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)

The Necessity of English Language Testing Irrespective of Work Location

With the increase of flexible and remote working opportunities, there will be an increase in the number of expats working for global multinational organizations in the coming years. Even though working abroad has never been easier, English language skills continue to be the deciding factor. Without the right level of English language comprehension, finding work or an internship abroad to gain valuable experience is difficult, because a large number of multinational organizations have English as a corporate language, regardless of what part of the world they are headquartered in.

Since English is the most used language in the corporate world, knowledge of English becomes one of the most important employable skills. The ability to express oneself fluently in both oral as well as written English is essential for career growth. It is also essential to understand why English is considered important in the workplace. The answer is that since effective communication is the key to increased sustainability and career advancement in the workplace, it might be difficult for an employee to maintain business relationships and, in the long run, climb the corporate ladder without proper knowledge of the English language. Additionally, English language testing benefits employees by:

  • showcasing their interest to perform beyond basic business standards,
  • enabling them to adequately express and represent themselves in front of an audience
  • allowing them to develop high-end interpersonal and networking skills,
  • providing them with the necessary confidence while delivering presentations and speeches.

To assess the proficiency of English language and to enable employees to carry out essential work-related tasks, proficiency tests are needed that will measure this ability in a standardized manner.

Using LTI Assessments to Make Sure Your Employees Are Competent Enough to Get the Job Done

A task at work usually requires a particular level of language skill to efficiently be able to complete it. Having information about an employee’s language skill level would help organizations assign the right task to the right employee. Having experience working with small- to mid-sized companies, Language Testing International (LTI) works closely with the Human Resources departments of an organization to analyze and understand the requirements of a position they are looking to fill. Once that has been done, LTI identifies the appropriate level of language proficiency required for the position. Thus, LTI helps enable organizations find the right candidate for the right position, which not only benefits the organization but will also allow candidates to be successful in the long run.

In observing todays’ global workspace, multinational companies such as Airbus, Samsung, and SAP, to name a few that have offices the world over, have mandated English as the common corporate language. One of the main reasons for this is to facilitate communication, performance, and business efforts across geographically diverse functions. The competitive pressures faced by multinationals and the globalization of tasks and resources make it essential to have a workforce that possesses the required skills and abilities, especially when it comes to English language, be it spoken, written or even the ability to read the language. Also, with recruitment being one of the costliest, and most time-consuming processes, identifying and interviewing the wrong candidate can become an economic issue. Given the amount of resources that go into the recruiting process, and into making important hiring decisions, it is important to effectively identify the correct candidates to bring in for an interview. Additionally, when reviewing candidates resumes, determining English language ability can be difficult if there is no clear measurement of a qualification. Evidence that 97% of employers in countries where English is the official language, stating that English is vital to their organizations, with the majority needing native, or advanced language skills further underscores the need for standardized English language testing.

References

The ACTFL English Study – Preliminary Report (June 2016)

Global Business Speaks English – Harvard Business Review (Tsedal Neleey, 2012)

How to Successfully Work Across Countries, Languages, and Cultures – Harvard Business Review (Tsedal Neleey, 2012)

Better English for Better Employment Opportunities – (Pandey & Pandey, 2014)

English at Work: global analysis of language skills in the workplace – (Cambridge English Research, September 2016)

Languages & Technology: The New Path to Career Acceleration

The COVID-19 crisis inflicted enormous economic hardships on our workforce. I was furloughed, and many other professionals also suffered furloughs, pay reductions, lost business opportunities, and even layoffs. Yet in the midst of these challenges, it has also created a whole new world of opportunities, enabled by advances in technology and communication. If you are a multilingual professional and have access to basic communication technology, there has never been a better time to shine and thrive.

Multilingual professionals know their skills are highly valued and in high demand. So why are they playing it safe and not exploring the amazing new world of opportunities out there? President Franklin Roosevelt famously said, “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.” Many professionals are fearful that they can’t find a better opportunity as the job market seems bleak. I can tell you through personal experience that the job market is better than it appears if you have the patience, perseverance, and correct strategy to outshine the competition. I found an amazing new job and interviewed for numerous others as my then current employer announced upcoming layoffs.

How did I achieve this success? There is now a flood of permanently “remote” or “virtual” positions which no longer require close proximity to a physical office. Often these positions only require someone to be within the same or within a couple of time zones from a legacy headquarters, if there are any location restrictions. This is good news for both employers and employees. A study from the New American Economy (NAE) found that demand for bilingual workers more than doubled in just five years! This was great for employers and employees who had office locations or homes in major multilingual hotspots such as Miami, New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles, but was a major challenge throughout much of the rest of the country as multilingual opportunities became much more limited. Now with basic (and often free) telecommunication technology, Wi-Fi, and a computer, a worker can live anywhere and serve an employer or customer living anywhere! That is a major game-changer as the physical presence barrier has come crashing down. I am now employed by a Boston-based company, even though I don’t live in Boston, and I plan to move back to Florida, which is the same time zone.

Of course, that could also mean that competition for such remote jobs can also become more fierce, which is why multilingual professionals need to fully leverage their language skills. I have tried many ways to do this, and by far, the most effective way was to get certified through Language Testing International (LTI). I specifically got my speaking skills in Spanish evaluated. LTI partners with ACTFL, the leader in teaching and testing in languages. Organizations such as Fortune 500 companies, school districts, colleges, and the government use ACTFL/LTI to certify their employees, students, educators, and government officials.  

The LTI certification did two very important things for me, first it gave me a thorough analysis of my actual language skills, which has encouraged me to refocus on improving my language skills so that I can obtain a Superior or Native-like level of fluency. 

Second, it provided me with a certification that I can publish on LinkedIn, attach to my resume, and even frame on my resume. 

An LTI certification is the most effective and efficient manner to advocate your language skills. It is far more cost-effective than a University degree and it gives you the flexibility to go into any industry. During my job search, I was asked about my language skills and I confidently showed my LTI certification showing my Spanish speaking skills. It really helped me stand out from my competition as I did not have to rely on just a “trust me” approach.

 If you are a multilingual professional, take advantage of this potentially lucrative opportunity to find amazing remote positions or gigs while much of the competition sits on the sidelines. Utilize the basic telecommunication tools that you have to access the new opportunities that no longer require expensive and disruptive moves or traveling long distances. Help yourself stand out with an LTI certification to really thrive. Those professionals who can utilize telecommunications technology and effectively leverage their language skills will reap the rewards and prosper.

Learn more about Luis’ experience with language certification:

Promoting Diversity and Inclusion in The Workplace: Language Training

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.

Conclusion

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.

 

1 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

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