Languages are business critical and better training is needed

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Written by Donavan Whyte on 25 March 2015


The global world of business isn’t a monolingual one. Businesses the world over interact with customers, suppliers and partners in a range of languages. Language capabilities among sales teams help improve customer satisfaction and across diverse teams it helps intra-company communication and therefore productivity.

Yet many companies aren’t sufficiently assessing their learning needs or taking control of the training that’s needed to support employees in gaining language proficiency.

The first step in identifying training needs is for leaders in business lines to discuss and agree on requirements. Unfortunately this often doesn’t happen. According to an IDG Research Services survey of global lines of business leaders, two-thirds of business leaders don’t discuss their training needs with HR.1 Some implement great local solutions, others muddle through, or perhaps don’t address the need at all.

We asked executives responsible for language training in large enterprises across Britain and Germany a few things about their business’ need for languages and how they go about addressing them. The results are interesting.

First off, a huge 87 per cent said that more than one critical language is in use in their organisation and 79 per cent said they think language skills are critical for business success.

And it would appear there is a skills gap. Almost two-thirds (63 per cent) said they felt improvement in this area was needed among their workforce and as many as 70 per cent of respondents said language skills aren’t currently taught to a standard sufficient for multi-national organisations.

So it is perhaps surprising that, despite the general consensus on the importance of language skills and widespread recognition that these skills need to be improved upon, such training isn’t generally compulsory. For employees electing to undergo a programme a mixture of methods are used including face-to-face, on-the-job training and e-learning. In a relatively high number of cases though – around one in five of respondents – these options aren’t provided at all but employees are encouraged to make their own arrangements with costs covered or subsidised.

It would appear that organisations recognise they have a need but are hoping it will somehow address itself.

If it’s broken, fix it

If the approach to language training currently taken isn’t working, it could be time to try something new.

Today’s businesses need flexible training solutions – teams are rarely always office-based, they move around and work from different locations. L&D solutions need to be able to reach large numbers of people, delivering consistent training that can be accessed as and when people are able to give time to it, paused as needed and re-commenced when operational demands allow.

More than (56 per cent) of our survey respondents said that language training is time consuming so any solution needs to be flexibly deployed and able to be delivered while people continue getting the day job done.

Not only that, but it needs to prove itself cost-wise – expense ranked second in a list of challenges UK organisations encountered when it came to equipping their people with language skills. Employee inertia and a lack of training resources also featured in the list.

These challenges aren’t, of course, exclusive to language training. Enthusing employees to continue learning in the workplace, when they might have thought they’d left lessons behind at school, college or university can always be an issue. As can finding the budget and resources to support it and to sustain a programme once it has started.

A huge majority (86 per cent) answering our survey said that being able to deploy a single training platform that can be used by all levels of learners would be of interest. It can go some way to addressing the operational obstacles. Ensuring that solution is easy to access, can be picked up, paused and gone back to as and when needed and is engaging and suitable for the business world would hopefully help with employee motivation and engagement.

Two-thirds of respondents believe the future of language training lies in e-learning, offering as it does advantages of speed of delivery, availability, cost and the elimination of travel time and expense. Whichever training solution organisations deploy – be it a flexible e-learning delivery or a hybrid method of training techniques – it’s certain the challenge of the current language skills gap in business is not going to resolve itself.


  1. IDG Research Services: Business Line Leader Language Communication Survey (Rosetta Stone Business, 2015)

Donavan Whyte is Vice President, EMEA Enterprise & Education at Rosetta Stone


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