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August 22, 2001
English Classes Becoming Common
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>As their workplaces grow more diversified, many companies have begun offering worker-education programs to aid in English and technical proficiency, the Orange County Register reports.

Vocational English as a second language is an increasingly important component of on-the-job training nationwide, where 32 million people speak languages other than English, according to the National Institute for Literacy.

"There is a difference between being able to use some words in another language and being able to truly comprehend that language at the level required to master new training material," said Tru Miller, president of Tru Lingua Language Systems in Irvine, Calif.

"Many of us in California have learned a number of Spanish words. This does not mean that we could complete a course in team problem-solving taught from a Spanish training manual," Miller told the Register.

At Kirkhill Rubber in Brea, Calif., managers attacked the problem of employees with few English skills by beginning training that now includes three-quarters of the 650 employees.

The issue for Kirkhill isn't just fluency in English but also in the vocabulary of manufacturing highly engineered rubber and plastic products for aerospace, recreation, and other industries, according to the Register.

"Companies are going to have to provide 40 hours (of workplace training) per employee per year to remain competitive," said Gus Angelo, Kirkhill's human-resources manager.

And increasingly, part of that time is spent on vocational English because a growing number of workers are foreign-born. In 2000, more than 16.5 million U.S. workers were born in other countries, a 55 percent increase from 1990, according to the U.S. Census.

Assessment and vocational English training in California are often provided within more comprehensive training projects that qualify for California Employment Training Panel grants.

That money comes from the unemployment-insurance tax, a portion of which is set aside for retraining at manufacturers and other companies facing out-of-state competition.

About $1.4 million of the $85 million ETP spending last year was for vocational English as a second language, spokesman Charles Lundberg told the Register.

Vocational English courses must closely correlate to a company's work, says Paul Johnson of the California Training Coalition, an Upland, Calif., training provider.

"It's nice to know conversational English, but how does it help in the workplace?" he asked.

A third to a half of the coalition's clients need vocational English as part of their total training package, he said. That training starts with vocabulary of the specific industry and company to assure everyone understands the other classes.

To view the Orange County Register article, click here.

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