What are the benefits of offering language-learning opportunities for your employees?

By Tim Wegner

Language learning for business

Growth.

This is a term that is everywhere in the business world. Whether you’re in the marketing department, on the sales team, or sitting in the corner office, fanning the flame of your company is priority number one.

This rings true in-house as much as it does on the client or customer side. Increasingly, that fan needs to be flamed across barriers — physical, cultural, and of language. When working with potential clients, suppliers, or employees from foreign countries, the ability to connect with them directly is the best way to attract top talent and keep them on the team for the long-term. Let’s take a look at why language training can be among the most effective tools for doing so.

The workplace is more diverse than ever

Having team members that can connect with these clients or contacts in their native language can be an essential tool to establish long-lasting relations that can broaden the company’s horizons.

The demand for employees with fluency in a second language, or multiple languages is on the increase and the recent report “Making Languages Our Business: Addressing Foreign Language Demand Among U.S. Employers,” based on a survey conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs for The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), serves only to highlight some worrying trends for many American companies.

Here are their findings:

  • 9 out of 10 U.S. employers rely on employees with language skills other than English.
  • 56% say their foreign language demand will increase in the next 5 years.
  • 47% state a need for language skills exclusively for the domestic market.
  • 1 in 3 language-dependent U.S. employers reports a language skills gap.
  • 1 in 4 U.S. employers lost business due to a lack of language skills.

Gone are the days of employees and companies being able to solely rely on English being the international language for business.

For the U.S. in particular, the problem of recruiting language skilled staff is compounded by the fact that only 20% of U.S. children speak multiple languages, compared to 92% in Europe. It’s time to catch up or get left behind! 

Recruitment and Retention

Those who have entered the workforce in the past decade are far more likely to switch jobs every 2-3 years than those of their parents’ generation. They’re also far more likely to be interested in and capable of obtaining, self-employment and remote work.

These factors can make it incredibly difficult not only for companies to recruit top talent, but to keep top talent around once they’re on board. Think about the last time you interviewed a candidate. As the interview drew to a close, you may have asked the person sitting across from you if they had any questions for you.

In the modern workplace, you as the employer are far more likely to actually receive questions about what the candidate can expect as an employee. Having something epic in your back pocket, like assistance with funding for language training, is going to get attention.

Language training is an incentive that can help offset the loss rate of good employees because it saves them an expense that they otherwise would have to shoulder themselves while offering them career development in the process. Professional and personal development services are among the most effective services a company can offer to attract talent. 

Multi-lingual staff attract customers across borders

Picture yourself planning an international trip to a country that speaks a language other than your native tongue. If you were to get on the phone with a customer service rep from a hotel property in that country and couldn’t understand a word that person said, would you proceed with a booking?

Probably not.

Having staff that can speak the same language as a potential client, customer, or supplier can not only reduce any potential misunderstandings but it can also generate better rapport and more trusting relationships going forward.

Business is happening overseas and across international boundaries more than ever, and companies are interacting in multiple languages on a daily basis. Having staff that can communicate competently in more than one language can add another feather to your companies cap, and for potential foreign clients, it could be a deciding factor.

For a U.S. company working with a Latin American client, for example, having Spanish speaking staff shows you are not only investing in your staff development but also that you are investing and committed to working with clients in the LATAM region.

That can be very reassuring for any business. The demand for bilingual staff doubled from 2010 to 2015, serving to highlight a change in demands being made on staff and their companies who are operating in the global marketplace. 

Offering language training to your staff is the ultimate way to modernize your corporate culture, and ensure you are as prepared as possible for any shifts in the marketplace.

Approach to language training effectively with these tips:

  • Analyze your business’s language requirements both current and future. Review your staff’s current language competencies and make conclusions on where there are the greatest needs or shortfalls.
  • Make learning a language easy for your staff with flexible schedules online lessons that don’t necessitate them driving across town.
  • Identify a language training school that directly involves your staff in the language they need to through immersive lessons.