Before quarantine, companies sought to boost morale by arranging happy hours at a local bar or setting up a new foosball table to help employees blow off steam. These much-needed outlets offered workers the chance to bond, and for businesses to show appreciation for a job well done. Unfortunately, the pandemic has put a damper on these and other in-person perks.
Some companies have sought to fill this void by hosting virtual zoom parties, while others opt to send treats by mail. However, many businesses see the extra free time that accompanies quarantine as an opportunity to teach valuable skills. One of the easiest and most popular new perks is offering employees the chance to learn a new language.
Multinational corporations have always been eager to train C-suite executives in foreign languages. However, the cost and time of many programs, as well as the interaction needed to gain proficiency, made such privileges inaccessible to those lower down the ladder. Though language proficiency has been shown to boost communication, productivity, and morale, few businesses believed it to be worth the investment.
Fortunately, technology has revolutionized language acquisition. Language apps for consumers have grown in popularity in recent years, and the majority of language app companies report an upswing in activity since the pandemic. The international language app Preply has seen enrollment shoot to three times its pre-quarantine levels, especially in countries like Italy and Spain that were hit early by the virus. American app Duolingo even sent users an email acknowledging they were “using this time to practice a language” at the beginning of quarantine.
There’s a reason that these language apps are truly considered perks. As technology has progressed, language learning apps have become easier and more enjoyable to use with every new digital iteration. A major benefit of these apps is their accessibility, which means employees are more likely to stick with a program for longer periods of time. Additionally, users of these apps can learn at their own pace, going as fast or slow as they like. Advances in speech-to-text technology even allow some programs to capture spoken pronunciation and give corrections if users are wrong.
Not surprisingly, English is one of the more popular offerings for business. One language app targeted at English language learners, EWA: Learn English, reports that they have added millions of subscribers since the height of the pandemic. With over 40 million downloads since its inception in 2017, EWA is currently one of the fastest-growing learning apps in the world. And, to meet the growing demand of companies looking to offer language learning as an employee benefit, they recently announced EWA for Enterprise as well.
“My goal is to help employers build a global workforce that recognizes that not everyone is a native English speaker. When employees learn to speak English, companies are creating better opportunities for themselves and their staff – it’s no longer an obstacle when learning is natural and fun to do,” said founder and CEO Max Korneev, a non-native English speaker himself. Like many self-taught language learners, he improved his vocabulary by watching popular tv shows like Game of Thrones. The EWA app is based on similar principles and uses a combination of current books, movies, and tv shows to keep users engaged.
Companies that opt to offer language training are likely to recoup their investment. The importance of English proficiency in the workplace is backed up by science. Research shows that companies save an average of 3 hours every week for every employee who receives language training. More language proficiency leads to faster communication, and less time wasted translating. Additionally, 70% of employees self-report feeling more confident in their abilities after completing a language training course.
Some industries have more to gain than others. A study by Forbes and digital language educator Rosetta Stone shows that hospitality, retail, customer support, healthcare, banking, and sales are the areas poised to benefit the most from investing in employee language skills. Customer service workers are especially likely to benefit from language training. The large number of customer service employees in most organizations, combined with the limited availability for hourly wage employees to receive training, make language apps a game changer in this division.
For those who fear that employees will take their new skills and run, research shows that investing in employees actually leads them to be more loyal. According to Linkedin’s 2019 Workforce Learning Report, 94 percent of employees claim they would stay at a company longer if it gave them the time and money to learn a new skill. Additionally, improving the language skills of competent but less linguistically fluent workers can improve their odds of receiving a promotion. These internal promotions tend to work more seamlessly within an organization than external hires because they are already familiar with the culture and policies of the business.
Whether the recipient is an executive in an overseas office who wants to take on international duties, or a customer service representative who wants to improve their performance on the job, language learning apps offer all employees the opportunity to grow. Their ease of use, widespread availability, and low cost make language apps a wise investment for businesses. It comes as no surprise that the pandemic is the perfect environment for them to flourish.
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