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Case Study: Merck

Christof Hager works at the German chemical company Merck, and spent two weeks at Specialist Language Services York improving his English language skills for business. David Wilson, one of our senior instructors, interviewed him about his job, his reasons for coming to York and how he found the experience.

DW: Christof, what's your role at Merck?

CH: I work at Merck Darmstadt, and am responsible for technical purchasing for the company's two German sites at Darmstadt and at Gernsheim, which is 20 kilometres south of Darmstadt.

DW: And when do you use English in your job?

CH: A lot of my work is connected with investment purchasing. That means buying capital assets such as buildings and machinery. Up to now my work's been focused mainly in Germany, but the job is expanding, and purchasing now has an increasingly important role among our worldwide activities.

DW: What tasks do you use your English for?

CH: At present, it's mainly for international purchasing activities. The year before last I was Team Leader in a European car fleet project. The target was to bring more than 3,000 of our cars into one contract with a European leasing company. We made sure the leasing companies maintained the quality of their service to Merck car users. I had to use my English in meetings, teleconferencing, and negotiations with the suppliers, and in a number of strategic discussions with cross-functional teams. I also need English for MRO purchasing activities. MRO means maintenance, repair and operational supplies. In other words, purchasing low value articles through various types of procurement process.

DW: Do you use the Internet a lot in your work?

CH: Yes. As well as supporting our French subsidiary Merck Lipha, we are running a project in Latin America at the moment where we're launching an e-commerce solution. The aim is to generate savings, mostly by reducing transaction costs. As you can imagine, a good knowledge of English is vital for this sort of work.

DW: Why did you decide to come to York to improve your English?

CH: Well, David, as you know, it's not the first time I've been here for language training. The first time I came, I was really pleased with the progress I'd made with my English. I like working with your experienced and specialist language professionals, who as well as language training expertise, can offer a broad understanding of the business world.

DW: How do you think we've helped you to improve the quality of your English over the past two weeks?

CH: I feel much more comfortable and confident in a range of social situations and when I'm talking about my company and job. I'm much more fluent and accurate - above all, I think my English is more idiomatic and more natural now than it was before.

DW: What have you enjoyed about being at SLS, Christof?

CH: I've enjoyed the total package - the host family and the opportunities to practise more informal English. I really enjoyed the social programme organised by SLS, which was another chance to practise speaking and listening to English. The social programme also helped me to enjoy the historical flavour of this beautiful medieval city.

DW: Was there anything that particularly impressed you about our training centre here?

CH: Yes. I very much appreciated the chance to meet other course participants from a wide variety of countries and industries. I met some very interesting people here. We shared a great deal of our own business experience - I found that really valuable.

DW: How do you think the course you've done here will help you with your work in the future?

CH: As I said earlier, I now feel a lot more confident speaking English, and I'm sure I shall carry this over into my work, where I shall be much less stressed, especially in meetings. I often get the impression in international meetings that many people don't understand what's being said. I shall feel a lot more comfortable now asking people if they've understood the points being made.

DW: What advice would you give someone who's thinking about coming on an English language course in the UK?

CH: I'd strongly recommend SLS. They offer a language training experience which is quite different from other courses I've been on. These have been in Germany, and have given me exposure to English at the rate of only two lessons a week. SLS instructors use state-of-the-art computer technology and carefully document the training they do. This means we can take the course away with us on audio CD or CD-ROM and video, and re-visit what we've learned with our instructors. And I found the feedback really useful. My instructor noted down my mistakes and recorded corrected versions - I think people find this very useful. I'd also suggest that people coming on a course here should try to avoid translating what they say from their own language into English. Instead, it's much more effective if you can practise thinking directly in English.

Overall, I'm sure that SLS offers one of the best language training programmes available anywhere. You get maximum exposure to English - much more than you can get by going to an English language course at home in your own country. The training is built around your specialist professional needs and delivered by experienced and friendly instructors.

DW: I'm glad you've enjoyed your time here and found it useful, Christof. Thanks for giving me some of your time.

CH: You're welcome!

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