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English for work?

February 15, 2008

Hello again,

ESOL in the UK is now clearly differentiated from EFL. I accept of course that learners who plan to live in the UK have distinct language requirements. However, the latest advice concerning English for work ...

...worries me. How can we define English for work? Each occupation has its own jargon, its own way of working and communicating. I am currently acutely aware of this because I have to use care provisions for my mother. Some sixty percent of her carers are non-native speakers.

There are varying degrees of linguistic competence among them. But what strikes me is that all of them (and I also include native speakers) need training in the communication skills needed for elderly, confused patients. “English for work” gets nowhere near it. This is ESP of an extreme kind. There are issues of dignity, respect, comprehension, tact, sympathy: most of my mother’s concerns centre on these issues. People who bark orders at her, treat her as if she is stupid because she is old and ill, patronise her, or talk about her in her presence cause her enormous distress.

I observed the carers and their interactions in order to form some kind of overall impression of the linguistic needs required for these tasks. Firstly, people needing care are often embarrassed by their infirmities: they use euphemisms for bodily functions and they want equal delicacy from their carers. How many non-native speakers are able to cope with that?

Secondly, they want to be treated with respect as normal human beings; they do not wish to be shouted at, talked down to or talked about as if they were not present. They want to be listened to. I witnessed some fairly unpleasant interactions between my mother and her carers. I saw that some carers did not understand such terms as: “I have trouble with my waterworks”. I heard them tell her what to do apparently without respect for her dignity and privacy. But did they have the language skills to do otherwise?

Immigrants, we are told, are doing the jobs the natives don’t want. Okay. But at least give them ESP training that relates to their sphere. English for Work does not fit the bill.

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  1. George White Says:

    As a T.E.S.O.L English teacher, for 22 months in China, I had no problem and my students (in the thousands) youths and professional adults excelled.
    However in the Philippines it was a nightmare. Let me explain: While the country claims to be the largest English speaking population outside of the U.S.A. English on a daily basis is horrendous. They proudly tell me, my English is very Slong! (of course they mean SLANG!) The older people, 60+ have a very good command of English, sadly, the younger the people are the worse their English, especially spoken and grammar. What can we expect when the congressman operating several colleges openly tell people via the media, that they must learn to speak English GOOD! If they are to have a future in the 21st century. 89 million people, more than 50% below the poverty line....Mercy. Sincerely
    Retiring Immigration consultant/English Teacher.
    (British born and Educated) Now a youthful 70. lol

  1. noel in Guangzhou China Says:

    Well, in terms of English for work. I agree that it is a general term and using that to promote any kind of learning program is irresponsible. In fact the problems that were described above with the immigrant care workers in question, demonstrates this mindless, greedy, slipshot way of doing business. The works have no integrity because the firm that recruited them and so called, "trained" them, have no integrety. they are in it for the money. They simply hire a body and with a mere brief orientation, a cell phone and a map, they are taking care of your dearest relatives.
    If the company were to have a comprehensive training and regular random on-the-job follow up you would see a different callaber of employee.

    This brings me to the point that, there are care-giving companies, and they are care-giving companies. You basically get what you payfor.
    the more money a company puts into training there employees the more you will pay for the service.
    Hence, the issue of English for work is mute, because even with all the training in the world, some immigrants will still (and should want) to improve their communication skills not just as it to relates to their job, but in general. However, at this point, the worker is well -trained, and performs his/her job as expected. The issue of knowing what term your client may use to refer to needing to pee is irrelevant. that is a part of training the worker to be flexible and understanding the context of the job. That is not English training.
    There is a legitimate so-called, “English for Work” but it is more what you would refer to as Industry-Specific English Instruction. This takes into account the culture of the industry which includes the jargon that goes along with it. It is not as easy to account for and predict what term a client may use for going to the bathroom because these terms come from the clients cultural background and personal experiences. However, it can be done to a satisfactory degree, by knowing your client base and training according to the clients you serve.

  1. Mark Morton Glasgow Says:

    Sad to say, in the mad dash toward globalization, everything that can be done more cheaply generally is. Corporate profit-taking becomes the raison d'être, while intangibles such as compassion, understanding and sensitivity are increasingly marginalized and forgotten. I'd even go so far as to say that, eldercare itself, is symptomatic of a society, too much in a rush, overburdened with work and lacking the time to personally care for its aging members.

    Due to economic necessity and wages that permit little capital gain, most people are forced to deliver society's most vulnerable, the young and the elderly, into the hands of caretakers, who themselves, are too often underpaid, untrained and lacking all manner of sensitivity required to do their jobs properly.

    That there is insufficient training of those who care for our elderly parents simply points out the depths to which we've sunk...wherein neither the welfare of those cared for, nor the appropriate preparation of those doing the care giving, is addressed. This, unfortunately, leaves us exactly where we are now, amidst market forces, which operate to debase and devalue the human condition. In the final analysis, viewed transactionally, we're all the losers.

    I was confronted with similar circumstances, when my now deceased mother-in-law, suffered with the debilitating effects of Alzheimer's. After considering some form of nursing home care and the obvious fact that she would be subjected to less than ideal conditions, I decided to do the humane thing and care for her at home. Of course it was difficult and emotionally exhausting, but I know my mother-in-law had the best care available and all the love she deserved in those final months of her life. And yes, it was a tremendous sacrifice financially, but one I'd make again, if I had to.

    Short of such willingness on our part to assume our rightful burdens, in today's all to cost conscious times, market forces will force us to wring our hands in outrage, decrying the performance of those underpaid, ill trained, poorly speaking immigrants who take our place.

  1. Michael Bryan Says:

    Each student who wants to learn English for a
    particular occupation, must assume the responsibility of forming his own vocabulary.
    Learning a second language well is not an easy
    task. It's an individual effort, that requires initiative, which is something few foreignors possess. The ones that decide to put in the effort will succeed, the teacher can not move ahead with 'perfect English' if the student is not following.

  1. Angela Conway Says:

    Michael Bryan's comments on March 18th infuriated and surprised me. "....initiative, which is something few foreignors possess.." What an incredibly arrogant and untrue statement! Most of the foreign students I have had the privilege of teaching have shown the utmost initiative by coming (usually alone) to a foreign country to learn English and to endure the accompanying culture shock. Most of them are very young and the courage and determination shown by their decision has always impressed me.

    I sincerely hope that Mr. Bryan is not responsible for teaching them, as his English needs improvement. For example, if he is going to criticize "foreignors", he should at least learn how to spell the word!

  1. Colin Rich Says:

    From the comments herein it appears that those complaining of foreigners' poor English could do with a few English lessons themselves.

  1. graham Says:

    I think we should not confuse lack of understanding a language, English in this instance, with lack of sensitivity or lack of empathy. However, a person in an empathetic role or environment, such as care for the elderly, should have the social skills for this irrespective of their home language. Being English speaking or learning English with a specific work TLU will not make a person able to be a caregiver, it will only enhance the ability of someone who already is that so that they are able to work in an English speaking environment. English with work specific TLUs is not vocational training.

    Graham (Australia)

  1. Fran B. Reed, MPH Says:

    Work- I'm looking for work to write ESL/EFL
    or Spanish materials, to tutor for the TOEIC
    and TOEFL and to teach by phone or web-cam
    and /or to do transations..comI am the author of 3 ESL books and a team author of TOEICE, and I have taught for many many years in the USA, to students from around the world and in Mexico, Puerto Rico, and in Colombia. Let's talk, Fran (Francisa) B.Reed, MPH

  1. Fran B. Reed, MPH Says:

    George White. Your work sounds interesting.
    I'm a young (70) English teacher who has
    written ESL books and taught all over the US
    and in Mexico, Puerto Rico and Colombia.IF you have a chance, write.

  1. Fran B. Reed, MPH Says:

    Brenda, I'm looking for work writing ESL/EFL
    materials and translating, as well as teaching
    ESL/EFL by web-cam or telephone. Do you have
    any suggestions? Thanks, Fran .

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