An Interview with
Shanthi Cumaraswamy Streat
from English with a Twist
is an English language trainer. She was born in London, UK but
was brought up in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where her father is from. Her
father's family is originally from Sri Lanka and her mother is Italian
from Milano, Italy. She lives and teaches in South East London.
Shanthi teaches business people on a 1-1 basis online and
In her popular blog English with a Twist she shares
the different ways she teaches the English language and her enriching
experiences as an English language trainer.
this interview, Shanthi tells us about her own inspiring
journey, teaching methods, and unique courses and workshops.
Let's find out more in Shanthi's words.
Your personal story and how you became a teacher is truly inspiring!
Could you share it with our readers and tell us how after 20 years in
the financial services world you became an English language trainer?
There are two parts to this answer.
was the decision to change career and leave the finance industry. That
was triggered by my cancer diagnosis in 2007. When I returned to work
after 18 months of 6 operations and a grueling course of chemotherapy,
the world was in the throes of the credit crunch with uncertainty all
around us. We knew we were going to lose our jobs and started thinking
of our options.
Second was what to do? I'd like to say that I
had always wanted to be a teacher, but like many things in life, this
change happened by pure chance. In fact it was an off the cuff reply I
gave to a colleague who asked me what I'd do if I were made redundant.
answer: "Oh I'll teach Italian." Eh? Teach Italian?! Where did that
come from? To this day, I still don't know where the idea came from.
Well, Italian soon changed to "teach English" when I realized that the
demand for English was higher and my knowledge of Italian wasn't to the
standard I was happy with to teach.
2. How has your
background in the business world helped you as an English language
have an understanding of the pressures of the business world. I know
what it's like to have to deal with the internal politics of a company
and the diplomatic language that's required in both verbal and written
In business, time is money and you need to get
your message across quickly, clearly and succinctly whether it's in an
email or a presentation. It's a real challenge for proficient users of
English to do that let alone for less proficient users.
3. What are the top three
pieces of advice you would give English learners who are trying to
improve their Business English?
don't underestimate your level of English. You are probably better than
you think. Sophisticated language does not equal better English. The
most important thing is to get your message across clearly and that
doesn't require complex language. Plain English is best.
read and listen to a wide range of topics, not just business-related.
This will widen your vocabulary and help you to rely less on business
jargon. It will also help you build relationships with business
contacts especially when it comes to creating a rapport and small talk.
write as much as you can in English. Writing allows you the time to
structure your thoughts and ensure that they flow coherently. This
exercise will help enormously in your written and verbal communication
(emails, reports, presentations, meetings) in Business English where
clarity is essential.
4. What are the top three
pieces of advice you would give English teachers specializing in
you're the expert in the English language NOT in business, so it's ok
to ask questions. That will demonstrate an interest in your
Focus on your client's professional needs. If it's not a need, don't
waste time on it!
As a Business English teacher, you're always going to learn more than
the student, so be prepared to learn from your student.
5. In your opinion, what
is the right sequence in teaching Business English?
The short answer - there isn't one.
6. When working with a
student, what aspects do you put the most emphasis on?
questions and listening to them. Their answers show me their strengths
and weaknesses, their likes and dislikes and what makes them tick.
provides the framework for my courses. I don't teach with course books.
My clients are my principal resource. I am an advocate of teaching
7. In your blog
you write about how enjoyable and exciting you find the experience of
teaching. Learning new things and meeting new people is exciting and
fun, but there are also lists of words and charts, plus complex grammar
rules to teach. How do you tackle the duller and less interesting
aspects of teaching and learning?
I don't teach grammar!!! And you can forget lists of words. No one ever
far as the duller side of language learning is concerned, the key is
showing the language in context and addressing those areas that are
I tell my clients that it doesn't matter if they
make grammatical mistakes so long as those mistakes do not lead to a
misunderstanding in communication.
For example, if they confuse
their tenses in general conversation (perfect, past, present perfect)
it is not the end of the world because the chances are people will
understand what they mean.
However, if they have to present
data along a timeline (eg quarterly figures, business projections) it's
imperative that they use English tenses correctly. Otherwise, there
could be a failure in communication.
By highlighting the need in context, teaching these "duller" aspects
becomes less boring for both teacher and learner.
all of it, of course! Seriously, I can't answer that. I write about a
variety of topics that come into my head. I don't expect that every
post will be relevant to everyone. I trust my and your readers to be
the best judges of what is useful for them. Hopefully, with a wide
selection of topics to choose from they will find inspiration and learn
my courses, with the exception of the workshop, are delivered on a 1-1
basis and are tailor-made to my clients. The following are examples of
my popular courses:
General and Functional English (conversation, planning a
move, a holiday)
Business English (presentation skills, small talk, in
social situations, preparing for an interview, English for Finance)
Writing Skills (Preparing a CV and covering letters,
Business English Writing Workshop (small group) – for
three-day group workshop aimed at professionals with an
upper-intermediate to advanced level of English who need to improve
their written communication.
The workshop will help learners
understand how to create powerful and purposeful written documents by
guiding them through best practices on form, structure, and content.
10. The Full Immersion Course sounds
amazing! Could you tell us more about it and the results you've seen
people get from it?
full immersion courses give learners the opportunity to "immerse"
themselves in the English language and British culture by staying with
us and doing a one to three week intensive course of either 15 or 20
hours a week.
The lessons are held in the morning and the afternoons are free to
explore the area.
encourage my clients to join in our social life, take in the
surrounding area and use the opportunity they have to absorb as much of
the English Language as they can.
We all know that you cannot
learn a language in such a short period, however, a full-immersion
intensive course allows a learner to get away from their own
environment and regular routine for a brief period and focus totally on
Many of my clients have regular English lessons
back home but these can get disrupted by their work and family
commitments which often leave them with a feeling that little or no
progress is being made.
In those situations, the full immersion
courses can act as a concentrated boost. One or two weeks of focused
learning can and does make a significant difference.
clients are convinced they don't feel a difference after one or two
weeks, but I always tell them that progress will only be felt once they
return home. The reason is that the brain needs time to process all the
information it has absorbed and to let it all fall in place. As it
does, things begin to make more sense.
This depends very much
on the level of the learner. For beginners, progress is rapid as
everything is new and small steps make a big difference. Progress in
higher level learners is slower but definitely there. My job is to show
them that progress.
Once learners have had this boost, what they
do next is equally important. During the course I spend time discussing
and agreeing ways in which they can continue with their learning after
they return home. Some of them continue with me through online courses;
that way I follow their progress.
Thank you so much for
sharing with us, Shanthi! We are sure your students and
readers value your help very much!