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Panos Kraniotis

Rosetta Stone

Regional Director, Europe

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Are poor language skills holding businesses back?


Every year on 26th September, events are held across Europe to mark the European Day of Languages. Organised by the Council of Europe, the day aims to highlight the need for language skills and encourage language learning for all.

This year was a bit different however, given the recent changes in the EU and with Brexit still fresh on everyone’s mind. The Council made a point to note that there have never been more opportunities to work and study in another country but that lack of language competence prevents many from doing so.

European language diversity is quite staggering with around 225 indigenous languages. Recognising this variety, over half of Europeans (54 per cent) can hold a conversation in at least one additional language, according to the European Commission’s comprehensive 2012 survey. However, if the roots of your business are in the UK, chances are a smaller percentage of your employees will have similar language skills; the same study reveals that the UK is among the countries where respondents are least likely to be able to speak any foreign language.

The skills to compete

Yet, in global business, suppliers, partners and customers increasingly span country boundaries, making language proficiency in the workplace more important than ever. Indeed, for companies with a global outlook, a multi-lingual workforce can be the difference between winning and losing contracts.

The European Commission believes that, “the ability to understand and communicate in other languages is a basic skill for all European citizens.” An EU language policy objective is that "every European citizen should master two other languages in addition to their mother tongue.” However, at the time of the 2012 survey, only 14 per cent of UK respondents measured up.

The EU referendum brought focus to the UK’s competitive trading position in Europe. Yet, even putting Brexit aside, it is a fact of global business that language skills within the workforce are valuable. A workforce that is able to adapt and communicate with suppliers, customers and colleagues in the languages they are most comfortable with can form stronger working relationships, improve sales outcomes and increase productivity. Employees who feel equipped to perform well against their objectives are also more satisfied and therefore more likely to stay with their company.

Rethinking language learning

Businesses that recognise the importance of language training for their workforce will take the necessary steps to identify the skills gaps on their teams and develop a language strategy to implement the appropriate training for their organisations. Take care to note however, that traditional learning programmes can sometimes be inflexible, cost prohibitive, and can be found wanting when it comes to demonstrating a measureable return on investment.

This is a major sticking point for business. Training and development is a considerable investment for companies, not just in capital but also in the time This is where highly adaptive digital learning programmes can help by providing robust administrative tools that can measure and report on learner progress. These provide the means for business leaders and administrators to track learner performance, proficiency gains and usage.

A programme that reports against learning outcomes and individually assesses each learner to assign them to an appropriate learning path based on proficiency level can change the way global businesses approach language learning.

Flexible learning

Another added benefit of e-learning programmes is the flexibility offered. Not only does it make for a better all-round learning experience for employees, it also reassures training providers that through one centralised learning solution they are serving all learner levels across the organisation, providing the right content for each skill level.

A digital learning solution can also provide industry-specific content, making it highly relevant and targeted at the situations in which the skills are going to be used. Additionally, in today’s tech-savvy world, e-learning programmes allow learners the option of learning at home or on-the-go via their mobile device, at a time that works for their schedule.

The Bottom Line

Language is no longer a nice to have, it is a need to have. A smart businesses who recognize its importance in the workplace will reap the benefits and have a leg up on their competitors.  It’s important for learning providers to implement language learning programmes that adjust to their business needs, close the language skills gap and, ultimately, improve the bottom line.

The European Day of Languages may be just one day out of 365 days a year, but the message it carries about the important place language learning occupies in today’s working world endures. By equipping employees with the training they need to communicate across language barriers, businesses can expect to be rewarded with improved performance and exciting new opportunities.

Author Profile Picture
Panos Kraniotis

Regional Director, Europe

Read more from Panos Kraniotis

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