How Do Language and Culture Affect Workplace Success-Discussion Summary-Literacy Information and Communication System (LINCS)

How Do Language and Culture Affect Workplace Success?
Discussion Summary

During the week of December 13-17, 2010, Dr. Joan Pougiales facilitated a discussion on the LINCS Adult English Language Acquisition (ELA) Discussion List. The title of the discussion was “How Do Language and Culture Affect Workplace Success?” The original announcement of the discussion, including brief biographies of the facilitators, can be found at the following URL:
The individual postings can be found in the online archives at

The discussion focused on the fact that workplace success requires more than just language and technical skills. It explored the more subtle cultural differences of communicative style – those largely unspoken and unwritten rules of communication that are followed more or less unconsciously but which change from culture to culture, and thus are frequently implicated in misunderstandings, stereotypes, and discrimination in the workplace.

The facilitator and participants discussed such challenges as:

  • Differences in conversational turn taking
  • The need to educate employers about cultural differences in employees from other cultures
  • The need to educate English language learners about appropriate styles of communication for the workplace
  • Differing attitudes about time
  • Differing perceptions around the need to “look busy” as well as be busy
  • Issues around the use of the native language at the job, including the oddness of not using your common language with other native speakers and the perceived snub to monolingual workers when you don’t use the target language
  • Unrealistic expectations around how much impact a short course of English can make at the workplace.

The complexities of how language and culture affect workplace success and the importance of addressing the issues were acknowledged. Suggestions made included:

  • Keeping employers informed about what is happening in the classes, i.e., letting them know about the activities and expected outcomes
  • Educating both employers and employees about the length of time needed to learn a language
  • Stressing the importance to employees of being helpful and flexible at the workplace and of being able to ask questions when they don’t understand a word, direction, concept, or practice.