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‘Why are people so negative?’

Last update - Thursday, March 19, 2009, 19:09 By Viktor Posudnevsky

Viktor Posudnevsky meets Anna Machowska, who has taken the recession as an opportunity to expand her English language school for immigrants

Anna Machowska isn’t afraid of the recession. In fact, the downturn has forced this Polish entrepreneur to expand her business – something she was considering for a long time but kept putting off.
Three years ago Machowska, who is a qualified language trainer from Poland, started Your English, an English language school for immigrants in Dublin. Initially the school catered for the huge Polish community that made the city its home, and demand was high. The flexible course schedule meant that even the most hard-working immigrants could find time to go to class.
But last year Machowska started noticing that her classes were dwindling. “People are leaving home and the market is shrinking,” she observes, referring to the many Poles who have left in search of work elsewhere after losing their jobs .
The idea of opening the school up to other nationalities was something Machowska would discuss often with her colleagues. But when the crisis hit she finally took the plunge.
The school now has a modern website translated into 16 languages, including Arabic and Chinese. It is also starting to market itself in the other communities, and Machowska says she is looking to recruit native Irish teachers of English, with one already drafted.
However, for the moment most Your English students are still Poles, and some of them have only recently come to Ireland in search of work. “You’d be surprised, but there are still newcomers, though not as many as there used to be,” says Machowska. “They are looking for a job and they think ‘While I’m looking, I should learn some English.’”
The biggest group of students, according to Machowska, is Polish people who are working in low-skilled jobs and have an ambition to do better here.
“These people work in coffee shops, building sites, or supermarkets, but they actually have university degrees from Poland,” she says. “They have to do work that doesn’t match their qualifications because they don’t speak English and they come to us because they want to get a better job.”
There is a very intense competition among language schools in Ireland, believes Machowska, with many specifically targeting the city’s shrinking Polish community. Your English tries to be ahead of the pack by providing a flexible class timetable that suits the habitually hard-working Poles.
“When we started out, no schools were giving Sunday classes,” she notes. “There were a lot of Polish, Slovakian students who were working on building sites six days a week. They were very busy and the only time they could go to class was on Sunday.”
The Polish language professional also put in considerable effort to develop her own syllabus that would match the needs of Poles working in Ireland. “We try to incorporate real life situations, like visiting a bank,” she says. “We use a lot of language that would be spoken in Dublin – Irish names, Irish place and street names – which could be difficult to spell or pronounce.”
Machowska even had her Irish friends recite English texts and phrases on tape to provide her students with maximum authenticity. “Especially on the lower levels, the people need to get used to Irish accents,” she says.
Even though business has got somewhat slower, Machowska is optimistic. “I don’t understand why people are so negative here,” she said referring to the doom and gloom brought on by the bad news about Ireland’s economy. “Ireland enjoys one of the highest standards of life worldwide. Even if the standard falls by 50 per cent, life still won’t be as bad as in some other countries, or as bad as in Ireland 50 years ago.”

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