How to tailor English language learning to specific jobs

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You have to walk before you can run. Many of us have heard this saying at various points in our lives, and it reminds us that everyone must learn and master some foundational elements before taking on subsequent challenges in any process.

But it also presents a linear view of learning: the tasks that someone completes while running will determine the kinds of skill related to running that they must master. Are they training to run marathons, sprints or even maybe hurdles? Do they need to dribble a basketball or a football, or catch a Frisbee while running? Similar to running, the kind of tasks that someone needs to perform in the workplace will influence the language skills they must acquire to effectively complete those tasks. Whether someone is a nurse, lawyer, financial analyst, pilot, plumber or cook, there are communicative tasks that they will need to perform to do that job effectively.

Most English language textbooks for beginners are similar. They contain common phrases, basic grammar points and an understanding of elementary English word order. While this is to be expected – and even welcomed – applying this linear approach to language learning can sometimes reflect the same oversimplified view that we see in the analogy of moving from walking to running.

Specific language skills for job tasks

While the concepts of English for Specific Purposes (ESP) and materials that address specific jobs are not new, Pearson English has taken a comprehensive approach to this area of English language teaching by creating an online database that can help teachers quickly and easily identify the language needs for hundreds of jobs across a variety of industries.

Built using the US Bureau of Labor Statistics O*NET jobs database, the Global Scale of English (GSE) Job Profiles enable teachers to find the learning objectives that support the development of specific skills for a given job or set of roles. The learning objectives themselves are the outcome of several years of research into the language skills needed in the workplace, all aligned to the GSE – a granular proficiency scale aligned to the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR). The resulting database can be used by teachers to identify skills and activities that may be missing from an existing course or to build a new bespoke course.

For example, the table below shows some of the communicative tasks that would be required by a Registered Nurse. These are then linked to the GSE Learning Objectives to ensure that the language teaching matches the required skills.

Registered Nurse

Task GSE learning objective
Hand items to surgeons during operations. Can understand detailed instructions well enough to be able to follow them without making mistakes.
Direct or supervise less-skilled nursing or healthcare personnel or supervise a particular unit. Can give a clear, detailed spoken description of how to carry out a procedure.
Modify patient treatment plans as indicated by patients’ responses and conditions. Can ask open-ended questions to better understand the specific details of a problem.
Prescribe or recommend drugs, medical devices or other forms of treatment, such as physical therapy, inhalation therapy, or related therapeutic procedures. Can recommend a course of action, giving reasons.

As language teachers we want to support our learners not only to learn English, but also to use English in the ways and places that are meaningful for them. As we help them progress from walking to running, tools like the GSE Teacher Toolkit can help us to make sure that we are providing them with the most appropriate skills for their specific needs.

Try out GSE Job Profiles today!

The GSE Job Profiles can be found in the GSE Teacher Toolkit and accessed free of charge by clicking here and selecting ‘Professional Learner’ from the ‘Choose Learner’ drop-down. You can find more information and help about how to search for job profiles here.

To learn more about the project and how the GSE Learning Objectives were mapped to job tasks, download the GSE Job Profiles report here.

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