English is the Main Language of Work in Modern Society
Language plays a crucial role in workplace communication between employees. Since globalization has turned the world into a melting pot of various cultures and ethnicities, it has become a regular affair for people of different national identities to work together in harmony. In order to maintain a harmonious relationship in the workplace, language plays an important role. Lately, the technical advancements have closed the geographical gap between nations and have turned English into a lingua franca used by people not only in their day to day communication, but also in the workplace. The term "workplace English" refers to the professional interaction, business interaction and workplace interaction. All these interactions have the common form of using talks and writings as the main medium of discourse (Koester 2004). This paper will discuss the use of English in workplace environment in greater detail by touching upon the functions of language in the workplace, types of interaction at work, relationships at work and the challenges of using English as a lingua franca in the workplace.
Recently, researchers have started increasingly focusing on the use of English language in workplace. Since the world has merged into a single platform of work due to globalization with an increasing rate of diversity entering the workforce, the importance of using English language has increased manifold. Since people of different languages, cultures and ethnicities are coming together to work as a team, it has become important to find a language commonly understood by all. English bridges the gap of communication to an extent that English is the most spoken language in the world, next to Spanish, but since in many countries such as India, Pakistan, China, Germany, Africa, Europe, and the Arabian countries, there is no provision for teaching Spanish at the school level as there is for English, English fulfills the function of closing the communication gap to an extent (Holmes and Stubbe 2003).
In the workplace, language fulfills mainly four functions. It functions as a Reference in which the language helps in describing a work context, object or the mental state of an employee. Language serves the Expressive function by helping an employee express his emotions through the use of interjections, such as "Bravo! You have given an excellent speech in the conference". Language also serves a Phatic function in which the language is used for greeting, maintaining and closing a conversation through the use of words like "Hello", "Hmmm", "Okay", and "Bye". Language fulfills the Conative function in which the receiver is addressed directly in the communication (Jakobson 1960). Conative function in the workplace can be best illustrated by the use of imperatives and vocatives, such as "Brandon! Please join me in a minute." Language further serves the function of holding a Small Talk before engaging in a meeting. Small talk helps break the ice between two colleagues and makes them feel comfortable with each other. Language also serves the metalingual function in which the sender of a message and the receiver of a message mutually agree on a code (Jakobson 1960).
Types of Interactions at Work
The workplace interaction varies from that of day to day interactions. There are mainly three types of interaction that take place in a workplace environment; verbal interaction, non-verbal interaction, and interaction through writing. In verbal interaction, the employees interact with each other face to face. Meetings between two people or more in a workplace are crucial for the successful accomplishment of work. Much of the discussion regarding the progress of work, business objectives, performance related issues and various other issues are held in meetings only (Koester 2006). Apart from meetings, employees interact with each other on telephone regularly on different work related situations.
Interaction through writing is an important type of communication that takes place in a business environment. Employees send each other emails to notify, instruct, and fulfill different work related functions. Emails are widely used in the workplace due to its efficiency, convenience, low cost, and effectiveness. Email communication systems have no barriers as emails can be exchanged from any part of the world (Koester 2006). They can be dispatched and received through smart phones, computers, tablets, and other personal digital gadgets.
Non-verbal interaction is another type of interaction that takes place in a business environment. Non-verbal communication involves gestures, body language, posture and facial expressions (Koester 2006). Non-verbal interaction sends information to perceive how we think and feel about others. The non-verbal gestures and cues are read by people to arrive at quick judgments about an employee. For instance, an employee may reach a conclusion that a new employee does not like her, because the new employee does not make eye contact with her and talks little. But it might happen that the new recruit may be simply introverted or shy and takes time to open up, which has been interpreted wrongly.
Relationships at Work
Workplace relationships are typically those that exist and develop in an organizational setup among employees. A worker's ability to succeed in his work objectives is determined by the relationships he shares with his team members and managers. Since workers spend about 50 hours on an average in the workplace, the long hours of work help in the development of workplace relationships. Workplace relationships can be of many types. Workplace relationships can be purely professional that people develop with coworkers. In the relationship with co-workers, the dynamics of the relationship are circumstantial. Co-workers are merely acquaintances one knows through a company, and shares little connection beyond the workplace. Relationship with team members is the relationship that one develops with a team member because of working in the same team. Relationship with team members is important because team members are the ones people work and daily interact with. Together with the team members, employees develop plans and accomplish different organizational objectives.
Work friends are those with whom people develop friendship in the workplace. With work friends, people interact socially, go to lunch together and spend time during happy hours. Another type of relationship at work is the relationship one shares with his subordinate or manager. Managers are the ones who assign work to employees, helping them in their career within the organization, whereas subordinates are those who directly report to an employee (manager). Subordinates also play an important role in the success of a manager. Mentor/mentee relationship is another type of relationship at the workplace. A mentor guides a person in his career decisions and helps him on solving the tough problems. Mentee is the one who goes to a mentor seeking advice.
Challenges and Dynamics of Using English as a Lingua Franca in the Work Domain
Besides, questions are also raised at the use of English as the main medium of communication in the workplace as people comfortable in their language find it unfair to put special stress only on English, disregarding the use of other languages. Due to globalization and the technological advancements, English has become virtually on the lips of everyone. Not only English is used as a lingua franca by people from diverse cultural and lingual backgrounds in the day to day interaction, but also is used as a lingua franca in the workplace environment. However, there are constant challenges of using English in the workplace, especially as many people of different nations such as Russia, Mexico, South America, and many countries in the Eastern and Western Europe do not give much focus on learning English, the usage of English as the main medium of communication in the workplace brings difficulty.
The majority of the research studies identify English proficiency, including pronunciation and accent as a major barrier to appropriate work placement. Since the proficiency and accent of people whose second language is English is different from that of the native speakers of English, many a time words are chewed upon or slipped or expressed with a heavy accent of mother tongue, making it difficult for the listeners to comprehend the meaning (Holmes and Stubbe 2003). Native speakers often find it difficult to communicate with the non-native speakers of English because of the differences in pronunciation. Also, due to cultural differences, the non-verbal cues of communication are also different, posing problem in the development of successful work relationships. For instance, Americans by nature greet each other when they pass by someone even if the person is an absolute stranger, but the same is not practiced by people of other cultures such as Chinese, Indian, Spanish and Mexicans (Spencer-Oatey 2002). All these lead to misunderstandings and misinterpretations in a workplace environment.
In a multilingual business environment, one should expect that there will be people whose mother tongue is different from that of English and their proficiency in speaking or writing English in many cases will be less than a native English speaker. However, if native English speakers start pointing mistakes about their communication in English then they will not only feel demotivated but the productivity in such cases may go down. Many organizations are making English as their lingua-franca for corporate communications. However, people in leadership who cannot speak English well often see this move as a ploy to only to encourage people at the top from English speaking countries. Organizations should have a common business language for communication but it should not be enforced on others. Respecting other languages and also understanding and respecting the difficulty in learning and using English for business purpose for a non-English native speaker should help in this process of spreading English as one common language.
Language is important in establishing successful workplace communication between employees. Due to globalization, the world has turned into a melting pot of various ethnicities and cultures, and therefore, people of different national identities work together in the same platform. English, which is virtually on everyone's lips these days, has emerged as a lingua franca used not only for day to day social interaction but also for workplace interaction. English fulfills different functions in the workplace, including expressive function, emotive function, conative function, phatic function, and metalingual function. The interactions that take place in a workplace are mainly of three of types; verbal, non-verbal and written. There are several types of relationship at the workplace, including mentor/mentee, subordinate/manager, work friends, coworkers, and team members. The differences in English proficiency and pronunciation between native and non-native speakers of English pose a challenge in workplace communication. Because of the prominent dominance of vernacular accent in the English of non-native speakers, sometimes it becomes difficult for native speakers to comprehend the English spoken by non-native speakers. In order to overcome these challenges, it is important for the organizations to respect the diversity and cultural differences and encourage the English learning of non-native English speakers so that it becomes easy for the employees to deal with the challenge.
Drew, P. and Heritage, J. (eds) Talk at Work, Cambridge. Cambridge University Press. 1992. Print.
Holmes, J. and Stubbe, M. Power and Politeness in the Workplace, Harlow, Longman, 2003. Print.
Koester, A. The Language of Work, London. Routledge. 2004. Print.
Koester, A. Investigating Workplace Discours. London, Routledge. 2006. Print.
Poccini, G. "Investigating discourse at business meetings with multicultural participation," International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching, 40(4), pp. 345 -73. 2002. Print.
Spencer-Oatey, H. Culturally Speaking: Managing Rapport through Talk across Culture. London and New York, Continuum. 2002.
Jakobson, Roman. Closing statements: Linguistics and Poetics, Style in language. T.A. Sebeok, New-York. 1960. Print.