The Do’s and Don’ts of Language Training

The most successful language learning programs have clear goals, measurable outcomes, and metrics for success that HR managers can easily track against.

The demand for bilingual workers in the U.S. is accelerating. According to an analysis of online job postings, the number of job postings aimed at bilingual workers doubled from 2000 to 2015 alone. And those jobs aren’t just limited to front-line or services workers.

In fact, the fastest growth was found among “high prestige” jobs such as financial managers, editors, and industrial engineers as big banks and health-care firms navigate the mega-trends of shifting demographics at home, as well as the demands of globalization.

That sort of demand is creating a tall order for HR executives, who are competing for untapped language talent in an increasingly tight labor market, which means they are searching for strategies to up- and re-skill employees to address existing language skills gaps.   

Language competencies are hard to teach and difficult to measure. Mastering the nuances of French or Arabic isn’t as straightforward as teaching workplace skills such as Excel, or even Python. And quantifying an applicant’s bilingual capabilities is compounded by a maze of proficiency tests that were never intended to gauge the workplace relevance of an individual’s language skills.

In the world of work, learning a language is one of the most complex, difficult things we ask adults to do, and we need to make sure that they are set up for success.

Here are three best practices to keep in mind as you build a workforce language training program:

1. Relevance Wins

The concept of personalization is gaining traction across nearly every facet of learning. From a language learning standpoint, aspects of personalized learning are mission critical, such as ensuring programs are self-paced, enabling workers to progress as they develop and master new language skills and competencies.

But personalizing language learning skills is also about matching the content to the role.  Rather than teaching phrases that are not relevant to learners’ needs, such as, “I drink milk,” make sure content is individualized and includes work scenarios and real-time current events.  

2. Go Mobile

Traditional training formats (i.e., in-person classes, etc.) carry limited effectiveness in the long term because there is little opportunity for reinforcement after the learning ends. Programs must allow for mobile access to continually encourage more learning and the application of languages on an ongoing basis. Smartphones allow for convenient access and gentle reminders to give learners support and motivation, while also giving learning providers an extra layer of personalization and relevance.

3. Measure What Matters

Unlike other dimensions of talent development, where executives complain that results are often fuzzy—a recent LinkedIn Learning survey said only 8 percent of CEOs see the business impact of learning and development (L&D) programs—the outcomes of language learning can be much more binary. Executives appreciate data-driven insights on language learning progress. Voxy’s analytics dashboards show an employee’s strengths and weaknesses over time using data visualizations that map development in critical areas such as vocabulary, grammar, reading, writing, listening, and speaking.

Overall satisfaction and engagement matter, of course, but the most successful language learning programs have clear goals, measurable outcomes, and metrics for success that HR managers can easily track against.

Katie Nielson is Chief Education Officer of Voxy, a language learning platform for global corporations. Nielson is an expert in the field of language science, and is helping massive organizations close their “language skills gaps” through a modern approach to learning.



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