Let’s Talk About It, Language Proficiency in the Workplace

We’re operating in a global economy. As a result, competition is far reaching, and companies are increasingly finding themselves at a competitive disadvantage when employees lack the functional language skills needed to do their job. These companies should be considering the following questions; are your employees actually qualified to communicate in another language effectively? How do you assess the functional language ability of your employees? Is the means of assessment reliable and legally defensible?

Bruce Rogers, Chief Insights Officer at Forbes Media said, “as companies look for a competitive edge in an increasingly globalized environment, it’s clear that multilingual employees offer their employers incredible value in multiple facets of their business.”

Language proficiency and cultural sensitivity is a growing concern for corporations, financial institutions, colleges, the travel industry, healthcare service providers, and the list goes on. Many businesses are realizing that it’s past time to prioritize language proficiency.

Communicating effectively with customers, patients, students and other stakeholders in their language of choice yields more fulfilling and productive conversations, better service, and ultimately improves relationships. The result is a stronger working relationship, which translates to higher sales, conversions, and retention. The end result is higher revenue.

Making Language Proficiency an Integral Part of Your Company’s Corporate Strategy
Being proficient in language provides individuals with a skill that has real-world implications. Proficiency tests reflect and measure the candidate’s ability to carry out these real-world tasks. Language skills can also help businesses avoid significant issues that result from miscommunication. Ineffective communication can result in hampered negotiations, and poor team collaboration across borders.

Hiring authorities often assume that because an employee has learned a second language in their early years at home, they have full functioning capacity of that language. These individuals are known as heritage speakers. Although heritage speakers will identify this learned language as their primary language, more often than not, their heritage language becomes secondary to English, the language used the most in their daily life outside the house. Proficiency assessments measure the test-taker’s ability to use a language to accomplish specific functional tasks regardless of how, where, and when the language was learned.

Using LTI Assessments to Ensure your Employees are Qualified to Get the Job Done
Language assessment for employees should be an integral part of a company’s global strategy. Assessments administered by Language Testing International can help you identify the level of language proficiency that your employees possess. With that information you’ll be more equipped to assign the right employees to tasks that require a certain level of language skills.

To help ensure success with a new hire from the start, LTI works directly with your Human Resources department even before candidates are selected. Our first step is to understand the requirements of the position. We will then help identify the appropriate level of language proficiency required for the specific position. Once these needs have been identified, we help you qualify candidates with the language skills needed to be successful.

As companies continue to become more invested in the process of language assessment, they are realizing the value of using standards and guidelines for assessment. Proficiency guidelines help identify the test-takers level of skill with a specific language. There are ten levels of proficiency. The very top of the scale is full professional proficiency. The very bottom is little or no functional ability.

A rating on the proficiency scale does not consider how the test-taker acquired their language skills, whether it was at home or in a school setting. Instead, it is solely based on the speaker’s demonstrated ability to use language to accomplish real-life tasks. Standard achievement tests, in contrast, focus on what an individual has learned based on the specific content or subject matter that has been taught. These testing criteria tend to be limited in scope to a specific textbook or curriculum.

More and more companies are seeing the value of assessing their employees’ language skills. A wide range of business types have employed language proficiency initiatives within the past year. They range from call centers, financial institutions, healthcare providers, and Fortune 500 companies in the United States. Just a few of the high profile corporations that are using proficiency tests to assess their employees language skills include Progressive, Nielsen, and Disney.

The consequences of using a “one language fits all” approach have become indisputable. In the UK, 11% of contracts are lost annually “…because SME’s are unable to conduct business in a language other than English. That’s the equivalent of 945,000 lost contracts” DCU Language Services (2013). In the United States, 1 in 6 U.S. businesses are losing out due to a lack of language skills and cultural awareness in their workforce (Conversis, 2015). These are just two examples of many.

At LTI we work with corporate clients to test prospective candidates, and current employees, for language proficiency. We assess the tasks necessary to do the job and what level of proficiency is needed for specific roles which in turn help employers evaluate the oral proficiency needed in the workplace. Contact Us Today to Get Started.

Businesses without a sophisticated approach to language proficiency are increasingly at a competitive disadvantage. With language proficiency standards in place you’ll not only expand your ability to service new business, but you’ll be in a much stronger position to compete in the new global economy.

Lisa March is a bilingual Marketing and Sales Executive. She works closely with LTI on strategic partnerships, business development and marketing. Her efforts help LTI scale the use and implementation of language assessments in schools, institutions, corporations and government agencies.