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THE REQUIRED ENGLISH SKILLS IN THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY FOR AEC ACROSS THAILAND, MALAYSIA AND SINGAPORE
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Table of contents
This section presents theories and concepts that are related to the subject of study. In particular, the section describes the model of needs analysis and the concept of English as a foreign language (EFL). The critical English skills are also evaluated. As well, the section reviews the existing studies related to the problems, needs and wants of English skills in the construction industry for AEC across Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.
The term “needs” generally refer to the difference between what is expected (goals) and what actually exists (Heitner, 2011; Spencer-Oatey & Franklin, 2009). In this context, “needs” can be regarded as the requirements that an institution or a society regards as necessary for an individual or individuals to carry out specific tasks effectively (Planetree, 2008). Nitchamon (2006) gives a more specific description of needs. According to Nitchamon (2006), needs refer to what an individual would like to gain after studying a language course. This definition implies that an individual can have personal objectives in addition to the requirements of jobs. Summing up the above definitions, the term “needs” in this context can be regarded as linguistic requirements or skills that are regarded as necessary for an individual to carry out a specific task effectively.
The answer to how personnel working in construction industry can develop successful good English skills can be obtained through a need analysis. Need analysis refers to an effective analysis technique that helps individuals as well as organizations to establish and to validate the actual needs that are present in various situations (Akyel & Ozek, 2010). Need analysis, as described by Yule (2006) can also be referred to as needs assessment and entails the various activities that are carried out with the objective of establishing the program that will be undertaken in order to ensure that the learning needs of the specific group are addressed. On the other hand, according to Bosher and Smalkoski (2002) need analysis entails analysis of the target situation and present situation analysis. The target situation analysis focuses on the needs of students after the students have completed a language course while the present situation analysis objective is to establish the students’ language knowledge at the beginning of the language course (Bosher & Smalkoski, 2002).
In perspective of Khamkaew (2008), needs analysis is a process of gathering information about needs of learners, assessing the needs of the learners in the future, interpreting the information gathered and using it to develop goals to meet the needs. Yuwaree (2008) describes need analysis as a process that entails; a) establishing needs and determining the definitions that will be applied, b) singling out the focus of the needs analysis c) establishing the research method to be used d) carrying out the research and presenting the findings. Generally, needs analysis can be described as the process of identifying skills that are needed to perform a job, assessing the skills that will be needed in the future and using the information gathered in developing objectives.
As Khamkaew (2008) explains, the key purpose of needs analysis is to examine the key needs of workers that influence their ability to satisfy customers. Khamkaew (2008) suggests that in order to enhance customer satisfaction, members of an organization should possess the necessary skills to enable them to effectively serve customers. Therefore, needs analysis encompasses all activities that are used to gather information about an individual’s needs, desires, wishes, wants, and much more. The process of needs analysis also involves assessment of requirements and expectations of other persons who may be affected by the program. As Khamkaew (2008) explains, needs analysis can be informal and quick, or it can be formal and time consuming. Information collected from needs analysis can be used in developing goals to address the needs. In turn, the goals can help to develop in-house training programs to address the needs (Khamkaew, 2008; Gass, 2012; Lesikar & Flatley, 2010).
According to Machado (2006), there are different needs analysis methods that can be applied in different situations. The following are some of the common needs analysis methods:
- Work analysis: This refers to the analysis of the tasks that are carried out in a particular job. It is the analysis of a particular job and the requirements that are needed to perform the job effectively. This type of analysis seeks to specify the skills needed as well as the main duties for a particular job. This type of analysis helps to ensure that training goals are in line with job requirements (Machado, 2006, as cited in Viravaidya, 2011).
- Content analysis: This is the analysis of procedures, laws and documents used in jobs. This method of analysis helps to understand the information and knowledge that is used in a particular job
- Training suitability analysis: This is the process of investigating whether training is the most suitable solution
- Cost-benefit analysis: This refers to the analysis of impacts of an investment in training
- Context analysis: This is the analysis of the needs of a given business or industry.
- User analysis: This is an analysis that deals with future instructors and participants involved in a process.
The techniques for assessment of basic needs include questionnaires, observation, interviews, review of relevant literature, report studies, work samples, records, tests and focus groups (Machado, 2006, as cited in Viravaidya, 2011).
In order to establish the required English language skills in the construction industry for AEC across Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, it is vital to carry out needs analysis. Moreover, it can also be noted that it will be vital to establish the status of English language in the Asian countries.
Among the needs analysis models that are relevant to this study are information type and information source models. Information type model posits that target needs can be categorized into two types: target situation needs and learning situation needs (Viravaidya, 2011). Target situation needs are specific needs of study subjects, whereas learning situation needs are the general needs required by the subjects to carry out their tasks effectively. Learning needs are also called wants. While target situation needs are always according to a learner’s needs, learning situation needs may not be according to a leaner’s needs. Viravaidya (2011) argues that in order to facilitate effective learning, it is vital to operate both types of needs. In this study, the researcher aims to asses both needs and wants of workers in construction industry for AEC across Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.
Information source model suggests that information about learner’s needs should be derived from several sources. According to Mudby (2003, as cited by Viravaidya, 2011), the process of collecting information about needs should start with assessment of learners themselves followed by the learning situation. Information gathered should be used in creating specific needs that ought to be addressed. Mudby (2003, as cited by Viravaidya, 2011) stated that information about needs should also be obtained from institutions that provide learning resources and from other participants such as learner’s social groups. In this study, the researcher will try to obtain information from subjects (workers in construction companies) as well as from other relevant sources.
As Albostan (2012) explains, reading is a set of activities that require application of different skills. Reflecting on the different skills and the complexity of reading activity can help an individual to become a better reader. Esposito et al (2007) describes the following tips that can help an individual to become a better reader: understanding and applying styles of reading; engaging in active reading; adopting ways of speeding up active reading; reading widely to improve vocabulary; and spotting author’s navigation aids.
Reading refers to a cognitive process of decoding symbols in order to derive or construct meaning from the symbols (Yule, 2006). Huh (2006) describes reading skill as the ability to decode and to comprehend meanings of written symbols. On the other hand, Esposito et al (2007) defines reading skill as the ability to extract meaning from written text. Considering the above definitions, reading skills can be regarded as the abilities to decode, interact with and extract meaning from written text.
Reading skills enable workers to interpret and to comprehend written information within organizations. The skills enable individuals to comprehend written information, ideas or messages communicated within an organization through reports, manuals, articles, brochures, emails, newsletters, letters and legislation.
Listening is one of the most essential skills in communication as it facilitates comprehension and learning of a second language. As Pingyoad (2005) explains, listening skill enables learners to perceive English language the way it is perceived by native speakers.
Listening simply refers to the act of hearing attentively (Bacal, 2005). Pingyoad (2005) describes listening as an act that involves three basic steps, namely hearing, understanding and judging. On the other hand, Gass (2012) describes listening skills as the ability to hear and to extract meaning from spoken message. Pingyoad (2005) gives a more comprehensive definition of listening skill. According to Pingyoad (2005), listening skill refers to the ability to actively receive and respond to spoken (and in some cases unspoken) messages.
In organizations, listening skills enable individuals to receive information, messages and ideas conveyed verbally by organizational stakeholders such as customers, managers, supervisors, workers, suppliers, shareholders, government agents and surrounding communities (Pingyoad, 2005).
Speaking is one of the key skills that influence the ability for individuals within organizations to provide effective services to customers (Rungnirundorn and Rongsa-ard, 2005). As explained by Pingyoad (2005), speaking skill can be described as a mirror image of listening skill. Both speaking and listening skills require the same cultural and linguistic knowledge. However, speaking skill is a partial image of listening skill because it has an added problem of pronouncing words.
Speaking skill refers to the ability to speak or to generate words that can be understood by listeners (Nunan & Choi, 2010). Rungnirundorn and Rongsa-ard (2005) describe speaking skill as the ability to convey message verbally in a way that can be understood by listeners. Generally, speaking can be regarded as the ability to generate and to pronounce words that can be understood by listeners.
Speaking skills enable individuals within organizations to convey information ideas or messages verbally to organizational stakeholders such as workers, managers, supervisors, customers, suppliers, government agents and shareholders (Rungnirundorn & Rongsa-ard, 2005). The skills enable individuals to reply to messages, ideas and information conveyed by the stakeholders.
As Gass (2012) explains, writing is the major means of communication within organizations. Unchana and Wandee (2007, as cited in as cited in Waidarp, 2011) suggested that almost 30 percent of work time is utilized in written communication. However, studies have shown that individuals experience problems in grammar and vocabulary in writing, especially in organizations located in countries where English is not the primary language (Siriporn et al, 2007, as cited in Waidarp, 2011; Esposito et al, 2007).
According to Waidarp (2011), writing skill is the ability to write a sequence of letters, symbols or words marked on a surface. Gass (2012) describes writing skill as the ability to compose text for publication. On the other hand, Prapawuttikul (2004) defines writing skill as the ability to compose text using understandable words and language to communicate ideas or to convey information or messages to a variety of audiences.
Writing has two major roles in organizations: to convey information and to clarify to readers (Prapawuttikul (2004). When an individual has problems or is unable to express an idea, writing it down can help the readers understand. Also, writing skills enables individuals within organizations to convey information to a large group of recipients, which could have taken long time to explain. Individuals may apply writing skills in construction companies in writing manuals, reports, articles, brochures, letters, emails and legislation (Prapawuttikul, 2004).
Generally, the four English skills are all essential in today’s business environment. Studies have shown that most people from countries where English is not a primary language such as Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia are increasingly undertaking training in order to attain the critical English skills (Cautrell, 2011, as cited in Waidarp, 2011). However, most people who undergo through training still experience English skills problems. This implies that English needs and wants for workers in construction industry in the AEC countries have not been satisfied.
EFL refers to teaching or learning of English in nations where English is not the first or the mother language. As Cautrell (2011, as cited in Waidarp, 2011) explains, English language skills have become quite important to academic communities in countries where English is not the primary language, such as Thaikland, Malaysia and Singapore. Today, English is incorporated as part of school curriculums at various levels in those countries. Indeed, it can be noted that a wide range of commercial ventures including retailing, manufacturing, insurance, exporting and accounting require English usage even in countries where English is not the primary language. For instance, Thailand relies heavily on exports and foreign investment for economic growth. Similarly, Malaysia and Singapore relies heavily on exports. The three countries have benefited heavily from local investments owned by foreigners (Cautrell, 2011, as cited in Waidarp, 2011).
In order to expand or continue benefiting from exports and to attract investors from foreign countries, the countries need to have a workforce with technical and management skills that meet international standards. In the three countries, English is taught as a second language and is rarely used for communicating in conventional settings in the society. In fact, it hardly used for communication purposes in rural areas. However, in the three countries, English is understood as an international language (Albostan, 2012). However, it is essential to note that Thai’s level of English usage and proficiency is much lower in comparison to English usage and proficiency in Malaysia and Singapore. Despite this, studies have shown that English is currently being treated as one of the most important international languages that influence the ability to serve and to satisfy customers at national and international levels.
In the engineering sector, the success or failure of various engineering projects can be said to be determined by how well the engineers working on the projects are able to effectively communicate with one another. Moreover, with the impending integration of the Asian Economic Community (AEC) in the 2020 that will result in the establishment of a single market within the ten member countries of the AEC, the need for effective communication will be vital. Indeed, that can be said to be the case since it is obvious that engineers from different countries will be at times working in same projects (Cautrell, 2011, as cited in Waidarp, 2011).
There are numerous studies that have focused on English skills needs for workers in different parts of Asia. Phutirat (2007) conducted a study to investigate English needs, wants and problems of pharmacists in two hospitals based in Phayathai and Bumrungrad. The study utilized a sample of eighty-three respondents. During the study, the respondents expressed that they experienced difficulties in understanding English during conferences. As well, the respondents stated they frequently encountered difficulties in listening in situations where they dealt with patients who only spoke English. The key English skills needs noted by the respondents included ability to read, to understand and to analyze drug information, support information and documents, texts and journals related to medicine. All the respondents’ agreed that they needed to undertake English courses to enhance their English skills in order to be able to carry out their duties effectively. Most of them preferred training courses to be planned for two days a week in the morning hours. As well, they expressed that they wanted to be supplied with English training materials so that they can sharpen their English skills on their own. Wall (2007) carried out a study to investigate cross-cultural communication skills needs and wants for small and medium enterprises in Thailand. The study was carried out among staff engineers, managers and senior managers at Civil Tech Design and Consultants, Co. Ltd. the study was carried out on 30 respondents using questionnaire. The respondents stated that listening skill was the most needed while speaking skill was ranked second.
On the other hand, Hart-Rawung and Li (2008) carried out their study on Thai Automotive Engineers. Hart-Rawung and Li (2008) investigated the role of English language skills in enhancing communication among workers in international automotive companies with branches in Thailand. The study was carried out using interviews c.............
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