Communication is a crucial factor in successful business. Whether you’re operating nationally or internationally, a part of multicultural teams, or working with multinational companies, communication can be a challenge due to language barriers. Studies show that miscommunication could have a direct impact on expansion and profitability and could have serious financial or strategic implications.
Companies are becoming more aware that for them to expand their influence globally, they require a workforce that communicates effectively in multiple languages. “Companies want people who can communicate in multinational teams in different languages,” says Ben Voyer, L’Oréal professor of creativity marketing at WSCP Europe Business School in London. According to a report by Forbes Insights and Rosetta Stones on how enterprises succeed with language-learning programs.
English is the world’s most spoken language: 79 percent of the U.S. and 66 percent of the Canadian populations are monolingual. Unexpectedly, only half of North American companies train their employees in English. Latin American countries, where spoken languages are predominantly Spanish and Portuguese, have started including English as part of their language-training programs. However, with new market expansion in the Asia Pacific region, companies are becoming more aware of the importance of language training.
Language and Culture
Knowing a language also means understanding a culture. Businesses are more aware that learning a language is not restricted to forming sentences and utilizing good vocabulary and grammar. Language training should include cultural intelligence as well.
“Companies know they have a communication need across cultural divides, but they may be focused on just the language and not the value of the language with regard to understanding the culture,” explains Richard Brecht, executive director of American Councils Research Center at the American Councils for International Education in Washington, D.C.
This raises the question: How do we get employees up to speed and guarantee an effective training program?
Alignment With Company’s Goal
Support from the executive level and decision makers is necessary to put language training into action. The company should be able to answer the simple question, “What is working for the companies that are able to align strategic direction with language training?”
A needs assessment should be the first step in the language training program, taking into account the company’s goal, future outreach and plans, the roles of individuals who should be receiving training, the time devoted to the training program, and a progress-tracking tool.
“Like any other employee training, it is important to make language learning an official program with goals. There need to be classes, homework, and accountability. Plus, companies should find a way to have fun with it,” says Anna Schlegel, author of Truly Global and head of globalization and information engineering for NetApp.
Language learning, like all training programs, is a way to keep employees engaged and motivated. Not only do the companies benefit by aligning learning with their mission, employees benefit as well. It is a win-win situation.