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

Work Anywhere, Anytime, and in Any Language

Work Anywhere, Anytime, and in Any Language
The global pandemic has accelerated the shift in how we work, where we work and with whom we work. With the US and countries all over the globe shutting down, we are scrambling to find ways to still get the job done, we have all pivoted in order to address the immediate needs of our clients, employees and communities. Given the circumstances, organizational leaders are realizing the benefits of an unconventional work setting, where work can be performed at home, with flexible schedules and distributed and diverse talent. The other big discovery is now we can hire staff to work anytime, anywhere as long as they are qualified to get the job done.
However, before you venture into restructuring your talent pool, consider these three (3) factors:

Work Anywhere
While there is an ongoing debate regarding whether the temporary remote-working situation will become permanent, the verdict is still TBD. Bottom line is that there is no one-size-fit-all approach that satisfies every organization’s needs. Therefore, an organizational assessment of the skills, competencies, roles, and responsibilities needed to not only sustain the current situation, but also to prepare for future growth, is recommended. Start by evaluating:

1. the total acquisition cost of on-site vs. remote work
2. the communication and collaboration opportunities, as well as challenges, within your current organizational structure
3. the feasibility of making the shift without jeopardizing productivity, and in effect enhancing it
For many of the hardest hit sectors during this pandemic (i.e. small businesses, travel, hospitality, retail, education, restaurants and the list goes on.), the recruitment or retention of talent that is local to serve customers is still critical. However, are there current tasks, expertise and responsibilities that can be accessed and managed remotely?

With increased online accessibility to workers, even those with minimal technical aptitude can navigate mainstream collaborative software platforms. The opportunity to acquire talent that can work anywhere at any time has become a reality. Companies can now consider recruiting for talent outside the constraints of geography and can focus on workers that can support and align with business objectives, while they strategically plan for the post-pandemic workplace environment.

Work Anytime
Employees are realizing and valuing the flexibility of working anytime from anywhere. According to the Harvard Business Review, employees that transitioned from working in the office to remote work cited freed-up time “equivalent of 28 to nearly 50 workdays per year per employee” as a result of eliminating their commuting time.

Further, hiring talent across time zones offers organizations a certain level of flexibility and continuity of work that makes for longer workdays, boosting productivity. For example, a marketing firm that is located on the East Coast (i.e. New York) can work on a client’s social media campaign for a full eight (8) hours on Monday. Then, they transition the project to their team members on the West Coast (i.e. California) that will submit deliverables to the client by 11:00pm EST that night, making the deadline to the client in Spain by 8:00am Tuesday morning. So, the flexibility of having team members working remotely, and in different time zones, creates opportunities to expand your bandwidth, cover loftier scopes of work and comfortably meet deadlines.

Work Across Multiple Languages
Organizations that are venturing out into the global marketplace in search for new clients and talent must be prepared to engage in multiple languages. While there are thousands of languages spoken worldwide, the most widely spoken languages include Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, English, Hindi, Arabic, and French. With this multiplicity of languages, how does an organization assess for language proficiency?

One major miscommunication with a customer or an employee can represent a loss in revenue, or worse yet, a costly lawsuit. So testing and certifying the level of language proficiency of bilingual team members or new talent that you hire is a best practice, and a sound investment, to ensure the highest quality experience for your clients and to safeguard the credibility for your company.

Language Testing International (LTI) offers remotely monitored testing solutions in over 120 languages that can be conveniently done from anywhere, at any time in the day (or night) and from any device, allowing your organization to create a business model and workplace environment where employees can work from anywhere, anytime, and using any languages they truly command. LTI’s accredited ACTFL language assessments are widely recognized and accepted by major corporations, academic institutions, and government agencies, each test is designed to properly determine the specific proficiency level of an individual and ultimately to provide a valid and reliable language credential.

Contact LTI today to learn more about language certification.

Growing Up Bilingual as a Heritage Language Speaker

Who is considered a heritage speaker? Heritage speakers are those who have been exposed to their heritage language (i.e., their first language) at home. They are introduced to a second language beginning at a very young age through contact with people outside their home or when they start going to school. Having grown up speaking two languages from an early age, heritage speakers are a great example of the important role that age and timing play in acquiring language proficiency.

How long does it take to learn a language and become proficient?

What is the ideal age to learn a new language?

Is there a time frame or an age at which you reach a ceiling for learning a language?

According to a new study, it may take up to 30 years to fully master a language—even for heritage speakers. Where, when, and how you learn a language are big factors in how proficient you will ultimately become.

In one of the largest linguistics studies ever undertaken, researchers set out to find out approximately when the “critical period” for achieving the highest level of grammatical fluency ends. The study, which was a joint effort between researchers at Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Boston College, states that we retain the ability to learn language nuances well into our teens; however, we’re constantly improving our language for most of our lives.

If you begin learning a language before 10 years old and continue practicing your language skills, you have a very good chance of achieving a high level of language proficiency in that language. Your chances decrease significantly when you begin learning a new language after the age of 18.

The other important factor to consider is whether the language was acquired formally through a course of study at school, through informal conversations with family members exclusively at home, or through language immersion, which provides the best possible opportunity to become highly proficient. Heritage speakers have great accents; however, having an accent is not a great indicator for language proficiency, and it does not provide insight into the range of one’s language ability.

The length of time an individual has spoken a language makes a difference; in fact, the study shows a slight improvement (about one percentage point) in the grammar scores of people who have been speaking English for 30 years as compared to those who have been speaking the language for 20 years. These findings were consistent in both native and non-native speaking groups.

Although learning a language at home provides an opportunity to become bilingual, without a valid and reliable test, it becomes difficult to ascertain the level of language ability of heritage speakers.

Companies, academic institutions, and government agencies rely on Language Testing International (LTI) for their language testing needs. Each assessment is designed to properly determine the specific proficiency level of an individual, and ultimately to provide a valid and defensible language credential.

LTI works closely with your human resources department to identify the appropriate level of language proficiency required for the position you are looking to fill. Once your needs have been identified, we will help you qualify the right candidates with the language skills needed to be successful.

Call Language Testing International today for a free consultation on how companies are saving time and  money and hiring qualified bilingual talent.

 

Why Businesses Should Test Heritage Speakers’ Language Skills

Your company’s business depends on the professional communication skills of bilingual employees. How does this play a role in the hiring process? According to the resumes reviewed, many candidates are heritage speakers of the languages needed. If these applicants already speak the desired language, why is it important to test their language proficiency?

The term “heritage” refers to how individuals acquired their language abilities—not to how proficient they may or may not be in the language. For this reason, testing the language skills of heritage speakers must be part of the hiring process.

Many heritage speakers learn their heritage language in an informal setting (e.g., at home or in their communities) and use that language with family, friends, and co-workers. They may have native-like pronunciation, be confident when dealing with highly familiar topics, and engage freely and fluently on topics related to everyday life. Heritage speakers are typically exposed to their heritage language in childhood but may or may not have learned the language to its full functional capacity because another language became dominant in their day-to-day interactions. They may have never even received formal education in their heritage language. In fact, heritage speakers residing in the U.S. have typically received most of their formal education in English-speaking schools, and for this reason, they may not have all the functional abilities in their heritage language that they have in English. 

The term “heritage” does not indicate or predict any specific proficiency level. Heritage speakers’ extensive exposure to the language in informal contexts may result in profiles that differ from those of traditional second language learners. Nonetheless, their functional ability of language is assessed according to a common set of criteria, which corresponds to a given proficiency level. Their language skills can be assessed at any level of the proficiency scale as described in the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines.

The features of heritage Intermediate-level speakers are remarkably similar to those of second language learners in terms of their development of the functions associated with the Advanced level (lack of structural control, limited vocabulary, and the inability to perform the task). On the other hand, the speech of heritage speakers—even at the Intermediate level—may be marked by more fluency and confidence and more ability to fill cultural and linguistic gaps than is usually the case with Intermediate-level second language learners. 

Advanced-level heritage speakers typically perform Advanced-level tasks with quantity and quality. Their native-like pronunciation and fluency, as well as their extensive vocabulary and structural control, may distinguish them from their second language learner counterparts. When asked to perform tasks at the Superior level, Advanced-level heritage speakers may not demonstrate errors in language control nor diminishing fluency but rather may avoid addressing a Superior-level task. For example, rather than supporting an opinion, they may provide anecdotal information; rather than discussing a topic at the issues level and from an abstract perspective, they may resort to a concrete treatment of the topic; rather than speculating on possible outcomes when asked to hypothesize, they may describe a real situation.   

Heritage speakers at the Superior level demonstrate the ability to sustain the Superior-level tasks in extended discourse, using precise vocabulary, and with no patterned errors. They are not rated Superior because of the way they sound but rather because their ability to use the language effectively falls within the functional requirements for thatlevel.

Why, then, should businesses test heritage speakers’ language skills?  The term “heritage” does not identify what speakers can do with language, nor does it indicate how well theycan communicate in different situations. Simply identifying oneself as a “heritage speaker” of a language does not provide evidence to a prospective employer as to whether that person has the language skills appropriate for the demands of the workplace. Official testing of language abilities does provide this information. Testing heritage speakers, using official ACTFL assessments and reporting results based on the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines, enables employers to have confidence in their hiring decisions.

Language Testing International, Inc. (LTI), the exclusive licensee of ACTFL, offers  businesses a wide variety of commercial and official testing options to assess language ability.  Proficiency scores enable employers to compare language abilities with the linguistic requirements of any given position and to hire with evidence that the speaker can meet those requirements. (Click here to view the Oral Proficiency levels in the Workplace chart released by ACTFL.)