Toward Professional Standards in Languages for Specific Purposes: Universal Workplace Skills


The Fourth International Symposium on Languages for Specific Purposes (LSP) was last weekend at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

My presentation proposed using already-existing standards, such as ACTFL’s “Can Do” statements, 5C’s, and World Readiness Standards, to build common standards for LSP that rely on universal workplace skills that every professional needs in every professional context.  

The examples I developed in the presentation were networking and exchanging contact information. Along with specifying the “Can Do” skills for each task, I detailed the strategies students will need to deploy in order to succeed with each skill at the beginning, intermediate, and advanced level.  Development of metacognitive and “transprofessional” skills allow students to analyze examples in use to understand the consequences of not being able to successfully engage in the targeted professional skill (in this case, networking and exchanging contact information).  I will continue to build standards for balancing universal workplace skills and profession-specific content.

This conference always offers a wide variety of opportunities to learn about the field, find out what others are doing, and take away content that you can use on your own campus and in your own courses.  Some of the general themes that emerged this year included the need to communicate the rationale and relevance of LSP clearly and concisely, a desire to address employer needs by applying the backward design model to LSP programming, and alignment of LSP courses with political realities and other campus programs (such as study abroad and medical professional schools).

One conclusion I drew: the more “specific” the “purposes,” the more educators can address the needs of professionals.

In general undergraduate programs, students should be equipped with professional skills that every employee in every workplace needs, strategies to acquire linguistic and cultures skills on-the-job when they know what those needs are, and some general awareness of real-world issues and profession-specific content. Why less specific skills for undergrads? Because students at that level don’t know the specific purposes to which they will ultimately apply their language skills; for example, even if they know they’d like to work in medical professions, they don’t know if they’ll even get into the professional school of their choice–and if they do, they don’t know if their specialty will be orthopedic surgery, pediatrics, or oncology–each of which requires completely different “specific” skills.

But the presentation on veterinary Spanish on rural food-producing farms where many workers are monolingual Spanish-speakers illustrated that it is possible to address the highly-specific needs of veterinary protocols for vaccinating herds, identifying illness, and calving. Likewise, the nursing course directed at management of illness for sufferers of type-2 diabetes was able to direct highly-specific content to its students for immediate application in the workplace.

Thanks to Lourdes Sánchez López of the University of Alabama Birmingham for the photo in this post–and mostly for pulling off the inaugural International Symposium on Languages for Specific Purposes–what a great legacy!

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