Teaching German for professional purposes
The world of work in flux
Foreign language skills are essential in the world of work.
More and more employees require at least one foreign language at their workplace. With increasing needs for foreign language skills, target groups and learning goals are changing. This requires teaching approaches that take workplace communication into account right from the start of the foreign language learning process.
By Christina Kuhn
Globalization, advances in technology and demographic trends have permanently changed the world of work. Trade relations across national and language borders are leading to more extensive business collaboration, as are digital information and communication media. Goods are being produced regionally on the basis of the division of labour. Production, transport and logistics processes must all be coordinated. All of this requires foreign language communication and interaction. A large variety of different topics and types of text need to be dealt with not only in all of a company’s departments (purchasing, marketing, sales), but also at all of its hierarchical levels. Furthermore, flexible and mobile forms of work such as teleworking and project-based work are becoming increasingly important. For many employees nowadays, it is perfectly normal during the course of their careers to work for periods of time in different international teams, and to switch workplace, company or profession in a way that often involves crossing a (language) border. It therefore comes as no surprise that more and more people need at least one foreign language at their workplace.
Growing communicative requirementsForeign language requirements have also changed in qualitative terms. Co-determination rights, responsibility for one’s own workplace and (inter-) national quality assurance processes raise the requirements for the receptive and productive communication skills of employees in their native and foreign language(s). As well as being able to deal with oral and written texts, employees need to use analogue and digital media to share information or to communicate. Such requirements can no longer be met solely using the traditional technical language approach that focuses on the structural features of technical language (technical vocabulary and grammar) and a handful of types of technical text. Work-related foreign language teaching prepares employees – no matter which industry they work in – for the changing communicative and intercultural requirements. Because more and more people need one or more foreign language(s) in the world of work, the target groups and learning goals are becoming wider.
Teaching German for vocational purposes can serve as preparation for work (vocational pre-service training), can take place while an employee is already working (in-service training) or can provide people with the skills they need for a particular job (vocational qualification).
Target groups and learning goalsTarget groups for vocationally oriented German courses or German teaching can be found in Germany and abroad, at schools and universities, in the school-to-work transition phase and in company training and continuing education programmes. Because the required language skills will depend on individual situations and the technical knowledge and workplace experience already acquired, work-related foreign language teaching should be pragmatic – that is to say relevant in terms of content and reflecting professional requirements – as well as learner- and needs-oriented.
Taking the degree of training of learners into account, a distinction can be made between different forms and learning goals. Foreign language teaching for vocational preparation purposes for example is provided before learners have any technical knowledge and, from A1 level, gives them a broadly-themed introduction to the general language requirements of the world of work. In-service foreign language teaching aims to enable learners to (better) cope with current or future requirements in their job or at their workplace. This takes place at the same time as or following the acquisition of technical knowledge (such as in German courses for nurses). Vocational qualification foreign language teaching provides language training in preparation for acquiring a vocational qualification (cf. Funk/Kuhn 2010).
Everyday language in professional contexts + technical language = German at the workplace