Is English Your Second Language? Polish Your Skills With a New IEEE Course

animated monitors showing diverse group of individuals on each screen
Illustration: iStockphoto

By: Johanna Perez

THE INSTITUTE More than 1.8 billion people around the world speak English, making it widely considered the primary language for conducting business. Those with strong technical-English communication skills have a better chance of gaining employment and contributing to projects effectively, according to Career India.

Countries with a large number of engineering graduates include Indonesia, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States, according to an article in ForbesIndia also has a high number of students studying engineering, according to Trak.in, and is home to about 25 percent of the world’s engineering and science graduates.

But, according to India’s 2019 National Employability Report, 80 percent of the country’s engineers struggle with communicating in technical English, making it harder to find employment. Engineers who excel in technical English are more able to gain employment in companies throughout the world.

India is not the only country that emphasizes the importance of English-language proficiency. Many international organizations have made English their common business language, according to an article in the Harvard Business Review. The chief executive of Rakuten, an e-commerce company based in Japan, mandated that English be the firm’s official language, says the CIA’s World Factbook. AirbusMicrosoftNokiaSAPSamsung, and other multinational companies have similar requirements.

Employers expect the technical professionals they hire to be able to interpret business documents, understand and communicate engineering concepts, read and write white papers, and effectively communicate in technical English. That is why businesses with US $10 billion to $60 billion in sales tend to hire people with higher English proficiency scores, according to another Harvard Business Review article.

IEEE recognizes the importance of English for engineers around the globe. In 2010 the organization released a 12-course program, IEEE English for Engineers, to help improve reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills. In the past 10 years, the program has helped tens of thousands of professionals and students from more than 60 countries improve their English proficiency.

IEEE recently released a new program that builds on the skills taught in the 2010 initiative: IEEE English for Technical Professionals, a 14-hour online course. It helps learners apply and build on their knowledge through a variety of practical scenarios that involve reading, writing, speaking, and listening. It provides non-native English speakers advanced knowledge of English techniques and vocabulary that are essential for today’s technical workers.

Learners are introduced to a recurring set of animated characters who work at an engineering firm. Through a variety of scenarios and hands-on exercises, participants are exposed to many forms of English and technical communication in the context of an engineering environment. The result is a high-impact program that delivers instruction in an engaging manner, using research-based methods.

“The entire course has been designed for highly interactive learning, which will engage participants at each turn,” says course coauthor Traci Nathans-Kelly, an IEEE member. She is a lecturer for Cornell University’s College of Engineering and serves on the IEEE Educational Activities Board’s continuing-education committee.

The course is a launching pad for a lifetime of continuous improvement.

“Those who complete the course will be able to immediately apply their new language skills to improve their effectiveness in their professional duties, whether they be technical or managerial,” says Stephen Phillips, vice president of IEEE Educational Activities. “This program is a great resource for professionals and students who need to improve their English proficiency.”

Institutions interested in the program can contact an IEEE account specialist to learn more. Individuals who want to take the course can visit the IEEE Learning Network.

Johanna Perez is the digital marketing specialist for IEEE Educational Activities.

This article originally appeared in IEEE Spectrum on 24 August 2020.