As more and more companies are expanding into a global economy, it has become evident that having a multilingual workforce is a critical success factor. Think about it: What if a company’s employees couldn’t communicate with each other or key external contacts such as customers, consultants or vendors? It would be highly likely that this could significantly damage earning potential.
While the issue at hand is clear — language barriers can affect businesses and their bottom line — many companies still have not realized just how much language proficiency can influence multiple sectors within a business, ultimately driving sales.
Rosetta Stone recently partnered with Forbes Insights to survey executives around the globe to find out if companies are training their employees to speak and work in more languages and what impact that training has on both the employees and the company. While the survey findings revealed that companies do understand the necessity of language learning, it also underscored where there is room for improvement in incorporating language learning into corporate culture.
Based on the survey, we found:
Language learning has a tangible positive impact on employees. The managers of employees who participate in language learning perceive them to have more confidence, improved performance and increased engagement in work.
Language learning worldwide will move from in-person training to digital platforms. Digital learning platforms are poised for growth as companies expect to see their use increase, taking share away from what is currently the most popular method: traditional in-person training. Today’s workforce has changed, with many employers offering flexible working environments; engaging in learning and development programs such as language learning needs to be flexible as well. Many digital platforms allow teams to learn on-the-go from their mobile devices or on their PCs at home or on the job. Digitalization also allows employers to provide a standardized learning platform that employees can access no matter where they are in the world.
Successful learning aligns with corporate mission. Measuring language learning is key to proving alignment with a company’s strategy. Companies that build language training into employee development plans and track KPIs are twice as likely to successfully align language learning goals with their corporate mission.
There is room for growth. The vast majority of companies surveyed recognize the importance of having multilingual employees across multiple functions and business lines, with 92 percent of executives indicating the entire company realizes the benefits of language training. Yet most companies have invested in language learning for fewer than a quarter of their employees.
Language Learning and Corporate Culture
Business leaders need to take note of the impact a language skills gap can have on their business, but also understand the benefits of incorporating language learning into their corporate culture and the positive effects it has on their employees.
Today, companies’ language learning needs are incredibly diverse — more diverse than ever before. From a language perspective, these needs almost always involve English, but for companies that have expanded their operations and customer reach globally over the last decade, language needs often include a mixture of several languages.
For example, in 2009, Marriott International, a leading global lodging company, set out to bridge the language gap by rolling out several new tools to ensure nothing would be lost in translation. To achieve this unified goal, Marriott enlisted help from Rosetta Stone’s digital global language learning program, mirroring the motto of J.W. Marriott Jr., executive chairman and chairman of the board of Marriott International, “If you take care of the associate, the associate will take care of the guest and the guest will come back.” Eight years later, Marriott’s employees continue to be engaged in language learning.
As a global company, many different languages are spoken throughout Marriott International. With its exceptionally large footprint in China, candidates have even approached Marriott for job opportunities after hearing it provides its employees the tools needed to learn English. Marriott has found great value in offering its employees language training as, for the company, it has improved efficiency, supported assimilation efforts, contributed to its focus on culture competence and promoted both professional and personal growth.
Truth be told, long gone are the days where a businessperson could say, “I need only ‘this’ or ‘that’ language for my company,” because now, there is truly no way to know where expansion opportunities may lead. Due to this, it is imperative to have access to employees with experience in a variety of languages, and to a language learning solution that’s flexible enough to change alongside business priorities.
As client spaces are growing and diversifying rather rapidly, the needs of companies are global in nature, which is why a learning program that offers a consistent experience in evaluation scale, no matter where their employees are, is key. However, it is important to remember that language training is not a one-size-fits-all solution because no two employees are exactly alike.
In fact, the need for language training varies based on an array of circumstances, from what department the employees are in to what positions they occupy, as well as their current proficiency level; not everyone needs the same kind of context and not everyone has the same urgency in terms of their needs to learn.
Often, companies struggle to accommodate all this variety as they aim to offer targeted solutions that make employees feel like they’re getting exactly the training they need, when they need it. Here are three things businesses should consider to ensure they’re offering their employees just that:
The best support for the diverse language-learning needs of the workforce — Look for a comprehensive solution that breaks down barriers, sparks confidence and transforms customer, partner and employee communications. An effective program should offer multiple learning paths — specifically, paths that are tailored to learners’ needs. Self-paced programs offering different learning environments are a bonus, as they arm employees with the option to accelerate their language learning either in groups or in one-on-one settings, whatever works most effectively for them.
Tailored learning paths and target instruction based on employee proficiency level — Most businesses need a language training program that supports all proficiency levels from beginner through advanced. Rosetta Stone’s business language learning solution, Catalyst, for instance, helps fulfill language training needs that match a wide variety of use cases; from workforce development where it’s critical to have a beginner level solution, all the way up to specialized language for industries like healthcare, medicine or hospitality. Catalyst also measures language goals and baseline assessments, so it’s determined what skill level the employee is already at prior to starting the program, where they need to be by the end of it, and the best route to get there. It’s crucial to have a solution that adapts alongside the learner as they progress, so they are always advancing and evolving their abilities, not remaining stagnant.
Ability to quickly assess and measure progress — An effective language learning solution must feature testing and reporting, enabling program managers to assess employee proficiency at the start of the program and then measure progress along the way. There should also be the option for reporting on key metrics, such as usage, to ensure the company is getting the highest possible return on investment.
Additionally, the proliferation and effectiveness of digital learning is prompting organizations to rethink traditional learning approaches and adopt technology-based models for training and development in a number of areas.
It is clear to see how providing employees with language training can help global enterprises compete, and that the resources are out there. It all starts with expanding employees’ skill set from home base.
Chris Brotherson is senior director of enterprise sales with Rosetta Stone. The company, founded in 1992, is dedicated to changing people’s lives through the power of language and literacy education. Its language division uses cloud-based solutions to help all types of learners read, write and speak more than 30 languages.