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English Language Skills Training: Theory and Practice-A Cuban Perspective - IntroductionBeing able to communicate in a language other than one’s own native language has become paramount not only in business but also in people’s private lives. Many businesses operate in more than one country and people travel across the world to experience the different cultures of other people. Being able to communicate in another language brings people much closer together and much faster. Language teaching plays a vital role in developing and fostering people with the necessary attitude, motivation and driving force to become proficient in another language. This is not an easy task. Every person is different and responds in a different way to language teaching approaches and methods. Language teachers need to keep themselves informed of new technological advances, for example, to improve the effective and efficient means of teaching a foreign language to students. Some countries have been more exposed to the need to learn other languages depending on their geographical position and their economic situation, such as tourism being a major income provider. Europe, for example, has a long tradition of language teaching and language learning. Most European nations are close to each other or they are bi-or multi-lingual themselves such as Belgium or Switzerland. The need to communicate with one another across languages is therefore an old and obvious one.
Much of today’s business discussions and negotiations are conducted primarily in English and many tourists use English as a common means to communicate with others in countries such as Cuba, Spain and Italy. The learning and teaching of foreign languages such as English, Spanish and German is of enormous importance across the world. It appears that publications on language teaching have often been seen as the lowest step of a staircase according to Appel. At the top there is theory and as one walks down, the lower steps become more and more practical until class room interaction is reached. Practical applications in many and varied forms are what makes successful language teaching today. As knowledge methods of how to teach languages increase, so does the effectiveness of the end results. It appears that an emphasis on how languages are taught does not necessarily combine with changes in practice. Some teachers have shown a strong resistance to educational change. This has often been the subject of complaint. Some scholars such as Appel suggest that language teaching practice has been going on as if advances in research had never happened. The attitudes and associated behaviors of language teachers and Heads of Language Schools are of paramount importance. It is here where fundamental positive steps forward can be achieved.
One such forward-thinking institution is the Faculty of Humanities at the Universidad de Oriente (UO) in Santiago de Cuba. Language teachers of foreign languages such as English and German regularly review contemporary literature to keep up to date with the latest thinking in foreign language teaching methods. In addition, they conduct research via the Internet and by contacting language teaching institutions outside of Cuba to gather knowledge to make informed decisions to improve their own language teaching approaches. The UO currently teaches topics such as British and American History and Literature so that students learn about a new topic whilst at the same time improving their practical language skills, including linguistics and semantics.
Students have workshops and exams that provide opportunities to recycle the newly-gained knowledge. Early indications show that students perform better when the passing on of knowledge is approached in such a way that the level of motivation within students is increased noticeably and significantly. There is clear evidence that students enjoy and benefit from visits by foreign scholars who share their knowledge and experience in the appropriate language. These encounters are landmark points for the students as part of their training and development plan within the UO and their later professional/working life. For example, recent encounters at the UO included presentations and interactive class room discussions about topical business issues such as Conflict Management, Team Building and Effective Communications. These sessions are very intense and provide superior levels of learning over a much shorter period of time compared to regular classroom teaching. The use of equipment is limited to available resources but this does in no way limit the positive and proactive spirit of the teachers and the learners of new languages.
This research presents the outcomes of a study that investigated the close relationships between attitudes, behaviors and teaching competencies of foreign language teachers at the UO in Santiago de Cuba, how the students benefit from their proactive and forward-thinking teaching approaches and what the benefits are to the students in terms of increased levels of language proficiencies (Fig. 1).


Figure 1 The Relationship between Language Teachers, Language Students and Language Proficiency