Language learning was once thought of as merely a hobby. Yet today, it is a sine qua non for any business seeking international growth. Ironically, the first challenge facing HR and L&D professionals is not to help colleagues develop language skills. In reality, the challenge starts with convincing the C-suite about the high ROI of language training. How can you explain to key stakeholders that by failing to make language training a strategic priority, they actually close the door to global markets and ultimately lose out to competitors?
In the UK growing numbers of institutions have been pushing aside the importance of languages as part of education, and consequently as part of Britain’s future. This is a big mistake.
According to Forbes learning languages not only increases your perception, it also helps improve your memory and decision-making skills. Being ahead globally means having both knowledge of foreign markets and speaking foreign languages.
Companies should consider investing in English language training (if English is to be the “common” language of communication). Moreover, when launching a business in another country, learning the local language will expedite the set-up process and increase the chances of long-term market success.
“Advanced language skills are valuable in sales, marketing, supply chain management or any position that supports the sustainability of a commercial operation.”
Robert Friedman | Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Montclair State University
The ROI of language training can be measured in terms of the efficiency of completing tasks as well as improved relationships with clients and international colleagues. As an HR and L&D professional are you bridging the language gap in your workforce?
There are so many ways this can be supported and maximized. The ROI of language training for businesses is high and manifests itself in these five ways:
1. It enhances job performance
Language is absolutely central to communication at work and without it, you cannot make sense or communicate your understanding of a subject, product or process. In today’s globalized world it is key to develop language skills, and specifically, business English, in order to understand and make the most effective use of documentation at work.
It is also effective to develop the specialized language and vocabulary relevant to a job to interpret questions and select relevant and appropriate material in the day-to-day working environment.
Language learning plays a role in developing great professionals who thrive in a global setting and encouraging personal development across the workforce.
Moreover, language training is a great way for companies to develop in-house talent. The Millennial workforce has a passion for on-the-job training and language training is one of their preferred upskills so make sure you as an organization offer it.
2. Improved communication in teams
Linguistic and cultural challenges often lead to miscommunication in teams. People who exhibit effective language skills are valuable members of global teams. Communication becomes quicker and smoother due to fewer misunderstandings.
Language skills ensure working processes are accelerated through a higher level of accuracy in the communication of giving and receiving instructions. In effect, by mastering a language in a team it is possible to establish more productive and efficient relationships with both colleagues and clients.
3. ROI of language training – it helps develop a global mindset
According to the Financial Times lexicon, a global mindset is described as “one that combines an openness to and awareness of diversity across cultures and markets with a propensity and ability to see common patterns across countries and markets.”
Encouraging employees to develop a global mindset also require openness for employees to try to learn a language.
“Those who know nothing of foreign languages know nothing of their own.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Acquiring a second language doesn’t just entail learning vocabulary and conjugating verbs. Instead, the process encompasses awareness of how others think and behave in other cultures, pushing yourself out of your cultural comfort zone, and reflecting on how to appreciate the way other people see the world.
All of these aspects help your employees become well-prepared global citizens in an increasingly multicultural working environment.
Native speakers of English also learn how to express themselves more clearly after having learned a foreign language and improve their awareness of having to slow down and simplify their English when working internationally. Clarity is key.
4. Heightened reflective awareness and better decision-making skills
Did you know that when people make decisions in a second language, they are likely to think more slowly and logically before they express their opinions?
This takes the heightened emotions out of decision making, slows down the process and unconscious bias is often set aside to make way for a more thoughtful and deliberate decision-making process.
In a recent HBR interview, the organizational psychologist Dr. Tasha Eurich refers to reflective awareness being “the meta-skill of the 21st century, that essentially sets the upper limit for our success”.
Reflective awareness is a pivotal skill that goes deep and is not the easiest competence to train someone in.
Speaking in another language is a great means for employees to think about how they come across and prevents intense repercussions in professional situations at the same time as developing their reflective awareness, an essential component of emotional intelligence.
5. Success in global markets
Finally, remember language skills are beneficial in building strong relations with clients abroad as well as part of a globalized marketing strategy.
Localization and translation services are an integral part of the globalization of both small and large businesses. Strategic planning is required when entering new markets and it’s good to have a team confident in the local language implementing it.
Translation is a form of localization but it goes beyond translating packaging and labels – relocating managers should ideally learn to communicate in the local language. In this growing area having a team who value language will create a global workforce that sees and thinks in the culture of the country that you are operating in. This will give your organization more impact in global markets.
Having people who appreciate the importance of language and culture will help you implement successful sales strategies abroad. The ROI of language training is high when it comes to global expansion.
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you speak to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”
Don’t undervalue the ROI of language training
We all know that learning a language takes time and it is not a competency that can be trained in a two-day intensive course. Language learning is an ongoing process and requires support throughout the learning process.
Make sure that the language assets of your workforce are being utilized to the max – they are globally indispensable and should be commended.
First of all, it is important to have a language policy in place which identifies which members of the workforce require or would benefit from language training.
As a HR or L&D professional, set up meetings with employees and discuss their language needs. Use SMART goals to set objectives and then divide the learning process into realistic modules.
With more investment in professional development, company loyalty is boosted and employees value language training as part of their personal and professional growth.
In this way, you will see your ROI of language training across global markets, more team efficiency and decision-making of individuals that all have a positive effect on business operations in terms of market and global expansion.
Linguistic assets acquired through language training help maintain an organization’s competitive edge in a global working environment and should be part of every company’s sustainability strategy.