Topic: The Little Things: addressing the intercultural pragmatic language of PCAs

Day: Wednesday 14 October 2020

Time: 1:30pm-1:50pm AEDT


Close to 90% of Australian residential aged care services and 70% of home care services employ personal care assistants (PCAs) from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds. Although their work requires them to bridge cultural divides to build connections with each older person they support, these carers rarely have any training in the necessary pragmatic communication skills they need in order to relate effectively to an older person in this context.

Pragmatic language skills are the rules of communication particular to a given culture. These
rules govern what and how we say (or don’t say) something to convey meaning in any particular situation. Communication in the aged care workplace requires workers to have pragmatic language skills to relate to others (relational language) and to perform the tasks involved in their work (practical language).

A team from Farnham Street Neighbourhood Learning Centre and Meaningful Ageing Australia led The Little Things project to develop a package of evidence-based intercultural pragmatic language training materials to support PCAs in aged care. The team collected strengths-based data at participating aged care services and training organisations.

Research was conducted at participating aged care and training sites. Interviews were held with trainers, managers, senior staff and nominated best-practice PCAs from CALD backgrounds. The PCAs wore a small audio recording device to record their interactions with older people as they worked. The research team analysed 49 recordings and observations of seven shifts to identify pragmatic language features that build rapport between older people and PCAs. These features were then incorporated into training resources, including six short films and exercises designed to engage, explain, explore and extend.

Common themes from the interviews and observations included: making connections with older people; time management; body language and modes of communication; challenges; and cultural differences. The language strategies include the use of: ‘little words’ to modify practical and relational communication, asking questions, small talk and the use of voice.

Training resources were tested in two-stage trials in three-hour sessions at six residential care homes and three RTOs. Participants were highly engaged in the training and provided strong positive feedback, both immediately and in an online survey 3-4 weeks post-training. For example, over 95% of training trial participants said they were confident they would be able to apply what they had learnt in their workplace.


Pip Mackey, (Master of Applied Linguistics, Post Graduate Diploma of Teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL), Bachelor of Arts). Pip has worked as an English as an additional language teacher in community settings, in TAFE and in ELICOS over the past 20 years. She has also worked on adult community education projects and in management roles for over 30 years. She currently works as a Language, Literacy and Numeracy support for students enrolled in the Certificate III in Individual Support and Little Things trainer with Meaningful Ageing Australia. She was the Principal Researcher and the Coordinator of The Little Things Project. This project followed the research she conducted for her thesis in completion of a Masters of Applied Linguistics at the University of Melbourne.