Teaching the Language of Work

By Kavanaugh, Kevin | Training & Development, April 1999 | Go to article overview

Teaching the Language of Work


Kavanaugh, Kevin, Training & Development


Several years ago, while my wife and I were visiting Germany, we decided to have dinner at the famed Hofbrauhaus in Munich. When we arrived, the beer hall was just as I had imagined it - the German polka band playing, tables of patrons singing along, and waitresses whisking by with those glorious tankards of Germany's best draft. We took our seats at an empty table; I held up two fingers in a peace-sign gesture to alert the waitress. After a few moments I realized that although the waitress had seen my gesture, she was still standing at her station talking to her co-workers.

I continued my hand gestures to no avail: the more I waved my peace sign back and forth, the more she talked and smiled over at me. Other people were enjoying more beers, and I had yet to receive any. I finally made my way over to the waitress station and said to the young woman who had smiled in our direction, "I would like two beers, please," still employing my now-useless hand gesture.

I will never forget what happened next. The waitress put her hand on my arm, indicating that my cultural lesson was about to begin, and demonstrated the correct way to order beer in Germany. She held up her right hand and, while lifting her thumb and forefinger straight up, said, "Eins, zwei... one, two." She repeated these new words for me several times and then let me try my new nonverbal cue. For the rest of our stay in Germany, we never had another problem ordering beer.

I often use this story to illustrate a basic lesson for organizations employing nonEnglish-speaking people. Although nonEnglish-speaking employees are nothing new in the United States, the vast amount of skills and knowledge required for them to be successful has never been greater. Years ago, a nonnative speaker could operate a machine or provide a service with little or no formal English required. Today, that same worker may have to identify safety procedures, support cross-functional teams, or participate in the company's ISO 9000 registration. The requirements of these improvement programs are almost always conducted in the language of the workplace: English.

The U.S. effort to train and develop world-class employees has largely been aimed at middle- and upper-management people. Programs abound to increase productivity for supervisors, managers, and executives, and many basic skills programs are available for English speakers. But what does a company do when frontline employees can't speak the language of work?

Organizations employing nonEnglish speakers have few choices where training is concerned. The most popular choice is some form of English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction. These programs, though effective in community-based settings, focus exclusively on learning the English language. It may take years to teach an adult to speak English, and even longer before he or she feels comfortable enough to use the new language at work. ESL is also known as Workplace Literacy or Basic Business Literacy, but it's still a program that focuses primarily on language acquisition.

Companies employing nonEnglish-speaking adults don't have the time or resources to train all of those people in English. Even if the employees become fluent in English after two or three years, they still may not have applied any of the language to their specific tasks on the job. Employers must develop a training program that is driven by skills, not by language, making English a tool and not the primary focus.

That night at the Hofbrauhaus I needed to learn only two words, eins and zwei. Upon learning the new words and the nonverbal cue, I was able to complete my task. I didn't need to learn the entire German language or even the German word for three. The same approach can help you develop and deliver a workplace productivity program for nonEnglish speakers. By using only functional English terms to teach job-specific skills, you can cut training time dramatically.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Teaching the Language of Work
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.