EFLIS Newsletter

EFLIS News, Volume 8:3 (November 2008)

by User Not Found | 11/04/2011

EFLIS News

EFLIS News

November 2008 Volume 8 Number 3
A periodic newsletter for TESOL members.

In This Issue...

  • Leadership Updates
    • Letter From the Chair
    • Message From the Coeditors
  • Articles
    • Bridging the Gap Between School and the World of Work: Summary of the Three EFLIS Academic Sessions in Tampa, Seattle, New York
    • Moving From Academic to Job-Related Writing in Qatar
    • Register
    • Grammar As an Essential Tool for Creating Coherence in Any Text
    • From Me to We: Moving From Academic to Job-Related Writing
  • Announcements and Information
    • Bulletin Board: Announcements and Information
    • About This Community

Leadership Updates

Letter From the Chair

Students nowadays face a fast-changing job market and fierce competition with the advancement of e-commerce as well as e-knowledge. It is becoming increasingly evident that English is the lingua franca of almost all jobs available today, especially in fields such as science, technology, and business management and the hotel industry.

This harsh reality is forcing more language students and teachers alike to open their eyes to what needs to be achieved in a language classroom at both school and college levels, especially in the area of writing skills. The need to develop job-related skills is crucial because of the rapid change and development of the job market that requires graduates to acquire a certain level of writing skills. However, developing writing skills at these levels has posed a great challenge to ELT professionals worldwide.

In addition, the widespread use of computers and the Internet has dramatically increased the profile of writing and the need for effective communication in the world of work. Warschauer mentioned in a case study he conducted in 2001 that some students in an ESL writing course he taught had problems writing business letters and even short memos and notices. He listed some writing skills that he believed were crucial in all job-related written communication. Do our students’ writing experiences at school or college levels adequately prepare them for future job-related writing tasks? If not, how can we create a smoother transition from the academy to the workplace? These are the questions to be discussed in this issue of EFLIS newsletter, which is a special one covering the EFLIS Academic Session at the 2008 TESOL Convention in New York City. Well received by the convention attendees, it was in fact the third session of a three-session mini-series entitled “Bridging the Gap Between School and the World of Work.” The first session was presented at TESOL 2006 at Tampa, and the second one was presented at TESOL 2007 at Seattle. Both of these were also well-received.

I would like to avail myself of this opportunity to express my heartfelt thanks to all presenters who participated in these sessions for their hard work and outstanding contribution. My special thanks goes to Ulrich Bliesener, our IS past chair, for his excellent work in organizing and summarizing all these three sessions. Of course, we must also thank Gabriela Kleckova and Nimmannit Suchada, whose hard work has made this issue possible.

I would also like to invite you, our IS members and other readers of our newsletters, to join us in this discussion. Any comments and suggestions would be highly appreciated.

Thank you.

Ke Xu

References
Stapa, S. H., & Jais, I. R. M. (1997). A survey of writing needs and expectations of hotel management and tourism students. Retrieved July 9, 2008, fromhttp://www.esp-world.info/Articles_9/Stapa-ESPworld.htm
Warschauer, M. (2004). Technology and writing. In Davison, C. & Cummins, J. (eds.) Handbook of English Language Teaching. Kluwer: Dordrecht, Netherlands.


Message From the Coeditors

Gabriela Kleckova, gabriela_kleckova@yahoo.com, and Suchada Nimmannit, suchada.n@chula.ac.th

The 42nd Annual TESOL Convention in New York is history now and we are slowly starting to focus on the upcoming convention in Denver. Despite this, we bring this issue of the newsletter out to remind us of the EFLIS Academic Session in New York City and make us revisit some of the ideas presented there. The Academic Session called “Moving From Academic to Job-Related Writing,” moderated by Ke Xu, included the following speakers: Ulrich Bliesener (Germany), Sally Harris (USA), Lise-Lotte Hjulmand (Denmark), Jane Hoelker (Qatar), and Buthaina Al Othman (Kuwait). This session was a follow-up on two previous Academic Sessions: the first addressed the workplace language requirements at TESOL 2006 in Tampa and the second, at TESOL 2007 in Seattle, addressed oral competency and hierarchical levels of proficiencies required by future employees. The ideas and experiences expressed in those sessions speak to our common concerns about the gap between the English language teaching in school and the English language required in the workplace.

Qatar has seen impressive changes in English language teaching practice since 2003. Jane Hoelker told the audience that several attempts had been made to raise the English language teaching quality in Qatar through the specification of levels of English language requirements for different positions and the English language curriculum reform. Moreover, new materials were prepared that took into consideration sociocultural appropriateness and the topical requirements of the oil and gas industry in Qatar.

The notion of a good text was redefined by Ulrich Bliesener as effective and grammatically accurate communication that not only serves communicative purposes but also is topically and socioculturally appropriate. He further emphasized the importance of exposing students to different registers used in different professional communication.

In addition to such sociocultural factors as the purposes and the people for which the communication is written, Lise-Lotte Hjulmand highlighted strategies writers use in crafting the messages, namely thematization and information structure as well as cohesion and cohesive devices.

In addition to grammatical accuracy, Sally Harris underscored the importance of rhetorical diversity, which is influenced by the context. In other words, students need to be trained to write for different audiences and to adjust their writing to suit the workplace rhetorical requirements.

All speakers recommended approaches to teaching writing, including creating students’ awareness of the language usage as much as of the language use which is influenced by various sociocultural and contextual factors; offering students opportunities to analyze discourses, registers, genres, and text organizations; and engaging the students in writing as process.

The report on the session as well as summaries of each speaker’s presentation are included in this issue. You will definitely find the experiences of the four speakers highly valuable and helpful for adjusting your writing courses to make them more relevant for workplace requirements. Perhaps if you feel inspired to share your thoughts concerning the teaching of writing, let this newsletter be the forum for further idea sharing. We do look forward to your contribution and of course your feedback.

See you in the next issue.



Articles

Bridging the Gap Between School and the World of Work: Summary of the Three EFLIS Academic Sessions in Tampa, Seattle, New York

Ulrich Bliesener, Germany, U.Blie@web.de

The three Academic Sessions at the conventions in Tampa (2006), Seattle (2007), and New York (2008) had a common denominator, namely “Bridging the Gap Between School and the World of Work.”

The reason for offering these three consecutive sessions was the frequently heard criticism that language teaching in school does not adequately prepare students for the world of work. Teaching foreign languages, especially English, in school settings but also in international organizations is too much geared to general education, neglecting requirements that students will have to meet as employees if they want to be successful in their career. The three Academic Sessions aimed at getting a clearer picture of where language teaching in school is in deficit with regard to general language requirements of industry and business and what could be done to remedy the shortcoming.

The Tampa session concentrated on establishing the exact language requirements employees are expected to meet.

The Seattle session took a closer look at what kinds of oral competencies are needed in various work situations and on the different levels of a given hierarchy in enterprises, businesses, or organisations. The session also aimed at presenting various approaches and teaching as well as training units within the context of general education suitable to convey the required competencies and to sustain and strengthen the level of competence once it is reached.

The New York session was concerned with the writing competence generally expected of a member of staff in any enterprise, business, or organization. Again, a number of approaches to convey these competencies were presented and discussed.

The three sessions were well received. The discussions were lively and driven by the fact that the English teaching programs very often neglect the aspect of preparing students for the world of work. The same applies to teacher education: In general it leaves this aspect to the separate discipline of English for special purposes and fails to integrate this aspect into the general English course. What teachers fear is that too much of general language education (literature and all what goes with it) gets lost and that teaching English is getting too much into the vicinity of a purely vocational language training. The three sessions tried to make clear that these fears are unfounded and that both aspects can be combined without losing anything one way or the other.

This writing competence—knowing the importance of register and understanding the cultural context of language—is expected in the world of work by employers who often complain that general education neglects this area.


Moving From Academic to Job-Related Writing in Qatar

Jane Hoelker, English Foundation, Qatar University, Doha, Qatar, jhoelker@gmail.com

A discussion about job-related writing in Qatar must begin with the Strategic Qatarisation Planning Core Team and its directive, published in June 2002. At that time a project group, formed from senior members of the Qatar Petroleum Corporate Training Industrial English Language section, produced the English Curriculum Development (ECD) project; this project includes writing competencies from level one or beginner to five or high intermediate. Seven corporations participated in developing the ECD in addition to Qatar Gas. In 1995 five companies were at the Training Centre (Qatar Gas, NODCO, QAFCO, QAPCO, & QP). However, by 2003, 15 companies including the Planning Council (QVC, Qatar Gas, QASCO, Chevron, Total, OXY, Al-Bayyan, MAERSK, Ras Gas, Mobil, QAFAC, Kahrama, NODCO, QAFCO, & QP) were at the Training Center. Qatar Gas is considered to be an excellent example of the implementation of Qatarisation; it employs 1,600 to 1,800 personnel, about 50 percent of which are Qataris (30 percent trainees and 20 percent actually in the workforce).

Background

The trainees are university graduates from Qatar University, or from universities in the United Kingdom or the United States. Some receive scholarships for four years and they specialize in areas like law or marketing. Actually, they are already proficient in English before they go overseas because English is the first language in their families. They are often sons of ambassadors or state officials; their status is that of the privileged.

Problems and Solutions Before 2003

Before 2003, the problem was that English used to be taught by nonnative speakers from the Middle East who had not been born into families of privilege. The students actually knew more English than the teachers, due to their privileged status which gave them at that time the opportunity to travel that their English instructors had not had. First, a book solution was tried and innovations were implemented in a book series published in the United Kingdom. But the parents complained on the media (radio, television, and newspapers) about the innovations. In this culture, it is the well-trodden path that is taken to the oasis and people tend to hold onto the concrete. Therefore, they had confidence in the translation approach. However, until five years ago, the language skills of the graduates were mediocre and not serving the needs of the workplace.

The next solution utilized was an in-house program developed by the companies. Qatar Petroleum was the clearinghouse for young trainees, staffed by 100 teachers imported from a U.K. institute. The training was next outsourced to ELS Language Centers for a time. Then the Aeronautical College, which had the best English program (run by Gulf Air), was given the responsibility of language training. It was one of the few civil aviation training programs in the Gulf with the pilot training program, run by Canadian instructors.

In 1998, the overseas institute was implemented as the next solution. A cohort of 25 students spent six months in the United States and then six months in the United Kingdom. Bournemouth at the seaside was the first site, but it drew too many Arab tourists and offered too much social life. The program was shortened to six months, and the training site was moved to York in Northern England where there were far fewer native Arabic speakers. The students complained that six months was too short a period in which to learn English. (The program directors observed that they still enjoyed an active and perhaps distracting social life.)

Next, the training (still scheduled for six months) was relocated to ELS in California which has numerous centers on university campuses at a distance from each other. This distance forced the students to mingle and mix with native English speakers while the university campus sites allowed the Qataris to benefit from student prices for the cafeteria meals and dormitory rooms.

The Program After 2003

In 2003, a directive from higher levels was sent stipulating that the program become more cost effective. The number of students sent overseas to study in the United Kingdom was reduced to six per year; they were required to reach level eight after studying six months overseas. And attainment of level four was required by Qatar Gas before one could go overseas to study. If students had a lower level, they had to study at ELS in Doha (paid by Qatar Gas) until they achieved level four. In fact, at one point, it was proposed that the program would be more cost effective if the Qatari trainees went to the United Kingdom for only two to three months. However, this was not feasible because the learning curve compiled from statistics indicated that high achievement started to be reached only after 3.5 months. Less than six months overseas benefited neither the student nor the company to a great degree.

Today

Thanks to the introduction of the TOEFL entry score of 500 (required by all the colleges at Qatar University) by the current president of Qatar University, Shiekha Moza Al Misnad, a higher level of English proficiency is exhibited by the trainees of today. As a result of this higher level of proficiency, there have been changes in language training in the workplace. Dedicated English units in some companies offer five-day seminars focused on skills like report writing or phone etiquette. The current practice is to train language competencies on the job following the guidelines in the ECDP (English Curriculum Development Project), which started five years ago and is ongoing. It implemented the International Basic English Skills Training (used with immigrants in Washington state) as a model and, therefore, more than a generic level of competency is required and attained. Because functional English is linked to trade and skill areas, the English teachers work with the skill or technical instructors. The language taught is highly specialized (ESP or EOP). Technical workers are expected to attain level two; university graduates level three; and high-level managers level five, which is considered intermediate to high intermediate.

Language Production of Trainees in Qatar

Patrick Poppe started employment as an English instructor at Qatar Gas eight months ago. Patrick explained that the EDCP study identified the competencies (see Appendix 1). About four months ago he started developing specialized materials to conduct language training for security guards for Exxon Mobil as well as strategies to teach to the competencies.

In the oil and gas industry, four major concerns determine the teaching approach. The first two are (1) how to make the material germane to the cultural context as well as (2) how to make it germane to the industry. Even though one textbook, which includes a story about a religious nun who likes wine and a man in Scotland who has nine jobs, remains in use in some language schools in Doha, the trainees fail to see the application of these readings to their employment situation. Simply adding graphics of employees in traditional dress like thobes or abayas does not render a situation culturally appropriate. In addition, the material needs to be technically specific. The supervisors want the trainees to learn the names of the five kinds of wrenches used in the workplace in English or to be able to discuss crude oil in the L2. Students, on the other hand, want to be able to use English when traveling on business or leisure. The language instructor seeks ways to satisfy both goals.

Poppe explained the need to balance concerns three and four: (3) a competency-based language program informed by a needs analysis as well as (4) supplemented by information garnered through interviews with personnel such as managers, supervisors, operators, maintenance, and mechanics. This last source of information is extremely important because it clarifies the language required and also is specialized “now” to the field of LNG (liquid natural gas).

Narrowing the focus to the written language tasks required in the oil and gas industry, Poppe discussed the contents of a good workplace report. In such a report, employees must first write by hand what they see and what the problem is, and then enter it on the computer. They write about the things they do on a daily basis and may have to produce some bulleted paragraphs. In this oral culture, trainees may need to review grammar so they can string together a good sentence. From levels two to four, they have to write memos and “effective” e-mails. Higher level management may schedule private consultations with the English instructor which is time and cost effective, and maintains the prestige of the position. For example, policy and procedure reports are prepared in one-on-one consultations. Workshops may sometimes be offered, but it is important to select an attractive title like “Communication Skills of a Leader” and not “Let’s Attack Phrasal Verbs.”

Particular challenges include phrasal verbs and procedures like slow down or slow up and when to use them. Trainees need to include terminology likeprovide and attain in their written reports. They need to learn acronyms like RP (Resident Permit) which do not exist in Arabic and how to use them. In this multi-ethnic workplace where Indians, Algerians, and Indonesians work on the same team, comprehending accents can pose a challenge. (In fact, accent reduction is becoming an area of specialized training in EOP and ESP.) Finally, simplifying e-mails is extremely important; managers receive about 150 e-mails daily so e-mails cannot exceed three to four lines in length. Poppe reminds his trainees to say more and write less. They must learn to be descriptive, to formalize e-mail communication, and to follow protocol. They are instructed not to use caps because that is shouting. They cannot use multicolor font or a different font for each letter in their signature because an e-mail is not calligraphy. Above all, they must not use flashing lights.

Language Production of U.S. Business College Students

A comparison of the results obtained with overseas trainees in Qatar with the results produced by first-year business college students in the United States who had graduated from U.S. high schools yielded some surprising similarities. A business student in the first-year class of Dennis Praedin at Lehigh Valley University was given the task of writing a self-introductory e-mail to a project manager in a major corporation in the county and asking for an interview. The student began his e-mail with the salutation, “Hey, dude, how’s it ---ing?” When questioned, he told Praedin, “You told us to create a friendly atmosphere in the e-mail.” It seems that instructors in the United States share certain challenges with instructors in Qatar.

Typical writing tasks in U.S. business college classes also include preparing reports appropriate to an audience (above, below, and/or peer level). The instructor reminds the student writers that a different emphasis is used in the report to match the needs of each unique audience and its context. The writer’s delivery has to match the receptors of the audience. The message must be delivered in a style that is comfortable to the audience and not necessarily to the writer and it must be organized. Instructors remind students to fulfill three goals when writing: tell them what you are going to tell them; tell them what you are telling them; and tell them what you told them.

While writing a report is important, another very important delivery medium in the workplace of today is e-mail. High school graduates in the United States do not have the skills it takes to produce a coherent and effective e-mail when they are first out of high school. They struggle to conquer wordiness which often results from a lack of specific vocabulary. Managers are very busy people and they do not have much time to read lengthy e-mails so business students are instructed to write powerful e-mails that are concise and use specific vocabulary. Above all, managers want information and they have no time to look at dancing graphics.

The Future

Qatar is extremely serious about building a knowledge-based economy in the future. It holds several countries as models: Singapore, Estonia, Finland, and Korea. Qatari leaders understand that English is critical to commerce and trade. One interesting point is that there are three times as many females as males matriculating at universities in Qatar (which has always been the case at Qatar University and the Western universities in Education City). A surprising development appears to be emerging: females are learning how to be powerful. Some marriage contracts today contain a clause that if a husband stops a wife from working, she can divorce him. The effects of this development in a traditionally male society remain to be seen. A final positive note is that Qatar has made a bid to host the Olympics in 2016. If Qatar succeeds, it will be the first Arab country to host the Olympics.

The author wishes to express grateful appreciation to Brian Devlin, head of the Human Resources Department of Qatar Gas, who worked in Qatar for more than 30 years, and to Patrick Poppe, the English instructor for the 1,600 Qatar Gas employees. Also, many thanks to Dennis Praedin, director of the Project Management Certificate Program at Lehigh Valley University (ranked 34th nationally in the August 2007 U.S. News & World Undergraduate Assessment Report). Praedin was a project manager at Binney & Smith Air Products, now part of Crayola and owned by Hallmark. He has more than 37 years of workplace management experience.

Appendix 1: English Curriculum Development Project Writing Competencies

Writing Competencies—a quick glance
English Curriculum Development Project began in June 2002

Level 0: Introductory English
W1. Writes the letters of the alphabet
W2. Writes numbers 1-100
W3. Writes simple sentences
W4. Copies relevant information. Information includes the most familiar vocabulary items and basic numerical information (numbers 1-100).

Level 1: Beginner English
W1. Completes basic forms. Basic forms requiring personal information including name, age, date of birth, nationality, occupation, address, and telephone number.
W2. Writes simple sentences. Includes sentences related to personal information, including likes and dislikes, routines, and present activities.
W3. Copies relevant information. Information copied includes simple sentences, parts of sentences, words, and numerical information (numbers up to 100).

Level 2: Elementary English
W1. Completes basic forms. Basic work- or non-work-related forms requiring personal information entered as a single word, phrase, or sentence responses. Personal information includes name, age, address, occupation, interests, and abilities. Responses may include short phrases, words, ticks/crosses, yes/no answers, and numbers.
W2. Writes simple sentences. The most common work- and non-work-related topics and situations.
W3. Writes a simple record of activities. The most common work- and non-work-related topics and situations.
W4. Copies relevant information. Texts include paragraphs, lists, forms, or diagrams relating to the most common work- and non-work-related topics and situations. Information copied includes sentences, parts of sentences, words, and numerical information (including numbers up to 1,000).

Level 3: Pre-intermediate English
W1. Completes forms. Common forms requiring information beyond giving simple personal details, such as job application forms, online application forms, leave requests, work orders, equipment requests, and traffic violations.
W2. Writes a well-organized paragraph. Simple paragraphs on familiar topics such as simple routines, simplified briefings, actions, and descriptions.
W3. Writes routine correspondence. Common work- and non-work-related topics and situations. Includes e-mails, desk planner entries, and simple notes and messages (memos).
W4. Writes a log of daily activities. Common work-related topics and situations. Information includes a record of events and actions taken including the date and time.

Level 4: Intermediate English
W1. Completes forms requiring extended answers. Forms with sections requiring extended answers, e.g., contract work requisition, accident report forms.
W2. Writes routine correspondence. Common work- and non-work-related topics and situations. Includes basic memos, e-mails, and faxes.
W3. Writes routine reports. Routine reports in simple paragraphs, where applicable, on events or incidents that occur during the day. Information given includes, where applicable, the situation, details of action taken, and the result.
W4. Takes notes from speech. Common work-related topics and situations. Situations include taking notes from a simple briefing or training session.

Level 5: Intermediate B English
W1. Writes routine correspondence. Work-related topics and situations. Includes memos and e-mails. Extended writing incorporating a series of paragraphs where appropriate.
W2. Writes routine reports. Routine reports in paragraphs with headings on events or incidents that occur during the day. Information given includes, where applicable, the situation, details of action taken, the result, and recommendations.
W3. Writes about diagrams. Graphs, charts, and tables depicting work-related data or information of general interest. Includes descriptions of a process. Extended writing incorporating a series of paragraphs when appropriate. Includes identification of trends.
W4. Takes notes from speech. Work-related topics and situations. Takes notes from an extended briefing, training session, or short presentation.


Register

Ulrich Bliesener, U.Blie@web.de, Germany

I started my presentation by defining what, in my opinion, is a good text in interhuman written communication in the world of work. A good text is communicatively effective, convincing, and persuasive, so that the reader is willing to accept the arguments offered by the writer. It is strategic in that it offers or hides interests the writer has. It is intensive so the reader understands the urgency of an argument. A good text is made up of a number of components: The language used must be correct, for example, without gross mistakes and including correct structures, tenses, spelling, choice of words, and so on. Above all, the language chosen

  • must be appropriate to the topic (for a report on a scientific experiments, passive voice, abstract words, terminology);
  • must be appropriate to the social situation in which the text is to be the medium of communication (not only correct but appropriate: bloke, fellow<>young man, gentleman, person; kid<> child, son, daughter; dough<> money etc.);
  • must correspond to the conventions of language use, which are very difficult to grasp for any learner because of the cultural and sociopolitical context in which language is used.

I then concentrated on my specific topic: register. I presented a number of example texts and discussed their respective value and characteristics. I then introduced a very striking example: a model letter from The complete LETTER-Writer or Polite English Secretary, published 11th revised edition London 1767. Letter writing in those days was a very important means of communication. That’s why letter writers needed training, which was provided by such books as the Complete Letter Writer. It contains model letters for all occasions. The example I chose from this book was a model letter written by a young man, a student at a school, to his father. It shows the style common even among members of a family at the time. The letter sounds a bit strange to young people of today. However, though young people on those days were just as wild and rowdy as many of our youngsters today, they were aware of the rank, age, social position, and status in the family and they understood the need to pay respect to those who are higher in rank. That, in nuce, is whatregister means.

I then moved on to more modern letters: four different reactions to an invitation, which I used as examples to show how important it is even today to observe the rules of register and how they work today. In a theoretical discourse, I then pointed out that all people move in different spheres of the world of work; professionals or tradespeople communicate in the language specific for their fields. And it makes a difference whether the subject is a topic factual or personal, or the recent holidays, a daughter’s wedding, or a general political problem. In other words, we all communicate in different ways/registers depending on WHERE and WHO we communicate with, and WHAT the communication is about. We speak differently with colleagues on the job during the day and we move easily into a different register at home after office hours when we talk to our children about their school problems. The same goes for written communication. This is true for native speakers or writers using a foreign language. And it is true also for the language that a group of people, such as those who work in the administration of the European Union in Brussels, decides to use as a medium of communication.

I then raised the question of where in traditional language teaching the aspect of register is taken care of. In fact, it is often neglected. We study a language not as a theoretical or abstract system but as a means for interhuman communication. When we acquire our first language, we acquire that particular type of a language variety that is spoken in the group or social environment in which we grow up, of which our parents are a part.

Foreign languages (EFL, to a degree ESL) are studied in an artificial environment, not in an environment where that specific language is generally used to communicate. Because of that teachers tend to emphasize the formal or technical side of a given language, that is, grammar. In a classroom situation, it is difficult to create a real-life environment no matter how colorful and how big the decorative posters in the classroom are or how much the target language is used. Students know that the nonnative teacher uses a medium that is not natural to him or her and that it would be much easier to converse with him or her in the common native language.

In order to express oneself appropriately and in an acceptable (not only correct) way, one has to learn how natives use the language, how they express themselves (orally and in writing) in different situations, and how they understand the language used in a given communication situation. Students will have to learn how different social groups handle their language in their environment. This is difficult for any learner to understand and master and is full of traps and fallacies. It requires awareness not only of how language functions but what is hidden behind the surface of the grammatical system, how people use it, and what the conventions are.

The system of the language is always the same, but the way in which its elements (lexis, structure, expressions, etc.) are used differs depending on the social contexts to which the language user belongs or in which he or she normally moves and operates. This is supported by gestures and tone of voice depending on whether something is important, annoying, or pleasing, whether we are happy or under stress, and whether we want to achieve something.

If we apply for a job, in the presentation of ourselves and our qualifications and competencies, we try to use the language and tone that suits best the content of the advertisement. We try to formulate our application in the register that we think would be acceptable to the future employer. Furthermore, the language we use is largely determined by the communication partner: same or different social level, age and sex, degree of dependence. This is where intercultural competence comes into play. To use a foreign language appropriately, beyond the everyday level, one must have some insight into the culture, which is largely represented and transported through language. The appropriate use of language is largely determined by the cultural context in which a given communication takes place.

This means we have to teach not only the language system but also its usage and the respective cultural context in which language is used. A sufficiently reliable language repertoire is needed to handle the most frequent standard situations of communication in the target culture context.

Can EFL students ever master the demands of register and strategy? Yes they can, but it requires continual training. I then outlined a number of practical teaching strategies that might help students to grasp the importance of register. Properly applied they even work in classes with beginners with limited linguistic means at their disposal. Of course, the teacher will have to introduce the language needed in a sort of dual process: Make students discuss a topic and provide the linguistic tools at the same time.

Finally, I answered the question What is this thing called register? by referring to the definition by Carter and McCarthy (2006): Register refers to the style of speaking or writing that is used in particular fields of discourse or particular social context (e.g., academic writing, journalism, advertising, legal, science and literary conventions). And I concluded by saying that the correct use of register is closely related to intercultural competence and it is complementary to the strategy a speaker pursues in his communication.

Reference
Carter, R., & McCarthy, M. (2006). Cambridge grammar of English. Cambridge, UK: CUP.


Grammar As an Essential Tool for Creating Coherence in Any Text

Lise-Lotte Hjulmand, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark, llh.isv@cbs.dk

I began my talk by reminding the audience that this session was a follow-up on sessions at the TESOL 2006 Convention in Tampa, Florida (“Bridging the Gap Between School and Work”) and the 2007 TESOL Convention in Seattle (“Preparing Students for the World of Work”).

In 2006, I spoke about the European perspective on languages in general, and the Danish situation in particular (and touched in this connection on the importance of precision, including grammatical precision). In 2007 I spoke about the teaching of grammar (“Grammar – Why and how?”). And my interest in grammar is also apparent in my contribution to this session.

My presentation at the 2008 session was practical and closely linked to the original summary for the session:

Being able to compose well-structured and communicatively effective texts is a competence essential for academic success and for advancement in the world of work. The session will deal with the most important elements of a good text and will offer guidance how best to teach them.

and suggested an answer to two questions: What are these elements and how do we teach them?

I explained that my recent experience in this field is from teaching continuing education courses where participants work for companies and organizations and feel a need to improve their professional writing skills. I also mentioned that I had doubted whether my presentation would be suitable in a context with many American participants for whom a systematic focus on writing skills seems to be natural, and for whom topic sentences, paragraph structure, and so on seem to be everyday concepts. My conclusion was, however, that many participants teach in non-American contexts where the situation may be similar to the situation I know from Denmark, where pupils and students get many opportunities for writing in the educational system, but where little is done to teach them systematically how they should go about it. The basic learning philosophy seems to be learning by doing. I furthermore mentioned that the American business community occasionally also complains about the writing skills of high school and college graduates, so I hoped that my contribution would be considered useful.

I proceeded to say that in order to produce well-structured and communicatively effective texts, students need to be aware of and pay attention to a number of basic principles, such as

  • purpose. What do I—or in professional writing, what do we, that is the company or organization—want to achieve by this text? Do I/we want to persuade, inform, express an opinion, or direct?
  • target group. What is the background of the target group? What do the potential readers already know about this topic? What can I therefore take for granted? How close to or far away from the target group am I? Do I know the potential readers well, and can I therefore write informally? Or is this not the case, and should I therefore write formally? The latter is usually the case in professional writing.
  • the cooperative principle. Grice’s cooperative principle and the four maxims of quality, quantity, relation, and manner were developed in connection with the study of conversation. These maxims are, however, useful to have in mind when writing (write something that is true and correct, neither too much nor too little, only what is relevant, and finally write in an orderly and well-structured manner).
  • information structure. This has to do with how we present information in a text. There are two general principles involved here: the end-focus principle, which says that the normal sequence is given > new, and the principle of thematization, which says that the sentence starts with the theme (what we are talking about) and then moves on to the comment (what we want to say about the theme).
  • weight and balance. This has to do with where we place short and light and long and heavy elements in the sentence. The pattern is usually short/light > long/heavy.
  • coherence. The text should be coherent, that is hold or hang together. The reader should on no occasion be left to wonder why the writer includes this, moves on to that, or what the point is of a sentence or a paragraph.

From these basic principles, I moved on to cohesive devices, which are linguistic means that help produce coherence in a text, and suggested that it is important to make students aware of these when teaching writing skills. Cohesive devices are, for instance,

  • anaphoric reference, which may be achieved through the repetition of nouns, synonyms, superordinate terms, related terms, paraphrases, etc., pronouns and determiners, e.g. definite rather than indefinite NPs,
  • the choice between active versus passive, which may have to do with the principles of end-focus, thematization, and end-weight, i.e. the movement given > new, theme > comment and short/light > long/heavy,
  • constituent order, both in the unmarked S + V order, but also in deviations from this order as reflected in the fronting of certain sentence constituents plus inversion and the use of the preliminary subject there, and finally
  • transition signals, that is, conjunctions, such as the coordinating conjunctions and, but, or, subordinating conjunctions like when, if, although, and conjuncts such as in addition, however, alternatively.
    Most of these cohesive devices have to do with grammar, and frequently grammar outside, not inside, the sentence boundary.

I suggested that these elements should be taught through texts by using a two-step procedure: First get students to analyze texts for these features, so they become aware of them (the consciousness-raising experience), and second, get students to use these features when they produce texts. In my presentation, I illustrated the first step of this procedure, i.e. the consciousness-raising experience, with examples. In connection with examples relating to anaphoric reference, I mentioned that a text is typically about one overall theme, and that reference to this is made throughout the text in different ways, such as by repeating nouns or using synonyms, superordinate terms, related terms, paraphrases, and so on, by using pronouns with anaphoric reference or determiners (definite NPs are often more frequent than indefinite NPs). In my opinion, it is important that students see how a writer can refer to the topic of the text by these means and how this is one element that helps create coherence in a text.

The next point I illustrated was how the choice between the active and the passive is closely related to the principles of end-focus, end-weight, and thematization. The long passive (where the agent is expressed) is usually preferred when the patient or the recipient is given (either from the text or in the general context), short and light, and the theme, whereas the agent expresses new information, is long and heavy, etc., cf. He was arrested by a young police officer who had just come on duty. The active is much more common and preferred when the agent is known, short and light, and the theme, whereas the patient or the recipient expresses new information, cf. The police arrested a burglar who had been active in the area for some time.

I then moved on to constituent order in English, which is also influenced by the principles of end-focus, end-weight, and thematization. This is the case with the unmarked and most frequent constituent order in English, that is S + V (the subject is often known, short and light, and the theme of the sentence). It is also the case with deviations from the S + V order, such as with inversion in connection with fronting of certain constituents that normally appear later in the sentence.It is furthermore the case with the use of the preliminary subject there, which is typically used when the real subject is new (not given) and sometimes also long and heavy (the real subject is frequently a complex indefinite NP with a postmodifier).

Finally I discussed transition signals, that is conjunctions, which can be either coordinating (e.g. and, but, or) or subordinating (e.g. while, because, so that), or conjuncts, which are a special kind of adverbial. Conjuncts frequently appear in initial position, but are—like most other adverbials—mobile and can also appear in medial or final position. They are usually accompanied by commas.

Transition signals help guide the reader through the text and reveal the connection between different parts of a text. It is my experience that students find it useful to know that both conjunctions and conjuncts can be used for this purpose, and that there is actually a number of different expressions that they can use so that they can vary their choice. If they want to add information, they do not have to choose and again and again. They can for instance use moreover, furthermore, and so on instead of just and. I then gave examples of different transition signals with different meanings and finally illustrated these in a text. I suggested that it is a good exercise for students to find transition signals in texts (preferably in different text types because the choice of transition signals may vary in different text types), indicate their meaning, and suggest alternatives.

Being aware of cohesive devices and the way they help create coherence in a text is in my opinion one of the prerequisites for producing a good text, and it is therefore important that students are both made aware of these and practice using them. Most of these devices have to do with grammar, frequently grammar beyond the sentence boundary. To these could have been added another aspect of grammar, that is grammatical accuracy and precision, which is especially important in written texts.

Somebody said at a TESOL convention a couple of years ago, “Good grammar does not make good writing, but there is no good writing without good grammar,” so there is, in my opinion, more to producing a good text than what is discussed above.


From Me to We: Moving From Academic to Job-Related Writing

Sally S. Harris, Northwestern College, St. Paul, Minnesota, USA, ssh@nwc.edu

The differences between academic and job-related writing are often noted in the literature. Much of this research boils down to the discussion of one core difference: The bottom line for job-related writing is whether we met company goals and sell products. The bottom line for academic writing is whether I persuade others to see things my way. In a nutshell, students need help to move from the me of academic writing to the we of the corporate world. Employers and employees themselves have often noted that this move is hard to accomplish. Sometimes they must pay for expensive “remediation.” Fortune 500 companies frequently hire writing consultants to teach recently employed college grads and MBAs how to write for the corporate world. Two such consultants had this to say: “Although considered bright and well-trained in their colleges and graduate schools, young staff members are not accustomed to the particular challenges of writing in a hierarchical structure” (Mandel & Vassallo, 1999, p. 339). They continued, “The approach they learned in college—an approach that asked them to rely on their own feelings, thoughts, and style—needs to change to an approach which stresses speed, fluency, purposefulness, reader-awareness, and “political” sensitivity” (p. 340). Promotion will bring additional “frequent and unfamiliar writing tasks” (Mabrito, 1997).

The written word must help business to be conducted efficiently. In addition, it must also help a business maintain its positive image and reputation and avoid litigation. In modern businesses, almost all employees write. Writing consumes a remarkably high percentage of an employee’s work-hours. A 1997 study reported that 70 percent of supervisors spent 8 to 14 hours (one quarter) of each week writing (Mabrito, 1997). A study published this year found it to be one-third (Angouri & Harwood, 2008, p. 38).

Exactly what employees write—e-mails, letters, reports, advertisements, formal grievances—depends largely on the employee’s place in the hierarchy, but these writing tasks generally cannot be pawned off on others. What is written by those lower in the hierarchy moves up the chain of command in the form of supervisor’s reports. Therefore, even low-echelon employees who cannot write to standard harm the entire enterprise and may jeopardize their jobs.

Before the advent of personal computers, secretaries took dictation, drafted letters, had them vetted by the boss, and then typed and mailed clean copies. No longer! Every employee must now be able to generate and edit documents at a keyboard. This means that the computer revolution has also been a writing revolution.

Despite frequent discussion of the differences between academic and job-related writing, I want to argue today that some of those differences are superficial and that academic writing at the university level, if done correctly, can and should provide the tools for doing job-related writing well. A major problem in creating a bridge from academic to job-related writing is that students, without help from instructors, cannot foresee what the demands of the marketplace will be. Messages about these connections can and should be made more explicit while they are still in school. As a result of the research I have done, I have recently been trying to make more explicit the connections between what my students do in Composition II: Discipline-based Research Writing and what they will do in the future as employees.

I should begin by clarifying what I mean by academic writing. I will do this by describing my university-level Comp II class, which I think provides a good paradigm. Comp II is a “process-oriented writing” course. It is based on an important reform movement and pedagogical shift in the teaching of composition that happened in the early 1980s. My institution very early incorporated that change into our writing programs, so we have been teaching process-oriented writing for over 25 years now.

Process-oriented writing’s important innovation was to shift the student’s attention from the end product—“the paper”—to the process. It encouraged something to happen that never happened when I was a student: peer review. In a process-oriented class, students routinely see, analyze, and correct each others’ work. The sequential tasks that have always been part of creating a researched paper are still the same: research, note-taking, prewriting, and drafting. The difference is that, at any stage, peers can and should review one’s work. Peer review in itself helps to prepare students for the work world, because the collaborative nature of work-place writing is often noted: “Indeed, some time ago, Paradis et al. (1985) introduced the term document cycling to refer to a document going back and forth as a collaborative process between a manager and [an employee]” (Angouri & Harwood, 2008, p. 38).

Students frequently enter Comp II with the serious misconception that they are there just to write a research paper to please an English professor and “get it out of the way.” This misconception needs to be corrected by stressing the real goals of the class, all of which are consonant with the writing goals in the work world. The first goal is to learn to do adequate research; second, to learn how to adequately cite sources of information; third, to learn always to consider audience; fourth, to become adept at analyzing arguments—their own and others—for their validity and soundness; and fifth, to learn to edit for errors in grammar, punctuation, style, and spelling. Each of these skills, including attribution or citation of sources, will be used throughout life, especially in the workplace. Students typically are, but should not be, surprised that businesses expect them to analyze and synthesize information and to think critically about what they read.

Employees frequently complain that the writing demands at work are very different than the writing demands at school. The root problem seems to be that employees cannot shift easily from one rhetorical form to another. Flexibility in moving from one rhetorical form to the next, I think, is best developed by having students engage in some form of discourse analysis.

There is no such thing as “good writing.” There is only writing that is good in a particular context. As one researcher said, “The type of writing demanded of supervisors is rhetorically diverse, including not only writing for different audiences within the organization, but also for a variety of different purposes, ranging from simple record keeping to constructing fairly sophisticated arguments.” David Russell (2007), from Iowa State, said, “Since Britton’s (1982) research in the 1970’s, a large and growing body of research suggests that writing is not an easily generalizable set of elementary transcription skills, as in the public understanding, but a complex, developing accomplishment, central to the specialized work of myriad disciplines of higher education and to the professions and institutions students will enter and eventually transform” (pp. 252-253). An innovative Web-based tutorial, LabWrite, teaches students both how to write a genre, by explaining linguistic and rhetorical conventions, and why to write that way, by explaining the expected motives and social roles this particular form plays (Russell, 2007).

Getting students to see that context governs rhetorical form is a very important step. Getting them to analyze and understand the different demands of different discourse communities is one way to do this. One Cornell professor suggested extending Wolfgang Iser’s literary theory concept of the implied author (the persona who is understood to be creating the text) to the implied reader (the character the writer wants any reader to imagine him- or herself to be). The reason for doing this is to teach students to see the differences between the writer’s implications and the readers’ inferences. The implied reader is the fictional character that the writer wants the readers to imagine themselves to be (Jameson, 2004).

Using these concepts, students can begin to understand how words and phrases that help reveal two things: (a) what motivates the author, what he or she knows, and what kind of person he or she is, and (b) what the writer assumes about his or her readers’ knowledge, motivation, and character (Jameson, 2004). Such analysis can help students understand otherwise opaque written conventions in the business world. For instance, some business writing must portray the persona withholding judgment while seeking clarification (Jameson, 2004). This stance must be maintained even though, of course, the writer is judging.

Such analysis can help explain what writers already intuitively know: They can project only a portion of themselves (their personae) in any piece of writing with the result that “their real self” can be misunderstood. Whether a piece of writing “works” for a business may depend on carefully structuring what the writer is implying and the reader is supposed to infer. Shelby and Reinsch (1995) found that readers’ perceptions of implied writers’ attitudes, as expressed in texts, significantly predicted readers’ commitment to act, which in turn predicted feelings of satisfaction with the communication” (as cited in Jameson, 2004, p. 389). That is, business writing can fail or succeed in getting people to act and to be happy that they have done so.

I try to show my students that academic papers, too, are governed by certain describable conventions of a community of discourse—in this case, the academic one. For example, I demand that they write “formally,” using only third person—one notable convention of the academy. This is awkward for many of them because they find it easier to write I. They think I am forbidding them to speak in their own voices, but this is incorrect. I need to help them see that, in the academy, “the poise of careful neutrality is a state of mind, not an absence of it” (Slatoff, 1970, as cited in Jameson, 2004, p. 105).
I therefore begin my Comp II class by introducing the concept of community of discourse (following Bhatia, 2004, and his discussion of domain-specific disciplinary genres) and talk about the many such communities any of us functions within—family, friends, school, work, religious or charitable volunteer organization, and so on. On a “getting to know you” form the first day of class, I ask my students to list their academic major and career goals. I also ask them to try to identify real human beings presently in positions like the ones they want to be in five years after graduation. I specifically ask them to identify a person they could interview by phone or e-mail to ask about the kinds of writing he or she does for work.

In Comp II, I lead students though the sequential steps of drafting their papers, training them to be peer reviewers who can analyze arguments for soundness and validity and editors who can find errors. This latter task, editing for errors, is a much-disputed activity, but I make it count for 40 percent of the course grade in Comp II. Despite my students’ belief that “this is just what English teachers do,” I do it because employers care. A CEO was over to our house last week. At dinner, he said that he rejected out of hand any resume that had even one spelling or grammatical error. His company hires engineers and information technologists. His response to poor writing caught my attention. He said that he needed to base relationships on trust, and that he did not feel he could trust someone who was sloppy. Is he being picayune? I don’t think so. His comment touches on why we are teaching writing at all. Our reasons in the academy are the same as those in the business world. People need to communicate clearly. They need to build relationships on trust. Employees need to maintain “vertical relationship management,” aka credibility (Nienhaus, 2004). Businesses, as my three-year-old grandson is learning from Thomas the Tank Engine, need to “avoid confusion and delay.”

University-level writing instructors can do better. Clearly we need to do better. As Russell (2007) reported: “Perelman (2004) surveyed 20 years of MIT graduates (the class of 1980 to the class of 2000), asking them to rank the 25 most important skills and how well MIT had prepared them for performing each. The four highest ranked skills were analyzing problems, critical thinking, mathematical reasoning, and writing. About 60% of the graduates said MIT had prepared them well to perform the first three but only 20% said MIT prepared them well in writing” (p. 271).

In conclusion, what recommendations do I have? First, we need to acknowledge that the value of good writing will continue to escalate, becoming more—not less—important in the information age. A law librarian recently commented that people have now succeeded beyond expectation in getting previously inaccessible information available to everyone, but that we haven’t taught them to write well about what they have found. Academic writing can and should prepare students for employment in businesses and professions, but to do so it must focus on real understanding of discourse communities, on what to do with source materials once they have been found, on argument, and on the process of writing. A good start would be for writing instructors to do the research necessary to know what the workplace requires and to make explicit the connections that do indeed exist between academic and workplace writing.

References

Angouri, J., & Harwood, N. (2008). This is too formal for us…: A case study of variation in the written products of a multinational consortium. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 22(1), 38-64.
Bhatia, V. (2004). Worlds of written discourse: A genre-based view. London: Continuum.
Jameson, D. A. (2004). Implication versus inference: Analyzing writer and reader representations in business texts. Business Communication Quarterly, 67, 387-411.
Mabrito, M. (1997). Writing on the front line: A study of workplace writing. Business Communication Quarterly, 60, 58-71.
Mandel, B. J., & Vassallo, P. (1999). From “me” to “us”: Crossing the bridge from academic to business writing. ETC: A Review of General Semantics, 56(3).
Nienhaus, B. (2004). Helping students improve citation performance. Business Communication Quarterly, 67, 337-348.
Russell, D. R. (2007). Rethinking the articulation between business and technical communication and writing in the disciplines: Useful avenues for teaching and research. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 21, 248-277.



Announcements and Information

Bulletin Board: Announcements and Information

Call for Participation in the EFLIS Newsletter

The changes that all of us EFL teachers have seen in the past few years have impacted all aspects of our teaching. Our students have become even more sophisticated and diverse in their needs and wants, interests, problems, and levels of proficiency. Moreover, the presence of technology in and out of our class has influenced the ways we teach and the ways our students learn. Last, the increased demand for a higher level of proficiency from our students has added to the challenges we already face. All of these facts point to the need to reflect on whether what we have been doing in our class brings out the best in our students. As EFL professionals we always seek ways and means to deliver the best to our students. But never before have we been so in need of fresh ideas to manage the changing teaching situations. EFLIS, therefore, offers some possibilities for us to engage in professional development by participating in our community of practice as readers and contributors. As readers, we always learn from the challenges faced and the solutions found by teachers in diverse geographical localities. We can apply what we learn in our classroom practice and provide feedback to the authors and to the editorial team. Moreover, we can expand from experiences of others and explore new ways of teaching and learning. Eventually, we can share our experiences in our EFLIS Newsletter and become more active members of this community of practice. In contributing to our EFLIS Newsletter, we are engaged in not only the application and assessment of fresh teaching ideas in our classroom but also the development of skills in organizing and communicating teaching ideas in writing, both of which are extremely important for English language teachers.

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About This Community

Statement of Purpose/Goals
EFL IS facilitates idea exchanges on global and specific EFL/ESL issues; brings together professionals who have had/intend to have EFL/ESL experiences in different countries; provides an international network for teaching positions and professional interests worldwide; and encourages Standing Committees and other ISs to address relevant international concerns.

History
EFL IS (previously called Teaching English Abroad) was founded in 1974. Members voted on a change to the current name of the IS in 1990 to better reflect the global constituency of the IS.

Statement of purpose
EFL IS addresses professional and academic concerns related to the teaching of English as a foreign language.

Professional concerns

  • to represent the interests of those teaching in areas where English is a foreign language;
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Community Leaders
Sally Harris, Chair ('07–'08)
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