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“Language for Work – Tools for professional development” (2016-2018): achievements

28 May 2019

The end of 2018 brought to a close the second Language for Work project, “Language for Work – Tools for professional development” (2016-2018). It is therefore time to present its achievements.

Both the current project and its immediate predecessor, “ Language for Work – Developing migrants’ language competences at work(2012-2015), addressed not only “traditional” language professionals such as teachers, educational providers and policy makers, but also labour market actors, including employers, managers, co-workers, job centre staff and volunteers supporting work-related L2 development by migrants and ethnic minorities.

The results of the two Language for Work (LfW) projects are documented by the LfW website (http://languageforwork.ecml.at), including a comprehensive set of resources, describing both competences and diverse examples of actual practice.

At the same time, this website is a platform for an active network, where teachers, providers, researchers, employers and authorities can share expertise and develop practice. The LfW Network currently counts over 200 registered members: 182 individual members and 34 organisational members. These members are drawn from a total of 37 countries, mostly in Europe, but also further afield, including New Zealand, Canada, USA, Mexico, Brazil and South Korea. This network will continue beyond the lifetime of the two projects, thanks to the willingness of the project team to continue to administer the network, and the ECML to maintain the website.

The LfW outputs

The LfW resource centre currently contains 218 items contributed by the network members and the coordinating team. It includes research papers and practical resources in the original language(s) with a short introduction in English. This plurilingual platform gives evidence of the added value of Europe’s linguistic and educational diversity.

In addition to these items, the resource centre also includes the outputs of the closing project, which have been developed by the coordinating team in consultation with the network members:

  • Quick guide: how to help adult migrants develop work-related language skills
  • Collection of practices
  • Checklist of competences for different actors useful to support work-related L2 development
  • Communicating with migrants: Guide for staff in job centres and public services

The Quick Guide was commissioned by the project sponsors in response to the influx of refugees in 2015. It is aimed at professionals working in different areas, including language learning by adult migrants, integration programmes, vocational education and training, adult/continuing education, human resources and labour market support services. Its content is articulated in short chapters on key issues or work-related L2, which are further illustrated by brief case studies from different industry sectors from all over Europe. The guide gives an overview of different ways how to develop them, focusing on barriers to and enablers of language learning. It investigates then more closely ways to support learning outside the classroom, exploiting the L2 resources available in the workplace and the structural opportunities of work. It closes with practical tips how to support L2 learning at and through work.

Originally written in English, the Quick Guide has since been translated into a further 14 languages by network members. Printed editions have been produced in English, German, Italian, and soon in French. Wherever it has been presented, at conferences and other events, the Quick Guide has earned great success. Interest in the Quick Guide gives evidence of the urgency of the issue and the need for tools to promote non-formal and informal (language) learning.

The Collection of practices is a description of 35 practices from Europe and Canada that documents different ways to support work-related L2 learning through formal, non-formal and informal learning, identifying the various learning contexts and the key actors involved. The descriptive categories capture the main features of the practice, such as the type of support it offers, for whom, how, and where. Although not representative, the collection gives an overview of the wide spectrum of L2 approaches: from innovative provision in “traditional” contexts such as vocational schools to completely new arrangements in companies, integrating formal, non-formal and informal learning. Finally, it offers data to identify competences helpful to the key actors to put in place effective support in the different learning contexts/settings.

This collection is “work in progress”. The LfW team is aware that there are practices which have not been recorded yet, which may need new descriptions. A great challenge for education and training is posed by new forms of work organisation and freelancer employment models which are taking hold. Although this phenomenon concerns “natives” as well, migrants are overrepresented in the so-called “gig” economy, often working in isolation, such as women working as domestic helps or carers for the elderly in the homes of the employers, with or without contracts.

The Checklist of competences for different supporters in different settings attempts to describe competences helpful to the key supporters of L2 development for, at and through work. This is a field at the crossroads of different social systems, including education, work, public administration, etc. Each has its own aims and goals, priorities, power relations, logics, dynamics. To support L2 development the various actors involved require different competences.

The project’s checklist of competences draws on the collected practice examples, as well as the expertise of LfW Network members as teachers, teacher-trainers and researchers.

The competences are presented by supporter, in a range of “settings” where opportunities exist for different combinations of actors to support work-related L2 learning. The following example shows the specific skills of teachers, supporting L2 directly at work.

The teacher is

  • familiar with ethnographic methods and instruments to identify the language and communication needs of learners and employers;
  • willing to raise awareness of workplace actors for the role of language as part of vocational competence;
  • able to develop a realistic curriculum on the basis of the needs analysis, language level of the learners and structural conditions (e.g. time).

Consistent with the idea that effective communication is a joint venture, Communicating with migrants: Guide for staff in job centres and public services or The other side of the coin, offers guidance to staff in labour market administration and public services.

Communicating with an increasingly diverse clientele − culturally and linguistically − is becoming more challenging for public administrators. This short guide helps staff make communication more accessible for all clients and shows managers how to support own staff in this endeavour.

The brochure was originally developed in German at request of public administrators. The English version is online, and the French is in preparation.

This guide concludes the LfW work. Like the other outputs, it is inspired by the values of the Council of Europe and the ECML of providing support for quality language development as key for all learning for all people living in Europe.

Looking back, looking ahead

The numerous invitations to contribute to conferences and publications show that the expertise of LfW is recognised by the international community. An official sign of recognition from the EU for the importance of the issue and the quality of the LfW work is the European Language Label 2018 awarded by Italy for the book, Lingua e lavoro. Published by the Italian publishers Loescher and LaLinea in cooperation with the ECML, the volume was edited and mainly written by LfW members.

Although the programme has come to an end, there is still much to do. The linguistic integration of adult migrants will remain of vital importance for Europe societies for the future and we coordinating team and network members are committed to this issue.

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