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Dynamics of English Language Learning in the Workplace


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Dynamics of English Language Learning in the Workplace

Dynamics of English Language Learning in the Workplace
admin - Jan 10 2016

That English has become the language for global business is an established fact that everyone engaged in just about any commercial sector will need to come to terms with sooner or later. The truth is, smarter players across all industries have long accepted this reality such that English learning within the workplace has become part of the training strategy of their human resource teams. Today, almost all corporate executives in middle and higher management are fluent in written or spoken English to some acceptable degree. This observation, of course, now applies in non-native English speaking countries as well as in native strongholds such as the US, UK, and Australia. Even in countries where English fluency is just a recent import, it is becoming increasingly rare for young professionals who do not have at least a rudimentary knowledge of English to rise up the corporate ranks.


Because technology brings businesses closer together through improved online infrastructures and efficient supply chain processes, even very localized companies can now engage international clients, partners, and suppliers. This possibility creates a real demand for English learning in the workplace. To illustrate, the Toyota Peugeot Citroen Automobile Czech (TPCA) factory and Nokia Corporation headquarters in Europe are two telling examples of how the contemporary workplace is linguistically evolving. The TPCA factory in the Czech Republic represents the manufacturing partnership between Toyota Motor Corporation of Japan and PSA Peugeot Citroen of France. Their factory, located in the city of Kolin, employs Japanese, French, local Czechs and other workers from various ethno-linguistic backgrounds. Meanwhile, the world's largest mobile phone manufacturer is headquartered in Espoo, Finland where its global operations are managed by a multinational team and staffed mostly by local Finns. In both the factory operations of TPCA and the corporate headquarters of Nokia, English is the mode of communication that runs their different departments.


There are two major scenarios that involve the learning of English in an organizational context. First, the influx of immigrants in English-speaking countries results to the entry of many linguistically-challenged workers into the economy. Left to their own devices, these workers can eventually erode productivity and compromise the competitiveness of companies that hire them. On the other hand, one of the key indicators that a business organization--located in a non-native English speaking country--is keen on participating as a regional or global player is its strategic policy on English communication.


In both cases, the need for a proactive approach in the language training of key personnel is obvious. However, traditional classroom-styled teaching methods may not be effective in a workplace environment. ESL/EFL educators agree that for a workplace learning program to work effectively, a strongly motivated involvement of all stakeholders--employers, workers, and training providers--should be established. 


Related Research

The following are findings and recommendations from various research that focused on English language use in the workplace.

1.     Immigrant workers performing low-skilled jobs in the US, UK, and other industrialized countries require basic language training that can be acquired through employers or through third party providers of language education. In addition to their functions in the workplace, immigrants also interact with people, institutions, and other entities that make up the support network of their daily lives, including neighbors, business establishments, and government offices. Without basic English proficiency, the rate at which immigrants get assimilated in the socio-economic life of the host country is substantially delayed, which usually means various difficulties encountered by immigrants on a daily basis. 

2.     Employees of any level in business organizations that intend to secure certifications from institutions such as the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) need to develop adequate English proficiency in order to comply with the prescribed practices and processes in their respective departments. Without ISO certification, a business will lack the credibility to participate in the global market. Meanwhile, employees with insufficient English competencies will not be able to correctly fill in printed or online forms and questionnaires, much less prepare reports that are now required in ISO-certified companies (instead of just the traditional communication that was orally-conveyed in the past). Today's competitive landscape demands significantly higher literacy levels from workers who now need to submit standardized reports and other documentation.

3.     The growing popularity of collaborative business methods makes English proficiency a critical factor in the success of a project, program, or campaign. Because more and more companies around the world adopt collaborative practices and technologies, all participants in a collaborative session need to be able to 1) understand clearly what is being communicated by other participants; and 2) articulate their own ideas in ways or words that will be clearly understood by their audience. Without the binding syntax of the English language, neither is possible on a global scale. The collaborative approach is an outgrowth of the participatory business model that seeks to empower workers by allowing them not only to locate business problems and design solutions that address them, but also to make associated decisions in the actual development and implementation of specific solutions. Because of these responsibilities, workers need to continuously improve on their written and spoken English communication skills to be able to perform their jobs effectively.     


Current Solutions and Approaches to Language Competency in the Workplace

Many global businesses that have grown dependent on a non-native English speaking labor force have seen the critical importance of language training such that a significant growth in the number of employer-supported programs is currently being experienced. Business organizations now understand that their staff need to be proficient in English communication in order to serve clients better, become more productive, participate more effectively in collaborative projects, and comply with international standards. In addition to empowering staff to get promoted within the organization, beneficiaries of effective language training programs are also equipped with life-enhancing skills outside the workplace.


The advantages of an employer-sponsored English learning program are substantial for both the organization and the staff. First, the organization can help design the program in order to reflect the actual workplace needs of employee groups in specific departments. Second, employees need not incur additional expenses such as transportation and tutoring fees if they are required to attend language classes elsewhere. In addition, involving department managers and supervisors in the training design has been found to result in greater motivation and more positive learning attitudes among participants. 


Based on previous studies, the success of any particular language training program depends on the following factors:

1.     Has the language educator considered and incorporated on-the-job English proficiency requirements? This may include familiarization sessions with words and phrases that are commonly used in a particular job.

2.     Have supervisors and workers been involved in the program design? Direct stakeholders in a specific department are knowledgeable about the different types of tasks they are required to perform and have a general idea about what level of English competency is required to perform those tasks.

3.     Are the instructional materials, media, and other learning aids sufficiently customized to establish and reinforce language learning that is relevant to the workplace?

4.     Has the training program designers incorporated soft skills training such as cross cultural communication, requesting clarification, organizing a group, reporting an unfair treatment, and other general communication scenarios in the program?

5.     Is the program clustered into sub-modules that group similar workplace clusters (departments or workplace groups that require similar language training) for efficiency and budget considerations?


On the other hand, third party language classes are also viable options. This is because many leading providers of ESL education openly acknowledge their roles in improving the professional competency of their students in the workplace. This is usually conducted through role-plays. More specifically, ESL/EFL educators employ work-related simulations of language encounters once they get to know their students' occupations. While not at par with custom designed training programs that are sanctioned by employers, this option equips learners with the basic communicative skills needed for them to know more about their work and to improve their performance along the way. 

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