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How to identify the best language learners


Are organisations asking the right questions when identifying the best candidates to learn languages? Armin Hopp investigates.

For many companies looking to expand their operations or revenue streams, multilingual communication can be a significant performance enhancer. A common language can enhance productivity across the organisation and forge stronger relationships. Although English retains its leading role as the world business language, other languages can also provide companies with a competitive advantage.

Tasked with the need to improve communications, HR professionals will either look to hire external staff with specific language skills – or look at perhaps advancing language skills with staff that have expressed an interest during their appraisal. However, a more successful approach will be to ask 'where is the greatest need for improved communications?' This type of thinking will often lead to the job functions or communities of roles – rather than targeting a specific individual. Once that step is taken, high performance roles such as sales staff, customer-facing roles and even HR teams can be collectively reviewed in a wider context. Likewise, companies that take stock of existing language skills among staff will be empowered to deploy staff to their advantage while creating better talent mobility, motivating and managing staff retention. Recruitment policies, training and business plans can also be reviewed in a more holistic way to ensure language learning is an integral part of the organisation.

Hire for attitude and the skills will follow

There is an associated cost for hiring high performance staff and increasing their efficiency within the organisation. As a result, talent management is a major driver in the uptake of the ‘perfect blend’ which combines virtual classrooms, mobile learning and elearning. Creating flexibility in the way training is delivered supports every type of learner. This, dovetailed with a cloud-based technology, is helping to create a tighter global talent management network where increasingly organisations are starting to adopt one streamlined process which encapsulates the needs of all their international counterparts.

A standardised learning platform with blended learning allows local managers to identify existing language skills within the company and helps match them with the needs and opportunities at all levels of the organisation. The ability to identify hidden champions who can fill potential productivity gaps will also help address future skills shortages. In this way, communication skills training and development becomes essential – if not critical - to an organisation’s succession planning. By encouraging and rewarding communications skills training and learning at all levels, staff can enjoy greater job satisfaction, increased career diversity and a sense of personal achievement.

"Learning a language or improving communications is no longer a nice-to-have soft skill."

The recovery of the global economy will offer increased career mobility to a larger number of employees and future predicted skills shortage [1].  At the same time, with the changing generational dynamic of the workforce, potential vacancies may arise in parts of the business that need to be address promptly in order to maintain continuity.

Learning a language or improving communications is no longer a nice-to-have soft skill. A thorough succession management strategy must include staff language and communication training. Organisations that recognise the value of language skills are likely to be more productive, agile and responsive to changing business needs.

Practical steps HR professionals should consider include:

  • Assess your workforce: The first step in implementing a new learning phase is to conduct a thorough assessment of staff language and communication skills across the board. This comes in the form of an organisation-wide language and self-assessment. Most organisations are surprised to see results which are lower than expected, revealing that their staff are actually not up to the challenge of businesses dealing with a global workforce as they had thought.
  • Identify skillsets: Pinpoint which key roles within the organisation will benefits from improved communications, where the talent is and what is the best way to address their skills. With a streamlined, blended learning approach, management will also be able to identify the current profile of employees within the organisation, identify their language skills and determine the potential successors for different job roles. This can then be matched to where vacancies might occur, address which areas suffer from a scarcity of talent and provide solutions to job roles that tend to be difficult to fill within the entire organisation.
  • Gain cooperation: HR should get IT and L&D together at the very early stages to plan how to improve the language and communication skills within the organisation without wasting time or affecting the workflow. This also gives the IT department the opportunity to understand and resolve any unreliable ICT infrastructures, broadband or technical restrictions that may be impeding the implementation of new learning tools.
  • Change from the top down: The key to changing learning habits within a company needs to start from top management, who can lead the way for the rest of the organisation.

In a rapidly changing workforce, language skills provide the key to communicating with clients and shape the organisational leaders of the future.

[1] Bersin & Associates predictions report, Enterprise Learning and Talent Management 2011: Predictions for the Coming Year—Building the Borderless Workplace.

Armin Hopp is the Founder and President of Speexx. Speexx helps large organisations everywhere to drive productivity by empowering employee communication skills across borders. It offers an award-winning range of cloud-based online language learning solutions for Business English, Spanish, German, Italian and French. More than 7 million users in 1,500 organisations use Speexx to learn a language smarter and deliver results on time. For more information, visit

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Armin Hopp


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