurance, healthcare or the art market, etc – areas where a knowledge of Italian law would be useful (or essential). (Other options might include areas involving Intellectual Property, Company Law and Finance, where you could advise foreign clients on the implications of setting up businesses, selling and investing in Italy.)

Click here to read this article in full on the Milan English blog.

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Business English Questions and Answers

19 Apr

I've got a question!

What’s the difference between a CV and a resume (or resumé)? When do you start a letter “To whom it may concern”? What is “Dragon’s Den” and why is it so popular in the the UK? What do the acronyms CEO, CSR and CRM mean? Why are fat cats always in the British business news? What is a poisoned pill, a white knight and a golden parachute?

Here are the answers:
In British English you write a Curriculum Vitae (CV for short) when you apply for a job (not just a “curriculum”); in the United States you write a resumé (often just resume without the accent nowadays).
If you have to write a letter for an employee or student that they will show to someone else, such as a potential employer or university, you head the letter “To whom it may concern”. This is typically used on job references or official statements (e.g. someone’s financial status), but not addressed to a particular individual.
Dragon’s Den” is a hugely popular BBC TV show where inventors and entrepreneurs pitch (present) their idea or business to a panel of “dragons” – four ferocious (and very rich) private investors. The dragons ask searching questions and then – if the entrepreneurs are lucky – they make an offer of a investment in return for equity (shares) in the company. It’s a bit like X-Factor for business.
Acronyms: CEO = Chief Executive Officer – the operational head of a company; CSR = Corporate Social Responsibility – developing policies and programmes that help build a company’s reputation for being caring and considerate; CRM = Customer Relationship Management – the art / science of developing a company’s most important assets (after its employees), it’s customer base.
Fat cats are senior executives (often in nationalized companies, such as utilities) who earn highly-inflated salaries, bonuses and are awarded (over-) generous pensions. A poisoned pill is a strategy for fighting off a hostile takeover bid. And a white knight is an investor who comes to the rescue of a company facing a similarly aggressive attempt at taking over another organization. A golden parachute is an agreement to pay a senior executive a substantial amount of money in the event that he or she loses their job as a result of a takeover.
If you’ve been puzzled by something you’ve heard or read in the English-language media – or that an English-speaking colleague has said – why not post a question in this section. I will be happy to give you an answer – and if anyone else has a better reply or comment, leave it here for members of the network to see.
Have you got a question about Business English? We’ll be glad to answer it! Leave a comment below – or join the Milan Business English Network on LinkedIn or Facebook where you can take part in lots of useful Business English-related discussions.

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