Shonah Kennedy interviews the eponymous founder of John Evans Anglais, Grenoble’s long-standing language school.
Who is John Evans? This was the question chorused at a TESOL event my collegues and I attended when we had to announce where we worked. This questioning of a company with such a positive reputation and which has been in the area for over 30 years surprised me, and prompted me to ask John to do an interview for Grenoble Life. It only took six months, but I am very happy that he finally said “yes”! So, I’m extremely pleased to present the below interview with John Evans, of John Evans Anglais.
Shonah: How and when did John Evans get started?
John Evans: Everything got started in 1981 when I decided to resign from the school where I’d been working for four years and simply set up in business as an independent, freelance teacher. It was only in 1991 that I hired my first full time teacher – who is still with me – and new teachers have been steadily joining us ever since and we now have a team of ten teachers.
Shonah: Why did you decide to go into business for yourself, rather than work for one of the other numerous schools in the area?
John: As I’d been working in a school for four years, I just felt that I’d gone as far as I could go and that the time was right for a change. I don’t remember having had a burning desire to be an entrepreneur but I did like the idea of being independent, choosing the way I worked and the teaching methods I used and not having to be answerable to anybody – apart from my customers. On top of that, running a small business has given an extra dimension to my professional life and – as much as I enjoy teaching – I like the business side involving managing a team of teachers, maintaining our relationships with our customers and even the administrative side.
Shonah: Over the years you have been in business, what major changes have you seen in the industry?
John: In my opinion, the biggest change of all has been in the shift from working with private individuals to working more and more with professionals and companies. No language school today can survive if they don’t have a solid customer base among local industry and if they don’t provide the solutions that the professionals need.
Teaching English 30 years ago was very general and language based whereas today most courses have to be customized and adapted to the specific needs of each trainee or group of trainees. The result for the teacher is that they also need to understand how companies work. However, it does provide for greater job interest when you find yourself working with people from all fields of industry and in different company departments.
The other major change on the teaching side has obviously been the arrival of new ways of language learning thanks to new or improved technology – telephone lessons, e-learning, computer based exercises and all the possibilities offered by the internet with podcasts etc.
On the purely business side of things, there has been a shift in power within companies themselves and we now find ourselves dealing more and more with purchasing departments rather than training departments. Purchasers are looking to find one language provider for their nationwide needs and that is why I’m now a member of Canspeak – a nationwide association of independent language schools. As a result we can provide our customers with a global solution while, at the same time, retaining our own identity.
Shonah: Who are your main clients?
John: We have very different clients ranging from large, international customers such as Becton Dickinson, Soitec, Avery Dennison, Rolls Royce and Alcan to medium-sized companies like Petzl and EFD or scientific research Institutes and also small companies or start ups like Spartoo.
Shonah: How can somebody contact you?
John: First of all, it’s easy enough to find out about us by looking at our website and anybody can get straight through to me at the office 04 76 48 22 35. Whether they’re looking for training courses or a teaching post.
Shonah: What are the future plans for John Evans?
John: There are no predefined plans as such. We just try to keep on doing what we do best and to keep on giving our customers the best possible service. Until now, this has always proved to be a successful recipe.
Shonah: Do you have any advice for teachers starting out in the industry, or those that have been in the industry for some years, but need some inspiration?
John: I think the first thing I would tell any young teacher is to “be yourself”. Every teacher has a different personality and teaching style but I think it’s important to cultivate that rather than try to fit into a mould or do things that you are not comfortable with. Listen to your trainees and try to deliver what they want and expect and ask them for regular feedback so that you can constantly “fine-tune” your courses. Be interested in your trainees and try to motivate them as much as possible. You mustn’t forget that some trainees are not always happy to be having language lessons and the day somebody tells you that you are the one who has made language learning an enjoyable experience for them – it’s the best compliment anyone can pay you.
One final thing – don’t be afraid to make mistakes! We’ve all made them and we’ll all continue to make them but as long as we learn from them, that’s all that matters. It’s also important to remember that it’s impossible to make all of your customers happy all of the time and that your own teaching style will suit some people but not others.
Shonah: Any anecdotes to tell after so many years here and doing what you do?
John: When I look back on 30 years of teaching I think that the most rewarding part of it has been meeting people of all ages and from all walks of life. I’ve worked with people between 15 and 85, from every walk of life and with extremely diverse backgrounds. Many of the people I have worked with have become close, personal friends and it has meant that teaching is not just “a job” but a very rewarding and fulfilling experience.