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Vocational jargon turns off candidates

Obscure vocabulary, ambiguous phrases and mangled grammar in the language of vocational qualifications have put off potential candidates, says a new study writes Lucy Ward.

A computer analysis of the texts of occupational standards and the national vocational qualifications based on them has confirmed what many employers and academics had long suspected - that the language used is quite unlike that used by the trainee in the street.

NVQs, according to the study, are often couched in doublespeak .

In NVQ-speak, information is not given but imparted. When mistakes are made, the result is not corrections but rectifying actions. In this world, trainees are expected to action tasks and originate evidence - if they can find their way through the jargon.

The damning assessment comes in a report commissioned by the Department for Education and Employment and carried out by language technology researcher Joanna Channell and business communication trainer Maggie Jo St John.

They fed all two million words in the current database of accredited NVQs and Scottish equivalents into a computer and compared them with a database of 200 million words from newspapers, magazines, books and broadcasting.

Their conclusion was that "there are genuine language-based reasons for the negative reactions" reported by the NVQ candidates. Early findings of the study were reported to the Beaumont Review of the top 100 NVQs which said the language of the qualifications was a major cause for concern.

The researchers suggest the speed of introduction of national standards in a range of occupations and of NVQs has contributed to the problem.

But they also found standard developers have ended up deliberately "deforming and altering" what they really want to say in the mistaken belief that simplicity goes against current guidance and best practice.

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