The growing diversity of Augusta's work force is creating a business opportunity for one retired communications professor.
Susan Cain Giusto is putting her 14 years of experience teaching English into a start-up venture called English First, a language emersion course designed to help foreign professionals speak like their American counterparts.
Her first big customer has been Medical College of Georgia, which is paying her to teach English to six Chinese doctors working on their residencies.
"I think this business will take off," said Mrs. Giusto, who quit her job at Augusta State University to open the business. "There seems to be a pent-up need for it."
Large employers such as the medical college, Savannah River Site and others routinely employ foreign-born professionals, she said. And she expects to tap into that market as well as newer companies such as Bridgestone/Firestone, which is expected to bring in executives and supervisors from outside the United States.
Foreign-born employees not only need to learn English but should be versed in the idioms as well, she said. Phrases such as "What's happening?" and "Right on," are as functionally important as proper English, she said.
"In the case of MCG, they recognize this as part of (the Chinese doctors') training," Mrs. Giusto said.
Her program employs eight college and elementary school instructors on a contract basis. Curriculum is tailored to each class, but all stress pronunciation and American social norms such as eye contact, which is considered rude to some nationalities but a necessary aspect of communication in Western society.
The course she designed for the Chinese doctors, for example, is a one-week, 35-hour course that includes catered snacks and lunch. Others who have used the program simply want one or two hours a week of private instruction.
"It's whatever the customer wants," she said. "We're in the service business."
Mrs. Giusto eventually wants to open the business to the nonprofessional community to teach English to migrant workers and other non-English speaking residents using government grant funding.
One day, she said, she hopes to turn English First into a destination-style business complete with lodging whereby companies across the United States could send their employees for several days of language emersion training, perhaps around the week of the Masters Tournament.
"I hope that we could tap into an international market," she said.
Damon Cline covers business issues for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at (706) 823-3486.