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.
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.
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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.