You probably already know my great passion for English language and culture: I have always loved reading, writing and speaking in this wonderful language, and enjoying personal and business friendships and contacts that have to do with British culture. I’m not just talking about Italian English teachers, but also translators and native speaker language professionals: basically, the people who take good English seriously and who teach it in the best way possible. These are the people I can really learn from!
After I met the well-known comedian, actor, artist and writer John Peter Sloan (I created and manage his FanPage on Facebook) and been good friends over the years, I have also got to know his close associate over the last few months, another great English teacher. I’m talking about Robert Dennis, “the best business English teacher in Italy”, an expert in communication and professional translation!
Robert and I have been in contact since he offered to translate some of my posts (such as my analysis on the importance of business English). So, I asked him if he would do an interview: I believe that his personality and professionalism are in line with my entrepreneurial target: what entrepreneur wouldn’t be interested in getting to know a native English speaker who has relocated to Sicily – especially when you consider that English is really important in all fields, especially the world of work?
So, let me introduce you to Robert Dennis! I’m sure you’ll be pleased to meet him too. Why not, contact him for advice on anything related to English, expert copywriting, a professional translation service or a Business English course taught using the excellent method of John Peter Sloan!
1) Hi Robert, where are your from exactly?
Hi Leo! First of all, thank you very much for the opportunity to talk to you! Congratulations on your site and your excellent advice for entrepreneurs. So, to answer your question. I’m from North London originally. I studied English many years ago at Oxford and then lived and taught in London. Eventually, I moved to Italy, where I’ve lived for almost 10 years, mostly in Milan, where I taught business English and wrote. And then, at the beginning of this year, I moved to Menfi in south-west Sicily where I work with someone we both know very well – John Peter Sloan.
(Robert Dennis with his friend John Peter Sloan)
2) What do you do in life? Do you like it?
OK, so in terms of work, I am a business English teacher and a freelance communications consultant. I am currently teaching for the Scuola di Inglese Sloan di Asia Gagliano in Menfi. I’m also working on a number of projects with John, the most recent of which is a film set in Sicily (more about that later!). I’m also a copywriter and translator and I work with a number of companies in Italy to help them reach a wider, international audience using English. As for my hobbies, I love exploring the wine and food culture of Sicily, as well as its beautiful landscape and architecture. I also love reading, listening to music (mainly jazz and rock) and these days I’m a big fan of the Marvel-based series on Netflix.
(Robert Dennis acting at “Zelig” in 2011 with John Peter Sloan)
3) How long have you been in Italy and, above all, what’s your experience in the Belpaese?
I moved to Italy from the UK in 2008, having spent quite a few years teaching in London. I know Milan best, which is where I went to teach business English. (I taught at a lot of companies, including Mondadori, Eni, RCS, Generali, UniCredit and several pharma firms.) Since the beginning of this year, I’ve been based in Sicily – quite a big change from Milan! I love Italy and I think the quality of life here is amazing. I’ve met so many great people as well. Italy really is my second home now.
4) You moved to Menfi, near Agrigento, just like your friend John Peter Sloan. Did you act on instinct or think a lot about this?
Well, that’s a good question! I have been working with John for quite a few years. (I co-edited the Speak Now! for Work series, published in La Repubblica and l’Espresso.) While I was still living in Milan he invited me to come down and see the place – and, to tell the truth, I was immediately taken with (attracted by) Menfi and Sicily in general. I remember standing under an orange tree, looking at the fruit on the branches – and it was the first time I’d ever seen an orange actually growing on a tree. I think that was the moment when I decided Sicily was for me! However, the prospect of working at the school and collaborating with John on some great new projects also influenced me. So, let’s just say it was partly instinct and partly a solid business decision!
(Robert Dennis in the Menfi’s countryside)
5) Let’s take stock: pros and cons of your new life in Sicily?
OK, so on the plus side: amazing place to live, near the sea (Menfi has some of the cleanest beaches in Europe), lovely people, great food, fantastic wine (!)… Shall I go on? Sicily has got so much going for it: it really is a sort of earthly paradise. On the downside… well, my biggest problem is that I don’t drive, so it’s quite difficult to get about (although I’ve got some very kind friends who drive me about!). Of course, I am aware that Sicily has its own problems, but to tell truth, as an English guy living here it’s virtually all positive. I can’t complain!
6) Brain drain: what do you think about our young expats leaving Sicily for a job, starting a new life in UK, especially in your London? How do you feel since you did the same, even if in the opposite direction?
OK, first of all, I must admit that I actually created a Facebook group called Brain Drain Express, which was a sort of ironic approach to the issue of young people moving away – especially to London, which seems to be the ideal destination of ambitious graduates and people seeking their fortune abroad. (Let’s wait and see what happens post-Brexit, of course.) I have spent many years teaching people how to do write a great CV and do job interviews, in many cases for jobs abroad, so I suppose my perspective is biased. The fact is that Italians are often super-qualified and extremely able, but the job opportunities just don’t exist here for a lot of people. And even when they do get a job, the salaries here are very disappointing. In my case, moving abroad was actually a logical step (as it is for any English language teacher): in the UK most people around me – native English speakers – were potential competitors. Here, virtually everyone I meet is a potential customer – especially in Sicily, which has far fewer qualified business English teachers.
7) What’s your contribute to the sicilian society? How can you help?
I hope I am making a contribution. In both Milan and Menfi I have had the opportunity to meet a lot of through social networking and business organisations. I am also delighted to be working with H Advice, a consultancy that is helping to spread English and an understanding of Anglo-Saxon business practice in Italy through events, such as its recent International Business Day at Confindustria in Palermo (just you, Leo, wrote this post on that event) and its Summer School of Business in London. I see my role, partly, as acting as sort of bridge between the UK and Italy. I am also looking forward to speaking at an event called “Il vino parla inglese” on the 19th October for Bibenda and the Fondazione Italiana Sommelier (more details coming soon).
8) What’s your next professional goals as a professional translator and English teacher?
Well, I have a number of exciting projects with John that I am working on. I can’t say too much about those, but my role involves business English and applying the famous Sloan Method to make learning English for work both effective and enjoyable. I am also working more closely with clients in Sicily and looking to develop my teaching and communications activities here.
(Robert Dennis with his friends and english actors Dany, Holly and Sean)
9) John Peter Sloan is making a movie on sicilian life and involving several local and international friends and actors. Its trailer, showing you as an actor, was presented recently. Do you want to talk about it?
Yes, I do! I was very lucky to be involved in this project. John has written and starred in a film (still in production) called Smith di Sicilia, which is about two English guys who inherit a winery in Sicily and have to decide whether to sell it or keep it and run it as business. I have a small acting role in the film and, as you rightly say, it features some very talented and lovely people from Sicily – as well as some of our “old” friends from Milan, notably Derek Allen and Louise Kissane. The film was directed by Marco Fornari, working with a great crew from Sciacca, which is also where most of the actors are from. We actually presented the trailer at the Sciacca Film Fest on the 15th September. It’s my first (and probably last) appearance on the big screen – but it’s been a great experience.
(the movie teaser of “Smith di Sicilia” by John Peter Sloan, with Robert Dennis’ partecipation)
10) And last but not least, what about talking (just a bit) about a new and amazing project we (yes! just me and you!) have just planned to launch together in next mouth?
Well, this is going to be really exciting! As an experienced copywriter with a passion for Sicily, I suppose it was inevitable I would end up writing about this amazing island and its culture! Luckily for me, I met you and was very impressed with your great technical and marketing skills. We are combining our forces to create a new website that will showcase the best of Sicilian wine, food and tourism; it will also feature a unique perspective from the English-speaking and international community in Sicily. It’s called Sicily: Eat. Drink: Stay. And I’m sure readers of your blog will hear much more about this project as we develop it!
Dear Bob, thank you so much for your very kind words about me! I’m chuffed. After meeting my great idol (John!) I was delighted that he chose to settle here in my home region of Sicily. And now I’ve discovered you too! You already know that I have a weakness for English culture and language, and I believe that together my online marketing skills, our collaboration will be a game-changer: we will both be part of a “bridge” between our wonderful cultures. Cheers!
Please note: this article was translated into italian by Leonardo Cascio; you can find it here