Why Language Training is Critical to a Business

The world is becoming more and more interconnected every day, and new technologies and digital platforms capable of bringing brands to any customer with access to the internet are the driving force behind this unstoppable phenomenon. Additionally, to help facilitate access to these new international markets, businesses are striving to increase cross-border trade, international investment, and labor integration.

The vision for most, if not all, business leaders is to turn their humble enterprises into international brands, and there are many reasons for this. For one, successful globalization not only helps companies access the latest industry-specific technologies and innovations, but also helps attract a wider customer base. Expanding internationally can also provide companies with plenty of chances to work with a highly diverse talent pool, enabling them to significantly lower production costs and increase global competition.

There are myriad ways companies can prepare for smooth globalization, one of which is by introducing language training. Below are some of the reasons why language training is critical to a business.

Language Training Upskills Employees

As highlighted in one of our previous posts, languages can be a gateway into another culture  and help companies nurture, foster, and maintain a truly diverse and inclusive workforce that can better communicate with a global customer base. This, in turn, can significantly improve customer retention and foster brand loyalty. Language training can also heighten employees’ cultural awareness and respect for others, thereby allowing them to connect effectively with customers and improve customer satisfaction. Companies that offer language training also demonstrate that they are willing to invest in their employees, thus making the company more attractive to prospective job applicants.

Language Training Improves Business Leaders

Mainstream employees aren’t the only ones who can greatly benefit from language training. In fact, business executives and administrators can also gain an array of competencies from learning a new language. Language training can make them better leaders who can empathize and build a stronger rapport with employees from all walks of life. In the long run, this can lower employee turnover, increase morale, and improve engagement. By working in a multinational company with employees from all over the world, business leaders will be better equipped to deal with conflict management because they are able to view situations from different perspectives. Proficiency in other languages has also been noted to help business leaders become highly perceptive and sound decision-makers who have a wide personal network.

Language Training Enhances the Hiring Process

One of the most desired skills for businesses, outside of regular training, is hiring employees who are multilingual. If you can train your HR department to have language skills, this will also widen your ability to hire globally. This is becoming more common within the business community because of the shift to remote working across the globe.

Language skills could also dictate which job seekers are worth hiring. With the business world now more interconnected globally than ever before, knowing a language gives any job applicant an advantage when seeking employment. For this reason, many choose to study languages while  at the college level as they prepare themselves to enter into the workforce. Studies show that completing at least a minor in a language while in college can boost academic achievement. The good news for students is that all top learning institutions offer foreign languages as a minor, and many students opt to combine them with business degrees to expand their career options. For anyone working toward a business administration degree, they will no doubt be looking to work for global companies, non-profit organizations, or in the government/public sector. All of these sectors often work or have offices abroad, giving those who have a business degree combined with language skills a wider scope for career advancement. A prospective employee who speaks a second language has in-demand skills that can set them apart from other applicants when applying for jobs.

Having people who can speak the languages of your diverse customer base will give your business an advantage over the competition. After all, this ensures that your company values and messages are accurately translated and delivered to foreign markets. In addition, a company capable of communicating in various languages will have a higher chance of working well with external branches, resulting in a locally driven international brand.

Once you’ve offered your employees language training, you will want to test their proficiency. Language Testing International (LTI) can help you with that task.

Since 1992, LTI has been a leader in language proficiency testing for more than 120 languages in over 60 countries. We are the exclusive licensee ACTFL, and to ensure the quality and validity of our tests are up to international standards, we use only certified ACTFL testers and raters.

Our accredited ACTFL language assessments are widely recognized and accepted by major corporations (from Fortune 500s to small businesses), academic institutions, and government agencies. Each test is designed to determine the specific proficiency level of an individual’s speaking, reading, writing, and/or listening abilities and ultimately to provide a valid and defensible rating language credential.

Developing Talent: Language Proficiency Testing As Learning Impact Evidence

Building workforce capability is critical in achieving an organization’s strategic and operational objectives. Learning and development (L&D) is one of the primary talent management strategies for workforce capability building. L&D interventions could range from new hire orientation to technical skill training, compliance training, language training, or soft skill training to leadership development.

The corporate L&D market has grown to over $370 billion worldwide. In the United States alone, total spending on L&D in 2019 soared to $169 billion, which does not include government or military training dollars yet. However, there has not been much evidence that all the spending on L&D is producing more capable talent. Two-thirds of L&D professionals did not see their L&D efforts as effective in meeting their organization’s business goals. According to a study conducted by the Association for Talent Development, although 96% of the organizations surveyed did some form of learning impact evaluation, only 44% of the organizations surveyed believed their evaluation helped meet their learning goals. Lack of effective evaluation underscores the importance of using the right measurement tool in demonstrating the impact of L&D efforts.

Language Training As A Talent Development Solution

In an increasingly globalized economy, organizations rely on employees who can speak non-native tongues to win the market, whether that involves healthcare practitioners treating migrant patients or a hotel’s staff interacting with international guests. Language training enables your employees to communicate in the language your customers and clients prefer. It also makes in-house translators available for important business meetings or transactions. Multilingual employees help organizations build better client relationships and improve customer feedback.

The benefits of learning a foreign language are not limited to multinational organizations whose business relies on multiple languages. In national or local companies, learning training is one of the effective strategies for promoting diversity and inclusion. Diversity and inclusion continues to get traction in the workplace, because it brings various business gains to organizations, such as employee engagement and job performance.

Regardless of the purpose of language training, business needs or workplace diversity and inclusion, organizations need a strategy that connects learning to measurement, like any other talent development solutions. Measurement is the only way for organizations to demonstrate that their investment in language learning is an effective use of resources. A well-designed learning measurement plan helps organizations build the chain of impact from skill or knowledge acquisition to learning transfer / behavior change to business outcomes. While learning transfer is critical to achieving business outcomes set for a talent development solution, skill or knowledge acquisition is a prerequisite for learning transfer.

Language Proficiency Testing: Commercial Tests Versus Tests Built In-house

Once you offer language learning to your employees, measuring their improvement in the language skill is essential before you start tracking business outcomes associated with language learning. Language proficiency testing is a more suitable method of measurement than achievement testing, which assess knowledge of context-specific information. A proficiency test evaluates one’s ability to use language to accomplish real-world tasks across a wide range of topics and settings and compares one’s performance against a set of criteria for different levels of language proficiency.

When it comes to assessment tools, the buy-versus-build decision is important for organizations, and time, cost, and convenience are the key factors to consider. Building an in-house test is time consuming and requires specialized assessment expertise in your workforce. Not all tests are created equally. A good language proficiency test needs to be reliable and valid. Reliability and validity of a test are established through a rigorous test development process, which includes describing test specifications and desired statistical characteristics of a test, item writing and review, pilot studies, item analysis, and reliability and validity studies. Besides the cost of test development, ongoing costs exist in online hosting, maintaining databases of test scores, revising items, and continuously collecting validity evidence.

Alternatively, organizations may choose to use commercially available tests, which vendors can implement quickly and host, update, and maintain. Test quality has already been demonstrated with sound psychometric properties and with large volumes of validation data across organizations and countries. In language proficiency testing, organizations do not need tests with the organization’s values and culture embedded, as they would in other talent assessment tools. In other words, organizations do not lose their competitive advantage by using commercial language tests. Neither do companies incur huge test licensing fees, since many testing vendors, like Language Testing International (LTI), provide affordable language proficiency tests. LTI helps organizations measure language proficiency in speaking, writing, reading, and listening, separately or altogether, with certifications in more than 120 languages, online or over the phone, making its proficiency testing available anywhere in the world.

Conclusion

The increasing costs and competition for corporate resources have pushed the need to demonstrate the effectiveness of L&D through various learning impact evidence. Language proficiency testing provides one type of impact evidence that is necessary for receiving business gains associated with language learning. Testing tools can be either bought from testing vendors or built in house. However, comparing the pros and cons of both options suggests that organizations would gain the most by using commercially available language proficiency tests over those built in-house.

References

Helfat, C. E. (2007). Dynamic capabilities: Foundations. In C. E. Helfat, S. Finkelstein, W. Mitchell, M. A. Peteraf, H. Singh, D. J. Teece, & S. G. Winter (Eds.), Dynamic capabilities: Understanding strategic change in organizations (pp. 1–18). Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Training Industry, Inc. (2020, April 1). Size of the training industry. https://trainingindustry.com/wiki/outsourcing/size-of-training-industry

Prove and Improve L&D effectiveness. (2018). In Gartner. https://www.gartner.com/en/human-resources/insights/learning-measurement

Ho, M. (2016). Evaluating learning: Getting to Measurements that matter. Alexandria, VA: Association for Talent Development. https://www.td.org/research-reports/evaluating-learning

Gurchiek, K. (2017 May 3). Language Training Speaks to Improved Business Results. https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/organizational-and-employee-development/pages/language-training-speaks-to-improved-business-results.aspx

Ho, C-H. (2020, December 30). Promoting Diversity and Inclusion in The Workplace: Language Training. https://blog.languagetesting.com/2020/12/30/promoting-diversity-and-inclusion-in-the-workplace-language-training/

SIOP Top 10 Work Trends. https://www.siop.org/Business-Resources/Top-10-Workplace-Trends?utm_source=SIOP&utm_medium=Website&utm_campaign=FOWpage&utm_content=FOWpage

5 Ways Language Training Improves Employee Performance. https://www.td.org/insights/5-ways-language-training-improves-employee-performance

Best In Class: Is Your Company Multilingual Enough? https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesinsights/2017/04/07/best-in-class-is-your-company-multilingual-enough/?sh=4d3c619b63bf

Alliger, G.M., Tannenbaum, S.I., Bennett Jr., W., Traver, H., & Shotland, A. (1997). A meta-analysis of the relations among training criteria. Personnel Psychology, 50, 341-358.

Understanding Proficiency. https://www.languagetesting.com/lti-information/understanding-proficiency

Choosing Effective Talent Assessments to Strengthen Your Organization https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/trends-and-forecasting/special-reports-and-expert-views/documents/effective-talent-assessments.pdf

The Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing (2014 Edition) https://www.apa.org/science/programs/testing/standards.

Hinkin, T. R. (1998). A brief tutorial on the development of measures for use in survey questionnaires. Organizational Research Methods, 1, 104-121.

The Importance of Spoken English in Today’s Global Work Environment

Writing in a language versus being able to speak or converse in a language are two different things. The skill of writing in a particular language can be obtained via classroom instruction, assignments, books, and dictionaries. On the other hand, communicating effectively in spoken English can be challenging, especially when it comes to the pronunciation of certain words and getting the right intonation. One difference between writing and speaking in any language is that while writing one has time to edit or even delete and reword entire sentences or paragraphs. Speech on the other hand is fluid, spontaneous, and it’s not as easy to edit what has already been said.

Knowing how to speak English in a global market can have several benefits. For example, an employee who is fluent in English will benefit by being able to communicate with potential markets outside of a company’s home base. This will simultaneously benefit the employer by helping to expand the employer’s reach and profitability. Given the fact that in today’s economy, money and products are continuously moving between different countries and continents, it goes without saying that a common shared language is important. In many cases, that global language of business is English, which in turn makes it even more important to focus on spoken English.

Many multinational companies seek candidates who are proficient in the English language and who will be able to perform the job successfully. Language Testing International (LTI) has been providing language testing since 1992 to the corporate sector, with industries ranging from retail to hospitality. The assessments provided by LTI are accredited by ACTFL, and are recognized and accepted by major corporations, academic institutions, and government agencies. The tests offered by LTI include speaking, reading, writing, and listening sections. Each test is designed to determine the specific proficiency level that an individual has and ultimately provide a valid and defensible language credential. It is important that any business or organization know whether a potential candidate has the correct level of language proficiency for the position. With LTI, one can be assured that employees and job candidates have undergone the most rigorous language proficiency testing available in the industry. It is also worth mentioning here that in addition to helping organizations select the right candidate for the right position, LTI also has first-hand experience to overcome challenges associated with administrative burden and the cost of the hiring. LTI, by using remote proctoring services, makes language testing more convenient, without conceding the security of the process.

English, at the end of the day, is the global language of science, aviation, computers, and tourism. Additionally, knowing English increases a job candidate’s chances of getting hired at a multinational company, not just abroad but also in their home country. Research has shown that a third of learners in global markets, such as Asia, Europe, and South America, are learning English to apply for jobs in their home country. The same number of people have also learned English to be able to apply for a job overseas. Today, knowing English has become a necessity if one wants to enter a global workforce. Research from all over the world shows that cross-border business communication is conducted in English, and many international and multinational companies expect their employees to be proficient in English. Large global organizations such as Airbus, Samsung, SAP, Technicolor, and Microsoft have mandated English as their official corporate language. In addition, in 2010 the company Rakuten, which is a Japanese cross between Amazon and eBay, made it mandatory for their 7,100 Japanese employees to be able to speak English to be competitive in the world market.

Therefore, the importance of learning, and knowing how to communicate effectively in English in today’s global market cannot be understated.

References

  • Global Business Speaks English – Harvard Business Review (Tsedal Neleey, 2012)
  • Engaging and Integrating a Global Workforce – SHRM Foundation, https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/documents/3-15%20eiu%20theme%202%20report-final.pdf
  • How to Successfully Work Across Countries, Languages, and Cultures – Harvard Business Review (Tsedal Neleey, 2012)
  • The ACTFL English Study – Preliminary Report (June 2016)
  • Assessing Evidence of Validity and Reliability of the ACTFL Speaking Proficiency Test (SPT) (2020)
  • Importance of English in Employment – Deccan Herald (Jyothi, 2012)

Importance of English Language Assessments in a Global Work Environment

With a growing global workforce, English language proficiency has become one of the most sought-after skills. Additionally, given the reliance of multinational companies on an increasingly migrant workforce, with people moving to countries seeking not just new jobs but also career advancement opportunities, the need for fluency in the English language and to be able to communicate effectively has also increased. Therefore, not just to ensure success to organizations that bring in employees but also to enable those employees to be successful, the need for English language testing to examine proficiency level has also increased. These English language requirements, however, range from beginner level to business level and are not only based on an employee’s profession but also the position.

Some important questions regarding proficiency level in English that are usually associated with any job that requires English language skills include:

  1. How well should employees be able to communicate in English?
  2. In an organizational context, how comfortable should employees be with English in order to work on specific tasks successfully?
  3. Does the necessary English proficiency level vary based on the job position?
  4. Is it essential to train employees in English to improve their chances of being promoted?
  5. Does a higher proficiency level in English lead to a better understanding of the culture?

It is important to emphasize that some jobs may require working in a collaborative team environment, or may be more client-focused, therefore requiring a high level of proficiency in English, whereas some jobs may not involve working with people and require only a basic proficiency in English. Having said that, living in an increasingly connected world, does make communication an important part of the process, and people who can communicate well are more likely to grow professionally. Therefore, not only does English language testing enable finding gaps in English language proficiency but also in making hiring and promotion decisions.

ACTFL assessments are largely used worldwide not only by academic institutions but also by government agencies and private corporations to assess hiring and promotion qualifications. Language Testing International administers ACTFL assessments to major corporations and government agencies all over the world. These assessments are designed to result in a valid and trustworthy language credential that reflects an examinee’s language proficiency. By providing four main categories of language testing and assessment, speaking, writing, reading, and listening, these assessments utilize an all-inclusive methodology in assessing language skills and abilities. Given the resources that go into the selection and hiring process in general, it is important for any business or organization to gain information regarding the potential proficiency level of its job applicants when making hiring decisions.. Making decisions about promotions is equally important. Higher level positions usually require employees to communicate with teams and clients, , which makes it essential for them to possess a higher level of proficiency in English, as opposed to employees in lower level positions. Having standardized language assessments in place to examine proficiency will enable organizations to make these decisions in an objective manner. ACTFL assessments can also be utilized to identify specific gaps in the language skills of existing employees expecting to be promoted.

Professionally, the main benefits to conducting English proficiency testing include:

  • Job Success: Studies have shown that employees who score higher on proficiency assessments are less likely to leave the organization, thereby leading to higher levels of employee retention and a more productive and efficient workplace overall.
  • Accuracy: Proficiency assessments are higher in accuracy than observed understanding of language level.
  • Standardized: Proficiency assessments use a standardized scale to measure candidates’ proficiency level, which leads to having a more definite understanding of candidates’ capabilities. This in turn makes is easier to choose the best fit for the position. These assessments also make it easier to compare candidates, thus facilitating the decision-making process.
  • Streamlined Interview Process: By administering a proficiency assessment, before or after an interview, employers can focus on the candidate’s other job-related skills without having to simultaneously gauge their skill in the desired language. 
  • Fair Recruitment Practices: Hiring decisions become more defensible because candidates are measured against a standard, rather than a self-reported or observed or perceived proficiency level.

In conclusion, given the need for employees to be proficient in English in order to be more successful in today’s globalized corporate world, and the benefits that English language testing can have for employees themselves, it is even more necessary for organizations to assess the language proficiency of their prospective or existing employees.

References

  • The ACTFL English Study – Preliminary Report (June 2016)
  • Assessing Evidence of Validity and Reliability of the ACTFL Reading Proficiency Test (RPT) (2020)
  • Assessing Evidence of Validity and Reliability of the ACTFL Listening Proficiency Test (LPT) (2020)
  • Assessing Evidence of Validity and Reliability of the ACTFL Writing Proficiency Test (WPT) (2020)
  • Assessing Evidence of Validity and Reliability of the ACTFL Speaking Proficiency Test (SPT) (2020)
  • https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/policies/pages/cms_013464.aspx
  • English communicative events and skills needed at the workplace: Feedback from the industry – Kasim & Ali (2010)
  • Language, Cultural Intelligence, and Inpatriate Turnover Intentions: Leveraging Values in Multinational Corporations through Inpatriates – Frose, Kim & Eng (2016)