Blogging the ESL Curriculum Development Process – Part 2: Discussing Differences in Workplace Culture

As I proceed with teaching the evening class, I am challenged by the limited number of hours I can focus on language skills each week. So, I ask myself what I can accomplish with learners for 1.5 hours each week? I focus more on business communications. The last lesson, for example, emphasized leaving a voice-mail message to explain the reason for a cancellation of an appointment, as well as explain the reason for an absence from work.

I elicited some of the content from the students, which is a mixed-level class. The students range in CLB levels from 5 to 8 for listening and speaking, and from CLB 4 to 7 for writing. There is quite a variance in the language skills levels. I then write down some of the suggestions on the board, and provide my own, which generated a lot of discussion about the phrasing and wording used. Questions came up about how to formally introduce others, and oneself. In this context, I explained “this is” is commonly used. This led to some confusion. Another source of confusion was when I introduced phrases that provided reasons for absences or cancellations, and phrases that are commonly used in Canadian workplaces such as “I’m calling to let you know…”, “prior commitments”, “personal matter”, “family emergency”, and “something came up” were explained in more detail with more examples than I anticipated. A lot of discussion followed about the relationship between employers and employees, and especially how much private details need to be disclosed.

After presenting and explaining the phrasing, I asked students to prepare their own voicemail messages based on two different scenarios. I gave them some time to prepare, and then asked them to present for feedback. The feedback session was surprising, as it made me realize that certain phrases are used to maintain professional boundaries. Some of the students still wanted to provide very detailed explanations for their absences/cancellations. I explained that the language used for this context can be expanded to include how to create voice-mails for a wide number of professional contexts. It can be used to cancel an appointment for the doctor, at a meeting, or a workshop. I emphasized that the commonly used reasons given to explain absences do not typically go in to too much detail, as the person receiving the message has a less personal connection to the caller. Also, many students were not aware that they do not have to provide so many personal details, and that they have a right to their privacy. The topic of workplace culture and employment standards are important topics to deliver in the coming weeks.

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