Reflections on EFL Proficiency Requirements in the Business Context: Towards Bilingualism in Professional Education in Finland

By Vourela, Taina Helena | Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

Reflections on EFL Proficiency Requirements in the Business Context: Towards Bilingualism in Professional Education in Finland


Vourela, Taina Helena, Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table


1. Introduction

Lingua francas, common languages, can be assumed to have existed since the times humans started to communicate through speaking 40 000 years ago. (1) Their development seems to fluctuate with economic power; this explains the role of Latin in the Roman empire and the existence of a Latin-based lingua franca in the Mediterranean region towards the 15th century. (2) Similarly, the status of English in the world today can at least partly be explained through the dynamism of the American economy. Maybe in the future, the business community will press to learn Mandarin Chinese; many business people already are.

According to some scholars, (3) the World Trade Organisation, through its promotion of the English language, has a major impact on the linguistic future of the world. It is clear that English has not only secured its position as the number one global language; it has also facilitated globalisation. Generally, the business community welcomes this development, as it is seen to improve opportunities for business. Forming business relationships through translators and interpreters is more time-consuming and less successful, as it allows for less personal communication. Business people hardly see themselves as part of an 'EFL Army' set out to solidify an 'English-language-based New World Order', (4) nor are they particularly concerned about whether they promote linguistic ecology and diversity through their business activities. Such concerns belong to other communities, e.g. the European Commission, which has recommendations regarding the use of languages within the European Community. (5) The business community is simply interested in communicating efficiently in order to sell products or services for a profit.

The present article will not attempt to make a statement on whether the business community is right or wrong in its exploitation of the English language for professional purposes. Rather, it will attempt to discuss what the skills are that a business professional should master for a common business English language medium to function effectively as a means of promoting good business. The article will also reflect on the proficiency levels in English required of successful business communicators in the worldwide business community today, and discuss related pedagogical issues. Finally the language policies of Finnish society and the Finnish educational system are discussed in order to see whether they support the learning needs of future business communicators in the tertiary education, and particularly in professionally oriented universities of applied sciences (UAS).

2. Means of communication in international business

According to various surveys conducted among Finnish enterprises, (6) English is, according to the vast majority of the Finnish companies interviewed, the most used language in customer communication; Swedish and German are also used but to a much lesser extent. Additionally, also Russian, French and Spanish have been reported to be of importance for Finnish enterprises. (7) While English is being used for business purposes in a global context, researchers and practitioners alike ponder at what kind of English it should be. Business people have been reported to view such English communication as a cultureless code; (8) they see their particular discourse community as the relevant cultural group in a business context, e.g. sales engineers, (9) to a greater extent than their national culture. English as lingua franca (ELF), as English used in non-native speaker (E2) (10) communication, may be difficult to accept and manage as, besides artificially created languages such as Esperanto, we normally associate a culture and a country with native members as the bases behind a language. (11) Also, the norms for the proper use of language still largely come from the grammar and vocabulary of variants of standard native speaker English (El). The same goes for rhetorical aspects of writing English: the ways information is organised in writing. …

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