The business case for investing in language training is strong. When companies make languages a corporate priority, they open the door to international markets and invest in the future of their business. Language skills give businesses a strategic advantage that is crucial with the globalization of business. Want to equip your professionals with a skill that will allow them to excel in today’s competitive business arena? Then, help them to learn a language.
Imagine you’re a hiring manager trying to decide between two strong candidates for an account management role.
Both have the technical skills, qualifications, and experience needed to work on key accounts in the French market. French language skills were also listed as desirable on the person specification.
One candidate, Lauren, truly won you over with excellent communication skills, a positive attitude and a high level of emotional intelligence. But although she is fluent in Spanish as a second language and expressed a passion for language learning, she has only high school French.
The second candidate, Kate, is bilingual in English and French. While she demonstrated industry knowledge and competence during the recruitment process, the entire hiring team felt more rapport and credence with Lauren.
Would you let language skills be the deal breaker for you in this scenario?
Many hiring managers would support the decision to make Lauren an offer – with a view to investing in language training to support her.
Here are the top five reasons why:
1. Language skills can be learned easily – unlike core employability skills
‘To ensure that you are hiring the best people,’ Tsedal Neeley and Robert Steven Kaplan advise in the Harvard Business Review, ‘you may need to accept some limitations on language capabilities and be prepared to provide training to meet both global and local language needs’.
In a market where 60% of adults lack core transferable skills according to a major study from Barclays LifeSkills, you don’t have to just focus on language level when trying to recruit top talent.
Professional qualities like emotional intelligence, accountability and a positive attitude can be hard to define and even harder to teach. Language skills, on the other hand, may be acquired.
Proactive investment in language training enables the contracting and promotion of employees you can truly count on, without compromising.
2. Retain, develop and reward talent with one move
Interestingly, rare and valuable soft skills that make candidates employable – such as listening, patience, the ability to connect, flexibility, and emotional intelligence – overlap significantly with the set of skills needed to learn a language effectively.
This means that if you are recruiting the best in terms of soft skills, you will also be hiring those with the highest language learning potential.
Equally, the activities involved in language learning create a safe space for employees to practice and develop key soft skills: whether they are honing their negotiation skills through role-play, or becoming accustomed to communication via online software, or building on cognitive power through the use of flashcards.
Language learning promotes learners’ holistic personal and professional development.
And the best part is that your workforce will really enjoy the opportunity to expand their horizons and feel appreciated through language training. It is a win-win situation.
3. Open the doors to new business
Just the other day I met a jewelry seller in a market in Amsterdam. Originally from the Dominican Republic, he’s lived all over the world and is multilingual.
Over the course of two hours at the market, he sells jewelry in English, Spanish, Italian, German, and Dutch. The ability to communicate and build rapport with prospective clients in a range of languages aids the conversation through to a greater chance of a sale.
No matter how competitive your product or service, relying on your clients to use a language that is not their own, or to rely on Google translate or a translation firm, is not going to give you the edge.
After all, translated text doesn’t build rapport.
Investing in language training so that your employees can interact with clients in their own language, even on a basic level, enables them to build much stronger and more fruitful relationships.
4. Step up your global mobility strategy
In a study of 695 executives by Ernst & Young, only 25% reported having a global mobility strategy.
Having a proactive approach to global mobility that includes language training is essential to business development, employee engagement, talent retention and development, and revenue.
Investing in language training and making this a part of your company culture is one sure way to take your global mobility strategy to the next level.
When relocating staff, language training is usually deployed in the weeks leading up to the move.
Often, this last-minute language training comes from budgetary constraints. However, having a strategy that includes language learning as part of your company culture normalizes this type of training and means that your employees are much more likely to embrace the international assignment ahead.
Starting language training early can also be a good way of gauging assignee commitment and ascertaining whether the role will be a good fit.
5. Promote employees’ overall well-being
There are many ways to invest in your employees; wouldn’t it be great to know that the money you’re spending will not only improve their skills, but will have an overall long-term positive effect on their health and cognitive abilities?
By investing in your employee’s language skills, you may actually add years to their lives by helping negate the effects of diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Investing in language training is that valuable. In a study of more than 200 people with the disease, bilingual participants developed symptoms of the illness an average of 5.1 years later in life than monolingual participants.
The study demonstrated how language learning helps the brain to processes information more efficiently and staves off cognitive decline.
In addition to staving off degenerative illness, bilingualism is also associated with higher functioning cognitive abilities, including memory and task switching. Language learning at all levels is also reported to improve:
- Multitasking skills
- Decision making
- Native language skills
- Overall communication skills
Another win-win: Not only will your employees thank you for investing in their personal development and life-expectancy, but you will enjoy higher levels of employee performance.
The big picture
Investing in language training adds so much value and yet for very little relative expense. Before the age of the smartphone, hard technical skills were the main currency of the job market. However, it is now recognized that meta-cognition and soft skills are vital to ensuring employee effectiveness, motivation, retention and the ability to adapt to ever-changing marketplaces. Therefore, it is not just about knowing what one word means in another language, but it is the added cognition and open-mindedness that really add value to an organization.