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Employer Views on ESL Writing Inaccuracy and Academic Implications Jim Hu BC TEAL 2014 Richmond, BC.

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Presentation on theme: "Employer Views on ESL Writing Inaccuracy and Academic Implications Jim Hu BC TEAL 2014 Richmond, BC."— Presentation transcript:

1 Employer Views on ESL Writing Inaccuracy and Academic Implications Jim Hu BC TEAL 2014 Richmond, BC

2 Overview Introduction/rationaleResearch questionsStudy methodologyResults and discussionSummary and ConclusionsFurther research

3 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).

4  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.

5  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.

6 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?

7 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 On 3 dimensions of grammar, see Celce-Murcia & Larsen-Freeman (1999, p. 4). Grammatical Accuracy Semantic Clarity Pragmatic Appropriateness

8 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.

9 Participants Table 1: Administrators and executives interviewed ParticipantInstitution TypePositionGenderESL Employees ATourismManagerFemale5 BBankingManagerMale6 CHigh techPresidentMale2 DMedical serviceDirectorFemale4+ EHigh techHR ManagerFemale12 FLawHR DirectorFemale20-25 GArchitectureManaging DirectorFemale8 HConsulting ServicesHR ManagerFemale10 I Education Counseling Associate DirectorMale8 JHigh techIT ManagerMale15+

10 4. Results and Discussion

11 1.1 What kinds of writing do ESL employees need to do for work? Table 2 Part.InstitutionKinds of Writing ATourismReport, website update, Facebook update, press release draft, client business letters, newsletter articles, emails CHigh Tech 1Internal emails, technical reports for products, drawings & descriptions of drawing DMedical serviceHandwritten notes in point form, clear & concise notes EHigh Tech 2Basic emails, specification documents, point form notes & diagrams, reports, ppt presentations, instant messaging FLawWritten communication, i.e. legal court documents GArchitectureEmail, meeting minutes, design documents HConsulting ServTechnical report writing, emails, memos, business writing IEd CounselingEmails, newsletters, online and print edition orientation booklets JHigh Tech 3Emails, procedural steps, status reports, error reports

12 Table 3 1.2 What are your expectations or standards for their writing re. language quality? Same for both ESL and NES employees? Part.InstitutionWriting Expectations/Standards ATourismOn par with NES; able to work independently BBankingError free; errors impact company negatively CHigh Tech 1Higher standards than average when communicating with the public; for internal documents, ability to communicate message is most important DMedical service Standards are high for patient safety, e.g., in documentation, email, assessment tools EHigh Tech 2When dealing with customers, the requirements are higher. In tech support positions language proficiency is more flexible. FLawStandards are high; for lawyers, we expect perfection.

13 Table 4 1.3 Do you think writing correctly and clearly is important for success? Part.InstitutionImportance of Writing Correctly & Clearly ATourismYes…to constantly correct grammar adds more to the workload of the (other) staff. BBankingYes, for external emails and loan-notes. CHigh Tech 1 Yes, very much. Includes grammar, lang. form, content & ideas. DMedical 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. EHigh 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. HConsultingAbsolutely. Writing is our deliverable.

14 Table 5 1.4 Do you think the ESL employees should write work-related English with accuracy? Part.InstitutionWork-related English with Accuracy ATourismAll areas are very important. Newsletters and articles require employees to perform at high levels to maintain a good image of the company. FLawYes. 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. GArchitec- ture No. We’d like them to do as best they can. I expect them to strive to improve over time. HConsulting 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. JHigh Tech 3 Yes. It allows you to communicate more effectively and makes everything more efficient.

15 Table 6 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? Part.InstitutionAbility to Write English Correctly & Clearly ATourismYes, 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. DMedical Service Yes. Report writing concerns…spelling and grammar mistakes… not thorough enough. HConsulting 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. IEducation 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. JHigh Tech 3Yes. 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.

16 1.6 If you have/had ESL employees with writing problems, what types of language problems do/did they have? Table 7 Part.InstitutionTypes of writing problems BBankingGrammar, vocabulary, punctuation, idiomatic expressions and professional writing style were all problems with the email correspondence. Word order, clarity. CHigh Tech 1#1: vocabulary, #2: grammar EHigh Tech 2Clear expressions. FLawGrammar and tense usage… Singular vs. plural… Clarity GArchitectureIt’s usually grammar… it might be vocabulary and spelling. Professional writing style… Clear expressions. IEducation Counseling Grammar… Vocabulary… Professional writing style (i.e. informal, abbreviations) JHigh Tech 3Style issues, i.e. using jargon. Some vocabulary problems with word choice, punctuation, grammar. Professional writing style including writing for the appropriate audience.

17 1.7 Would you consider NOT hiring ESL employees in the future who make frequent or systematic errors in English writing? Table 8 Part.InstitutionNot hiring ESL Employees ATourismYes, because of past experience. BBankingYes. If there are errors in the content – spelling, word choice – then those resumes are discarded. Attention to detail is a red flag. CHigh Tech 1For certain jobs, yes, for public and website jobs. For internal, technical jobs, I don’t have an issue. DMedical Service Significant concerns may lead to termination but most likely would start with a learning plan. EHigh Tech 2Yes, for grammar issues. For everything else it would depend on the position. FLawYes, we would consider not hiring. It’s [language proficiency] a requirement of the job.

18 1.8 What would you suggest universities and university instructors do re. language errors in ESL student writing? Table 9 Part.InstitutionSuggestions to universities BBankingAcademic 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. CHigh 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.

19 "I think we’re being pushed more and more to prepare our students for the job market“ (Harriet Lewis, May 21, 2014, University Affairs).

20 5. Summary and Conclusions 1. What are the expectations of employers regarding writing accuracy of ESL employees ? Research Question

21  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.


23 2. What language problems do employers believe ESL employees have in work- related writing? Research Question

24 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.

25 3. How might writing inaccuracy affect the career opportunities and success of ESL employees? Research Question

26 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.

27 4. What are the implications for academia? Research Question

28  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).

29 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.

30 THANKS to Alana Hoare and Joel Heng Hartse for helping with the research project. Jim Hu

31 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. 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. 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. Journal of Second Language Writing, 22, 240-253. Leonard, D.J. & Gilsdorf, J.W. (1990). Language in change: Academics’ and executives’ perceptions of usage errors. Journal of Business Communication, 27,137-158. 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


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