Journal of Professional Nursing

Promoting EAL Nursing Students’ Mastery Of Informal Language

Vita Grace Wong, RCpN, MPH (Hons) Senior Lecturer, School of Nursing, Division of Health Care Practice, Auckland University of Technology
Pat Strauss, BA (Hons) English BA (Hons) Applied Linguistics, M Ed, D Ed University Education Diploma, Licentiate Diploma (TESOL) Senior Lecturer, School of Languages, Auckland University of Technology

Reference:  Wong, V. G., & Strauss, P. (2004). Promoting EAL nursing students’ mastery of informal language. Nursing Praxis in New Zealand, 20(1), 45-52.


This article describes the development, delivery and evaluation of a pilot programme designed to help nursing and midwifery students from Asian and non-English speaking backgrounds improve their conversational skills in practice settings. Many such students, although previously assessed as competent in English, find that their lack of understanding of colloquial aspects of the language hampers communication with patients and their families, and other health professionals. The study was conducted in a large tertiary educational institution in a major metropolitan centre. Each week for a period of 11 weeks students participated in an interactive session. Content for these was based on areas highlighted by a needs assessment involving interviews with both students and lecturers, and was subject to ongoing modification in response to feedback from participants. Evaluation questionnaires completed at the conclusion of the series indicated that students perceived the impact as positive. Students who attended regularly and were actively involved in the practice activities described gains in communication skills. From this it was concluded that further development of the pilot scheme was warranted in order to benefit English as an additional language (EAL) students enrolled in nursing and midwifery courses.

Informal language; EAL students; communication

In New Zealand undergraduate nursing and midwifery students must satisfy both Nursing Council of New Zealand (NCNZ) standards for safe practice, as well as the English language requirements of the tertiary institutions which they attend. Competency in communication is listed first among the competencies required for safe practice and entry to the Register of Comprehensive Nurses. Applicants for registration must demonstrate the ability to “relate in a professional manner and communicate effectively to support the client through the healthcare experience” (NCNZ, 2002, Appendix 1, p. 6). Examples of the generic performance criteria for communication are ensuring information is presented in a meaningful way, responding appropriately to clients’ questions, and demonstrating skills of clarification and reflection. Given that the composition of the New Zealand population is undergoing significant change these requirements take on particular significance.

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