Improving Opportunities for Bilingual Workers with Language Programs

Inability to staff appropriately with the right language skills and in a timely fashion results in loss of business. Losing good talent because of lack of management support and inability to communicate in the employees’ language costs a company in the long run. 

Winning the “war for talent” becomes increasingly important as overseas markets grow and as domestic clientele with language needs increase. Companies face the cost of constantly training a new workforce unless they can retain them with the proper training and support. 

“Ensuring you attract and retain top talent for a globally competitive company requires an investment in developing cultural awareness and language skills in your current workforce. Hiring managers must possess the skills necessary to recognize and assess this vital combination of global abilities while each day creating and maintaining an open and inclusive environment that is sensitive to a multi-lingual workforce.”

– Tony Padilla, HR Boeing Airlines


In addition to the “war for talent”, companies face a multifaceted attack on global operations due to communication challenges and limitations. A few examples include:

  • International Expansion. As global business is done internationally, handling negotiations and support from international clients requires a competency in English.
  • Mergers. English will often be the common denominator when a merger across international cultures takes place. 
  • Cross-border Collaboration. Tools and technologies are making it easy to collaborate in teams across the global. Current demands from the virus are driving technology to support remote work, opening the doors for global talent to work together. 
  • Competitive Negotiations. Managers and corporate leaders will negotiate business deals through verbal and written English. Skills must be at a high proficiency to ensure no loss in opportunities due to translation. 
  • Training Programs. Development of staff is critical to retain high-performing talent. Training will take place in English, and staff must be at a level of proficiency to digest the information.

The Benefits of a Corporate Language Education Program

Development of an onsite, on-the-clock language training program for employees can seem like an expensive and unnecessary waste of time, but nothing can be further from the truth.

The problem with this thinking can be illustrated in a brief example scenario between a CFO and CEO. On the topic of training, the CFO voices the concern with, “what if we train all our employees and then they leave?” The CEO highlights the problem with that thinking with the response, “what if we don’t and they stay?”

Training has a direct impact on talent acquisition and retention, which in turn impacts revenue. 

A Gallup study found that “companies with higher employee engagement score 10% higher on key customer service metrics.” A publication from Rosetta Stone, provides key benefits to investing in a corporate language learning strategy, including:

  • Morale Boost. Employees who speak and understand a common language will be more likely to support one another and feel connected to the company as a whole. 
  • Increased Loyalty. Workers who see that their employers are putting resources into their learning, development, and training will reciprocate by giving back to the company significantly. 
  • Higher Productivity. Language proficiency can help workers concentrate on their jobs more effectively and efficiently. A research study from Gallup revealed that “companies with higher employee engagement have 41% fewer quality defects.”
  • Enhanced Employee Self-image and Confidence. Workers who have a skillful use of language are more likely to feel better about themselves for having gained new marketable skills. 
  • Engaged Even Hard-to-reach Employees. Language-learning can break down the barriers that isolate some workers and draw them closer to the company culture. 
  • Cut Costs. Technology-based language-learning solutions will reduce overall costs by consolidating learning tools into one platform accessible to the entire workforce. 
  • Driven Customer Satisfaction. Workers who communicate with confidence build rapport more easily with customers, resolve their problems faster, and deliver better customer satisfaction.
  • Empowered Department Leaders. Department and corporate leaders will gain visibility into the learning paths of their workforce, which is especially pertinent for global companies.
  • Communication and Collaboration Across Global Teams. Competent language skills can pull teams together and make for more cohesive business units regardless of their location. 
  • Reduced Safety Risks. Hispanic and latino workers have an almost 50 percent higher workplace fatality rate due, in large part, to language barriers, according to Safety Skills, a safety training company. Employees who have a competent command of English language skills are more likely to understand and follow safety protocols and procedures.
  • Gained Market Share. Companies that have a trained language workforce will be more likely to deal with, manage, and interact with people around the world and win their business

 “Companies need a whole ecosystem of understanding among their customers, local communities, and partners in order to develop or promote a successful local product. Advanced language skills provide the foundation to trusted relationships with customers, communities, and partners. With those skills we are able to enhance and maintain our connection with current markets and develop the ones fully aware of local customer needs and requirements.”

– Herman Uscategui Starbucks



6 Critical Considerations When Building or Selecting a Corporate Language Program 

Designing and structuring an employee language training program can be daunting. It is difficult to know where to start, and outsourced programs can seem prohibitively expensive. Additionally, if you do have a program, how do you measure its effectiveness and evaluate opportunities to improve?Language programs must align with corporate goals and adopt to your organization’s specific needs (i.e. English for Specific Purposes). Deciding what pedagogy is best for your organization is also necessary to match your goals. Here is a list of considerations when developing or purchasing a language training program:

  1. Effectiveness and Curriculum. Most would argue the complete immersion in an English-speaking country would be ideal for English language-learning programs. However, this is not possible with many international corporations. Finding (or developing) language programs that take advantage of innovative technology blended with in-person classes is your first challenge. Offering your ESL-learners content that aligns with their daily activities and aligning that with high-quality instruction and feedback must be at the forefront of planning. Be sure that content is delivered as closely to real-world activities and practice as possible. 
  2. Alignment with Corporate Programs and Technology. Making sure executive leadership is championing the initiatives is necessary to ensure success. For most language programs, an entirely new technological infrastructure is not necessary. Quality programs can and should be built within existing frameworks. Modularized sessions should be a norm, allowing for flexibility and technology as a support, not a crutch. A cloud-based platform with low-bandwidth requirements is very feasible for a quality program. Technology should be an aid to live in-person sessions. 
  3. A Properly Trained Language Education Team. While native speakers are often touted as the best way to learn a language, that can prove to be false if they are not property trained. Make sure programs are led by instructors with training in education or TESOL or CELTA. Be sure teachers are selected by their interest in student success, not only corporate returns. Educators should map out curriculum goals and objectives and make the learning process both rewarding and engaging. Gamification of learning is a great tool to increase engagement and results. 
  4. Evaluation and Standards Mapping. There are global standards such as CEFR, ACTFL, ALTE, ECEF, ILR and GSE. Having proper assessments not only for the learners but also to evaluate the program to show strengths and areas of improvement to make effective adjustments as needed. We do this one really well!
  5. Reporting and Software Matching (LMS). How does the program align with HR needs and talent growth? What reporting mechanisms are in place and can be automated? Many organizations have other training programs delivered via corporate learning management systems (LMS). Can their methodology and technology testing and reporting integrate with existing systems? Quality programs can track and report on important insights such as: mobile and web applications and usage, total hours studied, scores on proficiency tests, percentage of learners advancing levels and more. An effective language training program will also provide timely feedback and results to the learners. Program administrators should be given longitudinal data that allows them to quickly evaluate program effectiveness and ROI. 
  6. Pricing. Investment into a proper and results-driven language education program is necessary but should not exceed the value. The best programs will align with current technology and infrastructure. The majority of the cost should be in the pedagogy selected. While studies will continually conflict with the best methodology to language-learning, a corporation should not be intimidated by the vast selection of programs or the opportunity to build one in house. Most would argue, if you can take the best practices of a variety of teaching pedagogies you will have the best opportunity for success.


Global Organizations That Invest Today Will Pay Dividends Tomorrow

Corporate universities must prioritize proactive and rapid design and delivery of learning solutions for acquiring new skills and mastering new professions. They must strengthen the culture of a “learning organization”, which is a key capability for a successful adaptation to the challenges of technology.

They must also cultivate an educational ecosystem and the acceleration of its development in line with business strategy. The boundaries of corporate learning are expanding and beginning to follow the key directions of business development—namely suppliers and customers, new areas of business, and potential employees. Thus, the corporate university is now becoming a strategic marketing tool, especially for the companies that are moving towards platform-based business models. Given these social and technological changes, corporate learning has to embrace the informal learning that it has long ignored. 

This implies the design of learning experiences that directly reflect the needs of learners and their work context. Digital-age learning also means a comprehensive digitalization of learning processes, which again requires shifts in the roles and qualifications of learning professionals.

A basic prerequisite for an effective self-service learning marketplace where employees can choose the most relevant solution will be a distinctive learning culture. Corporate universities have a role to play in shaping habits of experimentation and feedback in a safe environment.

To summarize, the new model of corporate learning in the digital world implies the following transitions:

  • From an educational services provider to a catalyst for the development of a new generation of executives, managers, employees and value chain partners
  • From content development to development and curation 
  • From the focus on quality content to the focus on customization of learning solutions to meet customers’ needs 
  • From combining in-class and distance learning to the combination of formal and informal learning (social, collaborative, experiential) 
  • From the standardization of training to the personalization of learning
  • From the transfer of knowledge to the building and certification of skills

The digital revolution in corporate learning is leading to the emergence of new technologies, methods, models and concepts. It is your responsibility to be sure your organization is following the necessary steps to offer your employees the ability to learn and grow. It seems daunting, but the reward is well worth the work. 

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