Applied Linguistics and the
Identification of Real-World Problems:
An Exploration into Needs Analysis
November 27, 2012
Brumfit (1995) defines applied linguistics as “the theoretical and empirical investigation of real-world problems in which language is a central issue” (Brumfit, 1995, p. 27). This view of applied linguistics is demonstrated in Rebeca Jasso-Aguilar’s ‘A case study of Waikiki hotel maids’ (2005). In her enquiry, Jasso-Aguilar critically explores a Waikiki hotel company’s approach to conducting needs analysis (NA) for its housekeeping staff. She highlights the complex issues which can arise due to differing perspectives towards language needs when conducting traditional NA.
What is the Real-World Problem?
The real world problem that Jasso-Aguilar discusses in the article regards the institutional implementation of NA for ESP curriculum development, and whether or not these actions result in the social engineering of the worker as it relates to social mobility and menial labour. Jasso-Aguillar attempts to find a balanced and cohesive solution to this problem by analyzing existing literature and her own research, then providing an alternative approach. To introduce some of the concerns related to NA, Jasso-Aguilar draws on Auerbach (1995) and Tollefson (1989, 1991) who have found that NA and resulting ESP curricula is often solely determined and developed by outsiders hired by the institution or company. It is argued that because these outsiders work with information and clearly defined expectations set forth by the institution/company, the ESP curriculums that are developed solely function to serve the needs of the institutions, sometimes ignoring the differing expectations of the employees. This ‘social engineering’ of English as L2 employees can channel immigrants into minimum wage positions where they can perform adequately, but have little opportunity for advancement (Jasso-Aguilar, 2005). Despite these complications, Jasso-Aguilar does not appear to argue against the use of NA in the workplace- but rather against the approach by which it is often determined. Rather than drawing on outsiders/institutional perspectives or employees perspectives on employee language needs, Jasso-Aguilar advocates the approach to NA as described by Long (to appear), who endorses the use of multiple sources, methods, and triangulation. Long suggests that by using this approach, the main problems with traditional NA can be overcome. It is interesting to comment on the literature Jasso-Aguilar draws on to highlight the real world problem that is being explored. By acknowledging the research undertaken by Auerbach (1995) and Tollefson (1989, 1991), as well as noting Long’s (to appear) proposed approach towards conducting NA, Jasso-Aguilar accomplishes two things. First, by recognizing the continuous exploration into NA over time, her enquiry is validated as a legitimate research niche; and second, it builds a case for continuing research by showing that research into this particular area can inform alternative theories and proposals for conducting NA.
A Critical Review of Jasso-Aguilar’s Research Methods and Sources: Jasso-Aguilar uses multiple qualitative research methods; including tape-recorded participant observations, unstructured interviews, and written questionnaires. Later, the results of these qualitative methods are triangulated. Glesne and Peshkin (1992) and Davis (1992) claim that triangulation can contribute to the trustworthiness of data and increase confidence in research findings in qualitative research traditions because it can help to validate data and increase the credibility of interpretations. It should be noted, however, that although Jasso-Aguilar emphasizes the importance of using multiple research methods for triangulation purposes, she fails to provide a risk analysis for the research methodology....
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