Collateral Learning and the Soft Skills
by Julio Menochelli, Brazil, May 2006
In recent years, we have observed that students are starting to learn English much earlier than before. They are reaching advanced levels younger and, as a result, language institutes, examination institutions and publishing companies are revising their plans. Language institutes are offering courses for young children, and regular schools are either improving the quality of their English language instruction by outsourcing it to language institutes, hiring new staff with a different profile or even setting up their own language courses. As a result of this general improvement in teaching, more adults in the future - especially from the social/economic levels language institutes usually aim at - will be speaking English. What then will happen to us English language teachers? Who will our adult students be? What kind of English will they need to study, if they do?
What we can assume is that the role of the English language teacher will definitely change.
Adults in the future, no matter how fluent, will search for improvement in their English related to their professions. English for Specific Purposes (ESP) will become as popular as it is now in Germany and other European countries, where these changes happened a little before.
Due to this adjustment to new needs, teachers will have to function differently. They will have students who know English but want to negotiate better, present better, speak more fluently and confidently in public, write reports, carry out meetings or, to sum it all up, to perform better in their jobs.
As we know, ESP students usually know the jargon of their profession due to being in constant contact with this technical terminology. Having this in mind, teaching lexis will not be a priority. If they know the vocabulary and speak English fluently, what should be taught then? That’s where the main change will be: rather than being English language teachers, we will become communication consultants.
Hence, rather than teaching students to speak English correctly, we will teach them how to handle English aptly.
The learner will play an active role in this process, as classes will be tailor-made according to their specific needs and their vital contribution. Knowledge of style, register and functions of the language will be of utmost importance.
The Soft Skills
This language coaching will entail, therefore, not only the teaching of grammar or lexis, but also the teaching of work-related skills or, better said, the soft skills.
As defined in Career Opportunities News, October 2002, Volume 20, Number 2, Ferguson Publishing Company,
"a soft skill refers to the cluster of personality traits, social graces, facility with language, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that mark each of us to varying degrees. Persons who rank high in this cluster, with good soft skills, are generally the people that most employers want to hire. Soft skills complement hard skills, which are the technical requirements of a job. The ideal, of course, is someone strong in both job and personal skills, but as one employer put it in a recent report, Hard Work and Soft Skills, “Don’t worry so much about the technical skills. We need you to teach them how to show up on time, how to work in teams, and how to take supervision.”
A list of some of the soft skills would look like the following:
From ELT newsletter, article 22, September 2000 ,‘The Soft Skills of Business English’ by Dr. Goeran Nieragden
As suggested by Dr. Goeran, teachers should create contextualised tasks, and thus provide skills-related learning experience. By doing that,teachers will be dealing with collateral learning, i.e., students learning more than merely the subject given.
As communication consultants, teachers will have to be clear about the function of any language item that they want to point out. Any difference between a certain linguistic form and the speaker’s intention can lead to confusion or misunderstanding. That is where their main challenge lies: teachers will have to emphasise the interpersonal forces of language-use in a work-oriented context - the soft skills! Through the syllabus and course books, teachers will have to try to achieve highly complex aims besides those of teaching words and structures.
As language coaches or communication consultants, teachers will have to face both teaching and learners differently. They will have to help learners use the language suitably in their working contexts. This will include the insertion of the soft skills in their teaching in a very explicit way. Teaching will, more than ever before, be learner-centred and student-oriented. Teachers can make immediate use of this in their teaching today. By being aware of the fact that we live in an ever-changing world, they must deepen their knowledge of human resources in order to continue providing teaching solutions to their learners’ specific needs. The not so distant future will require enhancing the learner’s linguistic competence, and preparing them to improve their (inter)cultural competence, i.e. that they are endowed with the ‘extra-linguistic’ demands of handling the language aptly. By incorporating the soft skills, language coaches will certainly help students achieve their goals.
Goeran, Nieragden (2000), ‘The Soft Skills of Business English’, ELT newsletter, September
Julio Menochelli has been an English language teacher and teacher trainer for over ten years. He has worked at major institutions such as the Cultura Inglesa and CEL LEP. He was the coordinator of the Language Programme at Electrolux do Brasil. He has worked as a consultant and field editor for several publishing companies. He is now a marketing and aales advisor at Macmillan Publishing Company.
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