The demand for English as a second language education in the workplace

Nathalie Duval-Couetil, Purdue University


The focus of this research was the extent of the need for workplace English as a second language education (ESL) in manufacturing companies. Data were collected via a 128-item quantitative survey of 345 front-line supervisors in 24 companies with 10-80% limited English proficient (LEP) employees and interviews with executives at each site. Survey items measured the perceived effect of LEP on over 50 job performance criteria and attitudes toward LEP employees and ESL education. Findings indicated that LEP employees performed worse than English-speakers in eight out of ten job performance categories, suggesting that there were negative effects associated with LEP for employers. These effects appeared to be offset somewhat by higher levels of productivity and dependability from LEP employees and non-ESL initiatives that help overcome language barriers. Findings also indicated that English proficiency was critical to long term job success and advancement opportunities for LEP employees. Although supervisors generally had favorable views toward workplace ESL education, few believed it should be offered on company time. Executives appeared to be reluctant to participate in ESL education due to a perceived lack of motivation on the part of LEP employees to learn English, issues with program focus and quality, and limited positive outcomes. The findings suggested that improved employee participation and more targeted programs are key to expanding delivery within this context. Survey instruments developed for the study may be useful to workplace ESL practitioners and researchers.




Greenan, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Adult education|Continuing education|Management|Bilingual education|Multicultural education

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