In this current context, the study investigates language and communication issues from the perspectives of two categories: (1) EAL professionals who are employed in their field and (2) managers in companies that employ them. Questions of language and communication need to be unpacked so that language educators, settlement services, employers, EAL immigrants and policy makers can understand language needs in more depth than a numerical proficiency level can provide. Investigating employers’ and EAL employees’ perspectives on communication experiences in the workplace can add to our understanding of these issues. The study aims to capture participants’ hindsight and reflections on their own employment experiences, as managers or employees. It attempts to build on findings of the existing research and also opens up issues for further questioning. It presents insights but also uncovers contradictions, and identifies directions for further research and policy adjustment. The study reported here comprises the interview phase of a two-part project; the second part, an observational case study of immigrant professionals in the workplace, is currently underway.
Interviews of employers of EAL immigrant professionals and tertiary-educated EAL employees offer a focus on language and communication experiences in the workplace. Interviewees thus have the additional benefit of reflection and hindsight and the open-ended interview format allowed them to construct their own perspectives. While the study size and interpretive approach mean that the research findings are not generalizable, they present insights into issues that have been identified but not widely analyzed.
The current system of pre-immigration testing to determine the level of language readiness for the workplace does not adequately reflect the breadth and depth of communicative needs in particular workplace contexts. For example, engineers who need to communicate with construction site workers, as well as clients on the telephone and colleagues in meetings need a range of English language competencies well beyond test taking skills. Nevertheless, it might be expected that highly-qualified, experienced EAL immigrants would feel confident that once they pass the language test requirements, their English would be adequate to perform their work. One drawback for both employers and employees is that communicative language development takes time. If newly-hired employees need to work immediately with customers and clients, employers may be disappointed in their communication skills. Likewise, if employees are in a workplace with little regular interpersonal contact, including informal contact where they can talk without job performance stress, their language development is disadvantaged.
For example, the importance of asking questions and checking understanding can be emphasized, discussed and compared across cultures in language and work orientation programs. But employers can also adopt non-threatening strategies for checking comprehension, as well as giving feedback. Moreover, it is important to remember that miscommunication is a function of various situations and does not always arise from problems of English language ability. They tended to see their job as particular tasks and responsibilities for which they were well-qualified and experienced. Employers, on the other hand, considered interaction at work to be essential to smooth functioning of the workplace and to the establishment and maintenance of workplace relationships. They faulted EAL employees’ general lack of engagement in workplace interaction.
This project has taken a step in investigating issues of language and communication in the workplace. The findings can be assessed against others’ knowledge and experience of employers and EAL immigrant professionals