Q&A with a Language Professional is a new series of interviews dedicated to showcasing the wonderfully diverse career paths we linguists and language professionals might take and what language means to us all. Same set of questions – yet very different answers indeed!
This time, the questions are answered by Victoria Rennoldson, English Language & Culture Trainer, Founder of Perfect Cuppa English. See what her take is on language, work, success, passion and the everyday challenges working as a fellow language professional.
What does ‘language’ mean to you?
Victoria: Language means connecting & mutual understanding. A way to communicate, understand each other & create new ideas.
What is your journey about?
Victoria: My journey has taken many unexpected twists & turns so it’s about being curious and open to new opportunities so I can explore where I go next. My journey right now is about developing my business Perfect Cuppa English; collaborating with new international professional and community groups; growing our British cultural workshops programme and searching out new speaking and writing opportunities.
Where did you start from, and where are you now?
Victoria: This is my second career as I decided to change careers in 2013 after 12 years in consumer brand marketing. I had enjoyed it, but I was looking for a new challenge and something more flexible with my family.
I decided to explore my roots in languages (I studied German & Russian at Durham University) and decided that’s where I wanted to develop my next career. I came upon the idea of Perfect Cuppa English, when meeting lots of international people, and realising somebody’s English language might be OK to have a simple conversation, but they might not find it very easy to get to know people properly or settle fully into life in London. This might be because they need a deeper insight into the nuances of English, or be able to understand fast conversation, or British cultural contexts to follow the flow of the conversation. Some people find that hard and so retreat into their national community group, and don’t get to experience the richness of international life fully in London. I was determined to support people 1 to 1 in coaching them to English speaking confidence and natural expression, whether for everyday or business.
So, I requalified in teaching general & business English, and set up my company, Perfect Cuppa English. We offer bespoke, private English language & British culture courses to international professionals & their spouses/ partners in London because we believe language is rooted in culture. Initially, it was just me delivering the training, but we now have a select team who work across London to deliver the courses, at our clients’ homes or workplace.
Tell us about your successes and career highlights.
Victoria: A highlight is starting Perfect Cuppa English. I never thought I’d be an entrepreneur & running my own business, and I have gained huge satisfaction from developing my own company, both setting it up & developing the business. I’m also proud that after the initial euphoria of starting, I kept going, even after experiencing challenges & setbacks. It’s led me to where I am and achieving way more that I originally thought I would achieve.
My success is measured by client feedback and what I love about what we do is seeing the impact on the lives of our clients, both in work and everyday life. They tell me they have more effective daily interactions, feel more connected to people and can build more meaningful relationships, which is hugely satisfying.
What does an average day look like in your life?
Victoria: There is no average day, which is what I like about what I do! My favourite days mix up client and business development meetings, usually out and about around London. However, I also like the balance of my planning days, working on writing, marketing, managing the team and preparation.
Have you ever thought of changing directions, and if so, why?
Victoria: Having changed direction once already, I am always open to the possibility that Perfect Cuppa English may evolve or even naturally come to a close, and I may move onto something else. I think it’s about keeping an open mind. It’s certainly possible that I have at least one more career change in my lifetime.
Can you identify anything that might be challenging in the future for your particular profession?
Victoria: Brexit is clearly a challenge for anybody who works with the relocation industry, impacting the number of people potentially coming to work in the UK.
However, I think it’s important to acknowledge what you can control and what you have no influence over, so for me it’s more about how I respond to the challenge, rather than being ‘doom & gloom’ or ‘what if-ing’ about possibilities.
I’m a great optimist and I truly believe in any challenging situation, there is always learning and opportunity. It may be that you can’t see it immediately, but it will always be there.
Do you see artificial intelligence as an opportunity or more like a threat in your industry?
Victoria: Opportunity, definitely. I think it’s about understanding the benefits and ways to use artificial intelligence to complement what I do and offer enhanced benefits to my clients, rather than seeing it as a threat. I have confidence that Perfect Cuppa English offers a human differentiating factor, and Perfect Cuppa English will continually evolve and adapt with the market, as we do with any other changes that happen with customers, competition or trends. You just have to keep focused on your customers & understanding what they need and want.
In this respect, AI should be seen as an enabler for efficiency and better customer experiences.
What’s the most common misconception about your field of work?
Victoria: I think some people think English language schools are all the same and it’s all about getting a good value price. Just like in any industry there is a huge spectrum of quality and client experience, and some clients come to us after having a disappointing experience in a mass group class, where they didn’t receive much individual communication time or personalised feedback. At Perfect Cuppa English client experience is my focus and we deliver bespoke, personalised courses or workshops that support specific needs through our tailored programme.
Where are you heading? What is the rest of the journey like as you see it now?
Victoria: It’s hard to predict because every year presents new opportunities and collaborations. I enjoy meeting people, exploring, co-creating and sharing insights, and hope I can continue to do this!
Any books / movies / exhibitions / events / art that you would recommend us language professionals to read / watch / visit?
Victoria: Within my specialism of English language & British culture, I am particularly interested in what makes up our national identity and who do we think we are. I am a great fan of ‘Watching the English’ by Kate Fox for her research & insights into the national psyche, which is also a very funny read. At a cross-cultural level, I think Erin Meyer’s ‘The Culture Map’ is fascinating & brings together previous intercultural research with her new findings, which really explain why we still experience miscommunications & work challenges, even when we think we are all speaking the same English language in a global business world.
Do you have a favourite quote, or a life mantra you live by?
Victoria: I have 2 favourite quotes, which I think both say a lot about London, inclusivity and multiculturalism:
“London: it’s a state of mind” (Zadie Smith)
“It is not the walls that make a city, but the people who live within them” (George VI)
How can we find you in the online space? Website, LinkedIn, or email perhaps?
Victoria: Always interested to connect so feel free to get in touch and follow me here:
Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions, Victoria. Congratulations on the fantastic achievements. Wishing you all the best for your future plans.