NZIM: Learning, Language & Culture

A few years back New Zealand’s reputation in the international learning marketplace took serious tumble, particularly among Asian nations, when it became obvious our education providers were more focused on gathering fees than on turning out well taught students.
And, on parallel but different tack, New Zealand is having trouble turning the migrants it invites to join the workforce quickly and efficiently into both qualified and competent members of the business community.
The problem, says NZIM’s policy manager Batch Hales, centres on how we teach foreign students and how we misunderstand the importance of the cultural component of learning.
International and migrant students are an increasingly large component of New Zealand’s education pool and workforce. They come to New Zealand to learn at secondary, polytechnic and tertiary level. And while international students in particular provide strong economic boost to the economy and to the economy of some of our education providers, the teaching process frequently fails both the students and the employers who want to recruit them.
Students come with high expectations about the qualifications they want to gain in New Zealand, says Hales. But their expectations are rarely matched by their English language skills. Unfortunately, the teachers delivering the business and management programmes are often not equipped to teach English as second language.
But the problem doesn’t stop there. Learning English sufficiently to comprehend theory is only part of the problem when it comes to tackling business and management courses. “Consequently, the student may come out with written understanding of the subject but be unable to put it into practice,” says Hales.
As part of solution NZIM has developed Certificate in Language, Culture and Management which it is now trialling. The objective is to reduce the barrier for ‘English as second language’ (ESOL) learners, by providing programme which integrates language, culture and management learning.
“Learning language is integrally connected with learning about the culture in which that language is used, since language is embedded in culture,” says Hales. “People who are able to enrich their own experiences and understandings with an appreciation of the different cultural expectations of the New Zealand workplace, and who communicate in ways that reflect this, will increase their chances of success at work.”
Hales wants learners on the NZIM programme to develop their technical language competencies, build their understanding of New Zealand workplace culture in particular, and increase their confidence and competence in asking questions and making suggestions that lead to improvements for them, their team and their organisation.
The newly launched certificate is really about helping teachers who offer management and business programmes, to teach ESOL students more competently and comprehensively. Education providers have, in Hales’ opinion, an “ethical responsibility” not to accept students onto programmes such as the Diploma in Business if the students are unable to cope with the programme. Providers should only teach these programmes in ways that meet the needs and aspirations of the students.
This means teaching programmes in ways appropriate to ESOL students, rather than expecting ESOL students to cope with teaching and learning processes appropriate for New Zealand English-speaking students.
“After all, we are happy to accept their very considerable fees,” he adds.
Migrants and international students face many barriers when they try to settle into New Zealand and adjust to the country’s way of life. The barriers include lack of fluency in the language, cultural differences, lack of recognition of qualifications, and discrimination. Consequently, international students have trouble completing their studies and migrants with high level qualifications and experience end up taking entry level jobs.
“We are all inclined to be ethnocentric,” says Hales. “We judge others’ behaviour and actions according to the standards of our own culture. This affects our expectations of people from other cultures.”
But when it comes to learning business and management subjects, ESOL students also need to appreciate and understand the culture of the workplace. “Workplaces have particular cultural expectations,” says Hales. “There are accepted ways of going about work and of communicating in individual organisations – and they are often very different from the workplace cultures that migrants are used to.”
Employment success depends on an ability to do the job and to communicate in culturally appropriate ways with colleagues and employers. People need not only understand the norms and cultural expectations of the workplace, but also the different ways of communicating in different situations within the workplace – such as an office, an executive meeting, performance review, planning meeting or communicating by telephone, letter, report or conversation.
For international students and new migrants to understand and become familiar with these cultural norms and expectations they must first have their own experiences and understanding validated and also recognise, understand and consider new cultural expectations, says Hales.
When it comes to teaching business courses to ESOL students, NZIM wants educators to move away from traditional authoritarian models of teaching to more facilitative style which “mirrors new management practices and enhances interaction between programme participants”.
According to Hales, the learning experience should mirror common workplace practice. Participants therefore need to be in situations where they talk and work with classmates in order to understand concept or complete task. “This reflects how they are likely to operate in the workplace, where the development of workplace tasks, and the composition of documents relating to those tasks, are seldom undertaken by single worker,” he adds.
NZIM’s new Certificate in Language, Culture and Management will be open mainly to ESOL students who want to gain qualifications that will help them work in New Zealand. Students and migrants may arrive in New Zealand with English language skills which are considered good in their home countries but, says Hales, “many business courses are full of new concepts and complex language that challenge their language competencies and cultural understanding”.
Hales believes many of the participants taking the course will be enrolled in tertiary language institutes but it is also designed for people who are already in employment. The certificate will be available to anyone in the workplace who wants to improve language and literacy competence and understanding of workplace culture.

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