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Speak English?

Get your workers English-proficient and the benefits are legion.

Today's tight job market and vibrant economy are creating entry-level jobs often filled by workers whose first language isn't English. Savvy entrepreneurs are not only tapping into this rich segment of the labor pool but also strengthening the value of those employees by helping them learn English through classes held at work.

The benefits are numerous, says Beth Larson, coordinator of the ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) department at Seminole Community College in Sanford, Florida. The advantages of having employees with improved language skills include:

  • More confidence and an increase in the ability to interact with co-workers and customers. As workers learn how to speak and read English, they can be more productive and even advance within the company, which increases loyalty and reduces turnover.
  • Fewer errors and reduced overtime. Workers who understand instructions don't make as many mistakes, which means they don't need to spend extra time correcting them.
  • Safety. Being able to speak and read English increases the comprehension of safety-related warnings, which in turn reduces workplace accidents.

In many communities with non-English-speaking populations, school districts offer adult ESL classes for free or for a nominal fee. But because workers often can't attend those classes, educators encourage employers with enough potential pupils to hold classes at work, either during or after business hours. "Most adult-education programs require between 15 and 20 students in each class," Larson says. She adds that work-site classes may mean offering transportation to employees who carpool, but that's easier than continuing to struggle with language-related communication problems.


Jacquelyn Lynn left the corporate world more than 13 years ago and has been writing about business and management from her home office in Winter Park, Florida, ever since.

Contact Source

Seminole Community College, (407) 328-2120

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This article was originally published in the April 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Speak English?.

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