What Motivates Employees to Learn a New Language?
There is little doubt that companies benefit from having multilingual employees. Staff members who know a second language can provide basic translation services. Sales and customer service representatives tend to enjoy better rapport and success in the market if they speak the native language of the people they’re contacting. All it takes is a little imagination to perceive the benefits of employing a multilingual workforce in almost every conceivable corporate context.
However, hiring multilingual staff isn’t always possible. A specific candidate may be uniquely qualified for a position in all other ways except multilingualism. And training and experience take time and resources, so it doesn’t make sense to replace existing staff just because they do not speak a language relevant to corporate interests.
In this case, the simplest option is to train current employees in the language in question.
Motivation: The Key to Language
The consensus among language teachers is that motivation is crucial in language acquisition. However, while employees who are loyal to the company and dedicated to its vision are unlikely to baulk at a request for them to learn a new language, there is no guarantee that they will be enthusiastic about the process of doing so. This is especially true if they are native English speakers.
An employer can ask, tell or require an employee to learn a new language—but if they aren’t sufficiently motivated, it just won’t happen. There are two main types of motivation to consider: integrative and instrumental.
Languages are tied to a specific culture. A learner who appreciates and admires that culture is more likely to be inspired to integrate with it by learning the language. Such an individual is said to have integrative motivation.
Not all language learners have integrative motivation. Many of them want to learn a language for a more utilitarian purpose. They may want to meet a requirement for school or be able to read technical material for their job. This is called instrumental motivation.
While these two types of motivation are different, they’re not mutually exclusive. Language teachers agree that having both integrative and instrumental motivation has the best results and is the most likely to build successful language learning and retention over the long term.
How Can Employers Motivate Staff to Learn a New Language?
There are a variety of ways an employer can facilitate his or her workforce’s appreciation for a specific culture or language.
Hold or Attend Events that Celebrate a Culture
Human Resources representatives or team leaders may want to organize weekend or after-hours social events that involve attendance at cultural fairs or festivals. At these events, employees can enjoy the festivities or even initiate personal relationships with speakers of the target language. This is a fun activity for everyone involved and helps build integrative motivation. Another option is to host culturally themed lunches or events in the office.
Instrumental motivation is important as well, and the most obvious way to facilitate it is through corporate incentives. These could range from simple cash prizes to expedited career advancement for employees who demonstrate a certain level of proficiency in the target language. A good place to start (especially if an employer’s staff consists largely of millennials) is by offering positive feedback or verbal encouragement.
Provide Active Facilitation
Many employers choose to subsidize or pay for language instruction, and/or hold classes on office premises during office hours. Investing in such measures facilitates both integrative and instrumental motivation.
Whether language training is optional or mandatory for employees, sufficient motivation ensures much better results. Second language acquisition by employees takes time and resources, but with a little thought and planning, employers can help increase employee motivation and consequently see an improved ROI on their employee development program.
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