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More companies switch to English at work: study

Published on: 13 Sep 2010 08:58 CET

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As more Swedish companies are sold to owners in other countries, employees are forced to change their working language from Swedish to English, a thesis written by Vivianne Apelman, who is also involved in language education at Chalmers University of Technology, has found.

Her findings confirm previous research pointing to increased anglicisation in the workplace and that companies tend to take for granted that their employees are proficient in both written and spoken English.

Apelman examined how Swedish engineers at one small and 10 large companies in western Sweden use English in the workplace with a focus on written English. The results are based on a survey completed by 89 participants, 10 interviews and an analysis of various types of documents written in English.

"I wanted to find out what types of texts engineers write and then look at what strategies they use to develop a text and what level of proficiency they need," Apelman said in a statement.

"Knowing these things may help improve the way we teach English to engineering students."

The results show that more than half of all survey respondents and all interviewees wrote in English every day. Emails required the lowest level of English proficiency, while instructions and reports needed a very high ability in the language.

Apelman also looked at the role of gender, but found that writing tasks were linked to their position in the organisation and not to gender. Most interviewees preferred to write reports in English than Swedish because they could find certain words and expressions in English more easily.

As a result, Apelman suggested that Swedish is in a process of losing its usefulness in technical writing. This phenomenon, called domain loss, has been observed in other areas as well.

Although the analysed documents contained a relatively large number of grammatical errors, they appeared to communicate objectives effectively, most likely because of the authors' ability to apply discourse conventions, such as expected thematic structures.

"The great diversity observed in the writing tasks and documents suggests that authentic texts and writing tasks from selected workplaces should be used in teaching in order to prepare students for the diversity awaiting them in their future workplaces," said Apelman.

The Local(news@thelocal.se)

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