Should Students In Chile’s Vocational High Schools,Vocational Training Centers, and Professional Training Universities Be Taught Vocational English?

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Description: Student’s Book (with Digibooks App)
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Yes. The answer is unequivocal: “Yes, students in Chile´s vocational high schools, vocational training centers, and professional training centers should be taught vocational English.

My answer (Yes), does not, and should not, surprise anybody. The surprise, if there is any surprise, is that we are currently N-O-T teaching vocational English.

So what are we teaching them?

Answer: General English.

That means how to order a hamburger, how to talk about your summer vacation, how to talk about the movie you saw last weekend. This is General English, or, to put this in more technical terms, Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS)

Experts such as Jim Cummins differentiate between social and academic language acquisition. Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS) are language skills needed in social situations. It is the day-to-day language needed to interact socially with other people.

English language learners (ELLs) use BIC skills when they are in the cafeteria, at parties, playing sports and talking on the telephone. Social interactions are usually context embedded. That is, they occur in a meaningful social context. They are not very demanding cognitively. The language required is not specialized.

For an interesting video by Dr. Cummins, see

Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP)

CALP refers to formal academic learning. This includes listening, speaking, reading, and writing about subject area content material.

This level of language learning is essential for students to succeed in school. Students need time and support to become proficient in academic areas. This usually takes from five to seven years.

Many studies have been conducted in bilingual-speaking regions of Canada.

Academic language acquisition isn’t just the understanding of content area vocabulary. It includes skills such as comparing, classifying, synthesizing, evaluating, and inferring.

Academic language tasks are context reduced.

Information is read from a textbook or presented by the teacher.

As a student gets older, the context of academic tasks becomes more and more reduced. The language also becomes more cognitively demanding. New ideas, new concepts and new language are all presented to the students at the same time.

The Chilean Reality: Vocational Students Need Vocational English

Dr. Leandro Sepúlveda (UAH), has done longitudinal studies of Chilean vocational high school graduates. Dr. Sepúlveda´s research reveals that on average, 40% of a graduating class will go directly to higher level studies in Professional Institutes, Technical Training Centers, and universities.

About 10% will return to seek higher education and training at some later point. This means they will be working and studying at the same time. This is the highly motivated, adult student who is serious and focused on achieving their education goals.

Amazingly however,about 50% of graduates of vocational high schools will never, ever return to study again in their lives. For this group of students, their vocational high school experience is the end of the road.

Therefore, if we do not provide Vocational, Career Specific English to these students while they are in their Vocational Career training program, they will most likely never (NEVER) learn the specific, Vocational English necessary for success in their career.

This means they will be confined to a monolingual, Spanish-only careeer experience. Whether as a salaried worker or as a self-employed entrepreneur, they will have no ability to involve themselves directly in the global economy.

Frankly speaking, it is an absolute waste of human capital, both for the country of Chile, and most unfortunately, for the individual and their future earning ability.

In the Chile of 2019, we have everything, all the tools, all the resources, all the knowledge, to provide every single vocational student, in every single vocational career specialty, in this great country, with a 2 year course of specific, career-related English that will enhance the future productivity and earning potential of all students.

Finally, the reason we are not doing this can not, must not, be because vocational students are overwhelmingly the poorest and most socially disadvantaged students in Chilean society.

We are better than that, aren’t we?


Leandro Sepúlveda
2011 – 2013: Investigador Responsable Proyecto Expectativas, proyectos educativo-laborales y trayectorias post-egreso de jóvenes estudiantes secundarios: Un Estudio en la Región Metropolitana; Proyecto Fondecyt nº 1110544.


About profesorbaker

Thomas Baker is the Past-President of TESOL Chile (2010-2011). He enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics. The source and inspiration for his writing comes from his family.
This entry was posted in Debates, Educación Adulta, Educación Técnica Profesional, Education, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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