ESL employees

download report

Transcript ESL employees

Employer Views on ESL Writing Inaccuracy and Academic Implications Jim Hu

[email protected]

BC TEAL 2014 Richmond, BC


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.,


b. colloquial expressions c. choppy sentences, i.e., Ss w/ < 10 words each, in a row   clear expressions concise expressions Grammatical Accuracy On 3 dimensions of grammar, see Celce-Murcia & Larsen-Freeman (1999, p. 4).

Pragmatic Appropriateness Semantic Clarity

3. Study Methodology

The study employed semi-structured in depth 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.



Table 1: Administrators and executives interviewed

Participant Institution Type Position Gender

Tourism Banking High tech Medical service Manager Manager President Director Female Male Male Female High tech HR Manager Law Architecture HR Director Managing Director Consulting Services HR Manager Female Female Female Female Education Counseling High tech Associate Director Male IT Manager Male

ESL Employees

5 6 2 4+ 12 20-25 8 10 8 15+

4. Results and Discussion

I G H 1.1 What kinds of writing do ESL employees need to do for work?

Table 2


Institution Kinds of Writing

A Tourism Report , website update, Facebook update, draft, client business letters , newsletter press articles, release emails C D High Tech 1 Medical service Internal emails , technical reports for products, drawings & descriptions of drawing Handwritten notes in point form , clear & concise notes E F High Tech 2 Law Basic emails , specification documents, point form notes & diagrams, reports , ppt presentations , instant messaging Written communication, i.e

. legal court documents J Architecture Consulting Serv Ed Counseling High Tech 3 Email , meeting minutes , design documents Technical report writing , emails , memos , business writing Emails , newsletters , online and print edition orientation booklets Emails , procedural steps , status reports, error reports

A B C 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

D E F Tourism Banking On par with NES; able to work independently Error free; errors impact company negatively High Tech 1 Higher standards than average when communicating with the public; for internal documents, ability to communicate message is most important Medical service Standards are high for patient safety, e.g., in documentation, email, assessment tools High Tech 2 When dealing with customers, the requirements are higher. In tech support positions language proficiency is more flexible. Law 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 D E H High Tech 1 Medical Service High Tech 2 Yes, very much. Includes grammar, lang. form, content & ideas.

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. 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. 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 F G H J Tourism Law Architec ture Consulting services All areas are very important. Newsletters and articles require employees to perform at high levels to maintain a good image of the company.

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. No. We’d like them to do as best they can. I expect them to strive to improve over time. 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. High Tech 3 Yes. It allows you to communicate more effectively and makes everything more efficient.

I 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 D H J Tourism Medical Service Consulting Services Education Counseling High Tech 3 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. Yes. Report writing concerns…spelling and grammar mistakes… not thorough enough. 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. 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. 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.

C E F G I 1.6 If you have/had ESL employees with


problems, what types of language problems do/did they have? Table 7

Part. Institution Types of writing problems

B J Banking High Tech 1 High Tech 2 Grammar, vocabulary, punctuation, idiomatic expressions and professional writing style were all problems with the email correspondence. Word order, clarity. #1: vocabulary, #2: grammar Clear expressions.

Law Grammar and tense usage … Singular vs. plural… Clarity Architecture It’s usually grammar… it might be vocabulary and spelling. Professional writing style… Clear expressions. Education Counseling High Tech 3 Grammar… Vocabulary… Professional writing style (i.e. informal, abbreviations) 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 B C D Tourism Banking High Tech 1 Medical Service Yes, because of past experience.

Yes. If there are errors in the content – spelling, word choice – then those resumes are discarded. Attention to detail is a red flag. For certain jobs, yes, for public and website jobs. For internal, technical jobs, I don’t have an issue.

Significant concerns may lead to termination but most likely would start with a learning plan. E F High Tech 2 Law Yes, for grammar issues. For everything else it would depend on the position. 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 C Banking High Tech 1 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. 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


What are the expectations of employers regarding writing accuracy of ESL employees


 Study results indicate employers mostly maintain the


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 work related 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.


to Alana Hoare and Joel Heng Hartse for helping with the research project


Jim Hu [email protected]


Beacon, L. (2001). Ethos and error: How business people react to errors.

College Composition and Communication, 53,


Celce-Murcia, M., & Larsen-Freeman, D. (1999).

The grammar book: An ESL/EFL teacher's course.

Heinle & Heinle.

Boston, MA: Hairston, M. (1981). Not all errors are created equal: Nonacademic readers in the professions respond to lapses in usage.

College English, 43,


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

Michigan Press.

(2nd ed.). Ann Arbor: University of 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.

Hoare, A. & Hu, J. (February, 2013). Best teaching practices for academic ESL students. Paper presented at the Teaching Practice Colloquium, Thompson Rivers University, Kamloops, B.C., Canada. Hu, J. (2000). The academic writing of Chinese graduate students in sciences and engineering processes and 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

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

Hyland, K. (2013). Faculty feedback: Perceptions and practices in L2 disciplinary writing.

Language Writing,

22, 240-253.

Journal of Second

Leonard , D.J. & Gilsdorf, J.W. (1990). Language in change: Academics’ and executives’ perceptions of usage errors.

Journal of Business Communication, 27


Tamburri, R. (2014, May 21). Exit interview with Harriet Lewis: York’s university secretary and general counsel reflects on a challenging career. University Affairs. Retrieved from