Busting The Top 7 Language Learning Myths (Part VII)

Could outdated language development programs founded on old-fashioned methodologies be costing your company millions?

It’s a fact that the world of business today is dramatically different from what it was 10 years ago. Yet I frequently see organizations struggling with language learning programs that are founded on old-fashioned methodologies—using out-dated language learning programs could be costing your company millions!

So this post, along with six others that address the seven myths of language learning  based on my recent research report, makes the connection between long-held language learning beliefs and employee and employer frustration, low productivity and lost revenues. You can download the full report or read individual blog posts to learn more about each myth.

For now, I’ll debunk the last and final language learning myth which focuses on the misconception that a basic understanding of English is good enough for the world of business.

Myth 7: I understand English—that’s good enough

I must stress that understanding a language, producing it and then using it in context involves very different mental processes. In 1985 Canadian linguist Merrill Swain proved that:

…we can comprehend a great deal of language, even though we don’t understand much of the grammar, as long as we understand the situation. However, we can’t produce anything but very basic ideas if we don’t have grammar…

So simply understanding English is not good enough!

Myth 7: I understand English—that’s good enough

Especially in the context of business—when employees are equipped with only basic English skills—this language disparity leads to poor employee contribution, mediocre communication and limited collaboration. And these missed opportunities in turn affect business outcomes and your entire organization’s level of Enterprise Fluency.

We all know that more and more business is conducted virtually and many companies are trying to “do more with less” while at the same time trying to accelerate innovation. But if a significant portion of your workforce can only understand basic English—and can’t truly communicate, collaborate or operate—how can they possibly innovate? The only way companies can take full advantage of their workforce is when employees can speak up and share innovative ideas in the common language of business, English!

If you’re serious about advancing your organization’s proficiency in Business English ensure you take a long, hard look at your English training to ensure your programs are based on the reality of language learning instead of the following outdated myths:



Adults should learn a second language in the same way as children learn a first language First and second language acquisition are fundamentally different processes
Traditional instruction is best Internet-based instruction, which is self-paced and distributed, should be considered as a supplement to or replacement for traditional instruction
Developing business communication skills in English is the same as learning general ESL While there is some overlap, Business English is not the same as general English
You can’t learn while you work An integration of learning and application in the workplace provides an optimal environment for effective language learning
Only managers need competence in English Competence in English is required at all levels of an organization
Translation tools are good enough Translation tools are inadequate for effective business communication
I understand English–that’s good enough Understanding (comprehension) is necessary but not sufficient for effective business communication

I personally believe that these myths prevent many companies from providing world-class resources to their workers thus restricting both the employee and the enterprise from reaching their full potential. Don’t you think it’s time for more corporate leaders, especially those responsible for language development and training, to catch up with the 21st century? Download the full report today!


Posted in : Building a 21st Century Workforce, Creating productive virtual and global teams, Global Communication, Global Enterprises Need Business English, Growth & Opportunities in emerging markets, Insights & Research, Talent Management
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  • The post you wrote is really interesting.

  • I agree with David that there is a myth about that “Traditional instruction is best”. However the reality he poses is a “new age one”. The truth of the matter is that people have been learning second languages to perfection for thousands of years. Of course many don’t so they turned eventually to instruction. The trouble is that the instruction they received is many times based on understandings of learning that have been disproved.
    What we need is instruction ( whether traditional or not is not the issue here) that enables language learners to not only be successful in their language learning but also to learn what they have to do so they can be that WITHOUT instruction eventually. Because the reality is that it is only the ones who learn how to learn who will get to be native like in a second language.
    That is what all language learners want I am sure.

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