Our group has chosen to study the domain of workplace in order to explore the linguistics landscape and scope of diversity. Within this study we aim to examine multicultural attitudes and how multiple languages function alongside the dominant language of the workplace.
Areas of interest include:
- Monolingual attitudes
- The impact of society language attitudes upon national and ethnic identity
- How can different languages be functional
- The value of multilingual knowledge.
Our study will be focused on four very different workplaces; a cafe, a Chinese restaurant, an office located in Sydney CBD and the UNSW library. It is our hope that this variety of workplaces will provide a good scope for our investigation and allow us to show how the workplace environment may influence inter-linguistic interactions.
Our data collection methods consist of interviews, photographs, observation and desktop research. We have designed some interview questions to survey selected employees in our chosen workplaces. We intend for the interview to be approximately 10 minutes long. Below are the interview questions and points of interest we have come up with based on 9 main questions about the linguistic landscapes we will be investigating.
- What functions do various languages fulfil in your chosen domain?
- Is there a dominant language at your workplace?
- If you use or notice other people using languages other than the dominant language, are there certain situations or contexts or people with whom they would use those languages? Please describe these.
- Is the knowledge of languages useful?
- Do you speak more than one language? If so, what are the languages?
- Which of these languages do you use at work?
- Are there times when you find your knowledge of languages other than the dominant language useful? If so, please describe them.
- Do you ever encounter problems, or notice colleagues encountering problems due lack of knowledge of a specific language? If so please describe them.
- Are languages seen as a problem?
- Do you think Australia has a national language?
- How do you feel about people speaking different languages around you?
- Do you think they should only speak English as that is what the majority opt Australians speak?
- When do you think speaking a different language than the people around you cause a problem?
- Why do you think this would be regarded as an issue?
- What attitudes are evident towards linguistic diversity?
- Do you think people should learn different languages even if they do not plan on traveling abroad?
- Do you think it would be useful to employ people from diverse linguistic backgrounds in the workplace?
- How do you feel about having colleagues whose first language is not the same as yours?
- What do you think the average Australian customer would feel upon hearing employees speak in a foreign language to theirs in a workplace?
- Is there evidence of a monolingual English ideology?
- Do you find it uncomfortable when hearing a foreign language being spoken in your workplace? (Assuming this foreign language is not understood by you)
- Have you ever observed someone else expressing such discomfort in your workplace? If so, could you please write down some of the remarks you have heard people use?
- Why do you think some people dislike hearing other languages in your workplace?
- Do you think only English should be used in the workplace? Why?
- Which languages dominate?
- How many languages do you speak fluently? Please list them here:
- Among these languages, which one(s) do you use at work?
- in formal work situations? (e.g. meetings, conferences, interviews, presentations， communication with clients/customers etc.)
- in casual work situations? (e.g. socialising with colleagues, conversations in the coffee lounge etc.)
- Any extra comments? (Leave blank if there is none.)
- What are the opportunities or factors that allow you to use these languages?
- What are some obstacles at work that might stop you from speaking or using a certain language?
- National and ethnic identity in conflict (supplementary questions, the asking of which is up to the judgement of the interviewer):
- What would you consider to be your national identity? (I.e where are you from? With what nationality do you most strongly identify? Does the answer to this differ in different contexts? Ie at work, with friends, with strangers, at different times in your life etc.)
- What is your ethnic background?
- Do you think language restrictions at work have an effect on your ethnic and/or national identity?
With our interview questions completed after having studied the assignment outline in depth, two of our intrepid investigators set out to begin gathering some kick ass linguistic data. After completing two interviews we realised that our interview questions maybe need a little tweaking.
Despite this we both found some interesting perspectives. Tune in next week for full interview summaries and a report on how our revised interview questions performed from last two group members.
One of our chosen locations for research is my own workplace, a small café by the name of Gusto Espresso Bar in the streets of Bondi Junction located close to the train station. In my experience I have found hospitality to be quite a multicultural industry as it is in my opinion one of the most easily transferable disciplines. Every country has restaurants and kitchens and the generally principles of working in one are pretty universal.
I have worked at Gusto for nearly 3 years and in that time, nearly every new staff member that has joined us comes from a non-Australian background. Most commonly we employ Europeans who have come to Australia to travel and international uni students.
The person I have chosen to interview has also a multicultural background, is well traveled and I know would not be afraid or shy in an interview. She has also worked in the café long enough to be familiar with all the staff and how it is run. She moved to Australia from Austria a year ago and I thought that her perspective as an immigrant would provide additional depth to our investigation.
Checkout the pictures below to get a feel for the cafe and its surrounds before we dive in to the interview.
It is common for me to hear foreign languages being used at work. The Thai staff often have conversations in Thai, we have had a few Nepalese kitchen staff trainees and the best way they learn fastest when my Nepalese colleague can explain things to them in Nepali. The café owners are a Chinese couple and while they generally use English, there are still many times when they communicate in Chinese, for what I assume is simply for ease of communication.
In addition to hearing different languages, what is even more commonplace is negotiating variously accented English. There is only one other native English speaker apart from myself and as a result communication in the café can often be strained or difficult due to misunderstandings on the behalf of both parties involved.
Language also comes into play multiple times a day when serving customers, not a day goes by where we don’t have to play charades with a customer who doesn’t have a strong English knowledge, sometimes none at all.
I think all these every day occurrences go a long way towards indicating the highly multicultural nature of Bondi Junction. I believe this particular workplace is also a good way to get a good idea of the demographic because food and drink are universal interests, there is no exclusivity in going to a café.
(Interview conducted & transcribed by Rachel Murdock)
Okay so S umm, is there a dominant language at your workplace. And if so what is it?
R: yep, umm. If you, do you use any languages other than this dominant language, at work?
S: yes, German
R: and, in what situation would you use German.
S: with my colleague rachel, umm.. other than that, just to, like with Rusty another colleague, a barista, to make jokes because he was, his ex gf is from germany, so her pretended to be a German expert.
R: and uhh, do you notice people using languages other than English at work
S: yes, Thai, Chinese and recently also Nepalese
R; and what are the, can you give an example of the situations or contexts, umm that this language use would occur in,
S: when they talk to each other.
R: yep but for any specific reason, what…
S: okay so maybe Nepalese as its uhh, to explain, like one kitchen help explains the other kitchen help, like how to do this and that. For umm, the baristas, it’s more chatting. Yep
R: mmhm, ummm, do you speak more than one language, and if so which languages.
S: yes, I speak english, german serbo-croation, uhhm, and russian and french basic
R; mmhm, wow, okay.
R: mmm aaand, you said before you use German at work, is that the only language apart from english that you would use at work.
S: I use serbokroatisch with customer, when its..
R: when they need help or…?
S: no, when they it was more, when we both realised that our background is the same,
R: mmm, so like just a conversation.
R: mm so do you ever have problems or notice other people, other colleagues having problems due to lack of knowledge of a specific language.
S: yes, lack of english knowledge
R: so it’s only a lack of english that creates problems?
R: could you describe these problems or give some examples.
S: uhh yeah, especially when kitchen staff has issues with uhh, yeah understanding english. Especially when it’s uhh spoken fast. Yeah.
R: okay so, issues with…
S: either customers or, what I also find hard it’s sometimes hard to understand Jing or Fong because of their english and it’s not their native language, and with a strong accent it’s harder.
R: umm do you think Australia has a national language.
S: yes, english
R: and how do you feel about people speaking different languages around you?
S: as in if I feel comfortable or..?
R: yeah, do you … do, yeah, I guess that’s what the question is getting at, but…
S: I guess l
R: do you have any feelings?
R: you don’t feel anything
S: I don’t feel like excluded or anything, no.
R: do you think, umm, those people should only speak english given that that is the majority language in this country.
S: it depends on the situation, if lets say umm rachel and I are speaking in german in the kitchen or behind the counter, it doesn’t make any difference. But it’s different when you, when the baristas, when it’s obviously ehh uhh like in front of the customers waiting there, like it could be perceived as rude.
R: mmhm, so you think if,
R: but, only in a work situation, do you think there are limitations on
S; no there are no limitations
R: if you’re, yeah so only at work
R: yeah okay so when do you think speaking a different language than the people around you causes a problem, which would be what we just talked about, when you’re at work and it makes other people feel uncomfortable
S: yes yes
S: yeah you have to have the sense of when it is appropriate or no
R: and…. Okay why is that an issue, why are people uncomfortable. The question is sorry, why do you think this would be regarded as an issue.
S: yeah because you feel like they are talking about customers, especially in the service industry you know, yeah
R: but do you think that’s , is that, coz that’s the only reason I can think of.
S: yeah that’s the only reason.
S: and Especially with Asian languages where there is just no, you have no idea what they’re talking about. Its different with you know European languages where you at least pick up one word or something. But it’s different with Asian languages, no no local.
R: ummm do you think people should learn different languages even if they do not plan on travelling abroad
S: yes definitely, in school
S: uhh because it’s ,eh it trains your brain and its uhhm together like a feeling an understanding of different cultures as well, like every language explains it in a different way, it’s not just translating word by word and its uhm it easier to ummm, to get along in other countries.
R: mmhm, mhm umm do you think it would be useful to employ from diverse linguistic backgrounds in the workplace, and I think..
S: but it depends on which
R: on which work place, yeah
S : so our definitely, mmmm, my old workplace I was also hired for like, I was in umm uhh working for central Eastern Europe, headquarters of central Eastern Europe and uhh I was also hired because I speak Serbo-croatian, it’s my second native language and this is an advantage and also, even if, I only speak one language of all the central Eastern Europe countries, it’s like, easier to uhhm, to as I said before, so understand different culture
S: how you, how you umm interpret also their english.
R: mmhm, so even if you don’t have knowledge of that specific language, having a knowledge of a another language
S: yes, and uh because, when you only learn one language, only speak one language, you easily perceive something as rude, to say this and that. There is for example a customer, she’s, I can tell she’s from Russia and she would say like, Coffee (points) that (points) and this is not rude it’s just like how they do, you know
S: and it would, yeah, if you have no idea of other cultures and language IS another culture, umm, obviously,
S: umm so yes, it’s definitely, should be compulsory. To learn another language as soon as possible
R: mmhm, ummm, how do you feel about having colleagues whose first language is not the same as yours?
S: ummm, I have no feelings. Other colleagues whose, same like me?
R: as in they,
S: they also have
R: I think this question might be directed at someone who is speak, whose first language is english and I didn’t write this question and umm they work with people whose first language isn’t english, because we’re talking about Australians specifically
S: yeah and that’s the thing, when you learn another language, to the uh to the previous question, when you learn another language
R: so which one, the about, , diverse linguistic background, employing people
S: yes so should you should you learn another language
S: so when you have to learn another language you also understand how hard it is for other people to pick up your language and then it’s umm you err you are more uhh careful with your words, you speak slower, you are not impatient or and this is, this affects your conversation and relationship in the end. Because people who only speak one language, you can tell straight away if like, yeah.
R: mmhm, yep umm, yeah so you have no feelings about having colleagues whose first language is not the same as yours?
S: ahh hang on,
R: except what’s your first language? What would be yours first language?
S: my first language is german, my second is Serbs-Croatian,
R:so english is yeah, so we all have a different first language to you really
S: yeah, which is like, as my parents’ first language is serbo-croatian and I would consider my first language as german, I always live like that, to me it is normal you know.
R: okay so, particularly for your experience because
S: yeah it is totally normal, we speak, like in our family home we speak, yeah, not the same language actually.
S: which is weird
R: laughs, okay umm
S: but I also, I have the feeling that I’m more fussy with umm uhh erm being precise you know and using the correct terminology
R: because you’re around native speakers?
S: whereas when you only, naah it’s um, also back home, like I, I don’t like it when you, when people are too lazy with their Wortschatz, with their words, and just ummm assume that you know what you, what they mean
S: so and I think when you yeah, when you speak another language or lets say probably in my case because I grew up bilingual you have to be more careful
R: Okay, uhh and what do you think a customer would feel upon hearing employees speak in a foreign language in umm a workplace
S: probably, in Sydney they wouldn’t have like specific feelings because there are so many immigrants, it’s pretty normal and I never had any bad experience as in as in pfff I’ve never seen any complaints or judging nah nothing it’s just no feelings, totally okay. Whereas like, in Austria where I come from, it’s different, like they expect you to only speak German like, yeah
S: so yeah
R: cool ummm tsshhtshh, okay these questions double up a lot because I don’t think any one read the other peoples questions, uhhh, so the next question is do you find it uncomfortable when hearing a foreign language spoken in your workplace, which we’ve already said is no.
S: yes, but no
R: ahuh, ahh yeah, that’s assuming you don’t understand the language, but you don’t feel uncomfortable when you hear Thai?
S: because I don’t feel uncomfortable with these people, it would be different if the people were like, I know that’s the thing, I know like umm with like each other, there is no reason, but if I felt like yeah
S: like not comfortable then this would probably be on top something not very helpful
R: mmhm okay uhh have you ever observed expressing such discomfort in your workplace,ohh if so could you please write down some of the remarks you have heard people use. You can just say them and I’ll write them later,
S: yes it’s like when our boss complaining we would speak in this strange language[German], or when our little Thai community, but the thing is we are have almost a Thai cafe, like we have four Thai people and they speak very loud as well
R:laughing, ahah I know
S : and it is uhh yeah, but we have so many regulars that why I don’t give a shit, because they find it funny
R: and because they know the people so they have the same thing you do
S: but it would be different, yeah ,but it would be different definitely.
R: so but that’s the only time anyone’s ever mentioned anything about like, expressing discomfort, or whatever, was Jing telling us not to speak in German
R: okay, umm why do you think some people dislike hearing other language in your workplace? Okay if we go back to Jing, why does Jing have a problem, or why do you think Jing has a problem
S: that’s a good question, because is it like,
R: yeah that is actually a good question
S: that’s a good question because I can’t tell, now that I’m thinking about it , I can’t tell if it’s really because the customers, when we speak german like, there is like
R: I feel like you could tell that we’re, that you’re teaching almost
R: because i’m asking questions
S: yes, so that’s why it can’t make feel anyone uncomfortable
R: i’m not fluent enough to, to
S: and its also like you can tell also from the Mimik and from like it’s like we wouldn’t make anyone feel uncomfortable.
R: yeah so like I think it’s probably actually less about the language and more to do, wait do you think it’s about her feeling uncomfortable
S: that’s what I like, yes
R: or about us not doing our jobs, because we get distracted by talking to each other, coz that’s what I thought first, before I thought about her feeling uncomfortable. Coz I don’t think about Jing’s feelings very often.
S: you are right it’s because i’m not working
R: yeah that’s what I thought, because she’s, she’s said things similar to me in the past like
S: and but that thing is it’s ridiculous, because we like, we are both fast workers as well
R: yeah umm, do you think only english should be used in the workplace and why?
S: I mean, we are using english anyways or like
R: but only English, well because the kitchen hands may be using Nepali to talk to each other
S: I don’t give, like I don’t care, if it’s easier to pick up stuff like than please go ahead.
R: so you don’t think that, there should just only be english
S: no there shouldn’t be, maybe like the Thai thing at the coffee machine, maybe this is something
R: not so to do with the actual doing of the job,
S: yeah yea
R: yeah okay
R: umm yeah, okay, how many languages do you speak fluently? Please list them here
S: three, german, serbokroatisch and english
R: umm, among these languages which ones do you use at work?
R: yep, and sometimes
S: serbokroatisch, with like sometimes which is very funny, I’m, I realise then i moved here to Australia because I think in english and in german, but especially in my first year when the word I was looking for like didn’t straight away come to my mind I then thought in serbokroatisch which is very random
S: that was new, so there is like, oooh, mixing up everything
R: okay umm oh okay, then we’re going, specifically into which languages do you use where? In formal work situations, meetings, conferences, interviews, presentations, communication with clients/customers,
S: which is now? Or my previous work?
R: uhhh now, now. At the café
S: english and german
R: any extra comments?
S: (shakes head)
R: we’re nearly there, umm,
S: any extra comments, that’s a good one
R: uhh what are the opportunities or factors that allow you to use these languages ?
S: because my colleague at work is studying german at uni and umm yeah, I’m just offering my pfft, practice with me
R:,mmhm, what are some obstacles at work that might stop you from speaking or using a certain language
R: ummm yeah cool and I guess Jing
R: telling us not to, but probably not for linguistic reasons. Umm okay, oh we’ve got some extra questions that I decided to write. Umm uhhh, what would you consider to be your national identity, ie. Where are you from, with what nationality do you most strongly identify and does that answer differ in different contexts, ie. With work, with friends with strangers blah blah
S: repeat the question, like with what nationality can i..
R: like if someone asked you where you’re from what would you say?
S: that’s a good questions, because that is, I only realised in Australia how difficult it is for me to answer this question. I’m uhh, I would consider myself as European
S: ummm born and raised in Vienna Austria, but my background is a hundred percent from ex-yugoslavia, Bosnia, and uhhm I can’t like, I wouldn’t consider myself as Austrian because the mentality, because I didn’t grow up in that mentality, but I’m also not 100% like Serbian because I grew up in Vienna, so this is I just consider myself as European.
S: yeah I can’t point it to a country and I feel I, it’s also personal, like I don’t I just don’t feel Austrian, although I grew up and I have a passport and everything, but it’s, it’s yeah, it’s totally, it’s a different mindset
S: it’s also, my temperament, it’s not Austrian.
R: what is it?
R: okay alright, umm and would you give a different answer , do you give the same answer, would you give the same answer all the time.
S: no, and I didn’t like, when I, years ago I would tot 100% say Austria, 100% because I couldn’t identify myself with Serbia, this is, this came only like, last couple of years, when I, when I umm, did, how do you say, neglect, reject my background, because I , its, it’s a little bit complicated, I grew up in a uhh, pfff, Austria is, when it comes to immigrants, umm, quite the opposite of Australia
S: it’s uhh it’s not good or I can’t find a better word to, have a different background, it’s all about integrating or adapting, as soon as possible and be like as Austrian as possible. Whereas in Australia diversity is good, it’s perceived as something interesting
S: and so like umm, and especially Serbia, ex-yugoslavia, is seen as a umm, uhh, pfff, uhh, I mean, it’s only you that listens , it’s seen like, here the Indians, you know, like not a country like, a, if you compare here immigrants from Europe or from India, like Europe is higher, like you know and with Serbia it’s like a lower class, working and so my parents lived sort of a life, like I grew up in a district where there were no people from Serbia and also, we never spoke that language umm, because the goal was to to to to be as to have to integrate as soon as possible, to yeah uhh, hide pain, pain off uhh losing your own identify and this is what happened in our family, this is why we speak two different languages. It’s a big big big problem, because my sisters and my my main language is german and this is how we think, and it’s not our, it not my parents language and that’s why we have like massive communication issues, because we don’t speak the same language and umm yeah so, errm back to the question,
R: oh does your answer differ
S: yeah yeah, so I remember I was always like, no i’m not from yugoslavia, i’m Austrian Austrian Austrian and my ex boyfriend came up with this,
R: was that when you were living in Austria
S: yeah that was when I was living, and so he was like umm, errr, not “verleugnen” you’re , tsk, I have to google this, it’s so bad, its like, its really bad, umm, deny, to deny, don’t deny background, that’s your background. I felt like no, i’m not like, I have nothing to do with that country and it took me like almost 30 years to realise I have more in common with that culture than before, but it all happened, like I denied because my parents were not proud of where they’re coming from, because like, it yeah, Austria is not the inviting country for that.
S: so and when I realised that, this is when I started to yeah, to distance myself more and more, because this is obviously, its just shit, because it doesn’t matter where you’re from you should always be proud of where you, and it’s not this nationality thing, it’s just that be proud of who you are,
S: and not like hiding and pretending and being as soon as possible someone who is, fuck off. Like I hate when people say, what, you’re from ex yugoslavia, I would never have guessed, awesome how your parents integrate like wow,
S: like this is , I was only waiting for your compliment, this is not, this is not an achievement, it’s because it was necessary, and that’s a shame
R: but you don’t feel like that here
S: and I feel like, and I also tell my parents, I said, because my parents applied for citizenship
S: but they chose Austria, fuck, but it’s closer to their home, that’s why. I told them, also when I was back now in February, you would have had a better life here
S: because all those two years and I am only surrounded by immigrants, and also at uni with 85% Indians, there was, i’ve never seen a situation where you like you Australians would talk down to an immigrant, never,
S: never, in two years and like in in in, this is different in Austria, there is also they would imitate like bad bad German ,
R: mm yeah,
S: like this is not nice,, you’re not making fun of any, of an accent, unless you know it is nice,
R: yeah it is actually a joke, that everyone is enjoying
S: yes yes yes
R: okay alright, umm, pfftm okay do you think language restrictions at work have an effect on your ethnic and or national identity. As in, you aren’t speaking either of your first language really at work, does that affect you.
S: mmhm (shakes head)
R: no? Okay cool mmhm
R: alright cool, that’s the last question, all done.
Red River House is a local Chinese bistro next to Club Rivers in Riverwood. Its menu consists of affordable dishes from Chinese, Hong Kong, Thai and Vietnamese cuisine, which attracts a lot of local Asian customers. The restaurant employs Chinese waiters who can speak Cantonese or Mandarin and English to communicate with its customers. This allows customers to feel comfortable in the diner as they don’t have to struggle to order at the counter. Signs posted up in the restaurant are printed and laminated with two translations.
Below is an image of their news board to display their weekly specials. The specials are printed in English accompanied by the Chinese translation. All besides the chicken wings special which only has Chinese characters.
There is an abundance of signs when you get to the counter. These signs are used to inform customers of store policies, news updates and changes in menus. As you can see, English and Chinese translations are both provided so that no group is excluded to avoid miscommunications.
Inside the kitchen is a different story. The kitchen employees cannot read or understand English, so the signs directed to the restaurant employees are written in Chinese. Signs that are directed to the staff of Club Rivers are written in English.
The sign in Chinese directs staff on how to respond to an emergency situation, required by WHS policies.
The sign in English informs cleaners or Club Rivers managers and employees of kitchen operations and maintenance. The sign was created as the restaurant cooks the soup base for pho over night, and if the stoves are turned off, the restaurant will be unprepared to serve the next day’s customers.
Observations & Interview Summary:
In contrary to other workplaces, the dominant language at the Red River House restaurant is mainly Cantonese, a southern Chinese dialect. My interviewee, SC, speaks Mandarin and English and uses both of them at work. She stated that despite being fluent in Mandarin and English, Cantonese comes in handier as the number of people speaking Cantonese in this workplace is uncountable. She encounters problems when customers don’t understand or speak Mandarin, especially older aged people who can only comprehend and communicate in Cantonese, with no knowledge of English or Mandarin. This is also common amongst her other colleagues.
Regardless of the linguistic landscape of her workplace, SC believes that English is the national language of Australia, however, she doesn’t believe that there is a monolingual English ideology. She celebrates the idea of a multicultural society, where people shouldn’t be forced to speak English, but rather in the language that is easier for them to communicate in. The only time that speaking a different language causes issues is when they are faced with racism, which can cause physical and mental harm to whomever is facing the situation.
SC holds positive attitudes towards linguistic diversity. She believes that learning different languages can benefit people in different ways as well as feeding their own interests. Linguistic diversity in the workplace is seen as an advantage in handling and communicating with a more diverse range of customers. With that being said, she also explained that the average Australian customer would mind if employees spoke in a foreign language to theirs in a workplace if they were racist. There was one time when a customer said to the girls that we should all speak in English since we are in Australia, instead of talking in languages they don’t understand. However, most customers understand that employees use foreign languages for better communication between others who share the same background.
SC believes that everyone should have the right to speak in whichever language they want to, and workplaces should not have to be monolingual (English) but rather be dependent on the languages that employees use.
The workplace I chose is an office that belongs to a company called Prostar Capital located in Sydney CBD. I am not an employee of the company but I was hired to teach Chinese lessons to five of their employees once a week in their office. Therefore, I had access to the office space and the opportunity to interview my students.
Before exploring the linguistic diversity, a brief introduction of the workplace is needed. Prostar Capital Ltd. is a private equity firm established in 2012 to invest across the mid-market energy value chain in the Asia-Pacific region. The firm has offices in Sydney, Hong Kong and Greenwich, Connecticut.
As the company extends its investments overseas, most employees have experienced various cultures and languages while working, which makes this exploration of their attitudes and experiences surrounding linguistic diversity interesting. One thing that certainly displays their positive and proactive attitude towards linguistic diversity is the Chinese classes in for employees that travel frequently to China.
I walked around the office but couldn’t find any signage that belongs to their office not even any bathroom signs or conference room signs (except for the ‘Fire Exit’ signs that come with the building). There is only one sign that displays the name of the company outside the office on the wall (which can be seen in the following picture). It is very strange and at the same time interesting as I guess signage in the office is not very necessary since everyone who works here know exactly where to go and the receptionist can show people the way the around the office.
Observations & Interview Summary:
Our group’s first approach to investigate linguistic diversity in a workplace is through oral interviews. I carried out mine in an office in Sydney CBD, using the questions our group came up with together as guidance. Three employees in the office were kind enough to answer my questions and gave their opinions. Two of the interviewees only speak English while one of them also speaks Italian. I went on to ask about the linguistic diversity in their workplace.
Regarding the issue of a monolingual ideology, I asked if they felt uncomfortable when hearing other languages being spoken in the workplace or ever observed someone expressing such discomfort. Although previously they mentioned that the dominant language of the office was English, they themselves don’t feel uncomfortable at all with their colleagues speaking another language. However, one of them did hear someone say ‘Speak English, please’ and ‘Repeat what you just said in English’ in this situation. They explained that the fear of the unknown was likely the cause of such remarks and not being able to understand a language could be frustrating to some. In addition, there are very few chances for them to use another language, said by the interviewee who speaks Italian, because almost everyone in the office is a native English speaker and he himself only uses Italian when swearing. At the end, they concluded that English doesn’t have to be the only language at work because as long as the job gets done, it doesn’t matter what language you use.
To investigate their attitudes towards linguistic diversity and knowledge of foreign languages in the workplace, I asked them to describe work situations or contexts where problems occurred due to lack of knowledge of a specific language. One interviewee talked about business meetings with clients from overseas and how meanings were often lost in translation which caused misunderstandings and inefficiency. Therefore, they think that it would be extremely useful to be competent in a foreign language for business purposes and linguistic diversity should also be encouraged in the workplace so the company can be more international.
In fact, I realised after the interview that our observation technique was not very appropriate in the workplace I chose because I am technically not an employee of the company. Therefore, I couldn’t just hang around after my class in the office and listen to what people are saying. All I was able to do was walk slowly from the reception to the conference room and try to eavesdrop on people’s conversations on my way. Besides that, I was also able to observe my students when they were in the conference room getting ready for my class.
When I first started teaching here, I asked how many of them have learned Chinese before and how many of them speak another language other than English. I found out that to their knowledge, everyone in this Sydney CBD office is a native English speaker and there is no Chinese speakers. One of the most important reasons why they wanted Chinese classes is to show respect for their Chinese business partners and display the appropriate social etiquette while in China. From this I can see this company values cultural and linguistic diversity even though the composition of the company employees are not so linguistically diverse.
When I am in the office, all I hear is English whether it is people talking about job related matters or just chit-chatting. Even though I know some of my students can speak a language other than English, they never use that language in front of me or in the office (although they admit that swearing in a language people around them don’t understand is pretty fun).
I think a workplace’s linguistic diversity and its attitudes towards it are very relevant to the type or location of the workplace. Since this office is in Sydney CBD, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that all the employees are native English speakers. I imagine the office in Hong Kong must have a very different composition of employees with a large number of them being Cantonese speakers. The company specialises in energy infrastructure investments in the Asia-Pacific region so it is also not unexpected that they encourage employees to learn the language of their business partners.
Our last chosen workplace to investigate is the University of New South Wales library, located in Kensington. UNSW has a student population of over 50’000 students. 25% of these students are international, whom speak a variety of languages other than English. I chose the UNSW library as a workplace to investigate in order to explore how the library employees interact with such a culturally and linguistically diverse population. I chose to interview the Help Zone staff as my selected library employees. I conducted two interviews on two seperate weeks. Because the Help Zone staff were standing in close proximity to each other during the times I spoke to them, each interview was addressed to more than one person. The first time I interviewed three staff members as a group as it was early in the day. The second time I interviewed two staff members but one was called away halfway during the interview as the library was getting busier.
Observations & Interview Summary:
The Help Zone staff members heard many students speak in languages that were foreign to them (three only spoke English, one spoke Korean, Mandarin & Cantonese and one spoke basic French). None of the staff members felt any discomfort over hearing foreign languages around them nor did they think it was in appropriate for people to speak languages other than English in the library. The staff members stated that they are spoken to in English by students who seek their help or are approached in English and then switch over to another language once a common one is established. One thing I observed was that the staff always tried to reply in English. Perhaps this is due to the library being part of research institute (where research is conducted in English) or because it is a place of academic resources published mainly in English. All signs, posters, directions and numbers posted in the library are in English. Non of the staff members I interviewed believe in a monolingual ideology, they chose to speak English to students as a way of trying to help them become more comfortable using English as Australia is predominantly an English speaking country. Perhaps staff employed at other libraries would have very different opinions on the subject of language diversity and monolingual ideology in the workplace, however as mentioned before, a quarter of the student population at the university speak a language other than English. Thus the UNSW staff would have had ample amounts of time to become used to the diverse linguistic atmosphere in their workplace.