Teaching Managerial Communication to ESL and Native-Speaker Undergraduates

Article excerpt

To succeed in the university and the work world, undergraduate management students need to learn both analytic and communication skills. These skills include analyzing a body of information, separating opinion from fact, reaching conclusions about the data, formulating recommendations, and communicating these conclusions and recommendations effectively and efficiently to a particular audience. Teaching these skills engages students on a variety of intellectual levels, from simply summarizing information to reasoning independently after grappling with difficult textual information.

Although communication instructors have long recognized the need for such skills, in recent years other disciplines in business and management have acknowledged their importance as well. For example, the Uniform CPA exam now tests candidates' writing ability, which "sends a message that the ability to communicate in writing is critical to the accounting profession" (Blum & Ferrara, 1994, p. 16). As North American universities enroll increasingly more nonnative speakers of English and working-class native-English speakers, students may arrive in university classrooms with varying degrees of preparation to confront the challenges of analysis and communication. Communication instructors can help students work at a level that goes deeper than rote learning and formulaic writing by supplementing or replacing traditional methods of teaching managerial communication with methods and strategies from other disciplines.

The techniques and strategies used to teach English as a Second Language (ESL) have much to offer. In particular, the methodology I discuss below is rooted in a learner-centered approach that seeks to find or create shared ground between students' knowledge and experience and the course material and requirements, "because learning only occurs when prior knowledge is accessed and linked to new information" (Bartolome, 1994, p. 182).

This paper results from my experiences in teaching and tutoring undergraduate students in Managerial Analysis and Communication (MAC 299), a required course in the College of Management at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. The nontraditional population at this urban commuter institution consists of older students (average age of 29) who often work full time, have families, and may have been away from the academic setting for a considerable time. Both nonnative and native English-speaking students tend to be first-generation college students. UMass/Boston's nontraditional students have much in common with English as a Second Language or nonnative speakers of English. Generally UMass/Boston attracts more immigrant than "foreign" students, so most students are proficient in English before coming to study in the United States.

With an M.A. in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), I was hired to teach MAC 299 specifically because the Marketing and Communication Department wanted to serve the increasing proportion of nonnative speakers among the undergraduates in the College of Management. In MAC 299, class size averages 25, with one fourth to one third of the students nonnative speakers of English. On average, about two thirds of the students are male, one third female, with an age range of roughly from 20 to 47.

MAC 299 focuses on analytical thinking in a management context and instruction and practice in oral and written communication. Students have taken at least a freshman English course. MAC 299 is offered only on a P/F basis, with 'P' standing for proficiency rather than pass; a 'P' requires producing at least B-level work. For graded work, students write four papers and give an oral presentation. Papers assigned are in business communication formats such as memos and letters or in the academic style of traditional expository or research papers. All, however, require the students to analyze a body of material, form an opinion, and communicate it to a well-envisioned audience. …