English training programs, especially when solely based on face-to-face instruction, can be costly and the results are not always immediately obvious. For this reason, companies may be tempted to not invest in improving their employees’ English proficiency. However, hidden costs can come to the surface when companies avoid investing in an English language training program. Here are four:
1) Senior Manager Turned Interpreter
When you don’t invest in English training, senior management (who tend to speak more English) often find themselves being turned to as the de facto interpreters for colleagues who are unable to receive visitors, take phone calls or participate in conference calls due to a lack of English. When your C-level executives have to also be in-house interpreters, this can be costly. Any employee who has to sequester time for translating is also taking time away from main tasks, which in turn impedes productivity.
2) Losing Top Talent
Language training is one of the most frequently requested employee benefits (especially English training). Failure to invest in such benefits can lead to increased turnover among staff. Lack of English is often a barrier to being promoted to senior positions for young talent. When top talent senses a reluctance by employers to invest in their English training they can become frustrated and look elsewhere for an organization that will support them on their career path. Similarly, promoting talent who lack English proficiency and then having to invest in immersion programs (often sending the talent overseas for months at a time to bring them up to speed) is costly.
3) Breakdowns in Communication
Despite the prevalence of online translation tools to support workers, breakdowns in communication still happen and can be incredibly costly. One employer recalls an incident where a colleague in China used Google translate and incorrectly deciphered ‘cancelar el pedido’ (pay the order) as “cancel the order.” While the two struggled to work out the breakdown in communication, containers of perishable goods were sat in the port waiting to be released. The inefficiency of employees ping-ponging emails and clients trying to understand each other in another language is a prime example of how costly breakdowns in communication can be.
When English levels within an organization are distributed in a pyramid (with few advanced-level speakers at the top), tasks requiring the attention of an English speaker can often become a bottleneck, with unnecessary delays to projects. These are the hidden costs that can often go undetected within a company. Investing in English training doesn’t have to be costly and can save an organization significant sums.
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Joseph Williams is an educator, researcher, and entrepreneur. Born and raised in the UK, he has lived and worked in Chile since 2003. He is a co-founder and General Manager of The Language Co., a private language school based in Santiago, Chile. Since 2017, The Language Co. has partnered with Voxy to provide its clients with a high-quality alternative to face-to-face English training.