English Language Interventions that Improve International Business Student Group-Work Performance

English Language Interventions that Improve International Business Student Group-Work Performance

Paul R. Alexander (Curtin University, Australia) and Patricia M. Dooey (Curtin University, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2069-6.ch012
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English-taught business degrees now represent an important part of the global education market. These attract students from all parts of the world, many whose first language is not English. Universities hosting these courses have developed language support mechanisms and programmes which have proven effective in supporting language needs in the academic context. However, these have not generally included specialised attention to group-work where the demands for communicating in English may be significantly more challenging than in a classroom environment. In this chapter, the authors consider the growth of English language support mechanisms in general, and outline a study that quantifies the impact of English in group work performance. They also detail the design of a short intervention programme focused on group-work that can improve the skills learned by students with English as a second language, and increase their performance significantly. They use this study to suggest mechanisms, and to propose improvements to English support programmes.
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As internationalisation in the global workforce develops, so does the need for competence in English, the predominant language of commerce. This has created an associated demand for universities providing English-taught Business Degrees (EBDs), in which courses are delivered in English to an increasingly significant cohort of students from non-English speaking backgrounds; those for whom English is their second language (we refer to them as English as a Second Language (ESL) students here). Despite meeting minimum English language requirements on entry, these students are often at varying levels in the English language learning continuum as they progress through their studies. It is evident in these institutions that student communication deficiencies are deepening due to heterogeneity in language and cultural background (Devita, 2000). This impacts the teaching of both discipline-related and non-technical skills, as these all have communication at their core (Bancino & Zevalkink, 2007).

Concerns for the effectiveness of English communication also persist beyond completion of a student’s business degree, and employers invariably identify language, writing and effective team participation as ‘non-technical skills’ (Goleman, 1998) which they value but commonly find to be lacking in graduates (Downing, 2001; Graduate Careers Australia, 2008), They expect universities to provide training and learning assurance, and consequently many employers now recognise a link between language and professional skills required for both success during their studies, and for graduate employment (Business Higher Education Round Table (BHERT), 2011; Jackson & Chapman, 2012). Businesses are therefore beginning to acknowledge that these skills need to be embedded into discipline areas and developed in conjunction with industry- related skills. While universities have pedagogical priorities that develop “learning” over merely “training”, business and university requirements are not at odds in this case.

Universities too, have become internationalised and in providing business education, operate in a highly globalised environment in which students seek to study in regions (and languages) other than their local ones (Stromquist, 2007; Yang, 2003). Table 1 shows the extent to which universities around the world host international students. The dominant providers are from the US, UK, France, Australia and Germany. When it comes to proportions of international students, the UK and Australia represent the highest significant proportions of over 30%, France having mid-20% and the US and Germany having around 15% (See Figure 1).

Table 1.
Major student country destinations for universities

UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2014.

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