Language in professional contexts: Who defines the construct?

Prof. Tim McNamara

The University of Melbourne

Tim McNamara
Tim McNamara

This paper reports on three recent studies focusing on the construct of communication in workplace contexts, in two cases in the context of the development of assessments. The studies involve professional communication in clinical contexts, and in aviation. In each case, the views of professionals involved in the clinical setting have been the focus of the research.

In the case of medical communication, studies have focused on the evaluation by clinical supervisors of the success of instances of communication with patients on the one hand, and on telephone communication with senior doctors in emergency settings on the other.

In the case of aviation communication, the views of pilots and air traffic controllers on episodes of miscommunication between air traffic controllers and pilots were the focus of the research.

In each case, challenges to conventional views of second language communication arose. These challenges involve the way in which non-linguistic professional judgement informs and is inseparable from the success of the communication; and the shared responsibility for communicative success between native and non-native speakers. The findings suggest that we need to radically revise the construct of professional communication in teaching and in assessment.