Developing Soft Skills in Adult Learners of English

Photo by Alvaro Reyes on Unsplash

Soft skills have been a buzz word for several years now, and their importance keeps growing. More and more employers realize that soft skills can be a key to employees’ success in the workplace. In this article we will look into what is currently meant by soft skills, how their role is estimated and how soft skills can be developed in adult learners through courses of English by Osmi.

Collins English dictionary defines soft skills as “Desirable qualities for certain forms of employment that do not depend on acquired knowledge: they include common sense, the ability to deal with people, and a positive flexible attitude”. A more practice-oriented definition is offered by Will Kenton, who defines soft skills as “character traits and interpersonal skills that characterize a person’s relationships with other people. In the workplace, soft skills are considered to be a complement to hard skills, which refer to a person’s knowledge and occupational skills”.

The high demand for soft skills in many countries is demonstrated by recent research. In the USA an Adecco Staffing survey made in 2016 showed that 44% of executives (out of 500 senior executives surveyed) said that a lack of soft skills was the biggest proficiency gap they saw in the workforce. The Global Trends Report-2019 by LinkedIn involved 5165 businesses in 35 countries, and 92% of respondents said that soft skills were as important as hard skills, while 30% of employers stated that it is more important to employe people based of their soft skills than hard skills. What’s more, 89% of unsuccessful employees lack soft skills. It would appear that soft skills are becoming a key factor in employability and success at work.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that online courses that have the words “soft skills” in their description enjoy high popularity. For example, Coursera offers courses that have as many as 1- 2,9 million of students per course.

At the same time soft skills are more difficult to teach (and to learn) than hard skills, because hard skills are related to information and job skills, while soft skills are dependent on traits of character. Various employees list different skills as important for their businesses, including communication, adaptability, leadership, persuasion, organization, teamwork, collaboration, problem-solving, time management, interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, stress management, creativity, active listening, empathy, public speaking, social skills, critical thinking. Also, a soft skills course will require time and effort, and since a lot of soft skills are interpersonal, such courses should include a significant amount of communication. Is there a way to develop soft skills in students as part of a larger course that would integrate soft skills with other useful skills?

Osmi has developed courses of English that include development of soft skills in students. These courses are offered to universities and colleges, to independent adult learners. Materials to teach soft skills are included in the courses in several ways.

Some courses, like New Business English course, include entire units, dedicated to developing soft skills:

The Project management unit in the New Business English Pre-Intermediate course is aimed at developing time management and organisation skills. Other units in the course help to develop negotiation skills, critical thinking, team work, collaboration and problem-solving skills. Most skills from the list are present in the New Business English course and are developed through case studies and role plays.

Another course rich in soft skills is the Just Speak Course. This course is available at two levels — upper-intermediate and advanced. The main goal of this course is to prepare students for a long stay and working in the USA (upper-intermediate level) and the UK (advanced level). The course covers a wide range of everyday and work situations, it has a storyline where students follow the life of the main character, but then they roleplay a variety of situations and learn not only to speak English in these situations but also to deal with people, develop persuasion skills, critical thinking, social skills, public speaking, emotional intelligence, and many others that can be a valuable addition to the skills taught in the New Business English course, or an important preparation for life in a multicultural environment.

In Lesson 8 of Just Speak Course Upper-Intermediate students learn about workplace culture. They think about their own expectations and habits:

And after learning about — and practicing — interpersonal skills in the office, they move on to more difficult things — ethical dilemmas that can be important in building working relationships with colleagues and adhering to rules as well. They face dilemmas and then learn about working rules and expectations:

Not only do such exercises provide excellent basis for communication, but also they help to develop emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills, and collaboration skills.

In the New General English course soft skills are an integral part of every unit in most lessons. For example, students are taught to plan their schedules effectively and are provided with scaffolding to boost their planning skills:

Starting from elementary level, they are led to consider their own productivity:

After comparing and discussing routines of people from the past and modern people, they think about such questions as “What part of your routine is productive? What is not productive? How can you make it more productive?” (New General English course Elementary, lesson 6). In the next lesson they discuss and practise time management and organisation skills:

In lesson 8 they move on to working with interpersonal skills when discussing aspects of working in multinational companies:

Examples of units, lessons and exercises are numerous.

There are different ways in which development of soft skills can be included in ESL / EFL courses:

  1. Whole units dedicated to development of soft skills relevant to the job, as in New Business English courses.
  2. Integration of soft skills in every lesson of the course, with the emphasis on interpersonal skills and skills needed to live and work in an English-language environment, as in Just Speak Courses.
  3. Integration of soft skills in several lessons of each unit to prepare students to use English in a variety of daily situations in and outside of an English-speaking environment, as in the New General English courses.

These courses help students to develop soft skills while learning English, thus preparing to use the new knowledge and skills in a wide variety of daily and work situations.

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