TOWARDS DEVELOPING WORKPLACE LANGUAGE COMPETENCIES
Sheba Dayal, Ph.D. Candidate
Communication has indeed helped mankind to develop into advanced societies. In today's world communication plays a decisive and dominant role in the success of every profession and business. Any amount of professional and specialized knowledge coupled with great creativity and sharp intelligence is of no use, if it is not communicated effectively.
Communication is very important not only for smooth running of a business enterprise but is also equally and more important for the success and growth of individual executive and professional.
In the age of globalization, communication is of paramount importance and lack of proper communication skills creates barriers and distortion leading to miscommunication and breakdown in meaning which can have some very negative repercussions for any company or business set-up.
Present paper presents the relevance of effective communication in today's workplace and how an analysis of language needs is crucial for developing a suitable curriculum for workplace learning.
The professionals' background knowledge of English up to tertiary level
is generally in the area of general English and does not include specific
preparation for study at the University level or for the specific tasks
carried out in English in a work or business context.
In India, it is found that most of the professionals working in the multinational companies complete their school education in a language other than English and take up their technical and professional education, with English as the medium of instruction where the courses expose them to a very limited and restricted variety of English language use.
Besides, the English classes give them too little experience and skill competence to enable them to use language effectively in their own field of specialization. The professionals come from different states bringing with them a variety of languages, leading to code mixing and code switching often resulting in the distortion of meaning of the discourse.
Moreover, the psychological attributes demanded of these individuals are very
complex and in present workplaces, they have to survive in a highly competitive
work environment and to a large extent good communication skills is one
of the essential requisites for better performance in today's competitive
Besides, as Andersen (2002) points out,
The development in multinational firms towards flatter structures and horizontal co-operation and communication to ensure the integration of all parts of the firm, makes the dependency of a common language even stronger.
Today the world is undergoing rapid change. Business and trade barriers are collapsing around the globe and companies are marketing their services and products worldwide. To meet global challenges, specific language instructions at the university level and perhaps at the UG level also need to expand beyond communication skills.
ENGLISH EMERGING AS THE GLOBAL LANGUAGE FOR COMMUNICATION
English has been cited as the major language of international business ….as such English as a global language has distinct business, technological, scientific, social and political implications.
English is the most wide spread language in the world. It is the first language in many countries from UK to Ireland to USA, Canada to Australia & New Zealand. As a second language it is used in countries like Central and Eastern Europe etc. and in India it is taught as a second language, part of the Multilingual education. (Reimer, 2002)
Thus English becoming a major international language for communication globally, it necessitates the need for a specific course content for the respective professional working in global business environment as we see reasons across the countries for professionals working in such environment to possess good command and proficiency in English.
For example, an IT professional's language needs differ from that of a medical student, both need to be relevantly proficient in their own fields
A deficiency in this area may result in barrier for the employee's professionals and personal development. The business and corporate world considers English as the language for international communication and also for top management meetings and negotiations. In some companies across the world English is designated to be the corporate language.'
Technology and globalization account for English to become an important language for communication. In such situations the business and the corporate world requires its employees to have a high level of English for communication for internal and external communication.
In the age of globalization number of international projects is increasing and cross cultural communication and collaboration is on the rise. Employers expect the employees to possess excellent communication skills apart from knowledge and expertise in their respective technical field.
In India, teaching English to prospective professionals at their degree level is a demanding matter in terms of content, methods and techniques. One needs to develop relevant communication and professional skills specifically needed by professionals in a particular discipline. This involves an in-depth analysis of language needs in the workplace & the ability to address workplace education needs depends on a great extent on the accuracy of their interpretation of workplace needs.
WORKPLACE LANGUAGE COMPETENCY
In the present day workplace, individuals require a range of occupationally specific knowledge and skills, personal attributes and attitudes, the ability to transfer knowledge and skills to different situations etc. A skills needs survey in a country like Britain reported that employers identified communication skills as most lacking in younger employees.
According to Rainbird,
"Workplace is enormously significant as a site for learning, and is felt that increased productivity and greater employee flexibility are the key to competitive survival in the global environment. The right skill development and training for employees is needed to cope up with highly competitive work environment."
Language and literacy skills are increasingly important in workplace. Large scale surveys of language and literacy skills reveal that the work force needs have to be constantly upgraded in terms of appropriate skills required.
RESEARCHING WORKPLACE LANGUAGE NEEDS
The ability to address workplace education and language needs depend on the accuracy of the interpretation of the current workplace scenario and its potential. Research should aim to involve people from the workplace in defining their perceived needs and working out possible strategy to address them.
Language research would involve not only doing a language analysis of the workplace but also undertaking a systematic analysis of the workplace from an educators or a linguist's perspective (Mawer,1999) and be able to answer some questions like,
- What are the formal and informal communication systems? How effective are they?
- What are current approaches to training and learning?
- What is the language requirement of specific jobs?
- What are the main barriers to effective communication?
- How is work currently organized? What changes if any are planned?
- What are the likely obstacles or constraints?
Narrowing down to the individual level it is also necessary to answer questions like:
- Decisions regarding the competence of employers
- The level of hierarchy.
- A focused analysis of language ability / language use / communication competence.
In addressing the whole communicative content of the workplace it is crucial to identify the language gaps. Generally, the quality of learning opportunity offered in workplace are not supported by the employers besides even if such training takes place they are not suited to the individual needs of the employees.
Hence an in-depth needs analysis and research in the industry or workplace communities is important to assess the learner's (employees) needs so as to work out a course design and relevant methodologies to develop training programmes, that ensure effective learning will take place in the work-place.
ASSESSMENT OF THE TARGET GROUP
Individual assessment of the target group is done by using different research tools
- Questionnaire covering personal details, qualification, work history, training and perception of language needs and communication process within the workplace.
- Oral interactions of the target group to analyze the language and linguistic data and to assess the communicative competence in a work related context based on the language levels and position of responsibility can be undertaken.
- Formal / Informal interviews and discussions with the stakeholders i.e. the management and higher ups dealing with communication skills of the employees, under their supervision.
- In multilingual set-ups, analysing group of workers from different language background.
- Analysing situations where the employees find difficulties in communication with respect to using new technologies. For e.g. virtual communication through tele / video conferencing, e-mail etc.
Such assessments are generally complex but multifaceted and comprehensive as they ensure that the results are reliable and valid. Such objective self-assessment and supervisory assessment in way encourages the adult learners towards developing more autonomy.
The findings can be presented to the consultative committee, supervisors and the stakeholders, management to discuss the implications & prioritize and evolve a specific language-training curriculum needed for the target group.
- Apart from the companies and business enterprises going for such elaborate workplace learning programmes for employees, the educational institutions also have to consistently attempt to meet the challenges of employees in global workplace.
- Universities have to redefine objectives of teaching and learning methodologies so as to meet the growing needs of the global business enterprise and industry and produce professionals who are competetent practitioners with proficiency in communication paralleled with technical knowledge.
- A multidisciplinary approach to the development of a professionals should be worked out to ensure that a multilingual country like India should be able to produce the most proficient and competent workforce, to meet the growing demands and challenges of multinational workplace environment.
Andersen Helle (2002). The role of language skills in corporate communication. Paper for the Nordic Workshop on Inter-organizational Research, No.12 Kolding 2002
Mawer, Giselle (1999). Language and Literacy in Workplace Education. Addison Wesley Longman Inc., New York.
Rainbird, Helan (2002). Training in the Workplace Management, Macmillan Press Ltd.
Reimer, Marc J. (2002). Investigation into the Development of English and Communication Skills for the Modern Engineer: A Research Scheme
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Sheba Dayal, Ph.D.Candidate
Central Institute of Indian Languages