European Centre for Modern Languages

Language for work competences

Competences helpful to professionals and others when supporting work-related majority language (L2) learning by migrants and ethnic minorities


How the competences are organised

The competences are organised according to the different players involved who are providing support, itself dependent on the setting; different settings offer opportunities for different combinations of actors to support work-related L2 learning.

General competences helpful to all those supporting the language learning of migrants and refugees, across all settings.

Setting 1
L2 teacher
L2 learning provider

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Setting 2
L2 teacher
L2 learning provider
Job Centre

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Setting 3
L2 teacher
L2 learning provider
● Job Centre
● VET (vocational education and training) providers
● volunteers and/or other partners in the community
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Setting 4
L2 teacher
L2 learning provider
colleagues (e.g. as mentors)
trade unions and workers’ representatives
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About the competences

The LfW inventory of competences draws on 

  • practice examples of support for work-related L2 learning from across Europe and Canada
  • expertise of members of the Language for work network working as teachers, teacher-trainers and researchers. 

The inventory reflects certain understandings about language, work and learning:

1. Language and communication

Language is more than a formal system of grammar and lexis to be learnt in the classroom. It is an instrument to construct social realities, including vocational/work-related knowledge and know-how. Language use is interpersonal and thus shaped by social norms and power relationships. Negotiation of meaning is bilateral and depends on more than just language forms. In any act of communication, those involved have a shared responsibility for mutual understanding. In the context of work, this includes employers and colleagues.

2. Work-related language skills

Work-related language skills are the skills people need to find suitable employment, to contribute positively as employees, to progress at work and to learn and develop. Typically these skills are context-specific and constantly evolving. They reflect not only the various communicative requirements of particular fields of work and different roles within them, but also social norms related to work, both generally and in specific settings. 

3. Language learning

Language learning is the process through which a learner acquires communicative ability in the target language. This process occurs over a period of time, and in a variety of ways, of which the most important is interaction in the language. The process takes place within the learner, but it can be supported in a variety of ways, including, but not limited to, formal instruction. 

Support for language learning is most likely to be effective when it is based on a realistic understanding of language acquisition by adults.  When it comes to L2 learning of migrants, there are many opportunities for different actors (including employers and colleagues at work) to support learners in different ways.

4. Support for work-related language learning

Support is most likely to be effective when it combines expertise in language learning with an understanding of work requirements. In practice (and unsurprisingly, given the range of work requirements), this combination of expertise is rarely combined in a single individual or organisation. Consequently, collaboration between actors from different fields, such as language instruction, vocational education and training, labour market support, and the workplace itself, is likely to be required. 

5. The role of L2 teachers and providers

L2 teachers and providers typically bring expertise in language teaching in formal settings. Sometimes they also bring expertise in other forms of support for language learning. They may also bring expertise in specific vocational fields, though this is less common.

To provide effective support for work-related language learning, expertise in the relevant vocational field is a pre-requisite. This is likely to require L2 teachers and providers to cooperate closely with employers, job centres, trade unions, centres of vocational education and training, and so on. The skills, knowledge and attitudes necessary for cooperation of this kind therefore become an important part of the skill-set required by L2 teachers and providers.

How can the competences be used?

This inventory of competences offers support for:

  • quality assurance programmes for
    • educational providers, including adult and continuing education, L2 language providers, VET (vocational education and training) providers
    • employers generally
  • organisational development programmes for educational providers and employers generally
  • training and train-the-trainer programmes
  • policy makers concerned with migrant integration, in particular labour market integration

Note regarding the role of learners

Some individuals appear to perform more effectively as language learners than other individuals. Their effectiveness may be shaped by many factors, including some that could be considered as ‘competences’, such as personal learning strategies. 

In this description of competences, however, we are focusing on professionals supporting language learning, so although we note the learner’s presence in each setting, we do not include the learner’s competences.