white paper Business English Training
Table of Contents Why your employees need to improve their English-language skills
How to choose the most appropriate type of business English training
Defining your needs
Putting it all to work
Conclusions and recommendations Contact Information
Why your employees need to improve their English-language skills If your company is a multinational, English probably is the official language used in most emails, documents, phone calls, and meetings, so it’s obviously essential to keep business processes working smoothly. But even if your company has a mainly local presence, it’s very likely to have foreign suppliers, partners, customers, and/or employees. English is most probably used to communicate with them, both orally and in writing. In addition to that, your management, salespeople, tech reps, and virtually any other employees would be better off if they could easily understand written and spoken English to stay abreast of their areas of expertise: A huge number of relevant websites, publications, and media is surely in English. Bottom line: English is essential for your company to do business. What’s at stake if your employees cannot cope? Think how many opportunities are lost if they repeatedly can’t get their messages across; misunderstand their foreign customers, suppliers or colleagues; or miss out on key bits of news in their markets. And even if they painstakingly cope, with a lot of effort and time, think how much time and energy could be spared if language problems do not keep getting in the way whenever business communication is involved. And missed opportunities and wasted resources are just the quantitative bit. There are key qualitative aspects to take into account as well: If your people do not feel confident when hearing, reading, or using English, they’ll often feel frustrated about their job, and if their English is poor, they risk projecting an unfairly unprofessional image. OK, so your company needs English. But we all know it’s such a pain and effort to get proper English training, and results are often frustratingly poor, right? Well, not necessarily, if you make the right choices. This paper provides a host of practical tips based on various field-level surveys of users, managers, and buyers of English training. Read on.
How to choose the most appropriate type of business English training This process can be broken down into two steps: define what you need, then choose who should provide it.
Defining your needs Tip #1: Focus on business English. First of all, we’re talking about business English, i.e., how to use English to organize and lead meetings, to write proposals and contracts, to read or write technical manuals, to understand what’s being decided in a conference call, and on and on. Unfortunately, those are not the sort of English skills most of us learnt in school. You don’t want to waste your employees’ precious time on such infamously generic things as “The cat is under the table” or “Can you pass me the salt?” You want them to use English realistically from lesson 1, in contexts as similar as possible to those they are confronted with every day on the job.
Tip # 2: Cover all skills. Most of your employees probably need to get better at reading, writing, speaking, and listening to English (in more technical terms, they need to bolster their passive and active oral and written competencies). The more complete the offering of the supplier you choose, the better, e.g., if you choose pure Web-based lessons, with no interaction with a real teacher, your employees will not be able to meaningfully improve their speaking and writing skills. On the other hand, a supplier providing Web-based training and (face-to-face or remote) interactions with a teacher, including both writing and speaking, would offer a better coverage of most of your company’s needs.
Tip # 3: Don’t neglect speaking skills. Research confirms that most learners and training managers put special emphasis on the need to improve speaking skills. Individual lessons with dedicated teachers are by far the best way to improve such skills, whereas pure eLearning and crowded classrooms offer little or no opportunity to improve them.
Tip # 4: Aim for an adult-oriented training approach. Adults learn better if they get the right motivations, usually based on the usefulness and meaningfulness of what they learn; on being treated on a par (not as “students”); on having a sense of control and purpose (“What am I trying to achieve? Why, when, and how? How am I progressing? Can I influence what happens next?”); on feeling treated with tact and respect (“The lesson is centered on me, not on the language or a book or a silly exercise.” “The teacher knows me personally.”).
Tip # 5: Mix self-study and interactions with teachers. Asynchronous resources are things you can study on your own at any time, e.g., Web pages, videos, online exercises, etc. Synchronous resources are lessons involving a teacher working with you in a classroom, over a phone, or through a Web conference. Asynchronous resources are very flexible (you can use them 24/7) but offer no interaction with a real human being. Synchronous lessons are logistically more complex (you have to book them in advance, allocate time in your agenda – and stick to it) but usually offer a richer and more realistic learning experience. If you choose to use remote lessons (e.g., over the phone or Web), short synchronous lessons (say, 30 minutes) tend to work better than longer ones: Motivation and attention remain high, and cancellations are less likely. A common mistake is to consider eLearning and teacher-based training as alternatives – they are not. Research repeatedly shows that the lowest level of satisfaction in English training is often associated with a pure eLearning-based approach, with little or no interaction with “real” teachers. The most effective approach is so-called blended learning, i.e., a careful, individualized combination of self-study and teacher-led lessons.
Tip # 6: Prefer trainer-led learning. Frequent interactions with good teachers are not just a way to improve learners’ speaking and listening skills. They are also a powerful motivation tool. When teachers, not eLearning tools, are at the core of English learning strategies, satisfaction levels of both learners and training managers are consistently higher, training results are measurably better, and drop-out rates are much lower, as the continuous support by good teachers sustains learners’ motivation.
Tip # 7: Feedback, feedback, feedback. Feedback must be constant and clear to both individuals and companies. Individual learners should be provided clear feedback after each learning event (what you learnt, what mistakes you made and how to correct them, what progress you’re making, what comes next). Companies should also have clear, frequent, aggregate reports about overall attendance and progress.
Tip # 8: Personalize learning as much as you can. No two learners have the same skills, needs, or interests. Rich online content to choose from, combined with one-to-one synchronous lessons, is an ideal way to offer each learner the resources and learning style that suit her/him best. Classroom-based lessons with many attendants are at the other end of the personalization spectrum. Remote synchronous lessons (by phone or Web) are often found to be a good compromise: They cost much less than classroom-based individual lessons, but offer a very high degree of individualization.
Tip # 9: Ask for real and relevant content. If business learners can’t relate to the content (articles, videos, etc.) that they are supposed to study, they quickly get demotivated and stop studying. And even if they keep studying out of sheer will, what they learn may be scarcely useful for their job. So, ask your suppliers to provide content that is realistic and relevant, i.e., clearly relatable to the business processes and industry sectors that your learners work in. Real articles, real news clips, realistic documents (proposals, presentations, emails, etc.) will sustain learners’ interest and motivation to keep reading, listening, and learning. Ideally, online content should be clearly segmented by business process and/or by industry (so users can easily find what’s most useful and interesting for them) and should also be updated with reasonable frequency (stale news tends to arouse little interest). As icing on the cake, if content providers are prestigious, reliable brands, their appeal will be higher.
Tip # 10: Use English lessons as an opportunity to improve other business skills as well. Remember, we’re talking about business English. An interesting side effect often is that your learners will improve other skills, in addition to their English language skills: for instance, presentation skills, meeting management skills, proposal writing skills, etc., since the hands-on business-English exercises they’ll do will be focused on such typical business processes. You’ll get more than just language learning in return for the money you spend.
Tip # 11: Simplify logistics. Language classrooms are often not worth the pain: Schedules tend to be inflexible; cancellations and last-minute no-shows are all too frequent, and training cannot possibly be personalized; the effort-to-result ratio is often poor, unless you have many employees in few locations, with homogenous starting skills and learning profiles and very predictable schedules â€“ a rare situation indeed. So try and maximize the usage of flexible learning strategies: individual lessons (possibly remote ones, over the Web or the phone, so no complex classroom-based logistics are needed); flexible enrolment and cancellation policies, so you can book or cancel at very short notice at little or no cost; and lots of useful resources available asynchronously (i.e., 24/7 in self-service mode) over the Web. Look for mobile tools as well, e.g., training content that can be delivered to a smartphone or a tablet â€“ not just to an Internet-connected PC.
Choosing suppliers Tip # 1: Ask for measurable results. Clear, understandable, and standardized metrics should be used to define the starting point (what learners know and can do before attending the courses) and to measure progress and final results, e.g., how many employees of which type have increased which skills by how much over which time frame. Being able to quantify results is also a powerful way to internally justify training spending.
Tip # 2: Look for standardized processes. Individualization does not mean chaos or arbitrariness: testing, teaching, and reporting should stick to common principles and processes across all teachers and locations. You donâ€™t want wildly different teaching styles, inconsistent content packaging, and erratic progress reports. Larger suppliers tend to provide standardized, consistent approaches across these pivotal processes. This also means that if you have many different user profiles across many regions, you can have a unified, consistent set of tools to track and measure their progress.
Tip # 2: Ask for top-notch teachers. If you choose not to use just Web-based training, but lessons with real teachers as well, this may sound obvious, but it isn’t: You want to have good teachers. This basically means they should be familiar with business English, specifically trained to teach adults, dedicated to this specific job, and familiar with language-teaching best practices. If offered the choice, prefer suppliers who hire their own teachers. This usually results in longer tenure, higher commitment, and more consistent teaching processes. And obviously, all teachers should speak English as their mother tongue.
Tip # 3: Check ease of use of online resources. Accessing Web-based content, booking or cancelling a lesson, finding a grammar tip or the meaning of a word should be a breeze, not a nightmare or a riddle. Especially if you have hundreds or thousands of learners, you don’t want them to be frustrated by unnecessary complications, or to waste time trying to figure out how to do something, or calling a contact center. Ten minutes wasted each day by thousands of puzzled learners is a huge hidden cost your company cannot afford. A simple Web portal with all resources (content, tests, progress, bookings, etc.) is often a good starting point.
Tip # 4: Ask for extra learning resources. Online courses and tests plus individualized synchronous lessons are just the starting point. Many extra resources may prove very handy, especially if they’re easy to tap into, such as online dictionaries, an audio-based pronunciation tool, easily searchable grammar rules, etc.
Tip # 5: Make sure your users will get proper support. Especially if you have hundreds or thousands of trainees, smooth operations is vital. Trainees should be able to get adequate support from your suppliers, both in self-service mode (e.g., via a website with instructions, FAQs, etc.) and via a multi-channel contact center, i.e., one they can contact by email, chat, and/or phone. If possible, define SLAs (service level agreements) for problem resolution. Support reps should not only be easily accessible and efficient – you and your trainees also have a right to expect them to be friendly, too. Ask for customer satisfaction data before starting a new project, and collect your own during the project itself.
Tip # 6: Avoid generalists. If what you look for is business English, make sure that your supplier makes most of its revenue from, and dedicates most of its resources to, well, business English – as opposed to many other languages, and to non-business learners.
Tip # 7: Minimize the number of suppliers. Managing many suppliers costs a lot of time and effort: think RFPs, contracts and renewals, different and incomparable progress reports and metrics, different SLAs, different logistic demands, etc. Keep it simple: It should be about teaching English, not managing contracts, reports and schedules, right?
Tip # 8: Aim for scalability. If your company is big and scattered across several locations, a large global supplier may serve you better than several small, local ones. A large global supplier is more likely to be able to absorb the thousands of new learners you’re ready to throw at it. It will also be able to provide a single point of contact for all reporting (and yelling at if anything goes wrong …) and cover many time zones (so your employees may find a teacher very early in the morning or late in the evening if they choose to). And it may also be a safer choice in terms of long-term continuity (“Will they still be around next year?”).
Putting it all to work While reading the above tips, you probably found that some are more relevant for your company, while others are less important. An easy way to put them in practice, to articulate your needs, and to evaluate potential suppliers might be a table like this: Tip (criterion)
How important is this criterion for my company?
How does Supplier1 score against this criterion?
How does Supplier2 score against this criterion?
How does Supplier3 score against this criterion?
Tips #1 Tips #2 Tips #3
If you use numerical values for importance and scores, and if you multiply each supplier’s score by its importance for your company, the totals in each column will tell you
how closely a supplier matches your needs.
Conclusions and recommendations Being able to understand, write, and speak English fluently is becoming necessary in every work environment. It allows employees either to communicate with clients, colleagues, and suppliers, or simply stay up-to-date. A language gap drives increased costs and risks that companies can no longer accept. However, it is not always easy to choose the right supplier who can deliver customized language training. It will help to follow this guide, which is based on surveys of various users, managers, and buyers of language training in Italy. To summarize, the needs analysis has to take the following into account: a focus on business English, the language your employees need to perform their tasks; emphasis on speaking skills, and not just writing skills; a mix of self-study with eLearning and interactions with a professional teacher who guides learners remotely (less expensive than a face-to-face trainer); authentic and relevant learning materials that are related to the learnerâ€™s job functions and industry ; customized training that is adult-oriented and motivating, and provides constant feedback; and easy and flexible deployment for short remote lessons, with easy scheduling and cancellation systems.
In addition, when choosing suppliers, you should aim to have: standardized processes (including results measurement); high quality trainers who specialize in business English; a rich variety of well-categorized and easy-to-use learning content; efficient multi-channel support and friendly support representatives; and as few suppliers as possible that are specialized and able to ensure continuity and scalability.
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White Paper Humanage - Business English Training