Mike Mayor: Why language learning is essential for successful international business growth

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Today’s international marketplace demands strong global connections, and clear communication between markets is essential to success. However, poor language skills often act as a barrier to building and maintaining good professional relationships across the globe.

According to the British Council, English is spoken by 1.75 billion people (approximately one in four people worldwide) and it is forecasted that by 2020, two billion people will either be using English or learning to use it[1]. English is widely spoken in business as well so today a level of English language proficiency is increasingly seen as one of the keys to international success. However, organisations report that the standard of language skills, specifically English language skills, varies drastically.

Investing in employees’ language skills, particularly their English language skills, should therefore be a priority for business. Not only will development programmes that include language training support a business’ global growth but they will also support in securing the best talent worldwide. Today, many professionals at all levels relish the opportunity to travel overseas for work and senior staff often have global growth ambitions high on their agenda. Companies that can provide these opportunities, through language training programmes, might also gain a competitive advantage in the recruitment market.

So, what does a strong language training programme look like in today’s global marketplace and how can businesses ensure they are equipping their staff with the right skills? Focusing on relevant, professional vocabulary and the specific skills required to perform a certain role is the first step businesses should take when developing their employees’ language skills. Different jobs require different language skills – a sales executive, for example, will need vocabulary that supports them in negotiating the best deal and building good relationships with customers. Meanwhile, CEOs need the skills to grow their business and manage team members in different markets.

Defining the relevant language skills required to support a specific job function can be challenging for businesses so in response Pearson has developed, and recently launched, a set of Global Scale of English Learning Objectives for professional English. The learning objectives are aimed at those developing their skills for professional purposes, documenting the skills needed at different levels of proficiency, from understanding emails on work topics to conveying a negotiating position to describing change. This helps learners to gain real world communication skills such as negotiation, clarity of thoughts and polite persuasion that they can then apply to their professional roles.

As a next step in developing a successful language learning programme, businesses need to consider the context in which vocabulary will be applied. The English language can raise many challenges for non-native speakers since words and phrases often have multiple meanings. If an employee were to describe an idea as “novel”, for instance, native speakers would understand that the idea was unusual or different. Colleagues learning the language, however, might face a challenge here since the word can also refer to a type of book or writing. To support businesses and language teachers in providing learners with clear context to vocabulary Pearson’s GSE Teacher Toolkit also includes 36,000 vocabulary word meanings and 80,000 collocations. This means that vocabulary is taught within the relevant context and becomes easier for professionals to apply.

Lastly, maintaining learners’ motivation throughout the programme will always lead to better, and faster, results. One way to maintain motivation is by making clear the progress learners have made and accurately pinpointing the areas in which they need to improve. A granular scale, such as Pearson’s Global Scale of English, that accurately identifies areas for improvement, will help both trainers and employees work more successfully towards a mutual goal.

By taking responsibility for the development of employees’ English language skills, businesses will see increased opportunities for growth and find new ways to build professional relationships across the globe. For the individual employee, stronger language skills are desirable and can lead to improved career prospects – prospective employees might therefore be more likely to consider a role if language training is provided. Finally, language skills can increase profitability, which is of course essential for every global business.

[1] The English Effect, British Council, 2013

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