Multilingualism in the workplace

Authored by: Roger Hewitt

The Routledge Handbook of Multilingualism

Print publication date:  May  2012
Online publication date:  May  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415496476
eBook ISBN: 9780203154427
Adobe ISBN: 9781136578144


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Soon after Henry Ford opened his Ford Motor Company on the outskirts of Detroit in 1909 his aim was to create a modern workforce of maximum productivity along the lines suggested by Frederick Taylor's influential book The Principles of Scientific Management (1911), and to do so in a way that included a cultural strategy of ‘Americanization’. Within a very few years, his workforce grew to 41,000 of which 18,000 were American- or Canadian-born English firstlanguage speakers. The remaining 23,000 were foreign-born, many with little or no English. To maximize the kind of resource his workforce constituted, Ford initiated two unusual departments within his management system. One was called the ‘Sociological Department’, which between 1914 and 1916 sent out investigators, together with interpreters where necessary, to the homes of almost all of its employees and collected data on their families, age, religion, nationality, languages spoken and prospects of citizenship, as well as other questions on their financial standing, debts, insurance, health, recreational activities and much more (Nevins 1954: vol. 1: 554). The other was the ‘Ford English School’, which was to address the needs of the 5,000 workers who were without English, plus others whose English was weak. The pupils were grouped into classes with 25 to a class, meeting twice a week for an hour and a half. One manager of the English school explained: ‘If a man declines to go to school, the advantages of training are carefully explained to him. If he still hesitates, he is laid off and given a chance for uninterrupted meditation and reconsideration. He seldom fails to change his mind’ (Schwartz 1989: 60).

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