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English as a corporate language for Swedish engineers

The process of globalisation has led to many Swedish companies being sold to owners in other countries. A licentiate thesis in English from the University of Gothenburg shows that this often forces employees to change their working language from Swedish to English.

’My results confirm previous findings 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,’ says the author of the thesis Vivianne Apelman, who is also involved in language education at Chalmers University of Technology.

Apelman has explored how Swedish engineers at one small and ten large companies in western Sweden use English in the workplace, with a focus on written English. Her results are based on a survey completed by 89 participants, ten 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. Knowing these things may help improve the way we teach English to engineering students,’ says Apelman.

The results show that more than half of all survey respondents and all interviewees write in English on a daily basis. E-mails were indicated to be the text type that requires the lowest level of English proficiency, whereas instructions and reports were considered to require a very high level of proficiency. Apelman also looked at the role of gender, but found that the writing tasks were linked to position in the organisation and not to gender.

Most interviewees prefer to write for example a report in English rather than in Swedish since they feel that certain words and expressions are easier to identify in English than in Swedish. Apelman concludes that this indicates that Swedish is in a process of losing its usefulness in technical writing. This phenomenon, called a domain loss, has been observed in other areas as well.

Although containing a relatively large number of grammatical errors, the analysed documents seem to be communicatively effective, most likely as a result 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,’ says Apelman.

The thesis has been successfully defended.

Title of the thesis: English at Work. The communicative situation of engineers
Author: Vivianne Apelman, tel: +46(0)31 772 27 24 (work), +46 (0)736 76 79 89 (mobile)


Helena Aaberg | idw
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