For the last 8 or 9 years I have been working in programs that deliver language instruction to adult newcomers who have language levels above CLB 7. These people have high levels of education and have been professionally trained. When I first started working with this demographic of students, I struggled with creating content that was relevant for my classes. I found their language skills to be quite good, and I wondered what else I could offer them.
Once I started to get to know them a little better, I came to understand that they were having difficulty obtaining employment. This fact seemed counter intuitive to me because I know that Canada relies on immigration to sustain its workforce. I had been taught that without immigration, Canada’s population would actually decline. So, what exactly prevents them from getting a job?
Pragmatics and Culture
I started to investigate how people on the higher end of the CLB rating scale could improve their language. I discovered that pragmatics was the answer. Pragmatics, in relation to applied linguistics, involves how we build relationships between the speaker and the listener. The specific strategies we use to build these relationships are culturally determined. These pragmatic strategies are just as important as grammar and pronunciation for students trying to get a job.
Manners vs. Meaning
According to a study done by Campbell and Roberts in the UK, the reason migrant and ethnic workers are rejected by job interviewers, despite having appropriate qualifications and experience, is their inability to produce the expected pragmatic discourse. Their use of language to convey meaning is often judged negatively (Campbell & Roberts, 2007). Crandall and Basturkmen suggest that errors of appropriacy cause greater problems for non-native speakers as they aren’t necessarily identified by native speakers as a problem with language, but more of a difference in attitude (Crandall & Basturkmen, 2004). After experiencing this revelation, I set out to find some good resources to use in my classes. That’s when I encountered my next struggle — there was very little in terms of resources for me to use!
Big Problem: Lack of Resources
Based on the studies, it seems that a valuable step in settlement for new immigrants is to include pragmatic instruction in language programs geared to newcomers. However, there is a shortage of available resources that facilitate teaching and learning cultural norms appropriate to the Canadian workplace (Louw et al, 2010).
Best Solution: Reciprocity
Over the years I’ve been building a reservoir of these types of resources, and trying to share them with my teaching colleagues. Fortunately, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many resourceful, creative, excellent teaching professionals, which has lead me to an exciting project that could ultimately help you! I am about to embark on a research project where I investigate what teachers are doing in the classroom when it comes to teaching cultural norms for the workplace.
My question to you is: What are you doing in your classrooms to facilitate the learning of pragmatic language? (because I know you are probably doing it very well!)
Campbell, S. & Roberts, C. (2007). Migration, ethnicity and competing discourses in the job interview: synthesizing the institutional and personal. Discourse & Society, 18(3), 243-271.
Crandall, E. & Basturkmen, H. (2004). Evaluating pragmatics-focused materials. ELT Journal, 5(1), 38-49.
Louw, K., Derwing, T. & Abbot, M. (2010). Teaching pragmatics to L2 learners for the workplace: the job interview. The Canadian Modern Language Review. 66(5), 739-758.