Using Language Testing to Find, Retain, and Grow Top Performers

For more and more global companies, developing a multilingual workforce is not just a competitive advantage, but a necessity. Companies that focus on developing and measuring the language ability of its team benefit from removing communication barriers for internal collaboration as well as delivering excellent service in customers’ native language. Language testing is key to developing the multilingual abilities of your team, but implementing a process that is effective and fair can be a challenge. In many cases, an ineffective and unreliable language testing process carries the risk of  slowing  hiring, lowering retention, and causing massive headaches for operations managers. 

The importance of a multilingual workforce

Ensuring a fantastic customer experience is a key competitive advantage, especially for contact centers and BPOs. The way your agents interact with customers and the effects of those interactions on your and your client’s reputation is a critical factor in determining  your success. Client-facing employees that cause language roadblocks are a huge threat to your customer experience. And, in the day and age of internet reviews and crowded marketplaces, you can’t afford to have a reputation for communication barriers and language issues.  

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Your competitors know this, too. In a 2018 Gartner study, ⅔ of respondents say that their companies compete primarily on the basis of customer experience, and 81% expect that the customer experience will be their main differentiator in the next two years. 

In addition to client-facing issues, problems with language and communication skills affect internal effectiveness as well.. In the United States, 65% of companies in a Forbes study said that language barriers caused a loss of productivity. 

Investing in language learning and development also has an impact on employee retention. A 2018 HBR survey that interviewed over 2,000 people across industries and pay ranges found that those whose employers provided strong social support reduced turnover risk by 24%. A key aspect of social support for non-native speakers includes specific language training. This allows team members to feel a sense of belonging as they are more connected and engaged with their team, which increases job satisfaction. 

Language testing can prove the value of L&D to executive leadership

A lot of large corporations struggle to show the value of learning and development to their executive leadership, but effective language testing can help demonstrate its worth.

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Let’s take World Bank, for example. Like many international corporations, it’s difficult for World Bank to prove that Learning and Development makes a real impact within the organization. Without an effective assessment solution for their employees, World Bank was incurring very high expenses to evaluate its team’s language ability. They relied on human-rated assessments and needed to use a dual rater system with arbitration in place to make sure they were getting reliable results. 

But the human-rated tests just weren’t effective enough—the high cost of administering the tests meant that they put a lot of financial pressure on World Bank, especially because they operate as a non-profit. To justify the L&D expenses, executives needed data. They had to see that World Bank’s Language L&D efforts were working with short-term validation, not just yearly evaluation scores in aggregate benchmarks. To increase L&D budget, the executive team needed more data. But to get the data, L&D needed more budget for pre and post assessments.

The solution: an AI assessment engine with data-driven reporting available in real time. Not only are cloud-based testing solutions much cheaper than human rater testing, they’re far more accurate and insightful. With instant data right at their fingertips, it was significantly easier for Learning and Development to both test for language ability and to secure the budget they needed.

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Removing bias from traditional language testing

If you’re familiar with language assessment interviews, you know it’s very hard to deliver consistent, bias-free scores. One of our current clients, The Office Gurus, experienced this difficulty firsthand.

When they first became aware of the need to assess language ability and provide language-specific language and development to current employees, they didn’t know where to start. After some searching, they found a third-party solution in their price range. The tester would create a video of themselves answering prompts and the company’s human employees would watch and rate the videos, one by one, and then email the scores back to The Office Gurus more than 72 hours later.

Each tester was scored on an arbitrary, 1-5 scale. So, The Office Gurus decided to accept only the highest-scoring applicants. But, over time, they began to see glaring inconsistencies. The testers that “passed” the exam were performing the same or worse than the people that didn’t. And there was strong evidence of intrinsic bias in the scoring, which seemed to be connected to testers’ looks and gender. 

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For the Office Gurus, the clear answer to their inconsistent, biased language testing issue was an AI-powered solution that scored accurately and fairly every time. When artificial intelligence assesses language ability, it doesn’t take into account a person’s personality, their looks, or how they’re dressed. It can’t. It simply performs its job exactly how it was programmed, the same way every time. 


Despite all of my time in this field, the power of truly effective language testing never ceases to amaze me. It’s clear that, for an international contact center or BPO to succeed, it has to be able to deliver great service through a dependable language assessment solution. Despite the challenges, a multilingual workforce is truly worth the effort it takes to find a great solution and calibrate it to your needs.

Experience certified language ability for yourself

Emmersion is a fully automated and adaptive language assessment engine for certifying speaking, writing, and grammar ability in 9 global languages with immediate results. Click below to try a free Emmersion assessment for yourself.

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