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Conclusion

The conclusion of this chapter is at the same time a transition to the next, written by the same authors and covering language policies and practices. By now, it has become clear that language needs are closely related to both these latter, the differences deriving mostly from the perspective adopted.

Thus we have remarked on the very wide overlap between needs and practices, many of which can be considered as examples of needs already or about to be met. In fact, it is hard to distinguish between needs analyses and studies of language practice in businesses. The only perceptible difference concerns those cases where there is a patent discrepancy between need and practice, and hence a clearly unmet need. These situations are, of course, the most potentially interesting and those that most draw the attention of researchers and practitioners.

Likewise, interconnections and overlaps can be detected between language needs and language policies. One such is the strong but complex correlation between the need for certain languages and language competences, and the policy measures that assign languages their roles in public life, in education, in organisations and in companies. These roles may already have given rise to certain language practices, which policies will have to address - a step that often takes a considerable time. Conversely, language policies contribute to creating realities which may, once established, have an important impact on perceived needs. One example would be a company establishing English as its corporate language, and so creating massive new language needs.

In the context of this handbook, it is natural that business language needs have been considered mostly from an economic perspective. However, they should always be seen in the context of other political, social and cultural “needs”, for example, that of the much broader EU policy in favour of multilingualism. This is pointed out, among others, by the Forum des entreprises sur le multilinguisme (see Commission europeenne. Direction generale de l’education et de la culture 2008), which adopts a clearly prescriptive stance.

We regard it as obvious that, especially within business and LSP contexts, language teaching and learning cannot and should not be conducted without taking language needs into consideration. However, in discussing needs, we must always clarify whether we are referring to the needs of learners, of companies, etc., or to all potential needs. Furthermore, we must be aware that we can never refer to “objective” needs in the strict sense, since language needs are always social-discursive constructs arising from, and closely linked to subjective ideological, language-policy-related and other positions.

It is a fact that the majority of needs analyses nowadays are based on questionnaires and interviews, which stricto sensu do not show respondents’ “real” needs, but only those they perceive. However, subjective perceptions may still allow conclusions to be drawn about real, “objective” needs. To put it in social-constructionist terms: “objective” - if we remain comprehensive and reasonable - only means constructed in an intersubjective way. In order to explain why people think what they do about language needs, there is a need for studies of the connections between statements about such needs and personal language experiences, language biographies and other relevant factors. This would allow language needs analysis to be firmly anchored in sociolinguistics and cross-linked with neighbouring disciplines.

To sum up, we have sought to enhance the “objectivity” - in the sense mentioned above - of needs analyses, which should (also) apply methods that are not prone to so called self-report bias, and - a further research desideratum - attach more importance to non-participant observation, especially (video)recordings of real business communication activities and their transcripts.

 
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