ESL employees

Report
Employer Views on ESL
Writing Inaccuracy and
Academic Implications
Jim Hu
[email protected]
BC TEAL 2014
Richmond, BC
Overview
Introduction/rationale
Research questions
Study methodology
Results and discussion
Summary and Conclusions
Further research
1. Introduction
Purpose of the presentation
 Report on a study of employers' perspectives on
writing inaccuracy of ESL employees and the
implications for academia.
Rationale for the study
Many ESL students have no interest in improving
writing accuracy (Ferris, 2002, 2011) because they
• lack confidence in writing competence
• rely too much on institutional support, and/or
• have academic faculty not emphasizing language
accuracy while focusing on content (e.g., Hoare & Hu,
2012; Hu, 2000, 2010; Hyland, 2013).
However, as ESL writing instructors and/or
researchers, many of us believe writing accuracy is
important. How can ESL students and university
faculty be persuaded to pay attention to student
writing problems?
Ferris (2002, 2011) calls for research to explore
the views of prospective employers on
inaccurate and unclear writing to raise ESL
student and faculty consciousness of the
importance of language accuracy.
Studies on error gravity in terms non-academic
readers’ views prior to Ferris (2002) (e.g., Beason,
2001; Hairston,1998; Leonard & Gilsdorf,1990)
suggested that non-academics have an unfavorable
view of writing errors. E.g.,
• Beason (2001): “Although errors can impede meaning,
a more complex and equally important problem is how
readers use errors to construct a negative image of a
writer or organization” (p. 58).
However, little research has pursued this issue
since 2001, especially re. ESL writing. Our study
responds to Ferris' call and contributes to the
research by examining employers' perspectives on
writing inaccuracy of ESL employees.
2. Research Questions
1. What are the expectations of employers regarding writing
accuracy of ESL employees?
2. What language problems do employers believe ESL
employees have in work-related writing?
3. How might writing inaccuracy affect the career opportunities
and success of ESL employees?
4. What are the implications for academia?
Defining terms
Language problems include those in the following categories:
 grammar, vocabulary
 spelling, punctuation, upper/lower cases
 Academic/professional writing style (Hu, 2011), avoiding
a. contracted forms, e.g., isn’t
b. colloquial expressions
c. choppy sentences, i.e., Ss w/ < 10 words each, in a row
 clear expressions
 concise expressions
Grammatical
Accuracy
Pragmatic
Appropriateness
On 3 dimensions of grammar, see
Celce-Murcia & Larsen-Freeman (1999, p. 4).
Semantic
Clarity
3. Study Methodology
The study employed semi-structured indepth qualitative individual interviews with
ten managers and executives representing
six institutions in a small city and four
institutions in a metropolitan area in
Western Canada in 2012-2013.
Participants
Table 1: Administrators and executives interviewed
Participant Institution Type
Position
Gender
ESL Employees
A
Tourism
Manager
Female
5
B
Banking
Manager
Male
6
C
High tech
President
Male
2
D
Medical service
Director
Female
4+
E
High tech
HR Manager
Female
12
F
Law
HR Director
Female
20-25
G
Architecture
Managing Director
Female
8
H
Consulting Services HR Manager
Female
10
I
Education
Counseling
Associate Director
Male
8
J
High tech
IT Manager
Male
15+
4. Results and Discussion
1.1 What kinds of writing do ESL employees need to do for work?
Table 2
Part.
Institution
Kinds of Writing
A
Tourism
Report, website update, Facebook update, press release
draft, client business letters, newsletter articles, emails
C
High Tech 1
Internal emails, technical reports for products, drawings &
descriptions of drawing
D
Medical service
Handwritten notes in point form, clear & concise notes
E
High Tech 2
Basic emails, specification documents, point form notes &
diagrams, reports, ppt presentations, instant messaging
F
Law
Written communication, i.e. legal court documents
G
Architecture
Email, meeting minutes, design documents
H
Consulting Serv
Technical report writing, emails, memos, business writing
I
Ed Counseling
Emails, newsletters, online and print edition orientation
booklets
J
High Tech 3
Emails, procedural steps, status reports, error reports
1.2 What are your expectations or standards for their writing re. language
quality? Same for both ESL and NES employees?
Table 3
Part. Institution
Writing Expectations/Standards
A
Tourism
On par with NES; able to work independently
B
Banking
Error free; errors impact company negatively
C
High Tech 1 Higher standards than average when communicating
with the public; for internal documents, ability to
communicate message is most important
D
Medical
service
E
High Tech 2 When dealing with customers, the requirements are
higher. In tech support positions language proficiency is
more flexible.
F
Law
Standards are high for patient safety, e.g., in
documentation, email, assessment tools
Standards are high; for lawyers, we expect perfection.
1.3 Do you think writing correctly and clearly is important for success?
Table 4
Part. Institution Importance of Writing Correctly & Clearly
A
Tourism
Yes…to constantly correct grammar adds more to the
workload of the (other) staff.
B
Banking
Yes, for external emails and loan-notes.
C
High Tech
1
Yes, very much. Includes grammar, lang. form, content &
ideas.
D
Medical
Service
Yes, the most common issue is we can’t read the writing
[due to spelling, grammar, meaning problems] or
understand the abbreviations. Critical: clear
communication for patient care.
E
High Tech
2
To excel in the job and to excel in your career, most likely.
For a software developer, it’s less about communicating in
writing; it’s more oral and the quality of your work.
H
Consulting
Absolutely. Writing is our deliverable.
1.4 Do you think the ESL employees should write work-related English
with accuracy?
Table 5
Part. Institution Work-related English with Accuracy
A
Tourism
All areas are very important. Newsletters and articles
require employees to perform at high levels to maintain a
good image of the company.
F
Law
Yes. It’s reflective of our work product overall. If a document
is filed in court with one digit or letter off, then it doesn’t get
accepted. The implications are great in our environment.
G
Architecture
No. We’d like them to do as best they can. I expect them to
strive to improve over time.
H
Consulting
services
Yes. If they can’t, then we don’t typically hire them. We are
International Organization for Standardization (ISO)
certified; that’s part of our quality system.
J
High Tech
3
Yes. It allows you to communicate more effectively and
makes everything more efficient.
1.5 If you have/had ESL employees, is/was their ability to write English correctly
and clearly ever a problem for them and/or you?
Table 6
Part. Institution
Ability to Write English Correctly & Clearly
A
Tourism
Yes, poor English standards (probably at grade 4/5 level); negative
impacts on work quality; negative influences to hire ESL students;
resumes not the best method.
D
Medical
Service
Yes. Report writing concerns…spelling and grammar mistakes…
not thorough enough.
H
Consulting
Services
We’ve had to let people go because we’ve tried and tried and tried.
They had really good technical skills and we thought we could
teach them writing.
I
Education
Counseling
Yes. A co-op student built our online orientation. He had great
technical skills but poor English. This created problems down the
road because it was more effort to fix it than it was to just start from
scratch.
J
High Tech 3
Yes. Most of the errors are verbal; however, I have asked some
people to rewrite reports because of style issues, i.e. they didn’t
write to the correct audience.
1.6 If you have/had ESL employees with writing problems, what types of
language problems do/did they have?
Table 7
Part. Institution Types of writing problems
B
Banking
Grammar, vocabulary, punctuation, idiomatic expressions and
professional writing style were all problems with the email
correspondence. Word order, clarity.
C
High Tech 1
#1: vocabulary, #2: grammar
E
High Tech 2
Clear expressions.
F
Law
Grammar and tense usage… Singular vs. plural… Clarity
G
Architecture It’s usually grammar… it might be vocabulary and spelling.
Professional writing style… Clear expressions.
I
Education
Counseling
Grammar… Vocabulary… Professional writing style (i.e. informal,
abbreviations)
J
High Tech 3
Style issues, i.e. using jargon. Some vocabulary problems with
word choice, punctuation, grammar. Professional writing style
including writing for the appropriate audience.
1.7 Would you consider NOT hiring ESL employees in the future who make
frequent or systematic errors in English writing?
Table 8
Part. Institution
Not hiring ESL Employees
A
Tourism
Yes, because of past experience.
B
Banking
Yes. If there are errors in the content – spelling, word
choice – then those resumes are discarded. Attention to
detail is a red flag.
C
High Tech 1
For certain jobs, yes, for public and website jobs. For
internal, technical jobs, I don’t have an issue.
D
Medical
Service
Significant concerns may lead to termination but most
likely would start with a learning plan.
E
High Tech 2
Yes, for grammar issues. For everything else it would
depend on the position.
F
Law
Yes, we would consider not hiring. It’s [language
proficiency] a requirement of the job.
1.8 What would you suggest universities and university instructors do re.
language errors in ESL student writing?
Table 9
Part. Institution Suggestions to universities
B
Banking
Academic professors shouldn’t be required to spend extra
time on language errors but it would be very helpful for
students with the goal of finding employment in Canada. For
students trying to integrate into Canadian companies, it’s an
essential tool for them to write and communicate effectively;
therefore, it’s time well-invested for professors to focus on
language errors.
C
High Tech
1
Yes because it’s important for employability. The university
experience should be more than the raw subject material,
should focus both on subject matter and written language…
The point of university is to prepare students for jobs;
therefore, they should be learning the skills to communicate
effectively in the workplace.
"I think we’re being pushed
more and more to prepare
our students for the job
market“ (Harriet Lewis, May
21, 2014, University
Affairs).
5. Summary and Conclusions
Research Question
1. What are the expectations of employers
regarding writing accuracy of ESL
employees
?
Study results indicate employers mostly maintain the same
writing standards for ESL employees as for native English
speakers.
Resumes containing inaccurate or unclear writing often are
discarded during screening.
ESL employees are expected to write accurate standard
English in communication with the external world
(minor errors are often tolerated in internal
communication, e.g., emails.)
ESL employees are generally expected to complete writing tasks
with minimal assistance from colleagues.
Research Question
2. What language problems do employers
believe ESL employees have in workrelated writing?
• The interviewees were varied in
responses reflecting different writing
contexts. However, some problems noted
were grammar, vocabulary, punctuation,
idiomatic expressions and professional
writing style, word order, clarity.
Research Question
3. How might writing inaccuracy affect
the career opportunities and success
of ESL employees?
• ESL employees who write inaccurate or
unclear English may:
▫ have difficulty finding certain employment
▫ be dismissed
▫ be offered a learning plan
▫ have limited opportunities for advancement
▫ assigned roles dealing with internal
colleagues only or requiring limited
language skills.
Research Question
4. What are the implications for
academia?
The study suggests that since employers often hold
writing quality expectations for ESL employees on
par with native English speakers, ESL students need
to develop competent writing skills.
ESL and academic faculty should try to help ESL
students improve writing accurately and clearly (see
Hu, 2010).
Universities should provide adequate resources for
the writing center to help ESL students help
themselves (see also Hoare & Hu, 2013).
6. Further Research
Future research will include surveys and more
interviews, ideally representing more varied
industries that hire ESL graduates.
Further research may also involve academia to
consider the possibility of implementing employers’
suggestions.
THANKS
to Alana Hoare and Joel Heng Hartse for helping with the
research project.
Jim Hu
[email protected]
References
Beacon, L. (2001). Ethos and error: How business people react to errors. College Composition and
Communication, 53, 33-64.
Celce-Murcia, M., & Larsen-Freeman, D. (1999). The grammar book: An ESL/EFL teacher's course. Boston, MA:
Heinle & Heinle.
Hairston, M. (1981). Not all errors are created equal: Nonacademic readers in the professions respond to lapses
in usage. College English, 43, 794-806.
Ferris, D. (2002). Treatment of error in second language student writing. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Ferris, D. (2011). Treatment of error in second language student writing (2nd ed.). Ann Arbor: University of
Michigan Press.
Hoare, A., & Hu, (October, 2012). Transition into academics: ESL student preparedness and academic faculty
response. Paper presented at the TESL Canada Conference, Kamloops, BC, Canada.
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challenges. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada.
Hu, J. (2010). Faculty Perceptions of Chinese Graduate Students' Communication Challenges in the Science and
Engineering Disciplines. Canadian and International Education Journal, 39(3), 59- 80. Retrieved from
http://ir.lib.uwo.ca/cie-eci/vol39/iss3/6.
Hu, J. (2011).Teaching ESL students to achieve academic writing style. Dimensions of Practice: Principled,
Progressive & Practical - Proceedings of the BC TEAL 2009 Interior Conference. Retrieved from
https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Compiled-Conference-Proceedings.pdf
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Language Writing, 22, 240-253.
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Tamburri, R. (2014, May 21). Exit interview with Harriet Lewis: York’s university secretary and general counsel
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