Communicative Competence Centre



Touchstone Institute is a centre for communicative competence. We facilitate interdisciplinary work with experts in linguistics, healthcare, education, immigration, and employment to increase general awareness of the importance of professional communication skills.

We work with regulators and internationally educated health professionals to foster fair and reliable registration practices through project work that explores the relationship between language proficiency and professional communication standards. We exceed industry standards to offer IEHPs a fair and relevant testing experience, while our competency-based language and communication frameworks, curricula, and programming provide the practical tools necessary to promote successful professional communication.

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Why It Matters

Facilitating Safe and Effective Professional Practice

Language and communication skills play a critical role in the provision of safe and effective health services in a patient-centered model. In order for shared health goals and priorities to be determined, patients’ health concerns must be communicated and understood. Communication skills also enable practitioners to meet legal and ethical requirements related to documenting patient interviews, assessments, care plans, and treatment outcomes.

While healthcare professionals require the skills to navigate language and cultural barriers to communicate effectively with patients and colleagues, all professionals require strong communication skills in order to effectively fulfil workplace responsibilities.

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Our Projects

Supporting Language and Communication for Successful Professional Practice

Touchstone Institute’s Communication Program works with internationally trained individuals, health regulators, educators, employers, and policy makers through project work that explores the relationship between language proficiency and professional communication standards. Our competency-based language and communication frameworks, curricula, and programming provide practical tools necessary to promote successful professional communication. We strive to develop resources that are relevant and effective in helping both newcomers and Canadian workplaces better comprehend and address the language proficiency barrier.

Nurse Ready

A Communication Self-Assessment for Canada’s Health Workforce

Nurse Ready is a new way for internationally educated nurses (IENs) to learn about communicative strategies in the Canadian healthcare setting. Through authentic interactions, this mobile app functions as a self-assessment of professional language and communication skills to offer insights on how communication impacts the client-centred experience in Canada. The app leverages artificial intelligence for diagnosis and provides customized feedback on communication competencies that are aligned to the requirements of nursing practice. It is free to use and was designed as a resource for IENs to access at any point in their pathway to licensure in Canada.

Nurse Ready was developed with input from nursing professionals and IENs working in nursing and long-term care communities, as well as language assessment professionals. The app was developed by Touchstone Institute, with funding from the Government of Canada’s Foreign Credentials Recognition Program.

Version 1 of Nurse Ready is now available for iOS and Android. Search for ‘Nurse Ready’ on the App Store or Google Play to download the app today.

The app is anchored in an assessment blueprint that integrates multiple key inputs to drive for innovation in the way that IENs access and learn about nursing communication competency. The blueprint was developed in collaboration with nursing communication subject matter experts, and references relevant language and communication competencies from:

The blueprint has been reviewed by our partners at the Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks (CCLB) against the Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLB) Stage III Knowledge and Strategies to ensure that the experience reflects CLB Levels 9 and above. In this way, the app presents an aspirational benchmark for IENs challenging language proficiency tests for entry-to-practice.

COVID-19 had a tremendous impact on the wellbeing of nursing professionals across the world. In addition to supporting IEN communication training needs, the app was designed to address specific communication competencies for fast-paced and high-stress environments by integrating authentic interactions that reflect challenging client and team conversations. Supported by formative feedback, nurses receive insights into the strategies and approaches necessary to de-escalate challenging situations. By adopting a human‐centred design approach, the tool aims to empower IENs with the skills necessary to balance assertiveness for self‐advocacy with a client‐centred and empathetic approach.

Touchstone Institute recognizes the importance of language and communication as an enabler of success in achieving licensure to practice as a healthcare professional in Canada. With financial support from the Government of Canada’s Foreign Credential Recognition Program (FCRP), we have developed an accessible, highly relevant, and reliable interactive self-assessment of communicative readiness for nursing professionals that:

  • Increases newcomer nurses’ understanding of communication competencies as essential to nursing registration; and
  • Supports IENs in their entry-to-practice and integration into the Canadian labour market

Funded by the Government of Canada's Foreign Credentials Recognition Program


360° Project

A 360° View of Communicative Competence at Work

Project 360° leveraged existing knowledge in the realm of intercultural communication to create a framework that is applicable to Canadian and internationally trained professionals alike, as well as organizations seeking to create more inclusive workplaces.

Built from relevant theory, and compiled through broad-reaching consultations, the Communicative Competence at Work Framework has incorporated interdisciplinary perspectives from language and communication professionals, competency experts, employers, employees, HR professionals, and trainers.

As a framework for intercultural communication in the workplace, Communicative Competence at Work is an open-access resource providing strategies and approaches for effective and successful intercultural communication, designed for application to Ontario’s diverse workplaces.

Learn more about how to make communication work for you.

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SIM Project

Communication through Simulation

Touchstone Institute has developed a curriculum for formative communication programming designed to increase awareness and stimulate strategies for general workplace communication competence in Ontario’s health force. This simulation-based learning program addresses critical communication skills needed for professional practice in Ontario’s healthcare sector. Based on research, sound theoretical frameworks, and informed by practitioners, the communication simulations emulate authentic workplace interactions, with dynamic, real-time feedback from trained and qualified facilitators and simulated clients.

If you are interested in learning about or participating in the Communication through Simulation program, visit our Program Information page.

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CRHP Project

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Communication for Regulated Health Professions

Rooted in an applied linguistics methodology, this research study sought to identify commonalities in communication competencies across regulated health care professions in Ontario. The objective was to develop a blueprint for the communication training and assessment of internationally educated health professionals (IEHPs).

The Communication for Regulated Health Professions (CRHP) Project began with a qualitative analysis of the communication competency descriptors for the 26 Health Regulatory Colleges in Ontario. As a follow up to this work, common competencies were grouped and a consolidated list of communication competencies was developed. Finally, a group of regulators and health care professionals participated in a focus group to review the competencies in reference to a communicative competence framework.

Findings indicate that it is feasible to describe relevant communication competencies across healthcare professionals while connecting to broader theories of language and communication. These findings served as the foundation for the SIM Project, which leveraged transferrable communication competencies to develop, pilot, and evaluate a performance-based communication training program for health professionals in Ontario.

OCECCA Project

Creating a Communicative Competence Centre

The Ontario Centre of Excellence for Communication Competency Assessments (the OCECCA Project) is now embodied in the Touchstone Institute Communicative Competence Centre. This innovative hub brings together occupation-specific subject matters experts, exam developers and researchers into a specialized hub for the development, administration and maintenance of occupation-specific language assessments.

While most language tests assess proficiency for general, English for specific-purpose assessments allow examinees to demonstrate language ability in targeted situations. Examinees who complete occupation-specific language assessments are more engaged in the testing process and feel that test preparation is worthwhile because it introduces occupational communication tasks. Learn more about our language and communication assessments:

Canadian English Language Assessment for Optometrists (CELAO)

Canadian English Language Benchmark Assessment for Nurses (CELBAN)

Cultural barriers are often identified as impediments to integration, and communication is a facilitator for intercultural communication. In recognition of this, and in response to requests from the settlement community and employers, we worked to integrate intercultural communication competencies, Canadian workplace communication competencies, and linguistic competence into an intercultural Communication Competency Framework for Canada’s Workplace.

See 360⁰ Framework 

Our curiosity about how formative, diagnostic assessments can help individuals develop communication competencies, specifically for newcomers who are entering the Ontario health care workforce after practicing in another cultural environment. To this end we leveraged our in-house simulation expertise, and our contact with internationally educated health professionals in the design of a simulation-based communication program. Program content reflects the critical skills needed for professional practice in Ontario’s health care sector, and communication simulations emulate authentic workplace interactions. Dynamic, real-time feedback from trained and qualified facilitators and simulated clients make the learning experience fluid and realistic.

See SIM Project 

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