Adult basic education and training or “ABET” builds communication bridges in the workplace

State-of-the-art concrete repairs successfully complete at water purification plant
March 11, 2022
UD Trucks maps way forward to driverless trucks
March 18, 2022
Show all

Adult basic education and training or “ABET” builds communication bridges in the workplace

South Africa is a multilingual society, with the vast majority of the population preferring to communicate in languages other than English at home. Yet, English is the official language of business. This means that there are many South Africans who are unable to communicate effectively in the workplace, impeding productivity, efficiency and accuracy and, in turn, resulting in wastage and unwanted costs. Notably, language barriers also hinder attempts to create more inclusive and diverse working environments. This is because individuals who do not have sound English literacy skills do not have the confidence they need to speak up in the workplace. They are, therefore, unable to achieve their full potential to develop and grow, while also adding value to your business. In some instances, they will even be discriminated against in the workplace because of their lack of English literacy skills. This is because many people still incorrectly assume that people who are unable to communicate in the formal language of business are unintelligent and incapable. They do not take into consideration that many of these individuals speak more than one language and may not have a sound grasp of the fundamental of English literacy. Quality adult basic education and training or “ABET” helps bridge these communication gaps in your organisation to the benefit of both employer and employee, alike. This is in addition to the large role that adult literacy training continues to play as fundamental driver of inclusive and diverse workplaces.  


The benefit of having an official language, such as English, in business is that it facilitates effective communication in an organisation, reducing the risk of misunderstandings that could impede efficiencies and productivity. However, the vast majority of South Africans and many workers who were born in other African countries do not speak English as a first language. They, therefore, do not practice it as regularly as those employees who speak English at home with their friends and families. Bear in mind that language skills need to be practised to develop fluency and confidence. If these proficiencies are neglected, they will decline over time.

South African English is a diverse language

English is the most widespread of the two European languages that were brought to South Africa during colonisation. This has made it the preferred means of communicating in government and business.


One of its many advantages is that it crosses the various cultural barriers more easily than most other native languages. This is very important in a country that is one of the most diverse in the world. It is melting pot of different cultures and religious beliefs and continues to attract many migrants from other parts of Africa who are looking to improve their circumstances.


Brought to South Africa by the English in the 1820s, schools still teach the language based on the British grammatical system. However, it is constantly evolving having already taken on many peculiarities and become mixed with a variety of accents and words taken from other languages.


Meanwhile, adult literacy training has its roots in the fight against colonialism and the right for all citizens of the country to access education so that they could grow and prosper. Over time, adult literacy training has evolved into an essential way of upskilling low skilled employees who have not had the opportunity to complete their basic education to gain important basic skills, including English literacy. While an effective means of improving productivity and efficiencies in the workplace, it also remains an important tool for transformation. This is considering that it establishes a solid base for further learning and skills development, while equipping people with the basic proficiencies that they need to function optimally in all facets of life.



Adult literacy training narrows the English proficiency gap

While English is the formal language of business, we are proud to be a multilingual society. The country has many different official languages, with English rarely spoken at home by the vast majority of indigenous South Africans. A third of indigenous South Africans speak isiZulu as a first language. This means that 11,5-million citizens of the country use isiZulu as the primary means of communicating, making it the largest language to be spoken by indigenous South Africans. isiXhosa is the second-largest language used by indigenous South Africans when they socialise and communicate outside the workplace. As many as 8,1-million black South Africans use this language as their primary means of communicating. The third-largest language spoken by black South Africans is Sesotho sa Leboa, also known as Sepedi. A total of 4,6-million black South Africans speak Sepedi at home. Other languages that indigenous South Africans use to primarily communicate with friends and family include Setswana, Sesotho, Xitsonga, siSwati, Tshivenda and IsiNdebele. They will only really use English to communicate in the workplace. The reality is that only 2,9% of indigenous South Africans use English as their primary means of communicating with friends and family.


Meanwhile, about 7% of the country’s labour force comprises of migrants, many of whom do not speak English as a first language. The main source countries for refugees and asylum seekers in 2020 were Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. They constitute about 7% of the labour force. These individuals mainly work in construction, trade and retail, agriculture, mining and hospitality, as well as education and health professions. Companies operating across these sectors work closely with leading accredited training provider, Triple E Training, to raise the English literacy proficiencies of their low skilled employees, a portion of whom were also born in other countries. This is being done via quality adult education and training or “AET”, specifically geared at company employees.



In Ethiopia, Amharic is the government’s official language and a widely used lingua franca. However, only 29% of the population speak Amharic as their main language. Oromo is spoken by over a third of the population and is the most widely used language in Ethiopia.


In Mozambique, Portuguese is the most commonly spoken language. A total of 50,5% of the national population aged between five and above are fluent in this language. Other widely spoken languages in the country include Swahili, Makhuwa, Sena, Ndau and Tswa-Ronga.


The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world. More than 200 languages are spoken by citizens of the country. However, French is the official language and widely used in education and government in the same way that South Africa uses English, also a former colonial language. Other official languages include Kikongo or Kituba, Lingala, Swahili and Tshiluba.


In Somalia, the spoken language is Somali, Standard Arabic and English. The written language is Somali, Arabic, which is also an Afro-Asiatic tongue.


Bengali, or “Bangla”, is Bangladesh’s national language. It belongs to the Indo-Aryan group of languages and is related to Sanskrit.


Zimbabwe has 16 official languages. They include Chewa, Chibarwe, English, Kalanga, Koisan, Nambya, Ndau, Ndebele, Shangani, Shona, sign language, Sotho, Tonga, Tswana, Venda and Xhosa.



Language Outside Inside
Afrikaans 9,7% 12,2%
English 16,6% 8,1%
IsiNdebele 1,3% 1,6%
IsiXhosa 12,8% 14,8%
IsiZulu 25,1% 25,3%
Khoi, Nama and San languages 0,1% 0,1%
Sepedi 9,7% 10,1%
Sesotho 7,8% 7,9%
Setswana 9,5% 10,1%
SiSwati 2,6% 2,8%
Tshivenda 2,2% 2,5%
Xitsonga 2,4% 3,6%
Other 0,5% 1,9%


  • Eastern Cape – isiXhosa (78,8%) and Afrikaans (10,6%)
  • Free State – Sesotho (64,2%) and Afrikaans (12,7%)
  • Gauteng – isiZulu (19,8%), English (13,3%), Afrikaans (12,4%) and Sesotho (11,6%)
  • KwaZulu-Natal – isiZulu (77,8%) and English (13,2%)
  • Limpopo – Sesotho sa Leboa (52,9%), Xitsonga (17%) and Tshivenda (16,7%)
  • Mpumalanga – siSwati (27,7%), isiZulu (24,1%), Xitsonga (10.4%) and isiNdebele (10,1%)
  • Northern Cape – Afrikaans (53,8%) and Setswana (33,1%)
  • North West – Setswana (63,4%) and Afrikaans (9%)
  • Western Cape – Afrikaans (49,7%), isiXhosa (24,7%) and English (20,3%)


  Black Coloured Indian/Asian White Other All
Total population 40,413,408 4,541,358 1,271,158 4,461,409 274,111 50,961,443
English speakers 1,167,913 945,847 1,094,317 1,603,575 80,971 4,892,623
Share of population 2.9% 20.8% 86.1% 35.9% 29.5% 9.6%

The largest number of English speakers reside in Gauteng. This is a total of 1,6-million people, or a third of all English-speaking South Africans. Over a quarter stay in KwaZulu-Natal, 23,5% in the Western Cape and 7,4% in the Eastern Cape. English is a minority language within all nine provinces. However, it is the second-largest language in the Western Cape after Afrikaans and Gauteng, after isiZulu. It is spoken by 20,2% of the population in the Western Cape and 13,3% in Gauteng. English is only spoken by a minority of South African citizens in other provinces.



Adult education and training or “AET” breaks communication barriers

Employers must, therefore, be mindful of potential communication barriers in their organisation. While employees who do not speak English as their first language may be proficient in their jobs, they will not necessarily understand clear instructions that have been communicated to them in the official language of business. There are many ways in which miscommunication can negatively impact a company. One of these includes a notable decline in efficiency. When employees do not have the ability to express themselves clearly, time is wasted trying to seek clarity. This may involve having to revisit previous written dialogue and to only then realise that an employee did not fully understand an instruction. Communication barriers in the workplace due to an inability to understand basic English also leads to notable declines in productivity. Bear in mind the time spent trying to understand the context and rereading poorly written documentation to gain clarity on a matter. This also leads to employee frustration that impedes workers’ ability to perform at their best. Miscommunication can also erode trust, which leads to demotivation in the workplace. Misunderstandings between employees and other team members and their supervisors will occur when there are intent-impact gaps. This means that the intent of a message that was conveyed in English is not fully understood by employees. It comes with a high risk as employees may lose confidence in one another. In severe circumstances, they may even lose confidence in their managers and supervisors. This will inhibit their abilities to work in team environments leading to lost time and unwanted friction between members and their higher-ups. Over time, the psychology of your team will erode, and this will eventually stifle innovation. This is considering that employees will no longer be willing to share their ideas or help develop the thoughts of other team members. Bear in mind that employees work in the front line. They, therefore, have valuable information to share with you that could possibly make processes more efficient. In many instances, they also interact with your customers who provide feedback on your services and products. This is valuable data that needs to be shared on an ongoing basis to retain business and develop new markets. They will also eventually leave your company because they do not feel valued and are distrustful of their colleagues and managers. Moreover, they may feel that they are not being empowered to work effectively. Replacing employees who understand your processes and work culture can be costly and disruptive.



Low skilled employees who have completed accredited training provider, Triple E Training’s adult basic education and training or “ABET”:

  • Display and interest and ability to perform beyond basic business standards
  • Are able to communicate effectively with their colleagues and superiors
  • Are able to adequately express and represent themselves in front of an audience
  • Start developing high-end interpersonal and networking skills
  • Have the confidence that is needed to deliver presentations and speeches
  • Are able to express themselves to everyone in a common language



Adult education and training transforms workplace environments

Another often overlooked aspect of English language barriers in an organisation is the role that it plays in stifling diversity and inclusivity. There are many managers and workers who talk down to employees who cannot speak English fluently. There is an incorrect perception that these employees lack intelligence when, in reality, this is definitely not the case. Bear in mind that many of these individuals speak many languages, although they may not be functionally literate in English. This workplace culture prevents employees who do not have sound English literacy skills from communicating freely with their colleagues or higher-ups. Their work may, therefore, suffer which limits their ability to grow and develop their careers and, possibly, earn more. Ultimately, this hinders companies from diversifying their workplaces and ensuring inclusivity. Certainly, this is where adult basic education and training or “ABET” continues to play a very important role. Bear in mind the important role that clear and polite communication plays in reducing surprises, crises and confrontation. Both employers and employees need to take cultural differences into account when communicating verbally or in the written word.


This is why enterprising companies focus on improving the English literacy skills of employees through formal adult literacy training programmes. Leading accredited training provider, Triple E Training has helped many thousands of low skilled employees acquire the English literacy skills that they need to perform at optimal levels in the workplace.


This adult basic education and training or “ABET” intervention has significantly improved communication in the workplace. By completing adult literacy training, low skilled employees are able to more quickly align on priorities, projects and next assignments to support your ability to get work done efficiently. Skilled in English literacy, they are also good communicators enabling them to work together more effectively. This enhances their individual and collective productivity. Importantly, low skilled employees who have completed the accredited training provider’s adult literacy programmes are confident in their English communication abilities. This means that your employees know that their colleagues will listen to their ideas, seek clarity and assume positive intent in their line of questioning. They will also have the confidence to speak up and provide information that will help improve processes. Moreover, the accredited training provider’s adult basic education and training or “ABET” has helped close intent-impact gaps and enhance trust within organisations.


In this way, adult basic education and training or “ABET” serves as an important means of building communication bridges. However, it is critical that it is systematic and targeted. Triple E Training, an accredited training provider, has extensive experience providing formal English literacy training to many different industries that rely extensively on low skilled employees, many of whom are not functionally literate. Over the past 30 years, the company has continued to set the benchmark in adult basic education and training or “ABET” to industry. This is by constantly adapting to the rapidly changing English literacy and numeracy skills requirements of companies.



Workplace literacy – or functional literacy – are the skills that your low skilled employees need to perform their jobs successfully. This is in addition to managing the demands of their jobs in a productive and safe manner. Working with an accredited training provider, such as Triple E Training, you will be able to increase your low skilled employees’ English literacy proficiencies. Importantly, this adult basic education and training or “ABET” also provides a foundation for lifelong learning as people and businesses develop together.


Even a slight investment into adult literacy training can yield substantial gains in low skilled employees’ skills. This will improve their performance, in terms of productivity, efficiency and accuracy. There is also ample evidence that employees who have completed all four levels of adult education and training or “AET” are safer workers.


Notably, low skilled employees who have completed all four levels of the accredited training provider’s adult basic education and training or “ABET” report a reduction in their work-related stress levels compared to those workers who are not functionally literate. They can, therefore, focus on being productive workers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.