Ready for Alphabet Soup?
By Claudio Muñoz
Now during lunch time you can also feed your brain. Thanks to special, tailored and focused language training, foreign-born workers can improve their communication skills during their breaks. English language classes at the workplace are becoming popular among companies seeking more prepared, competitive and efficient workers.
More than just a benefit, this kind of training is becoming a necessity. Every year, more and more immigrants are entering the workforce (according to Statistics Canada a little bit more than 21 percent of the people working during 2006 were foreign born) and an important percentage of them are allophones, people whose mother tongue is not English or French (see article The Importance of Speaking English)
On the other hand, the same report stated that “whereas in 2001, 23 percent of allophones used a language other than English or French at work, this proportion was 22 percent in 2006.” In Ontario, the proportion of allophones who used non-official languages at work last year was only 20 percent and going down.
Allophonic immigrants are getting jobs but they can experience some trouble at the workplace where people speak only English or French.
A pronunciation lesson and a coffee, please
English Studies at Lunch is one of the companies teaching English in the workplace. The name of the company suggests foreign-born employees can improve their communications skills while eating a sandwich around noon. But it can be during breakfast, at the end of the day or even during weekends. Classes are an hour or an hour and a half long; for the first part of the class the teacher does the talking so you can have your meal.
As you can see, this program is not like your regular ESL or LINC class. Not only because of its flexibility – the teachers go to your place, not the other way around – but because it is customized for your industry: lessons will help non-native English speakers improve at their job, according to the company needs.
“We can custom-design instruction so the vocabulary is specific to that particular occupation and company,” said Angela Conway English Studies at Lunch Program Director. To provide ESL training, ESL at Lunch doesn’t require a minimum number of students. They can go to your company even for one student.
Future students can participate regardless their level of English. Usually, though, they can already speak and communicate in English… after all, they had enough communication skills to get the job. “We are talking mostly of people that come to work every day, they speak on the phone, they send e-mails. They certainly have a reasonable level already. These students are usually intermediate to advanced, or somewhere in between,” Conway explained. “Although staff in more junior jobs with more basic level of English will certainly benefit from classes and will improve their chances of promotion.”
In general, these language lessons provide the students with more specific vocabulary, writing or pronunciation skills. So if you are on the phone trying to make sales, and you feel that sometimes people don’t understand you, this may be the class you are looking for. But English Studies at Lunch is not only for front desk clerks or call center operators. It was also developed to help your communications inside the company: when you have to make a presentation to your boss, or write a report, or even memos or e-mails.
English Studies at Lunch is not the only organization that provides these services; other organizations like The Centre for Skills Development and Training also offer English instruction at work. “We concentrate on settlement English – maybe half of it – so there’s regular, everyday, language skills people may need to survive. And we also focus on the language of that particular workplace,” explains Deborah Dennison, Manager of Corporate Training at The Centre for Skills Development and Training.
Right now, The Centre works mainly with companies in the manufacturing sector, “because manufacturing has the largest workforce and tends to attract more foreign born workers,” Dennison explains. Nonetheless they are open to working with everybody and classes are free.
Courses are usually around 30 hours, typically four hours a week. English classes do not include job search skills – like mock interviews, for example – because students are already hired. They aim for improving your communications skills so you can take the next step: getting confidence and improving your productivity or helping you get a promotion, for example.
A confident workforce
A main difference from regular ESL classes is that this training requires the employer’s commitment. They need to provide the infrastructure – a meeting room as a classroom for example – and participate in developing the lessons. Because they are tailored, teachers need to know all about the workplace. In some cases, employers have to pay or adjust an hour of the workers’ working time for classes.
But what companies get in return makes the program valuable. Dennison explained that companies under this program report a more engaged workforce because English is spoken more often. People become much more confident, they are not afraid to apply to other positions within the company or to speak up more at meetings. “It also creates a lot of goodwill, especially when the company supports it. We always have a graduation ceremony after 20 hours of instruction; [some] companies advertise it, congratulate participants, a company representative may be there, in some cases the company even throws a barbeque for the graduates or they have a cake. They do something special and that’s very meaningful for the participants. In almost every case they ask to have it renewed and then more people want to join it,” she says.
Angela Conway added that this kind of program also increases loyalty. “Why do people stay at a job? Okay, one reason is the money. But there are a lot of other things as well: satisfaction, friendship, workers feel more confident, they feel they are producing. Workers look at the benefits apart from salary. If I am getting English training I’ll appreciate it. It would improve my chances for promotion and would be an incentive for me to stay,” she explains.
ESL training at the workplace recognizes that immigrants have very busy lives and by the end of the day it is hard for them to take the subway to attend English class. Bringing the classroom to the office motivates workers “because this is about their careers, their success,” Dennison adds.
With the rising rates of allophones working in Canada, initiatives like these seem natural. ESL training at the workplace, as with many other job-specific language classes for newcomers, is already part of the government initiatives to remove workplace barriers. Recently the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration announced that community agencies and employers are partnering with 15 school boards across the province to deliver job-specific language training for newcomers. The training will give newcomers the opportunity to strengthen their language skills.
According to the Ministry, more than 2,300 newcomers will benefit from the training, which is being funded with a $3.4 million investment.
So, get ready. These programs can change your diet. If you bring your homeland-food and your books, by the end of the day you will satisfy both your appetite and your desire to improve your English.
How can I get these classes in my company?
1.Contact your HR representative or supervisor and show them what it’s all about.
2.Your supervisor may contact any company that provides this service: