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The low-down on language training

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Global marketplace

With the need to learn another language becoming more common in the global marketplace, Chris Moore reveals how to get your message across and ensure training is quick, efficient and accountable.


Offices everywhere are becoming increasingly multinational and it’s no longer enough for UK businesses to rely on English as the lingua franca. Companies need to ensure that employees can overcome any obstacles that multilingual business environments create, which means that language training is at the top of many HR agendas.

Fortunately, language learning has developed enormously in recent times and is a far cry from most people’s early experiences of endless repetition and obscure grammar classes.

Learning can now take place in the home, office or on the train. Virtual classrooms, podcasts and distance learning are all helping employees acquire language to suit their own individual needs, interests and timetables.

“HR teams often need to deploy language training quickly and at multiple branch offices around the world for employees with widely varying language abilities.”

HR teams often need to deploy language training quickly and at multiple branch offices around the world for employees with widely varying language abilities. So, how can they ensure that language training is hassle-free and, more importantly, accountable?

There are a number of simple factors to consider when assessing your company’s language needs to make sure training is effective, delivering measurable benefits and return on investment.

Step one: A company language audit

It may be clear where the need lies within your organisation for language training, or you may need to do a language audit to identify existing skills and what priorities there are for developing additional skills.

Language training may be for personal development reasons, or to improve skills to tap into potential new global markets. Whatever the reason, consultation with employees forms the basis of an audit. A needs analysis and level assessment will establish employees’ specific language requirements. From there, a course plan and learning pathway can be developed, with clear objectives agreed.

Step two: Choosing a training provider

Language can only really be acquired when it’s used in authentic ways, so it’s important to choose a provider that reflects this. Flexibility is also crucial, as employees may need to start training in one country and finish in another, changing lessons to suit busy timetables.

Training methodology is obviously a key factor in choosing a provider, ensuring that employees don’t feel that they are back in the classroom. Teachers should be native language speakers and use the target language wherever possible. The new language should be put into practice as much as possible using role play, problem solving and pair or group work to reinforce learning and keep challenge and interest levels high.

Regular feedback is also essential, with aims stated and reviewed systematically, at the beginning and end of each lesson and at regular intervals throughout the course. Training should also include some elements of business culture, with a curriculum designed to be relevant to the environment in which employees are working.

A good place to look for a training provider is the Regional Language Network (RLN) which can advise you about what to look for: www.cilt.org.uk. Also, ask a number of providers to tender for your business so you can choose one that best fits your needs.

Step three: Learning options

With a multitude of ways to learn, a blended approach will help your workforce get up to speed quickly.

“Language can only really be acquired when it’s used in authentic ways, so it’s important to choose a provider that reflects this.”

Group training courses are good for people with similar levels and needs. They are also economical and work as a great team-builder. However, groups should not be too large – approximately eight people per group is ideal.

One-to-one courses are good for busy individuals with chaotic schedules, particularly those with overseas trips to prepare for. As training is learner-focused, skills are developed quickly and effectively.

Total immersion in a language can be achieved through language courses abroad. They are good for companies with overseas offices and interests, perhaps preparing an employee for a period of expatriation.

Distance learning is also a good option to be used in conjunction with other training techniques. Employees work on their own with materials provided in the form of books and CDs, via the web, email or over the phone.

Step four: Measuring success

Regular course feedback and evaluation is critical to make sure employees are progressing well and there are a number of overall measurements of success. These might include:

  • An increase in sales which can be directly attributed to language ability

  • A foreign language presentation to colleagues or managers

  • The creation of a brochure or website text in a foreign language for use within the company

  • A guided company tour for overseas clients or counterparts.

And finally…

Learning a language is a long-term project so it’s important to be realistic. No one in your organisation is going to be fluent in a language in a month. However, real progress can be made in a short space of time.

Language training also has far-reaching results from an HR perspective. Not only do courses improve staff motivation and bonding by breaking-down traditional office hierarchies, they also provide excellent ways to improve customer relations with international branch offices and clients.

Clients and prospects are always impressed when employees can speak even a small amount of their language, which goes a long way to improving relationships and furthering a company’s international standing.


Chris Moore is head of language training at Cactus Language.

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