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LSI Portsmouth – Interview with Allan Gray


Language Specialists International (LSI) was founded in 1985 and is located in Portsmouth on the south coast of England. It is a popular, high-quality language school where students can learn English in historic maritime surroundings.

We spoke to school director Allan Gray, to find out more about LSI’s aims, life in Portsmouth and being a member of the “IALC family”.

Q: Hello Allan, how does it feel to be part of this exclusive group of quality language schools?
A: It’s been one of the nicest experiences of my professional life. I have a sense of belonging, and also a real feeling that we are all friends. It’s also a bit like being a member of a really exclusive club – it makes us feel special but it also gives us a lot to live up to!

Q: How has 2011 been for the school and how is it looking compared to the previous year?
A: It’s been a record year! We’ve never been busier, and I think I can also say our students have never been happier – we’ve got the strongest teaching team we’ve ever had – including two who became published authors this year.

Q: You were established in 1985. How have things changed at the school since then?
A: When we started, we had 4 classrooms, which my wife and I – and my brother Peter (our Principal) and his wife – painted, decorated and equipped ourselves. We started with one teacher, and our first year our total turnover was about the same as our weekly wage-bill now – and all our students were either Spanish or from the UAE. We now have around 55 teachers, 51 classrooms, 600 multinational corporate clients and students from around 35 countries – and at peak, we have around 350 students in the school. The whole world has changed massively! When we started, we communicated by letter (snail-mail!), telephone or telex – yes, even fax was not in general use, and we bought our first “computer” – an Amstrad PCW – in 1986 – no hard-drive, and a memory about the same as a goldfish’s…

Q: What are your main aims for LSI?
A: We have a new Principal-Designate starting in January - the legendary Andrew Edwards from the wonderful ELC Bristol, so among other things we’re planning to open up a self-catering facility this year, and we will also be offering courses for the Cambridge Exams suite. Aside from that, we’re also looking to become involved in more outside project work, possibly setting up joint-venture schools in the UAE and China in the not-too-distant future. We of course want to continue on the “onwards and upwards” trail in terms of quality and service, so we will be doing a good deal of equipment upgrading and staff training in 2012.

Q: What are the biggest challenges facing your school?
A: Primarily our own government! The British UKBA have had a really negative effect on the English language business in Britain, as well as causing great harm to Britain’s international image and reputation, it’s really very sad. Of course, if the Euro falls apart, that will make for interesting times – as in the Chinese curse “may you live in interesting times”!

Q: Which countries do the majority of your students come from?
A: For the General English courses, the biggest numbers come from Saudi, China, Spain, Oman, Korea, Thailand and Latin America, but we hope that in 2012 the new Residential facility will start drawing increasing numbers of Europeans outside the Summer. The most important nationalities for the Executive and Specialist courses are French, German, Swiss, Italian, Spanish, Russian and Japanese.

Q: What are the most popular student activities?
A: Probably live music events and the weekend trips.

Q: Moving on to find out more about you, which is your favourite travel destination?
A: Such a difficult question! I grew up in Spain, so I love the country, but I love Asia, especially Thailand and Japan, and we’ve just discovered Mexico, which was spectacular. But I also love France, Holland, Italy, ………….

Q: Your favourite pastime?
A: Eating good food, drinking red wine (preferably both together with friends) and reading!

Q: Your favourite song?
A: Sunshine of your Love by Cream – as anyone who’s heard my mobile ring-tone knows..

Q: Your favourite meal?
A: Gazpacho, roast lamb, cinnamon apple pie.

Q: Your dream dinner guests?
A: Living or dead? If I’m allowed to choose those no longer with us, then Leonardo da Vinci, Machiavelli, Elisabeth 1st, Oscar Wilde.

Q: Finally, what would you say are the main benefits of learning English at LSI?
A: Lots of personal attention and teachers who love the job. Portsmouth is pretty special too.
LSI specialises in English for business, technology and examination preparation. It offers outstanding facilities including a multi-media centre, free wi-fi and computers, language laboratory, Student Lounge and Cafeteria. Accommodation ranges from exceptional host families to hotels and a hall of residence (summer only).

Tel: + 44 23 92 291 811

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