Ghana’s big business and informal traders alike hit by crumbling economy

From internships for girls to large infrastructure projects, development in Ghana is being stymied by the fiscal crisis.

MDG women in Ghana

Women learn tie-dye and cloth-making in Kpobiman village, Greater Accra. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

In the midday sun, young women and girls around Accra’s Makola market take a break from walking the streets carrying their wares to seek solace under the shade of a tree, napping with their babies in their laps.

There are thousands of girls like these dotted around Ghana’s big cities, having migrated from the north to the south of the country, uneducated and caring for their children.

Although the country is close to removing disparities in primary school education between boys and girls by next year and meeting the millennium development goal on universal access, the target for secondary and tertiary education is further off.

In the absence of government help, it is left to NGOs to offer young women alternative futures.

Since 2008, the Akua Kuenyehia Foundation has been providing scholarships, and organising camps and internships for bright secondary school girls whose parents are petty traders and small-scale farmers.

“To say that their families have a monthly household income of up to 200 cedis [about £32] would be too much,” says the executive director of the foundation, Akofa Bentsi-Enchill. “When you sit in the interviews or read their scripts [applications] you weep.”

Wilhelmina Bofla, 19, whose mother sells roasted plantain on the street, has benefited from the foundation. After completing secondary school, the foundation found her a year-long paid internship. She saved some of her income towards her university education. In September, she will take up a place at the University of Cape Coast.

But Ghana’s economic difficulties are beginning to affect the foundation’s funding, with local donations drying up. The country’s economic downturn is being felt at all levels of society, affecting big businesses and informal traders alike.

Cutbacks in the civil service loom, while payments for the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty scheme, which provides cash transfers to some of the country’s poorest people, were in arrears from November 2012 till October last year. This year, payments for March to June were made in July.

In August an initiative by the department of social welfare to remove children begging on the streets, acting as aides for disabled relatives, was put on hold due to a lack of funds. The department had intended to admit children into shelters and provide funding for their school and medical needs.

“It is not limited. The current fiscal challenges cut across all areas of government,” says Kenneth Owusu, senior policy analyst at thenational development planning commission (NDPC).

With the private sector driving growth in Ghana, the economic slowdown has had a direct impact on development.

“Any time you see fiscal slippages you are likely to see the other indicators also performing poorly,” Owusu says.

“The ease of doing business is becoming quite troubling and the cost of doing business has increased significantly,” he adds. “There are power outages which are affecting most companies and other infrastructure challenges.”

Before the 2012 presidential election the ruling National Democratic Congress pledged to support women with small- to medium-sized businesses by widening their access to credit. But for some the support is yet to come.

In Labadi town, a neighbourhood close to central Accra, stand clusters of crumpled homes overlooking the sewage-filled sea. Here, 51-year-old Mabel Tetteh works as a secretary for the Labadi market traders’ association, a group made up predominantly of women.

“We have not had any help from government,” Tetteh says. The market traders are often approached by individuals offering high-interest loans, and with no other options the traders are left to deal with private lenders to expand their business.

Tetteh has spent her whole life working in the market – apart from a spell at school – and used to help her mother there as a child. Now, standing beside pyramids of tomatoes, onions, spices and grains, Tetteh proudly gestures towards her container of food that she was able to acquire through loans.

“We would prefer government loans as the interest rate would be lower,” Tetteh says. “But for now we don’t have that choice, so we are waiting for them.”

It may be a long wait, as there is a backlog of infrastructure projects that the government is looking to finance – including the repair and development of rail and road networks in the Eastern Corridor – as well as covering outstanding debt repayments.

The commission is pushing to pass a fiscal responsibility bill in parliament that would increase financial discipline, particularly in the finance ministry. High levels of spending, particularly on a large public sector wage bill, are partly blamed for the crisis.

“At the moment if the ministry of finance overspends they can just go to parliament and ask for a supplementary budget. There should be some sanctions,” says Owusu. “Development is the engine of the country. You cannot leave it to chance. We [shouldn’t] have to beg our developing partners to support the commission.”


Working Abroad? How to Give a Presentation in the Local Language by Leslie Forman, September 4, 2013 — extracted from


Even if you’ve been working abroad for a while, and you feel comfortable getting around the city and chatting with colleagues, there’s something incredibly intimidating about being invited to give a formal presentation in your second (or third) language.

Take it from me: The first week I landed in Chile as part of a government-backed entrepreneurship program, a professor invited me to a faculty meeting to speak about Silicon Valley and how academics could participate in entrepreneurship through technology transfer programs. Though I grew up in the heart of Silicon Valley, was familiar with the entrepreneurship scene, and spoke fluent Spanish, I wasn’t sure how to start creating a presentation for a totally foreign audience from scratch.

But, I did it, and since then I’ve given dozens of presentations in Spanish as well as coached friends and colleagues as they’ve prepared to speak in formal, cross-cultural situations. If you’re panicking about your international presentation, here are a few pointers based on what’s worked for us.


Pick the Best Format

Before doing anything else, think about the goals of the event. Are you teaching something? Are you inviting everyone to participate in an upcoming program? Are you competing against others for the audience’s backing?

Once you have a strong sense of these goals, ask yourself if your language skills are strong enough to really move them forward. Be honest: If your vocabulary and fluency aren’t up to par, it might be more effective to present in English and team up with a translator. And that’s totally OK.

If your language skills are solid, go for it, but don’t think you can wing it the way you might in your home country. It’s still important to give yourself enough time to plan a well thought out, culturally appropriate presentation and practice far more than you usually would.

Design Your Message to Fit the Local Culture 

As you’re putting together your presentation, remember that the stories, anecdotes, and persuasion techniques that you’ve used in your home country might not always resonate abroad. For example, sports references like “batting average” or “home run” won’t work in a place where baseball isn’t popular. Or, if most people live with their families throughout college, they might not understand anecdotes about dorms or roommates.

Instead, think about what might help you connect with your international audience. If you’re in a place with a strong tradition of family businesses, like most countries in Latin America, and you come from a four-generation legacy in the same industry, be sure to mention this history, because it will establish common ground. You might even want to include family photos if they support your core message. When I spoke about Silicon Valley at the faculty meeting, I started with a picture of myself at age five, playing on our family’s Apple Macintosh II. With this image, I illustrated that technology has always been an important part of my life, and it could play a similar role in the audience members’ lives, too.

When in Doubt, Use Visuals & Examples 

Last week, I attended an event that featured a German manager from a well-known tech company. He’s based in Barcelona and speaks excellent Spanish, and during his presentation he told a story about a taladro. He mentioned this word at least 10 times, and it seemed essential to the point he was trying to make. However, a significant percentage of the international audience did not understand this word and started whispering to neighbors or looking up taladro on their phones.

The situation illustrated an important point: When there’s a language barrier of any kind, photos, charts, graphs, and visuals can be a great way to help get your point across. If the presenter at my event had shown a picture of the object—a drill—he would have been much more successful in holding everyone’s attention and getting his key point across.

This is especially important when you’re introducing a new concept to your audience. For example, say you’re pitching an energy efficiency app to a panel of foreign investors. When explaining this brand-new concept, you might want to show a picture of something they already know and understand: the energy guide sticker that’s typically found on refrigerators, for example. Explain how this information helps users save energy and money, then extend the analogy to your own product.


Refine and Practice!

As you prepare the content for your presentation, write it all in complete sentences. Share your written draft with at least two or three locals, and incorporate their feedback. Then, read it out loud, and record yourself on a webcam. Watch the recording, notice where you stumble or make awkward faces, and edit out any phrases that are tough to say.

When you’ve finalized the presentation, put the entire script on an iPad or notecards. You don’t want to read it word-for-word—it’s more important to engage with the audience than to get everything 100% right—but having the full text on hand can build your confidence day-of.

Then, practice—as much as you possibly can. Practice in front of a mirror. Practice with your language tutor if you have one. Practice in front of at least two or three native speakers. Make a list of the questions your audience might ask, and practice answering them. The more confident you feel with what you’re going to say, the more you’ll be able to relax and connect with your audience—and that’s what’s bound to make a great impression.

Thinking back to that first faculty meeting, it turned out to be smaller and less formal than I’d anticipated. About 12 faculty members and a few students sat around a big table. I shared my presentation about Silicon Valley, learned about their research, and then fielded questions about a forthcoming grant competition. I enjoyed the experience so much that I’ve gone on to give similar speeches all over the country.

That day also taught me that, as an outsider, you’ll stand out from the crowd. But if you prepare, personalize your presentation, and rehearse your message, you’ll be remembered for more than just your foreign face—you’ll be remembered for introducing a new world of possibilities.

Survey Finds Skilled Talent Shortages Continue Both in U.S. and Globally

by on May 29, 2013 talent_survey (extracted 8/1/2013)

No matter how prosperous or uncertain the environment, talent is always tough to find.

ManpowerGroup’s 8th annual Talent Shortage Survey reveals that employers worldwide continue to report that a lack of skilled talent and a struggle to fill vacancies negatively impacts their business performance.

ManpowerGroup surveyed nearly 40,000 employers in 42 countries and territories, including more than 1,000 U.S. employers. Some 39 percent of U.S. employers continue to have difficulty finding people with the right skills. While that’s down from last year’s 49 percent, it still exceeds the global average of 35 percent — the highest since the start of the recession.

Hardest to fill jobs in the U.S.

U.S. employers report that skilled trades positions are the most difficult to fill, the fourth straight year that’s topped the list.

Here’s the entire top 10:

  1. Skilled trades;
  2. Sales reps;
  3. Drivers;
  4. IT staff;
  5. Accounting & finance staff;
  6. Engineers;
  7. Technicians;
  8. Management/Execs;
  9. Mechanics;
  10. Teachers.

The most common reasons cited for the difficulty in finding the right talent include:

  • A lack of technical competencies (48 percent);
  • Lack of workplace competencies/soft skills (33 percent); and,
  • Lack of/no available candidates (32 percent).

Global results

Globally, the three most challenging areas are Skilled trades, Engineers and Sales representatives. The reasons most often cited are lack of applicants and lack of technical skills.

Employers are having the most difficulty in Japan (85 percent), Brazil (68 percent), India (61 percent), Turkey (58 percent) and Hong Kong (58 percent).

What are employers doing?

Survey participants acknowledge they’re taking steps to overcome talent shortages by implementing new people practices, modifying work models and sourcing talent differently.

Among the most popular approaches are:

  1. Expanding training and development (23 percent);
  2. Recruiting more from untapped talent pools (20 percent); and,
  3. Hiring a candidate who may lack the skills today but has the potential to grow into the job.

What it all means

“Our survey results demonstrate that U.S. employers have awakened to the realities of the talent shortage and are implementing innovative strategies to work through the business challenges it brings,” said Jonas Prising, ManpowerGroup President.

“However, year after year, we see little difference in the roles employers have trouble filling. As talent shortages in key areas persist, we need to focus on training programs that create opportunity for employers to fill their talent gaps, and for job seekers to obtain an in-demand skill and achieve employment security.”

ManpowerGroup has released a new insight paper, entitled The Great Talent Shortage Awakening: Actions to Take for a Sustainable Workforce. It examines strategies HR leaders can pursue to fuel their organization’s competitiveness for years to come.

For more on the 2013 Talent Shortage Survey, click here.

This was originally published on Manpower Group’s Employment Blawg.

Mark Toth has served as Manpower Group North America’s Chief Legal Officer since 2000. He also serves on the company’s Global Leadership Team, Global Legal Lead Team and North American Lead Team. Mark is recognized as an expert on legal issues affecting the U.S. workplace and is frequently quoted in media from The Wall Street Journal to 60 Minutes. He is also a past Chair of the American Staffing Association and is a certified Senior Professional in Human Resources. Contact him at\


Myths in language translation for business

extracted on 9/29/2013 from

Translation of your business messages into foreign languages could seem easy with the Internet at your fingertips.

However, the Internet will often translate your messages quite literally. They will not rephrase them to make them more readable, nor check the grammar, sentence structure, vocabulary and expressions that might be local to a particular market.

When you write for a country or region of the world, you must localise the meanings and intents of metaphors and statements and make your words natural to the reader in order to be taken seriously as a real business constituent.

1. There is a lot more involved in high quality translation for business

You may think that you just need a translator but in essence, to guarantee high quality materials, you will need a lot more. International campaigns, documents and websites will not only involve translation, but localisation, checking, revision, editing as well as desktop publishing and file handling.

Think about how long it took you to create that English brochure? Materials created for a foreign audience will require a little more care in their preparation. You will often need a second pair of eyes, an industry expert to verify terminology, and an editor for final publication. Also, you will often need project management to handle your file formats, connection to your content management system and your internal systems.

 2. Bilingual friends or colleagues could do more harm than good

Translating business documents or marketing materials through bilingual colleagues or friends can be dangerous, as they might not be familiar with the subject area or could be from another region of the country you are translating for. Or, they might be native speakers, but do not have an excellent command of the language, or they might know enough about the subject matter, but their feedback might not be relevant or helpful.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a very useful place for these bilingual contacts, but they need to be given clear and precise instructions when translating business and marketing documents. Questions like “Is the message getting across?”, “Does the translation use the right language for the target market?”,  “Could messages be misinterpreted?” –  instead of just “ What’s your opinion?” – should be asked.

3. Machine Translation is more than Google Translate

You may think that Machine Translation (MT) systems are just a version of Google Translate, but in fact, the term refers to professionally programmed IT translation engines, trained for a specific technical subject, trained with millions of approved TMs (translation memories) and fed with a high volume of technical data to be able to produce a fast and pertinent output against a source text that has been written specifically for MT purposes.

The translated text is then still revised by human “post editors”. The use of the tool enables people to be more efficient on repetitive tasks that can be automated, and to use the skills of high quality translation professionals for more complicated translations.

MT is not to be confused with Translation Management Systems. These handle complicated file formats and can hold translation memories of entire segments of translated text in a database. They assist the translator to achieve consistency when similar terms and contexts come up again in future translation and can often save you, the client, money when many repetitions occur in high volume texts.

4. A back translation will not give you the full message

An ad agency was recently outraged when they used back translation to have a German translation translated back into English, and read that someone was “going to eat a broom”!  You see… pigs fly in the English language, but Germans will eat a broom if they don’t believe something will happen. It is because of these nuances that back translations should not be used to measure quality. Back translation should only be used in rare circumstances and done by a language professional who knows how to interpret the results. Independent checkers, focus group testing, community feedback and industry editors are a much more efficient way to ensure quality of the intended message.

5. High quality input gives high quality output

You may be committed to getting high quality translation, but if your own message is not clear from the start, it is difficult for the translator to guess what you mean and transmit it.  For best quality, a clear source text must be provided and translators should be equipped with as much information as possible such as background, style guides, related articles, links, glossary lists, anything you have to ensure the translator fully understands your subject and your message.

7. Don’t mix and match your translators

Translators become familiar with your style, terminology and subject area. So, if you have a good one, stick with them and train them to your needs. Even if you have glossaries and style guides, consistency is best achieved by continuing to work with those who are familiar with your content.

Using various different providers can result in mixed messaging and less efficiency in your translations. Very often, changes in translations are a matter of personal preference or ignorance on background knowledge, and you may find yourself spending a lot of time just redoing the versions, when it was often only matter of opinion.

As you can see there are many considerations in getting the quality right when translating for business. With translation, it can sometimes be a bit like picking up your car from the garage and wondering… what did the mechanic really do? But of course, there are varying degrees of services that can be applied for different types of outputs required. A high quality provider can show you the options and guide you through the process to ensure that your message hits the mark with your target audience.

Written by Tea C. Dietterich, Director of 2M Language Services.

– See more at:

5 Profound and Permanent Changes Happening to HR Right Now

(extracted 8/1/2013)

As CEO of a marketing company, I have the opportunity to work with clients large and small to implement LinkedIn-based, employee-first social media programs.

Over the past three years, I’ve noticed several important trends social media is having on business.

Of note: the employer/employee value proposition and the role of HR are changing in ways both profound and permanent. Here’s how:

1. The org chart accelerates its phase out

A main function of the org chart is to allow people in a complex organization to work together effectively regardless of the personal relationships they share. By clarifying where resources are and who controls access to them, people who don’t even know one another can come together to accomplish complex tasks.

In an org chart world, skills and resource access lead — relationships follow.

But what’s new about social media is how it mixes up our personal and professional networks.

Corporate directories may have augmented formal job descriptions with self-published bios, thus making the path to resources more friendly, but social media elevates the relationship in a new way. By making informal networks knowable, predictable, and navigable, the nature of power structures, politics, team dynamics, and information flow within an organization all change.

Executive and professional development need to be retooled as a result.

2. Lines between professional and personal are gone

For two generations, professionals have put their world in boxes — work over here, life over there — and tried to balance the two. Work-life balance never really worked too well, but it was the best thing we had to work from, and we did what we could with it.

That is, until social media came along and blew the whole thing up.

Cronyism has long been a bane of merit-based capitalism, but in a world of social media, where personal and professional relationships blend into a single, holistic, profersonal™ network, it can be exceedingly difficult to tell where professional relationship ends and a personal one begins.

Executives, business development professionals, and many recruiters have long lived with this overlap as part of their work. But for the 9-to-5 employee, the ambiguity wrought by this overlap is often unwelcome and unnerving.

The firewalls organizations put up to ensure objective decision making need to be rethought.

3. Walls are being replaced with windows – and they’re open

Before social media, professionals could limit communication to their co-workers with a fair level of certainty. Social media’s always-on connectivity now makes it much more difficult to keep competitors and clients from catching wind of internal notes — either because we’re connected with them directly, or because they’re friends of friends.

But that’s not really the issue.

While HR may see social media as a communication risk, the real risk of “open windows” is to corporate structure and hiring. If a manager can look through the window to find someone with the skills she needs — using LinkedIn or Facebook — easier than she can find them within the walls of the organization, then that’s what she’s going to do. And if getting a consultant’s SOW (scope of work) approved by procurement is easier than getting a job requisition approved and sourced… well, this is an easy story to figure out.

HR operates based on laws and customs that were built on the presumption of walls. Those laws and customs are embarrassingly behind the times and need to change. Otherwise, HR will find itself struggling to maintain consistent employment standards.

4. Development takes a step backward

Social media allows people to escape from anything they don’t like and retreat into a world of familiar ideas, problems, and banter. What this means is, people are growing up later.

In a you’ll-laugh-because-if-you-don’t-you’ll-cry observation told by Sherry Turkle, author of Alone Together, two 15-year-olds at a party no longer have to work out the awkward moments that sometimes come with face-to-face relationships; when they hit the awkward, they retreat to their phones and post status updates: “Just saw so-and-so… AWKWARD!”

After doing this for a while, those teens not only fail to develop key skills, they fail to develop the ability to develop!

The impact for HR? These people’s older siblings had the same issues and are in the workforce. From a maturity perspective, 35 is the new 22. Get ready to train on basic skills.

5. Data goes real-time

It may not be “Big Data,” but it’s certainly Real-Time Data. It’s what’s resonating now, and it represents perhaps the most exciting impact on HR that social media is bringing: suddenly, employees are the company’s greatest … marketing asset.

It’ll take a while for HR and marketing to come together —  owns the expertise, while the other owns the asset, so there’s the makings for a turf battle there in many companies — but ultimately, this is HR’s path forward and greatest opportunity to connect a polished, professional workforce with top line revenue and bottom line results.

The future, as they say, will definitely not look like the past. But as they also say, in change lies opportunity — and more for HR than probably anywhere else in the company. Corporate structure, training and development, staffing, internal communications, and even marketing and branding are all up for grabs.

For an HR practitioner who’s been waiting for the chance to make her mark, this just may be the time to shine.

Jason Seiden is the CEO of Ajax Workforce Marketing, an agency that makes professionals better brand advocates for themselves and their employers. You can also follow him on Twitter.

Finding a Job

‘Zen Yang, Dude:’ Why MBAs Need to Be Bilingual

By: Francesca Di Meglio July 23, 2013

As an undergraduate, Scott Goldman would walk around Tufts University with a whiteboard so he could constantly practice writing Chinese characters. An international affairs major, he later studied at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and now works for the school in Shanghai. Goldman says foreign language skills are becoming critical for B-school grads, citing as one example the Chinese search giant Baidu (BIDU), where Mandarin is all but required. He expects that to be true of other Chinese companies that are increasingly a draw for U.S.-based business students.

Indeed, more people think that a foreign language is an essential tool in the business student’s toolbox. An online poll conducted by the Economist has gathered 1,544 responses, with 73 percent saying it’s important to learn a new language at business school.

Recruiters are urging schools to pay more attention to language skills as their employers eye new markets, says Jacqueline Wilbur, executive director for undergraduate and masters programs at MIT Sloan School of Management. A foreign language, when relevant to a student’s greater career goals, can be a real asset, she says. Sloan students who want to pick up another language can take MIT courses as electives.

Among the employers urging schools to do more is General Electric (GE). Chris Thomas, who manages GE’s Experienced Commercial Leadership Program, which places new recruits in rotations all over the world, says candidates who speak more than one language are “attractive and more marketable.” Business schools are directing students to their universities’ language offerings and enhancing global immersion trips with language study, he says, and for two years GE has offered its own training when necessary.

“There’s a growing need to understand and relate to customers and partners in a language that they are comfortable speaking,” says Thomas.

Without foreign language skills, business students might find their careers restricted. At Procter & Gamble (PG), language skills are required for a large number of roles in Europe, Asia, Latin America, and the U.S., says Scott Isenhart, North American talent supply leader.  “Being fluent in a foreign language is a definite plus,” he says.

Despite the growing recognition that language instruction is important for business students, programs that actually bake it into their own curriculum are rare. European schools typically require fluency in at least one foreign language, but that’s rare in the U.S., where the Thunderbird School of Global Management is one exception.

So should you give up your dreams of becoming chief executive of a multinational because you’re not fluent in a foreign language? Not quite, says Goldman.

“As a foreigner in China,” he says, “even a basic ‘Zen yang?’—meaning ‘What’s up?’—draws a big smile and makes people warm up to you.”

Di Meglio is a reporter for in Fort Lee, N.J.

How do students best pick up languages? Martin Williams talks to academics, teachers and multi-lingual speakers to find out about the science of learning a language.

by: Martin Williams, extracted Tuesday 14 May 2013

I love you in 311 languages. Image shot 01/2013. Exact date unknown.

I love you in 311 languages: how can teachers help their students learn languages and develop a passion for the subject? Photograph: Alamy


Alex Rawlings was a language teacher’s dream. He fell in love with languages when he was eight and learnt Greek, then German, then Dutch.

Now, an undergraduate at Oxford, he is the UK’s most multi-lingual student, speaking 11 languages. So what’s his secret?

“I remember seeing people on the beach in Greece when I was a kid and not being able to talk to them,” says Alex. “I thought it’d be nice to be able to talk to anyone in the world in their language. That has always stayed with me.”

Such enthusiasm is rare: a report by the British Academy this year found there was a growing deficit in foreign language skills. Increasingly, children are choosing not to study languages beyond the compulsory stage – and only 9% of pupils who take French GCSE progress with it to A-level.

“We’re failing to inspire people,” says Alex. “I had a mix of good and bad teachers – the most inspirational ones just focused on giving you the confidence to speak. Then I’d pursue it outside the classroom: I would watch films, find out new words and read things.”

Language pedagogy has come a long way since the days when repetitive grammar-translation methods were regarded as the only way to learn. Today, task-based approaches are widespread in British schools, emphasising communication and the practical uses of language.

For Christelle Bernard, a French and Spanish teacher at St Gemma’s High School in Belfast, these methods of teaching allow her to cast aside the textbook whenever she can. “You need a little bit of grammar, but my approach is much more topic based with as little grammar as possible,” she explains.

Her task-based teaching embraces ideas which range from lessons using computers, to audio-visual and kinesthetic learning. She explains: “For instance, if I’m teaching pets, I’ll bring in soft toys to use in the lessons.”

“I hardly ever use a textbook – I use Twitter much more,” she says, describing lessons where pupils discuss tweets written in French. “ICT allows them to collaborate with others. So they can work together, but it gives them a choice of medium. And because they know how to use computers, it creates a comfort zone where they can focus on the language.”

Task-based learning typically involves an information gap: students may have to share knowledge to communicate effectively, or look for language rules themselves before re-applying them. It’s an approach favoured by Huw Jarvis, a senior lecturer in the School of Humanities, Languages and Social Science at the University of Salford. He says: “We know that people learn better when they struggle to communicate – so that needs to be at the core of the kind of delivery and the methodology.”

“The primary purpose of language is communication – grammar is important, but there’s a bigger picture. Language is no longer seen as being learnt through mechanical exercises, it’s developed through students interacting and engaging.”

But there could be a danger in focusing too heavily on task-based methods of language teaching, according to Richard Hudson, emeritus professor of linguistics at University College London. He explains: “There was a strong reaction against grammar-translation. Instead, there was the idea that you could make languages available to less academic children by focusing on communication.

“But what happened is that they got rid of the grammar and the translation. It was a classic case of throwing out the baby with the bath water. It’s not fair on children to leave them to work out the rules of language themselves.

“What we’re moving towards now is teaching which still has the aim of producing fluent language speakers, and still has a lot of emphasis on realistic situations, but with a lot more emphasis on making children aware of how the language actually works.”

So could a conjunction of different ideas within language pedagogy be the secret to learning and teaching? Michael Erard studied hyperpolyglots (multi-lingual speakers) in his book Babel No More and says they used a variety of methods. He explains: “They use a mix, with a focus on accomplishing tasks, whether it’s communicative tasks or translation tasks.

“What unites them is that they’ve learned how to learn, and each one has learned how he or she learns best. There is no uniform method or single secret that any one of us can duplicate.”

Luca Lampariello, a hyperpolyglot and language consultant who speaks twelve languages, says: “The best method is the method you like.

“Languages cannot be taught, they can only be learnt. The best way is to tell students right away that they are responsible for their own learning process, and the teacher is just a guide who has to motivate them.”

Another hyperpolyglot, Richard Simcott, 36, is one of the most multi-lingual people in the UK: he has studied more than 30 languages and can converse in around 20 of them. “My interest in languages started at a very young age,” he says. “I would tend to find a book for a language that works for me and then I would try to find additional materials that interest me, like TV, DVDs, music and websites.”

“Many students fail to see the relevance, so we would certainly need to inject that into the classrooms now. I would love to see more schemes set up where the language classes in various countries could link up to bring the reality of speaking a language home to kids.”

But although Brits have long been famed for being lazy when it comes to learning foreign languages, the problem may partly lie in the number of hours of language education children are given. “We only give about half the amount of time to language teaching that they do in continental countries,” says Prof Hudson.

A report by the European Commission in 2011 listed the UK joint-bottom in major rankings showing the number of languages learnt in each country. National curriculum reforms set to be introduced next year – which will see foreign languages taught from the age of seven – may help, but figures show the UK has a long way to catch up with other European countries.

On average, pupils across Europe start learning languages between the ages of six and nine, but for many it starts even younger. In Belgium, learning starts in pre-primary education at the age of just three, and is compulsory until 18. And for children in Spain, Italy and Norway, language classes begin at six. Meanwhile, in Luxembourg, students on some education pathways have to learn up to four languages in secondary education.

Chistelle Bernard says that while methods of language teaching in continental Europe are often still grammar-based, it’s the realisation that languages will be useful in later life that helps motivate students. “If we don’t tackle the vocational side of languages, it doesn’t seem to be that relevant to UK children,” she says.

But for all the innovation of language pedagogy, foreign language teaching in the UK may ultimately be hindered by students’ lack of understanding of their mother tongue. Alex Rawlings says: “In a lot of European countries they spend more time studying the grammar and structure of their own language – and they do that from a very young age. So by the time they come to learn foreign languages they are aware of the terms and how they’re used.”

Prof Hudson agrees: “The move towards communicative, task-based syllabuses in foreign languages was driven by the fact that teachers couldn’t talk about grammar because it had stopped being taught in English lessons. The two subjects are so tightly interconnected.”


Comparing and Choosing International Moving Companies

Staging an international relocation is serious business. Careful planning and strategy are critical parts of a smooth, successful transition to a new country.

Entrusting your move to an international moving company is an important decision, and one that nobody should go into blindly. There are key characteristics to observe for when selecting an international moving company for your border-crossing move.


A fly-by-night moving company can cause a lot of pain and profit loss in the long run. You should never settle on using an un-reviewed moving company for the sake of saving a few dollars. It is important to research potential moving companies. Any reputable moving business should be able and willing to provide you with hard copies of their performance with past clients and current business standing. During the courting process, a moving company representative should be able to supply you with a list of countries to which they have facilitated moves, as well as exact timetables for which past moving projects were completed. Certain warning signs include an abrupt name change or total re-branding at any point in a company’s history.

International Experience

No matter how professional, qualified, and established a moving business is, you still need to make sure the services they offer are appropriate for your specific moving needs.

It is essential that you employ the services of a company that specializes in international moves. International moves are rife with particular stipulations and regulations that make expertise with laws and regulations a must-have for potential moving companies. While many domestic movers may be legally qualified to handle an international move, that doesn’t mean they are particularly skilled at it. Keep in mind, a moving company’s blunders may result in untold loss of time, not to mention the mismanagement of your valued possessions.

Clear Communication is a Sign of Business Integrity

A moving company should always be forthright with information. A company representative should be able to properly and clearly orient you with their moving practices, anticipated fees, and compliance paperwork. The company should also be able to brief you on contingency plans, since international affairs can sometimes become subject to bottlenecks and paperwork issues.

Insist on References

Word of mouth is a powerful indicator as to whether or not a moving company has what it takes to make your move go smoothly. A company with a positive track record of satisfying their customers should be willing to share client references with you. One positive characteristic of an international moving company is being widely used by business and firms that often relocate employees internationally. If a moving company is featured on a list of preferred vendors for several international firms and companies that are a good sign that the moving company has been vetted and found trustworthy for being used.

Follow these tips to ensure that you have a stress free international move.

Arjun is a writer for Feedbacq, a platform that connects expats and repatriates with international moving companies. Arjun is currently based in Bangalore, India.


Tax havens are entrenching poverty in developing countries

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Poorer nations lose three times more money to havens a year than they get in aid. The G8 has the chance to change this…

A Zambian boy plays with a used tyre in Livingstone

‘Just one company – Associated British Foods – has used tax haven conduit companies to legally avoid enough Zambian tax to put 48,000 children in school.’ Photograph: Salim Henry/Reuters

The Guardian has brought yet more news about the widespread use of tax havens by some of the world’s largest multinationals operating in developing countries. From ActionAid’s own investigations we know that these tax havens can all too often provide vehicles for tax avoidance that hits the world’s poorest hardest.

In the case of just one FTSE100 multinational we recently investigated – Associated British Foods, maker of Ryvita and Silver Spoon sugar – we found the company had used tax haven conduit companies to legally avoid enough Zambian tax to put 48,000 children in school. Zambia is a nation where almost half of children fail to complete their education. [See footnote.]

Tax haven secrecy can also be used to deflect scrutiny from a range of unaccountable transactions in developing nations. Kofi Annan’s Africa Progress Panel last week highlighted mining deals involving two FTSE100 multinationals, carried out through companies in the British Virgin Islands, Panama and Gibraltar, which the panel claims have deprived the Democratic Republic of Congo of an estimated $1.36bn – almost twice the country’s education and health budgets combined.

From near-deserted Caribbean islands to major financial centres, tax havens offer a harbour for wealth and profits siphoned from around the world. Tax havens provide the legal machinery for tax avoiders, and protection for illegal tax evaders, denying developing economies the public revenues needed for hospitals, schools, clean water and functioning roads. The figures are staggering. According to the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development, developing countries lose three times more money to tax havens each year than they receive in aid.

The statistics cannot, of course, show the tax impact of each tax haven company. Some may indeed have real business, and not simply be avoiding taxes in places where real business is done. But this is precisely the point: corporate reporting fails to show the transactions and tax bills of multinationals’ operations in many of these jurisdictions. And these same jurisdictions often deny this information to under-resourced tax authorities in the world’s poorest countries too.

Tax haven structures may be nearly universal, but they are not a fact of nature in modern business. Financial services firm Hargreaves Lansdown and mining company Fresnillo, for instance, have no tax haven subsidiaries at all, despite operating in sectors that are no strangers to “offshore”. Others are making efforts at least to disclose their tax structures around the world: when ActionAid put questions about their tax haven companies to all FTSE100 companies, 15 responded with significant extra details.

Yet overall there is little incentive not to place profits and assets in tax haven companies, or to disclose these profits and assets, unless governments themselves end the secrecy and abusive tax regimes that tax havens offer. The countries represented at June’s G8 have a unique combination of economic and political weight, responsibility and jurisdiction over the problem. The UK alone is responsible for one in five of the world’s tax havens, more than any other single country in the world. Yet while the UK and other wealthy countries have recently begun to push their tax havens to disclose the financial assets that their taxpayers hold offshore, these deals as yet leave developing countries out in the cold.

The G8 can and must commit to ending the anonymous ownership of tax haven companies and trusts, and making tax havens disclose the information that tax authorities around the world desperately need. To fix the biggest part of this problem the information it generates must be available for all countries – including the poorest – from day one.

When the UK government convenes the leaders of the world’s wealthiest countries at the G8 summit this June, it has an opportunity, an interest and a duty to do something extraordinary: to tackle one of the biggest hidden obstacles in the fight against poverty by putting an end to tax havens. With David Cameron, George Osborne, François Hollande, Angela Merkel, other world leaders and ordinary taxpayers calling for change, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. None of us – from the richest to the poorest countries – can afford for the G8 to miss it.

• This article was amended on 16 May 2013. The company denies any wrongdoing. A spokesman for ABF’s subsidiary company, Illovo, the immediate owner of Zambia Sugar, said: “We deny emphatically that Illovo is engaged in anything illegal, immoral or in any way designed to reduce the tax rightly payable to the Zambian government. Since 2008 Illovo has invested £150m to double the production capacity in Zambia and so create the largest sugar mill in Africa. Capital allowances on this investment have resulted in no corporate tax being payable since the investment was made. The availability of these allowances, used by governments all over the world, has nothing to do with tax avoidance. Payments made by Zambia Sugar for the services of third-party contractors, expatriate personnel in Zambia and export services provided by Illovo, are made at cost .”



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