Embedding English Language in an Accounting Subject: A Case of Interactive Interdisciplinary Collaboration and Learning

Article excerpt

Introduction

The paper outlines the process of developing a flow-chart solution as a first step towards the development of a computer-based tool to enhance English language skill of accounting students through interdisciplinary collaboration and learning in an Australian university. The motivation of the project stems from the findings of a recent literature that finds that employers' need for accounting graduates with strong generic and communicative skills are not being met (Jackling and De Lange, 2009; Zaid and Abraham, 1994).

English language development is a pressing need both in the higher education and vocational education sectors (Trounson, 2010). Higher education commentators have shown a correlation between language and learning support (Lea, 2004; Skillen, 1999). Indeed embedding English language has been shown to assist students in understanding materials of a particular discipline and in critically evaluating that material (Abraham and Kaidonis, 2006). Embedding English language is more than encouraging students to pass IELTS, which is really a proficiency based measure constructed as an immigration indicator, rather than a measure of embedded literacy (Abraham and Kaidonis, 2006). Embedding language development provides learning rewards for students by increasing their motivation with potential spin-offs in employment opportunities (Litchfield, Frawley and Nettleton, 2010; D'Amico 2003) and is particularly advantageous to those students learning a second language (Kern and Schultz 2005) or adolescents (Ovens 2002).

For relevancy and meaningfulness, Rogers (2005) claims that, in terms of training, English language must be made relevant to a particular discipline or occupation. This is because language is embedded in disciplinary practice. Thus, an integrated approach to curriculum development is essential (Jones, 2011). Many disciplines have developed their own discipline-specific programmes, such as embedding English in the learning of science (Chan and Abdullah, 2007) and in job training (Moltz, 2009). Instruments used to embedding English language development include cases, commentary, legislation, and policy contexts (Loban, 2011). Murray (2011) suggests discrete embedding tuition of English language within the curriculum to minimise costs. In addition the involvement of academics in the embedding process is highly desirable as academic ownership contributes to the success of the project (Sharp and Sparrow, 2002). Following this emphasis on embedding English language development in discipline based subjects the present case outlines the experience of an academic in the area of Financial Accounting who participated in such English language program.

The case reported in this paper is a second year Financial Accounting subject at the Australian university that hosts a substantial number of international students whose first language is other than 'English.' Students are required to meet English language requirements by taking the international English Language Testing System (IELTS) or similar. However as the IELTS tests the knowledge of 'English' in general, and in particular, the readiness of students to commence tertiary study in an English medium university, it was found that students struggle in understanding discipline-related language. The co-ordinator of this subject identified that students were consistently having difficulty in answering questions related to the topic 'The International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) Framework' as the topic involved understanding and applying theoretical knowledge. Dealing with this topic required taking a step-by-step approach to solve case based scenarios. One of the reasons behind such poor performance, as perceived by the subject co-ordinator was a perceived lack of understanding the question, which was presented in the form of a given scenario. One possibility for dealing with this issue presented itself when the opportunity became available for the co-ordinator to participate in the embedding English language development in discipline based teaching program. …