Companies invest in Language training for many reasons: rewards, staff development, international expansion etc. But experience shows that sometimes, the individuals who attend these courses do not improve as much as the organisation (or even they themselves) would like.
Firstly, there is somewhat of a perception problem. Language courses are not like other, more technical training opportunities. Sure, you get technical information (grammar, vocabulary, social conventions etc) BUT it’s not always a straightforward move from learning the theory to getting good at the practice and this is where it gets interesting.
Simply attending a language course is Not enough to improve your language skills. You need to put in focused, self-aware and self-correcting practice. A lot of it. They say that, compared to children, adults struggle to acquire new language skills. This is a fallacy. What adults struggle to do is put in the sheer amount of improvement-oriented repetition that a child does… and therefore we progress more slowly.
So, what can organisations do to get more out of language training:
- Prioritise the training
Treat language skills training like any other hard skill training: clear the diary, brief management. Let the attendees NOT be interrupted for their entire session. They need to be focused, receptive and vulnerable. They do NOT need a line manager barging in and guilt-tripping them about work as yet unfinished.
Organisations also need to understand that any language training consists of contact hours and remote hours… people need to do tasks and practice and this needs to be accounted for.
- Set Goals
The point of language training is not always clear to attendees. Sure, they want to improve… but how much? Why? What’s it for? When the subject of language skill comes up, it’s a really good idea to get clear about what their current level is and which level they must reach during the training. It’s all too easy to keep it vague and soft, but then typically, people have little incentive to put in the work that is required to succeed.
- Support The attendees
If speaking Spanish, French, English or Dutch is so important to your organisation, you should NOT just be relying on language courses to help your people increase their proficiency and confidence. You should be thinking about structures that can be put in place in the workplace to allow them to practice, interact in the target language and feel more comfortable. Language lunches, short meetings in the target language, conversational practice with native speakers. These are just a few examples of the structures organisations can put in place to support and reinforce the learning without spending more money.
The last point is that aside from setting goals, attendees need to be held accountable for their results. The truth is, no-one needs a trainer to learn a language. What a trainer does is create the structure and time for people to do what they could do alone. In other words, they should be able to reach their goals if they are motivated, focused and practice. Therefore, they should be held accountable if they do not improve.
This, of course, will only work if the organisation supports the attendees and makes sure they have the time to do what needs to be done.
All too often people leave language courses feeling they have achieved very little. But with no clear goal, no room to practice and constant distractions we can see how it is that people feel this way. Spend your training budget wisely, think about the factors on the organisation side that can be adjusted and controlled to contribute towards enhancing the success of any language training.
David Chislett, senior trainer business English