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America’s Languages: Investing in Language Learning for the 21st Century
The Full Report, Statistics, and Call to Action by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences' Commission on Language Learning
IS YOUR ORGANIZATION LANGUAGE READY?
Best Practices for the Globally Competitive Organization
Whether you’re a large multinational or a small company that is doing business with non-English-speaking markets overseas or here at home, today’s competitive global business environment has created an increased demand for employees with language skills. In fact, between 2010 and 2015, the number of jobs aimed at bilingual workers more than doubled and employers added jobs at a much faster pace for bilingual individuals than they did for workers overall.
And yet, languages can be among the most difficult skills to find, especially when coupled with other specific skills employers are looking for whether in marketing, project management, sales, legal, accounting, or countless other areas. Surveys—both national and regional—consistently find that firms, especially those that aren’t exporting—identify language and cultural barriers as a leading barrier to doing business overseas.
Having a language management strategy in place can make a tangible difference to your bottom line so make it a priority for your company. Here are some practical first steps you can take:
- Determine the extent to which languages need to be part of your organization’s recruiting and training and set clear goals and targets.
- Conduct a language audit that will identify the strengths and weaknesses of your company’s language competencies.
- An audit should include not just an inventory of languages, both written and spoken, but also the level of proficiency.
- Hire a language testing and assessment firm. You wouldn’t hire for any other skill set without first having some means of measuring a candidate’s abilities (or lack thereof). Why should hiring multilingual employees be any different?
Offer flexible language-learning opportunities that align with your organization’s and employees’ needs and schedules. These can be in a formal classroom, with a private instructor, or web-based. In fact, there are a growing number of online platforms that combine the latter two—linking students with tutors, many of them native-speaking language educators, from around the world.
And don’t necessarily assume that your employees need a “generalist” language course; sometimes an industry-tailored course will provide the most productive outcome. Rosetta Stone, for example, offers an Advanced Spanish for Healthcare solution, providing healthcare workers with specific patient-centered communications and cultural insights.
Check in with your community college—many offer language courses geared to professionals.
When considering your hiring criteria, give preference to individuals who are language-ready, or show evidence of interest in learning languages.
Find the Right Talent
Identify and connect with colleges and universities that have great international studies, language, and study abroad programs. Let them know of your job openings or internships that require up-and-coming graduates with the kind of global competencies your organization is seeking.
Feature prominently your company’s globally minded image and interest in employees with global and linguistic competencies in all your recruiting resources, corporate communications, and on social media platforms.
The Big Picture: Taking a Stand to Build U.S. Language Competency
As a company that is invested in cultivating globally competent talent with the requisite language skills to compete and succeed in today’s global marketplace, your company can play an important role in prioritizing languages in your sector and community.
Here Are Some Ways Your Company Can Get Engaged
Healthcare, Financial Services, Engineering, Tourism, Consumer Package Goods, Engineering… these are among sectors that increasingly rely on talent with language skills but where demand can outpace supply. Whatever your sector, engage other companies, trade organizations, and stakeholders to encourage a coordinated effort to effectively communicate and advocate for language proficiency in your industry. Among the reasons students don’t pursue language studies, is a lack of awareness on the demand for languages in the marketplace, and even in the careers they are pursuing.
- Sign on to the Lead with Languages Call to Action to mobilize the nation around six critical action steps for boosting the number of Americans with second language proficiency. Show your support for our mission by lending your company’s name.
- Incorporate language studies and study abroad opportunities into your Corporate Social Responsibility priorities. For example:
- Fund language and study abroad scholarships for students, including those that are coupled with studies relevant to your sector. Check in with your local and regional colleges and universities or look to the many national organizations that provide or administer scholarships.
- Provide grants to nonprofits in your communities that offer language programs to under-served students. If you need help identifying a program, contact Lead with Languages. We’re here to help!
- As part of your company’s volunteer programs, encourage employees with language skills to speak at local high schools and colleges on the benefits of language proficiency and how they are integrated in functions and careers germane to your company.Don’t underestimate the power that hearing first-hand from multilingual professionals can have on students. A big reason many students don’t go on to study languages is a lack of awareness on the need for and ways in which languages are deployed throughout careers and functions.
- Engage and communicate with regional and state colleges and universities on the need for strong language programs, including courses that emphasize the functional use of languages within a professional context whether business, law, engineering, medical or social services, or other areas relevant to your organization’s business.
- Take the lead in advocating that your district or state strengthen K-12 language programs. Learn from states such as Delaware and Utah, and communities throughout the United States that are prioritizing language education as a means of being globally competitive.
- Lend your support to the Seal of Biliteracy if not yet passed in your State. However, just because your state has passed the Seal, it does not mean your school district has adopted it or has begun to implement it. Contact your school or district supervisor to find out where they are in the implementation process. (Click here to see where your state stands.) Awarded to high-school graduates who have studied and attained proficiency in two or more languages, the Seal of Biliteracy is an important incentive to students, and evidence to employers of their language skills.