A company’s success involves the synergy of different factors such as great leadership, innovation, strong financial management, a well-defined vision and many others. However, companies aiming for global reach should prioritize strategies with both quantitative and qualitative benefits for its workforce and customers.
Perhaps an essential and tactical approach that organizations often overlook is language training. A 2016 study by Rosetta Stone shows that while 81 percent of the employees surveyed studied languages earlier in life, only 46 percent effectively used their learnings in the workplace.
Foreign language skills are vital in today’s global economy. Language proficiency supports executives to advance in their careers and helps multinational companies speed up overseas expansion. Every CEO or HR manager who wants to hire a language trainer struggles to quantify the value and benefit of language training to the business but there is convincing data to help them make their case.
Workers who receive language training become more confident and perform better.
Research shows that 70 percent of employees feel more confident in their work and interaction with teams, partners and vendors upon successfully completing language training. The top gainers by industry who feel the most impact are those in food and beverage, retail and communications industries. Meanwhile, employees in human resources, information technology and operations departments have expressed an increase in confidence and work productivity because they were given access to language training.
It’s reported that workers save an average of three hours or more weekly because of improved language skills. These wasted hours are likely spent with language translation or resolving problems caused by miscommunication amongst colleagues or between employees and their bosses. Whether you’re a line-level worker or an expat leading regional operations, language proficiency improves your productivity and overall job performance.
The confidence and increased productivity these people experience directly leads to promotions and upward mobility within the organization or in new job opportunities. I am a prime example of this having gone from QC inspector up to VP of Asian operations in my time in China. After leaving China, an opportunity opened to start BRIC Language Systems. Had I not learned to speak Chinese, I would have never thought to start an online language school.
Shared language increases employee retention.
One of the biggest and most common challenges for human resource managers or executives is keeping employees happy. According to an IDG Research Services’ survey, business line leaders have reported employee retention as their no. 1 long-term strategy priority.
In ethnically-diverse cities in North America like New York City, Los Angeles and Miami, it’s typical to manage employees whose native tongue is either Spanish or Chinese. While written foreign language proficiency can result in faster work turnaround, it’s equally important that employees can communicate comfortably with co-workers and managers in their commonly used language.
Day-to-day work is affected when a new hire does not speak the language of the team. The employee might feel ostracized, unable to establish rapport with colleagues and build trust with supervisors. Turnover is costly, and related expenses hurt the bottom line financials and team morale.
Meanwhile, employees who are given language training feel rewarded and more engaged in their work because their company invested in their personal and professional growth. Workers in the food and beverage industry who received employer-provided language training report they are more likely to remain with their current company.
It isn't just work that frustrates an employee who doesn’t speak the native language. While living in China, prior to learning Mandarin, I had to renegotiate the price of each and every haircut. I always went to the same shop and the same barber, but every time I saw him he wanted to renegotiate. We always wound up at 30 RMB. This was very frustrating, especially in a shop with no A.C. on a 90-degree day. This only stopped when I learned the language, and so did a lot of other nonsense. That made my day-to-day life much easier.
Companies, truly know thy customer.
Knowing the local language is crucial to succeeding in foreign markets. You can't serve diverse customers on a day-to-day-basis if you don't understand each other. Most countries have multiple languages, and nuances in tone, pronunciation and delivery all affect how people perceive the message you want to send.
The largest global consumer-facing businesses all agree that you must speak the language of your customers, wherever they may be. At companies like Booking.com, a business that operates in more than 220 countries, employing people who can talk to customers in dozens of languages is a key priority. Unlike big corporations in the telecommunications or banking industries, Booking.com strongly believes that customer service shouldn’t be outsourced only to cut costs. The company delivers a satisfactory customer service experience with multilingual employees who fix problems quickly on the phone. Their data confirms that this helps retain customers in the long run.
As another example, companies that want to capture new markets should know the target customer’s local language to effectively launch marketing campaigns. It’s not enough to just hire an external agency to do the work for you. As the person in charge of delivering brand promise, you must ensure that value propositions and messaging are accurately translated and delivered to the market. If you are determined to acquire and keep loyal customers, your team should invest in learning the local language. Not only will your company be able work with external arms to effectively push out global campaigns, but you’ll also be able showcase dedication to understanding who your customer really is.
So whether it’s improving employee engagement and retention or earning customer satisfaction and loyalty, it’s undeniable that language training can positively impact businesses immediately, and in the future.