Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Perceptions and Problems of English Language and Communication Abilities: A Final Check on Thai Engineering Undergraduates

Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Perceptions and Problems of English Language and Communication Abilities: A Final Check on Thai Engineering Undergraduates

Article excerpt

Abstract

English language and communication abilities are an essential part of the global engineering community. However, non-native English speaking engineers and students tend to be unable to master these skills. This study aims to gauge the perceived levels of their general English language proficiency, to explore their English communicative problems, to investigate their perceived abilities when performing English-related tasks in an engineering workplace communication situation, and to obtain feedback on student performances from English instructors in English for Specific Purposes (ESP) courses. The participants included 130 Thai undergraduate students and two English instructors at a government university. There were two instruments; a questionnaire for the students and a series of interview questions for the instructors. The results revealed that (a) although the students perceived their abilities to be at a fair level, they experienced difficulty using productive skills in English communication; (b) the English-related tasks that the students performed best and worst in were reading and writing tasks respectively; and (c) in the ESP courses, the ability of the students to use English in the 'real world' was not dramatically improved, and (d) these students also had unrealistic language learning goals. These results would benefit both ESP instructors and stakeholders in terms of increasing awareness of both language and communication problems, and designing tailor-made courses that are a perfect fit for their students with regard to the contemporary engineering community.

Keywords: English language skills, workplace communication skills, English for Specific Purposes, engineering students

1. Introduction

The globalization of world markets requires engineers with the capabilities of working in and with different cultures, as well as knowledge of the global markets. Thus, these engineers do not only need technical knowledge, but also the ability to express it. This means that dynamic personalities, or individuals who are skilled and efficient in multitasking (i.e. hard and soft skills) are required. This fact implies that engineers must possess communicative abilities in order to be professionally successful. This globalized era also confirms the need for individuals to develop their English language abilities as a result of increasing international interactions in both the individual and organizational contexts. Unquestionably, most international and local organizations, particularly in Asian countries, set English language proficiency as one of the primary criteria for the recruitment of new staff (Ayokanmbi, 2011; Marina & Rajprasit, 2014; Pratoomrat & Rajprasit, 2014).

However, the English language and communication inabilities of Asian engineers, especially at the operational level, have been addressed by engineering companies. With regard to Asian engineers in Hong Kong and Malaysia, the improvement of their speaking and writing skills are urgently required for more effective communication with business counterparts, (Quin, 2009; Singh & Choo, 2012; Zaharim, Yusoff, Omar, Mohamed, & Muhamad, 2008). In Thailand, novice engineers tend to lack confidence when communicating in English, especially in the oral mode (Jarupan, 2013; Kaewpet & Sukamolson, 2011; Rajprasit, Pratoomrat, Wang, Kulsiri, & Hemchua, 2014), and even experienced engineers have difficulties with written English, and oral workplace communication (Hart-Rawang & Li, 2008; Joungtrakul, 2013; Laohachaiboon, 2011)

Such complaints about the lack of English communication skills among Asian engineers led to both educational institutions and stakeholders designing ESP courses and an Engineering curriculum. The most serious criticism was aimed at irrelevant instruction, in terms of language and communication skills taught in ESP courses, which are considered necessary for the professional workplace. …

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