Developing a Micro Language Policy And How To Implement It

Developing a Micro Language Policy And How To Implement It

Introduction

This paper looks at the situation of the English language program of the Konkuk University Language Institute, Seoul, South Korea in the early 2000s, with a view to develop and implement a micro language policy for that program. I worked as a language instructor for this program. The staff for this program is made up of eight Korean office staff (director, program coordinator, accountant, and five secretaries), five Korean English language instructors who speak English as a second language and twelve native-speaking English (hereafter called ‘western’) language instructors. The program has morning and evening English classes that are open to the general (adult) public. The classes cater to all levels of students, from beginners to advanced. As a general rule, the Korean teachers teach TOEIC and TOEFL courses, while the western teachers teach classes that focus on oral communication.

Researching the status quo

In order to develop a micro language policy for any organization, the first step is to do some research regarding the current language policies in place, ascertain whether they are linguistic and/or sociolinguistic in nature, and identify any problems that exist in either area as a result of, or due to the absence of policy (Coronel-Molina, 1999). My ‘research’ regarding the English language program is in the form of experiences, observations and reflections about the time I worked there. As I could speak some Korean, it meant that I was able to maintain good relationships with Korean staff members and therefore had access to they way in which they thought and felt about important program issues. I also had a good working relationship with the other western teachers and often talked about aspects of the program with them. Therefore, I am in a position to see from the perspective of both Korean and western staff members, positions which were often diametrically opposed to each other.

i. Linguistic considerations

The only program language policy that currently exists of a linguistic nature is a broad unstated informal policy about use of language in the classroom, which allows teachers to decide for themselves whether or not the students’ L1 (Korean) can be used. This policy works well because it is universally accepted by the students. The Korean teachers use some Korean in class, which is expected because they focus on vocabulary and grammar and the students often need clarification. The western teachers rarely use it (almost all of them speak very little Korean), and when they do, it is to add humour to the classroom, rather than for purely ‘educational’ reasons. The students prefer not to use Korean in classes with native-speaking teachers because they want to focus on English oral accuracy and fluency. As this policy is working successfully, both in the eyes of the staff and the students, there is no need to change it.

ii Sociolinguistic considerations

There is no language policy with a sociolinguistic focus currently in place. As a result, there are no measures in place to address a serious problem that exits. The sociolinguistic relationships in this program can be divided into three sub-sections: staff-student, student-student and staff-staff relationships, and of these relationships, the staff-staff relationship is the one that needs urgent attention, for two reasons. Firstly, there are communication, cultural and attitudinal barriers between the Koreans and western teachers. A lack of interaction due to language differences is both a major cause and perpetuating influence on this state of affairs. As a result of this problem, the morale, motivation and professionalism of the staff are negatively impacted. Secondly, this situation has a direct affect on staff-student and student-student relationships. With regard to the former, sometimes different members of staff are involved in disagreements that cause friction and tension, and the resulting stress can have an impact on how they interrelate with students. As for the latter, students can hear about or sense tension between staff and take sides. Thus, any micro policy that is formulated must address the staff-staff relationship situation as its first priority.

Addressing the problems – forming a micro language policy

i Using a macro policy and planning framework as a starting point

As there has been little attention paid to language planning at the micro-level (Baldauf, 2004), it would seem reasonable to use a well known macro policy and planning framework as a starting point in the formation of a micro language policy, and ascertain whether or not any of the dictums contained within it can be applied in a valid way to a micro situation. I have chosen Kaplan and Baldauf’s (2003) ‘A Framework for Language Planning Goals’ for consideration. A list of these goals, with explanations, is as follows:

Status planning goals – the need to choose which languages would be needed for what purposes.

Corpus planning goals – the need to develop appropriate materials to support planning decisions.

Language-in-education planning goals – the need for (re)training for staff in a variety of language skills.

Prestige planning goals – the need to give certain languages greater status in particular situations.

(Kaplan and Baldauf, 2004, p. 202)

With regard to status planning, a pertinent goal would be to promote the idea of western teachers using Korean more in communicating with Korean staff members. The native-speakers generally feel that English is the only language needed for the purpose of communicating with Korean staff. This leads to a perception among the Korean staff (particularly the office staff) that the efforts made by western teachers to use Korean in communicating with them is miniscule in comparison to the efforts they make to speak English to western teachers. This feeling is exacerbated by the fact that Korean office staff must be able to speak English in order to work for the program, whereas hardly any western teachers make any consistent attempt to study Korean. The resulting tension causes a lot of miscommunication and disharmony.

This problem can be addressed by formulating the corpus planning goal of developing appropriate materials in the form of changes to western teachers’ contracts. If a stipulation that taking Korean classes for a certain period is a mandatory condition for employment is included in the contract (a language-in-education goal), it accomplishes two things. First, when the senior teachers (in this program, the responsibility for conducting job interviews for western teachers falls on the two most senior teachers) bring up this topic in a job interview, they can ascertain whether or not the prospective western teacher is open to being supportive of the status planning goal. Secondly, as all new western teachers are expected to learn Korean, and because they are likely to try using it with Korean staff, the balance of effort by both sides to speak each others first languages will become more equal, thus allaying the feelings of frustration felt by the Korean staff over the language issue.

If these changes can be brought about, Korean will gain a greater status in the English program (which is a prestige planning goal). The Korean staff are very aware that their livelihoods depend on English, and this can be a source of irritation to them if they feel that their ‘Koreanness’ is in any way being minimized due to that dependence. If the prestige of Korean is enhanced, due to the fact that western teachers embrace using it, there are benefits for both sides, in terms of a better relationships and a less stressful working environment.

It should be stated that I have looked at each of these planning goals in very different ways to which they are generally applied to macro language planning. I have, however, attempted to apply the essence of what I feel these goals are meant to achieve in the context of this situation.

ii Other considerations

The next logical step in the process of forming a micro language policy is to discuss who is going to be the person in charge of making sure that the staff focus on making a commitment to change, a very necessary consideration due to the deep-seated nature of the problems that exist. Corson (1999) raises the question of whether or not a school should have a language policy coordinator. In the case of the English program at the Konkuk University Language Institute, it may not be necessary to have a full-time language policy coordinator, and it is doubtful if the university administration would agree to hiring one anyway, due to the extra costs involved; however, in my view, it is vital that a member of the program’s staff be given the role of encouraging, overseeing and directing change, as many staff members are almost certainly not going to be willing to change, just because of a printed policy.

The obvious solution would be to ask the program coordinator to include language policy coordination in his duties. He speaks fluent English and Korean and is a senior member of staff, two important requisites, as any potential language policy coordinator must liaise between Korean and western staff members and have the authority to make important changes. Due to the extra burdens involved with the added role, some of the program coordinator’s teaching related responsibilities could be given to the senior teachers. Also, in order to be successful in this role, he should be given considerable authority to make changes. If the scope of his authority is too narrow, his attempts to invoke change may have to go through bureaucratic channels, thus slowing down or extinguishing his efforts.

The language policy coordinator’s first priority will be to address attitudinal problems that exist among some of the members of staff. Baldauf (2002) states that, “attitudes of individuals can have a major impact on the success or failure of LPP or in the adoption of language change” (2002, p. 398), and this is certainly true in this case. Due to previous tension and misunderstandings that remained unchecked, there is now a general feeling of apathy about the problems that exist. If this general feeling is not reversed, any new micro policy is sure to fail. Thus he must have an arsenal of strategies ready to combat the resistance to change that he will face.

iii A micro language policy based on these observations

The observations made above identify that the main problem to be addressed in a micro language policy in this context is the lack of rapport and understanding between Korean and western staff members which affects the degree to which the institute can be run effectively, and that solutions include changes to employee contracts with regard to compulsory classes for western English teachers and a pro-active language policy coordinator. A micro language policy for the English language program of the Konkuk University Language Institute that incorporates these findings is given in the table below. For the English teachers (both Korean and western), it could be printed in Korean and English in the Teacher’s Handbook that all teachers receive. For the Korean office staff, it could be printed in the Yearly Report that they receive.

A micro language policy for the English language program of the Konkuk University Language Institute.

Language Policy

Introduction: The English language program of the Konkuk University Language Institute does hereby endorse this language policy and expects all staff employed by the program to adhere to the tenets prescribed by this policy.

1. Language use in the classroom

All teachers have the discretion to decide whether or not to incorporate the Korean language into their syllabi. Teachers are to use polite and formal language when communicating with students in the classroom, and should encourage students to do the same, with regard to communicating with their teacher and each other.

2. Language use between staff members

All staff members are expected to take all reasonable steps to communicate in an empathetic and professional way with other staff members. Both Korean and western staff are encouraged not to merely use their native language in communicating with each other. Using a mixture of Korean and English in communication will ensure that we can avoid miscommunication and build productive relationships.

3. The role of the program coordinator

The role of the program coordinator includes the coordination of this language policy. Senior teachers are expected to help the program coordinator with teaching related responsibilities, which will be delegated as the need arises. All staff members are expected to support any initiatives or programs put in place by the coordinator that address language concerns.

4. Western teachers taking Korean classes

All new contracts for western teachers include a stipulation that they must take Korean language classes for a period of at least six months. As Korean staff members are expected to be proficient English speakers as a condition of employment, this policy ensures parity for all staff with regard to language and its use.

Conclusion: If we as a staff abide by this policy, we can create a professional, harmonious environment for staff and students that will ensure the continuing success of this program.

Implementing the policy

While staff will be able to have some input in implementing the micro language policy, (Corson, 1999), the main responsibility rests with the program coordinator. It is part of his job to put initiatives and programs into place that will ensure that this policy is successful. Such initiatives might include:

A) Meetings with the senior teachers in charge of job interviews for western teachers.

The program coordinator needs to ensure that the senior teachers in charge of interviewing potential western teachers are fully aware of the language policy with regard to the hiring of western teachers, and take it into account when choosing who to hire.

B) Regularly placing Korean use in the classroom on the agenda of items to be discussed at staff meetings.

Staff meetings need to regularly include this topic on the agenda so that any changes in teacher and student attitudes can be addressed.

C) Relationship building exercises between staff members, such as going out for staff lunches and organizing social gatherings.

These kinds of social events will help to build a better rapport and understanding between Koreans and westerners. For example, fun activities, such as games nights where staff are encouraged to use their L2, can be an effective strategy.

D) Having an open-door policy with regard to staff input about the policy.

The coordinator should make it clear that he is always willing to listen to staff views about the language policy.

E) Organizing seminars that address cultural differences between westerners and Koreans.

Seminars about cross-cultural communication and understanding will help to bridge the cultural divide between Korean and western staff and help to make communication easier.

F) Offering pay incentives to western teachers who regularly attend Korean classes, and Korean staff who regularly attend English classes.

Staff who attend at least 90 per cent of a language course can receive a cash bonus.

Evaluation of the policy

After a language plan has been implemented, it is important to evaluate both the
program and its outcomes, so that efficacy and progress can be determined and the
program can be modified as necessary to maintain progress towards the goals of the
plan. (Coronel-Molina, 1999, n.p.)

I feel that this can best be done in two ways: twice yearly language policy meetings for senior staff members, chaired by the program coordinator; and by asking staff to fill out questionnaires at least once a year so that they can comment on their views as to how they perceive the success or otherwise of the language policy. Both of these types of evaluation can be used as monitoring devices and can provide relevant information that will assist the program coordinator in the revising, rewriting and updating of the policy at times specified by the program director (Corson, 1999).

Conclusion

I believe that there are many positive reasons for implementing this policy. The costs involved would be minimal, yet the benefits would be considerable. Also, if staff feel more motivated to work as a result of the decrease of tension caused by the policy implementation, they will work harder at making classes interesting and relevant to students or providing assistance to students, depending on their role in the program. This will in turn attract more students, which will increase profits. Thus both academic and business considerations, the two most important factors in deciding the success of any institution of learning where students pay fees, would be improved, thereby making the policy’s implementation justifiable.

References

Baldauf, R. B., Jr. (2002). Methodologies for policy and planning. In R. B. Kaplan (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of applied linguistics. (pp. 391-403). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Baldauf, R. B., Jr. (2004). Micro language planning. In D. Atkinson, P. Bruthiaux, W. Grabe, & V. Ramanathan, (Eds.), Studies in applied linguistics: English foracademic purposes, discourse analysis, and language policy and planning (Essays in honor of Robert B. Kaplan on the Occasion of his 75th Birthday). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Coronel-Molina, S. M. (1999). Language and literacy planning. Retrieved October 26, 2005, from http://dolphin.upenn.edu/~scoronel/SLTP-1999-presenta-index.html.

Corson, D. (1999). Language policy in schools: A resource for teachers and administrators. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Kaplan, R. B., & Baldauf, R. B., Jr. (2003). Language and language-in-education planning in the pacific basin. Dordrecht: Kluwer.