Diversity and inclusion has been rated as a top subject with tremendous impact on organizations five years in a row, according to the annual Top 10 Work Trends Survey conducted by the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP)1. The demand for a diverse, inclusive workforce from leadership, employees, and other stakeholders continues and is higher than ever in 2020 and beyond. In creating diverse, inclusive workplace cultures, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), a professional human resources association, provides a 9-step guide for HR professionals and underscores the importance of implementing training that increases cultural awareness and competency and measuring its results2.
Benefits of Language Training for Employees and Organizations
A diverse, inclusive culture has been built primarily through targeted recruiting and conventional diversity and anti-bias training. However, employees and organizations get significant and lasting benefits from promoting diversity and inclusion through language training. A multicultural workforce and/or multilingual customer base demand a high level of understanding and appreciation of different cultures and effective communication with colleagues and customers with different cultural backgrounds. Cultural stereotypes, prejudice, and miscommunication largely come from a lack of understanding between people of different cultures. Language is the gateway into another culture3. Learning a language is an efficient, immersive way to understand norms and etiquette of a culture, increase awareness of cultural differences, and respect cultures different from one’s own. The increased cultural awareness, respect, and competence open the door for more effective collaboration among employees and stronger relationships with customers. That, in turn, drives business outcomes associated with workplace diversity and inclusion, including improved job performance, increased productivity, higher employee engagement, lower turnover, better customer satisfaction, and increased market reach4.
Measuring Effectiveness of Language Training
Once you offer language learning to your employees as one of your diversity and inclusion initiatives, how would you ensure that your organization gets some or all of the desired business outcomes stated previously? The only way to demonstrate that an investment in language learning is a productive use of resources is through measurement5. Like any other organizational learning and development interventions, what gets measured gets managed. In learning and development initiatives, most measurement efforts consist of “smile sheets,” surveying training satisfaction and perceptions of content relevance to their roles at conclusions of training6. However, the conventional Kirkpatrick’s Level 1 reaction metrics have been demonstrated to have no or weak relationships with learning transfer7, which refers to the application of the skills and knowledge learnt from a training class on the job. While learning transfer is critical to achieving business outcomes set for a training intervention, skill or knowledge acquisition is a prerequisite for learning transfer.
One efficient method for demonstrating language skills of employees who participate in your company-provided language learning is use of language proficiency testing. Differing from an achievement test, which measures knowledge of specific information and tends to be limited in scope to a specific curriculum, a proficiency test assesses one’s ability to use language to accomplish real-world tasks across a wide range of topics and settings. Proficiency tests of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) compare a person’s unrehearsed ability against a set of language descriptors. These guidelines categorize proficiency along a continuum from the very top of the scale (full professional proficiency) to the very bottom (little or no functional ability). As the exclusive licensee of ACTFL, Language Testing International (LTI) helps you measure proficiency of participants of your company-provided language learning in speaking, writing, reading, listening, or all of them in a reliable, valid, and cost-effective manner. LTI offers certifications for more than 120 languages, and proficiency testing is available around the globe, no matter where you are. Language proficiency testing ensures that your employees and organizations are reaping great benefits from language learning. Language certification is also a premium employee benefit, besides offering language learning as part of your workforce development efforts. Once acquisition of language skills is evident, you can start measuring the application of language skills on the job and further assess business outcomes associated with diversity and inclusion, such as employee retention, employee productivity, team effectiveness, customer satisfaction, and/or market expansion.
Diversity and inclusion has continued to get traction in the workplace. Providing language training to your employees shows that you embrace diversity and strive for creating an inclusive organizational culture. Investing in your employees’ proficiency in other languages increases their cultural awareness and competence and in turn, leads to various business outcomes associated with diversity and inclusion. Of special note is that these business benefits are above and beyond those associated with improved communication through language learning and business gains for multinational organizations whose business relies on multiple languages.
2 How to Develop a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Initiative. https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/how-to-guides/pages/how-t-develop-a-diversity-and-inclusion-initiative.aspx
3 7 Benefits of Learning Another Language. https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/7-benefits-of-learning-another-language/
4 5 Ways Language Training Improves Employee Performance. https://www.td.org/insights/5-ways-language-training-improves-employee-performance
5 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
6 Ho, M. (2016). Evaluating learning: Getting to Measurements that matter. Alexandria, VA: Association for Talent Development. https://www.td.org/research-reports/evaluating-learning
7 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. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1744-6570.1997.tb00911.x
Chia-Lin Ho, Ph.D., is an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist at the intersection of talent assessment, organizational development, and measurement and evaluation. She helps organizations factor human behavior into the successful business equation through applying data analytics and cutting edge research. Her work has focused on learning analytics, talent and organizational assessment, and organizational and leadership development.