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Breaking down language barriers means better business


Armin Hopp, founder and president of dp, suggests ways in which senior managers can assess the organisational requirements for multilingualism.
In an increasing globalised corporate environment, the need to communicate effectively is more crucial to business growth than ever before. A study contracted by the European Commission Directorate General for Education and Culture revealed that a significant proportion of European companies are losing export business through lack of language skills and inter-cultural skills.[1] The study suggested that increasing investment to develop language skills would produce far-reaching economic benefits, especially in terms of a positive impact on SME productivity and export performance.
Companies therefore need to perceive language learning as vital to strengthening business relationships, and understand that incorporating learning and development need not be a difficult or daunting task.
A 2010-2011 survey conducted by Towards Maturity revealed the most common barriers businesses need to break down in order to create a more effective learning environment. According to the survey, companies need to ensure that there are enough skills amongst L&D staff to implement learning programmes within the business and equip staff with the skills to manage their own learning in amongst their daily schedules.
"...companies need to take the time to understand the latest learning tools available and actively create an overarching attitude of learning and development within the business."
The survey also highlighted that another common reason for staff not learning languages is that line managers are reluctant to encourage learning, or place learning and development as a low priority compared with day-to-day business activities. Lack of knowledge about opportunities for new learning, cost management, unreliable ICT, poor past experience and reluctance to adopt language learning by L&D professionals and staff generally were also listed as barriers to learning.
In this regard, companies need to take the time to understand the latest learning tools available and actively create an overarching attitude of learning and development within the business. Gone are the days of pure classroom training, with one teacher and students confined to a room with the rigidity of attending class at a set time every week. The focus in business now is on communication, and how that can be effectively achieved across borders.
With the advance of technology and new media, the possibilities are exciting for companies willing to embrace new ways of learning. Individuals and organisations now have greater flexibility on how linguistic skills are delivered. The Towards Maturity survey predicts that at least 25% of multinational companies are introducing mobile learning, online learning tools, virtual classrooms, podcasting and social learning tools where trainers support learners and their interactions.
Effective business communication across borders starts with the perfect blend of advanced learning technology and teacher-led activities. With the 'perfect blend' approach, companies can combine self-directed learning, assignment tasks and classes, which can be attended virtually or over the phone. These learning tools can then be customised to suit staff learning needs and level of skill. For instance, members of staff of intermediate level can attend virtual classes with those of a similar level from other parts of the company, or from other companies altogether. If communication within the company is more phone-based than face-to-face, classes can be undertaken by phone to improve the required verbal communication. The perfect blend toolbox is big enough and the content standardised to create the same end result for students, regardless of how the blend was formed.
The perfect blend of training techniques saves the cost of having to travel to a particular venue for learning. As long as a student has a computer, they can slot in language learning whenever they have the time. This is particularly beneficial to staff who are always on the move, or travelling frequently. However in some cases, a company’s IT infrastructure may not allow virtual classroom training and face-to-face learning may be the only viable solution.
Due to the streamlined nature of perfect blend learning, senior managers can use the results to monitor the development and skill levels of their staff and compare results easily. They can use the results to help identify the hidden champions within the company and use their skills strategically. For instance, a talented staff member may be identified in a company in Shanghai with a good grasp of English, whose skills could be used effectively in the company's subsidiary in the UK.
"Effective business communication across borders starts with the perfect blend of advanced learning technology and teacher-led activities."
Many of the companies we work with across the world – in fact some seven million users today - are already incorporating language learning as part of their talent management programs, which nurtures staff from the ground up. Companies can also look over their recruitment policies, their training strategies and their principles for international mobility.
Taking the right measures to develop a perfect blend of learning within a company is the key to achieving effective cross-border communication. Companies can encourage staff to use and develop the skills they have already acquired and offer language training in ways that are both motivating and compatible with the demands of the workplace.
Armin Hopp is the founder and president of dp (digital publishing), a provider of award winning online corporate language training Speexx, which offers practical business courses in five languages. The company operates in over 80 countries, has a worldwide network of more than 1,200 online tutors and offers an extensive range of innovative language learning modules and has delivered award-winning results for more than 7m users worldwide.


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