Why language skills are critical in the new digital normal

Why language skills are critical in the new digital normal

With much of the world working, learning and socializing remotely, it makes sense that people and organizations are doubling down on improving tech skills. Due to COVID lockdowns, we’ve all been scrambling to be better acquainted with video- and audio-conferencing, content co-creation, file-sharing – essentially, ways of going about our professional and personal days, but digitally.

Companies are conducting rapid triages of digital learning offerings, and concerning themselves with understanding how to onboard a new employee remotely; how to train a large workforce to use new platforms that enable business continuity; how to restructure to account for less need for physical space, and what this new structure means for productivity.

We even hear from our customers that “Speexx is the New Normal.” for them these days. So, one thing organizations must not forget to invest time and resources on is language skills. In this new digital normal, language skills are more important than ever – here’s why.

Remote work means we must overcompensate with strong language skills

We lose context and nuance when we’re not having face-to-face conversations. Without someone’s facial expressions, body language or gestures, we might miss a message entirely – even one delivered to us in our own native tongue!

While we can’t prevent seeing where someone’s body is pointing (if we’re being spoken to but a colleague’s torso is turned away, it’s easy to deduce she wants to end the conversation), we’re best poised to understand one another by ensuring we speak the same language – literally, and fluently. This was true in an increasingly globalized world, even more so now with everyone working remotely and companies unlikely to open or keep physical office spaces.

Indeed, it’s possible that we’ll have more new colleagues joining our firms from other countries – with everyone virtual, there’s less of a need for people in-office. We can’t communicate effectively – and do business well – without having a common linguistic ground. And the more languages we all speak, the better.

Written language skills still dominate the workplace

Written language skills still dominate the workplace

Even in a world full of data and algorithms, writing is important! Text-based language skills still dominate the workplace. In the years and months leading up to the arrival of COVID-19, we relied on emails and instant messages for daily communication. But now, without the luxury of face-to-face conversations with colleagues in a physical workplace, we depend even more on written communication.

We all know that even a perfectly translated piece of content – tightened up with all the correct grammar, spelling and vocabulary – can be read and digested in many ways, based on syntax, context, nuance and more.

Without full mastery of a language, and deep knowledge of how said language might be understood, key takeaways from messages can be misinterpreted, or worse – potentially offensive, or altogether lost.

It’s crucial, then, that we get the message exactly right for communication to be effective and for business to run smoothly. We explore how to improve written communication in the workplace in a previous post.

Virtual classrooms are going to replace online learning

Before the pandemic hit, HR and L&D managers, as well as employees, didn’t think virtual classrooms were as crucial as actual, physical rooms. Online learning was seen as a nice-to-have, though a lot of corporate learning took place in workshops or sessions in within the office space itself.

Now, not only is it “safer” – even mandated, in some cases – for people to do their learning from home, but even massive, financially stable companies all over the world are getting rid of up to 30% of their physical office spaces.

Indeed, PricewaterhouseCoopers urges organizations to take stock of their real estate and consider remodeling existing offices to reduce office space needs. It simply doesn’t make sense to pay rent, electricity, and other costs for a location that no one is going to use.

This forces HR and L&D managers to rethink where people will do their learning.

The answer, as we know, is online.

So, how do strong language skills factor in here? With a massive shift from face-to-face to online learning, understanding is critical. There can be no miscommunication between a coach and user if he or she is to learn something effectively – whether it be learning Mandarin or Spanish, or memorizing unique selling propositions (if you’re an employee new to a company and doing your onboarding orientation), or understanding crucial new updates to GDPR laws.

Language skills can be attractive to stakeholders

Bigger and better opportunities can be seized – and problems more efficiently addressed – when individuals and teams can confidently and effectively engage with internal and external stakeholders of different cultures and nationalities.

Common languages between workers can foster stronger working relationships, thereby improving productivity and morale. Not to mention day-to-day, practical cost and time benefits to in-house learning capabilities through reduced reliance on external, freelance translators.

Speexx has offices scattered throughout the globe, and our workforce speaks (and writes!) more than 30 languages fluently. We know from experience how much time and costs can be saved without needing to depend on third-party translations.

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Strong language skills ensure the message is delivered correctly

We know that even the difference between American and British English is vast. It’s not enough to do an accurate translation between one language to another; and throwing a ton of money at a translator is not only costly, but could still result in some of your key messages being lost – after all, third parties and external freelancers don’t know the ins and outs of your business the way that your own employees do.

Different cultures communicate in different ways, and humor that works in Italy might fall flat in Germany, even if a text in translated as perfectly and directly as possible. It’s important to have people who speak many languages also have firsthand knowledge and understanding of the cultures behind these languages to ensure that subtle nuance, even historical context and cultural sensitivity are all considered.