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Listening with our minds

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Listening with our minds

/ 01:16 AM November 23, 2013

Try this exercise from Stephanie Watson of HowStuffWorks.com:

“Each time you have a conversation, pretend there’s going to be a quiz at the end of it. Try to keep a mental checklist of all the important points the other person makes. When the conversation is over, force yourself to recall at least three important things the person said. Get in the habit of doing this until listening becomes second nature.”

Watson suggests this exercise to improve one’s communication skills at the workplace. She describes it as “listening with the mind.” Effective communicators do this reflexively.

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Now try it again, but this time imagine yourself in a workplace where transactions are global and cultural differences abound. Aside from being reasonably proficient in a language of wider usage such as English, you’ll need to be able to sift through inflections and accents, and to distinguish between the idiomatic, the literal, and even the rhetorical.

This is exactly the work environment that today’s college graduates need to navigate. Some of them succeed admirably. A lot of them do not.

Recently, I was invited to the closing ceremonies of the Basic English Skills Training (BEST) for 23 language instructors of the Technological University of the Philippines and 20 more from the Philippine Normal University.

Both TUP and PNU are SUCs (state universities and colleges), which means that they are public higher education institutions created by law and nationally subsidized to make college education within reach of average and low-income families.

BEST and its more focused sibling AdEPT (Advanced English for Pre-Employment) were put together by the Information Technology and Business Process Association of the Philippines (Ibpap) in partnership with the Commission on Higher Education. These two training modules form the language-proficiency component of the Service Management Program specialization track, a 21-unit set of electives designed to prepare the college graduate for a productive career in the IT BPM (information technology and business process management) industry.

It is interesting that TUP and PNU have different reasons for enrolling their teachers in BEST.

Dr. Dionisio A. Espression Jr. and Dr. Ricardo de Lumen, TUP vice presidents for academic affairs and for admin and finance, respectively, told me that traditionally, people involved in technical work—like engineers, architects, accountants—entertained the notion that proficiency in a language such as English was less necessary than the ability to make precise graphical representations, mathematical constructs, and detailed schematics. That’s how technically oriented people communicate, De Lumen said.

Things are different today, especially for TUP. Espression said that in a modern workplace, one’s ability to communicate effectively in a global language like English can spell the difference between getting hired and pacing the pavement, regardless of academic training and discipline. Furthermore, being able to express and present one’s ideas consistently well at work greatly enhances upward mobility.

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Karen Foronda, the faculty member in charge of the CHEd Call Center Project at TUP, worked tirelessly to make the BEST and AdEPT rollout successful. Her experience at the call center project demonstrated to her how English proficiency directly impacts on a business organization’s market competitiveness.

On the other hand, Dr. Tonette Montealegre, dean of the College of Teacher Development at PNU, points out that unlike other comprehensive universities, PNU specifically trains and forms the young men and women who have embraced the teaching vocation.

Enrolling PNU’s language teachers in a program like BEST is particularly helpful given the growth and hiring potential of the IT BPM industry, which hired 772,000 full-time employees in 2012. By 2016, this demand for talent will balloon to more than a million new jobs. Next to the government, the IT BPM industry employs the biggest workforce in a single company.

Where will all that talent come from? The schools where PNU graduates will teach, of course. But let’s put this in perspective.

The most recent results of the Test for English Proficiency for Teachers and Process Skills Test for Science and Math administered to public schools by the National Education and Research Testing Center show that the mean performance countrywide for Grades 1 and 2 teachers stands at 50.53 percent for English proficiency. The areas tested were structure (42.82 percent), written comprehension (37.13 percent), and reading comprehension (59.55 percent).

Meanwhile, the National Achievement Test scores for 2012 show that at Grade 6, the overall average mean percentage score (MPS) is 66.79 percent, with English at 66.27 percent.

At fourth year, the overall average MPS is at 48.90 percent. There’s an additional test area called critical thinking, and the average score is 48.575. English is at 51.80 percent.

As the country’s premier teacher education institution, PNU plays a major role in improving the communication skills, English proficiency and overall learning ability of high school and college graduates. By intensifying its teacher development programs with the industry-bred BEST and AdEPT, PNU directly uplifts teacher quality.

At the same time, helping make our teachers better is one of the reasons Ibpap has been vigorously working to encourage its IT BPM member-companies to form meaningful partnerships with higher education institutions like PNU and TUP.

Butch Hernandez (butchhernandez@gmail.com) is the executive director of the Eggie Apostol Foundation and education lead for talent development at Ibpap.

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TAGS: BEST, Butch Hernandez, Commentary, education, employment, opinion, Stephanie Watson
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