British Council Identifies Business English as Vital to International Business

International corporations reported intercultural skills, such as Business English, is essential to their operations.

When there are multiple languages in the workplace, issues like miscommunication can arise. Often, these issues can result in decreased productivity and collaboration as workers become frustrated trying to understand one another. According to a recent report from the British Council, Business English is a vital factor in bringing the international workforce together for successful interactions.

In fact, the report noted that while Business English allows employees at multinational corporations to interact, it does not negate their individual cultural identity, which is essential to keeping global employees happy and engaged in their positions. Instead, adopting a Business English program is a great way for workers to develop their intercultural skills while still being able to communicate and collaborate with each other in a single language.

Workplace English is widespread among international companies 
The British Council’s report “Culture at Work” focused on how intercultural skills are valued in the global workplace. Developed in conjunction with market research firm Ipsos and technology consulting company Booz Allen Hamilton, the report examined the daily interactions of 367 corporations in nine countries. The report identified Business English language skills as an essential element of a corporation’s workplace interactions as well as external communication, such as with a business partner or client in another country.

According to the report, international communication was a key component for more than two-thirds of surveyed multinational employers. More than 75% of the companies participating in the study reported that their workforce uses Business English on a daily basis and that the business language is an essential element of the organization’s interactions internally and externally. For the majority of the companies, English was the de facto language.

Corporations value intercultural skills for stronger communication  
Most of the corporations surveyed reported Business English is crucial to their business, and it may not come as a surprise that the employers also reported the intercultural skills of their workforce are important to the multinational company’s success. According to the report, having intercultural skills means a person has “the ability to understand different cultural contexts and viewpoints.”

According to the report, intercultural skills include being able to:

  • Be respectful of other cultural traditions
  • Adjust communication strategies
  • Work in diverse teams
  • Build trust with clients and other workers

Not surprisingly, being able to communicate with clients in their chosen language was found to be important to companies, and with Business English being the de facto language of the international business community, proficiency in the language was seen to be highly valued by the companies. The report also noted that when workers did not possess intercultural abilities, such as Business English skills, the company was at risk of losing clients and having high levels of conflict among team members.

In addition, while language proficiency and intercultural skills were seen to be essential, the corporations reported it can be difficult to recruit new employees with the abilities. Due to this challenge, many of the companies chose to educate their existing workforce.

With the workforce becoming increasingly global, more companies are investing in their employees’ language development to meet the growing demand to use Business English.

Consider taking a look at our business case builder, “The Case For Improving Your Company’s Business English,” to identify additional reasons why Business English is the de facto language of the international business community.

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Business English Training Can Help Employees Succeed Internationally

Increase your upward mobility with Business English training

The explosion of globalization over the past few decades has successfully expanded the economies of individual nations. The process has pushed industries together and led to the subtle blending of old borders, making it more accurate to identify sectors of the international economy rather than the independent markets of sovereign states.

Evolving into a more global economy has helped spread unique cultural attitudes and trends around the world, but as Paul Graham, co-found of tech investor Y Combinator, said earlier this year in an interview with Inc. Magazine, not speaking Business English is still a disadvantage, according to Knowledge@Wharton, the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business's online journal. Luckily, Business English training programs are available for companies hoping to keep pace with global trends.

The Proof is Apparent

Graham took a lot of flack following his brash statements this past summer, but the popular tone shifted when Luara Huang, a professor at Wharton, published a paper in the Journal of Applied Psychology defending Graham's position.

Huang wrote that while globalization had introduced more nonnative English speakers into the international workforce, their upward mobility had a limit.

English Around the World

According to Knowledge@Wharton, a report from the United Nations recently noted that 232 million people around the world were international migrants. Of those, 214 million hold jobs outside of their own country. The global marketplace has obviously become a large mix of cultures and languages, but even still, the U.N. report confirmed that more than 1 billion nonnative English speakers were still using the language in the office. Why? Because English is the universal language of business.

The Effects 

The global business community has become so accustom to using English as a universal language that regardless of your ability to speak it, maintaining a strong accent is still seen, as Hunag puts it, as "an explicit stigmatizing mark of foreignness." Initial interviews with foreign companies tend to take place over the phone, making foreign dialects a more prominent aspect of the conversation. This often gives the impression that the candidate may not have the political skills necessary to do the job. 

Huang writes that a talent for politics isn't something you can prove with paper, it's one of those "you know it when you see it" things. Employees with a loose grasp of the language damage their image and hinder their ability to move their careers forward. If leaders doesn't believe in your capacity to interact with other executives across a multitude of markets and industries, it's unlikely they'll invite an employee to join their ranks.

These lessons apply not only to workers who are planning a move onto the international stage, but to businesses as well. Securing investors and cross-market partnerships is paramount to cultivating a sustainable business environment. As we've seen, however, without clear, comprehendible Business English, the most valiant efforts may fall short. Comprehensive training programs exist to satisfy the needs of these burgeoning companies, helping to ensure their successful ascent to the world of international business.

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Incorporate Best Practices Into Corporate English Programs

A few strategies can help corporations maximize their investment in corporate English for professionals and increase staff productivity.

Choosing a Business English program is just the first step toward increasing English language proficiency in the workplace. Along with the deployment of a new learning program, chief language officers, training directors and managers alike should implement best practices to help employees get the most out of each Business English program. A few strategies can help you maximize your investment in corporate English for professionals and increase staff productivity.

1. Embrace virtual-blended learning 
One of the keys to successfully learning a second language is using a virtual-blended learning approach, which integrates the best aspects of human-based training with technological innovations. The New York State Association of Foreign Language Teachers suggests training directors who use virtual-blended learning as the basis for their English programs are able to ensure employees get the most interactive, personalized and flexible programs while staying within their training budgets. Visit our virtual-blended learning page to take a closer look at why it’s one of the keys to improved Business English proficiency in the workplace.

2. Encourage multiple learning styles via the 70:20:10 framework
In working with over 170+ of the most globally admired companies, we’ve seen the best outcomes achieved when executives provide a mix of tools and opportunities to ensure workers are using and improving their Business English every day. The 70:20:10 framework is an innovative model that only the best English learning programs utilize. Under the framework, 70% of the workforce’s Business English education is through on-the-job learning. Informal learning, or social communication with coworkers, accounts for 20% of employee’s Business English education. While traditional classroom education is still an important aspect of learning the business language, the formal learning environment only makes up 10% of the framework. Visit our 70:20:10 framework page to learn why it is the best way to acquire new knowledge.

3. Foster a supportive learning environment
With Business English becoming a strategic pillar for many companies—as a language program owner, you’ll need to foster supportive learning environment. Some building blocks of a supporting learning environment include creating a strong learning community, improving learner confidence and providing on-going feedback and regular motivation. In many cases, the language partner you’re working with should already have tools to help you with many of these building blocks. GlobalEnglish has a proprietary approach called RPM™ (Rewards, Progress and Measurement) that helps English language program administrators motivate and encourage employees directly in the technology. What’s more, for enterprise relationships account managers are usually available to help language program owners deploy the language program with more traditional support tools like learning emails and other templates. Delve deeper into how the RPM approach can help to motivate your workforce on our website.

4. Provide access to performance support tools
In a recent interview with the Social Learning Blog, leading author and proponent of the 70:20:10 framework Charles Jennings talked about why providing performance support tools are so important to learning success: “We have the situations where people are training, they go back to the workplace … and we find that it hasn’t actually changed their behaviors and they can’t do what’s expected of them. So, managers say they need to be trained again. You get this cycle where you’re training and training and training again.”

Some performance support tools available to workers improving their Business English include but aren’t limited to: job-aids like quick reference guides or company specific word-lists (available in GlobalEnglish LinGo Pro™), electronic repositories of template material like emails and presentations, Business English-centric discussion groups or online communities of English experts and learning portals.

Successfully improving your workforce’s Business English proficiency relies on utilizing virtual-blended learning techniques that employ the 70:20:10 framework, cultivating a supportive learning environment for employees and providing workers with the tools they need to continually improve their proficiency in the business language.

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What Do the Best Companies Have in Common? Diversity and Training Programs

Study finds the best businesses tend to offer more training opportunities, like learning Business English

How does one define the perfect job? Is an occupation only as good as its accompanying paycheck, or do perks and incentives also play a role? A "Best Companies to Work For" list recently compiled by Great Place to Work, a global consulting and management training firm, found that the most preferred working environments shared not just one, but a number of similarities, such as diversity and available training.

The abilities to learn and grow within your position, as well as communicate with colleagues and leadership, have become huge selling points, which is why Business English training programs are becoming increasingly popular among international organizations. Providing your employees the skills to communicate in the global economy will not only give them the tools they need to be successful in the industry, but also demonstrate your willingness as a company to invest in their future, creating more sustainable long-term employees.

Workers Want Diversity

According to Great Place to Work's research, the best companies to work for are ambitious. The average annual growth rate of the top 100 companies identified by the list is 6.2%. When considering the past two years, the same organizations grew on average 15.6%. A press release from Great Place to Work referencing Bureau of Labor Statistics data claims these high growth rates are nearly five times that of U.S. companies overall.

To satisfy demand for more talent, top businesses are now regularly expanding their recruitment efforts to look beyond local markets. HR professionals are scouring social networks and job forums to find qualified candidates from halfway around the world, and reaping several benefits in the process. A study from Forbes | Insights revealed 85% of employees feel diversity is an invaluable driver of workplace creativity and innovation, while the Center for American Progress found less inclusive organizations suffer from higher turnover rates.

Until now, one of the primary factors keeping HR departments from exploring foreign markets has been language barriers. However, companies now have the option of using third-party Business English Language programs, which help bring non-native speakers to a communicable level. With Business English, professionals for all background can share and exchange ideas in the global marketplace.

The Value of Training

Good employers offer training. According to data, the average number of on-the-job training hours offered by the list's top 100 companies is 73. For list applicants that failed to make the cut, the average amount of training offered is 38 hours, suggesting that employees appreciate the effort. Great Place to Work claims that by approaching employee development on a micro scale, by looking at each staff member individually, workers will help keep employees interested and motivated. Promoting success through active employee improvement programs demonstrates an organizational commitment to developing talent internally.

Introducing your workforce to Business English is what can only be described as a win-win scenario, as both promoting diversity and providing training opportunities are marks of a successful company. With an increasingly diverse international marketplace, knowing Business English has become almost a requirement to succeeding globally. Introducing language training programs will give employees the tools they need to interact comfortably with foreign investors and partners, as well as co-workers who may not speak English natively. What's more, employees will appreciate the gesture of Business English training. It's one of the most important tools to have in international business, and providing ongoing education will show a company's reliance on and dedication to the success of its own employees.

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BRIC Nations Now Account for 10% of World Investment Flows

Growing BRIC nations are strengthening the need for Business English

As many had predicted, 2013 proved to be a very profitable year for emerging markets in terms of growth. Foreign investors from around the globe have universally agreed on the potential of Brazil, Russia, India and China—also known as the BRIC nations—and, in mass numbers, have begun filling their investment portfolios with offshore opportunities. As a result, more foreign talent and organizations are being introduced into the global economy, making a solid grasp on Business English necessary to succeed internationally.

The 2013 World Investment Report recently released by the United Nations Conference on Trade Development details the success both emerging and and those developing beyond emerging markets have had in terms of foreign direct investment. For the first time ever, the report explains, developing economies, like China and Singapore, accounted for the majority of annual global FDI inflows, amounting to $142 billion in foreign investments. Of the top 10 most invested-in nations, only three name English as their sole native language. The other seven—Russia, Brazil, Singapore, Canada, China, Hong Kong and Offshoring (British Virgin Islands)—have at least one other native language that's not English, and among them, six are developing economies—Canada being the exception. In return, the redirection of FDI inflows to developing economies are allowing the local talent pools to begin expanding into the international workforce, and growing businesses are in a similar situation.

The introduction of these new workers and companies further highlight the need for not only a working knowledge of Business English, but also training programs to help non-native English speakers adjust to the language.

BRIC Nations
Of the four emerging BRIC nations, three were among the most heavily invested in markets in 2013, according to UNCTAD's report. Together, with the UNCTAD including South Africa, the BRIC nations have proved themselves a viable source of growth and revenue. Apart from their impressive FDI inflows, the BRIC nations were also key producers of investors, with outward FDI rising from $7 billion in 2000 to $145 billion in 2012. They now account for 10% of world flows.

Russia
Russia is quickly becoming one of the most powerful markets in the world. According to the UNCTAD report, Russia received $51 billion in FDI inflows last year. The overwhelming investment from European firms and China-based natural resource companies has accelerated growth in the country, but existing communication barriers threaten to slow their momentum.

At 143 million people, Russia's population has a lot to offer the global workforce. Unfortunately, only a small portion of the country speaks English. Statistical data from NationMaster confirms about 7 million people in Russia speak the language, leaving the majority without the adequate tools to communicate with business professionals internationally.

Brazil
According to the UNCTAD, Brazil is  the fourth-largest recipient of FDI inflows and has established itself as a sustainable market in the global economy. Wide investments coming from international oil and natural resource companies have bolstered the country's economies and led to $65 billion in FDI. Much like Russia, though, many in Brazil are limited to their native language of Portuguese. According to The Christian Science Monitor, research from the Brazilian Institute of Public Opinion and Statistics found that only 1 in 5 middle-class adults speaks English. That amounts to nearly half of the country's 199-million-person population.

In recent years, however, Brazil's government has begun to acknowledge the need for the language. With the country set to host both this year's World cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, government officials are placing a new emphasis on building English knowledge. In Rio de Janeiro, public schools are now teaching English to all children between the ages of 6 and 8. For future generations, Brazil's recent decision will help ensure their global relevance is sustainable. But in the mean time, organizations hoping to expand their operations into new markets should incorporate Business English training programs into their core business structure.

China
Next to the United States, China has become the second-most sought after market in regards to FDI. The UNCTAD reported that China is responsible for securing $121 billion in FDI inflows. That's more than Russia and Brazil combined. Their diverse, industrial economy presents many lucrative opportunities for interested investors, but the country is also producing a number of outward investors. Of the $121 billion in outward FDI flows from BRIC nations, China accounted for $84 billion—a record level, according to the UNCTAD.

The Economist reports that 300 million Chinese citizens either already speak or are in the process of learning English. The number becomes even more surprising when you consider that the country has as many—if not more—English speakers than several countries that use it as their official language. China has collectively agreed that the key to global success is knowing Business English.

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Global Growth Increasing the Need for Improved Business English

Establishing relationships internationally means speaking the universal language of Business English

As we continue moving deeper into the new year, a new survey from BofA Merrill Lynch reveals that investors have an increasing appetite for global growth.

Over the last month, expectations for positive growth worldwide have increased 4%, from 67% to 71%. Only a year ago, investors' confidence was faltering. In 2012, a meager 40% of investors had hopes the global economy would strengthen. However, the success of 2013 has helped businesses and their investors regain their assurance, particularly when it comes to the Japanese and Eurozone markets.

Attracted by an expectation of increased global profits, investors are putting their faith in companies emerging from these markets. The reason? Businesses coming out of these areas are preparing themselves to compete not just regionally, but internationally. They're equipping their employees with the means to communicate across national and cultural borders with the universal language of business: English. For example, Takanobu Ito, CEO of Honda in Japan, recognized a need to communicate with business contacts from around the globe and mandated his employees all learn English. Honda's business has since grown exponentially, selling and distributed cars all throughout the world.

Japan
Over the course of the last fiscal year, international investors have begun increasing allocations in Japan. In December alone, a net 34% of asset allocations in the country were overweight or outperforming other markets in the same industry, up 10% from last month. Investors in the area are obviously confident in the market's growth, as nearly one-quarter of investors cite Japan as their preferred market for allocating overweight assets.

Mimicking the trends of international investors, domestic coffers have also began to express confidence in Japan's financial landscape. A third of domestic investors believe the country's equities are undervalued, and even more fully expect Japan's economy to continue strengthening in 2014, pushing more businesses out of the regional market and onto the international stage. Like Honda, companies hoping to compete with more established foreign industry leaders will need to first ensure that staff is capable of communicating fluidly with foreign customers and clients, most of whom are likely to speak Business English—the universal language of the world's economy.

Eurozone
Much like Japan, investors have developed confidence in the European marketplace. Nearly half of all asset allocations in the region are currently overweight, which signifies assurance in Europe's continued performance, and one-quarter of investors from throughout the world admit the Eurozone is where they would prefer to overweight assets.

The internal confidence European backers have is almost overwhelming, with more than 80% predicting an even stronger economic performance in 2014, with very little chance of the region falling back into a recession. With outlooks positive and prospects plenty, investors and European businesses are expected to push upward and outward throughout the New Year. Entering foreign markets, however, can prove exceedingly difficult without executive leadership and staff being able effectively communicate in Business English.

Especially in Europe, where much of the populations consist of native English speakers, communicating proficiently in the universal language of business is almost imperative to finding success. A survey of multinational companies in the area, conducted by the Global Alliance in Management Education, found that nearly all of MNCs operating out of Europe require at least an intermediate understanding of Business English, with more than half requiring advanced knowledge. While these businesses are addressing the need for a means to communicate across national and cultural boundaries, they are also ignoring the fact that speaking English is not necessarily the perfect indicator of talent.

By strictly hiring staff who already have a grasp on Business English, they may be ignoring potential assets whose only detriment is their inability to speak a second language. With Business English training programs, companies working to branch out from regional marketplaces, like Europe and Japan, can expand their recruitment efforts to include applicants from emerging markets, such as India and China. While knowing Business English is a vital skill needed for a company to compete internationally, it's not a talent exclusive to native speakers. Anyone can learn Business English on-the-job, just so long as they have the performance support tools available.

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Top 10 Business English stats

English is the fastest spreading language in human history

Long before the introduction of the Internet, or even the computer, the borders of economies began to blur, relaxing the once well-drawn lines and allowing businesses from across the globe to interact in ways never before thought possible. Companies from China, India, Brazil, the U.S. and other countries are interacting in the Global Economy, and they're able to do so because, as a community, they've established a common tongue: Business English.

English: It's big

  • In all of human history, English is the fastest spreading language ever developed.
  • 565 million people use English on the Internet, says the Harvard Business Review
  • While 385 million people are native English speakers, more than 1.75 billion speak the language worldwide.

The new European standard

  • The collection of languages in Europe make it an interesting place to visit, but 99% of organizations on the continent use Business English, according to a study from Elsevier
  • English is particularly popular in Scandinavia, where Danish companies conduct nearly 80% of their international Business in English.
  • Nearly three-fourths of European companies boast executives who speak more than one language, and more than 90% in Sweden, Greece, Spain and the Netherlands.

The need for on-the-job Business English support
Being able to communicate in English is a skill many companies look for.

  • In fact, a study from MIT entitled The Review of Economics and Statistics revealed bilingualism correlates with a 2.8% increase in average hourly earnings.
  • A study conducted at the Industrial University of Selangor in Malaysia found almost half of students speaking Business English feel a sense of panic prior to having to speak the language
  • The same study found roughly 40% of students experience nervousness when having to speak Business English, even when they felt they were adequately prepared to do so.
  • The prospect of having to speak English in front of peers led students to feel anxious and worry their classmates would later ridicule or judge them.
  • GlobalEnglish's 2013 Business English Index found that 92% of employees report that English is good for their jobs, but only 7% claim to speak the language well enough to perform their duties. Read about our solutions to learn more. 

The world of global industry has accepted Business English as its preferred language. The burden is now on companies and prospective employees who hope to compete in the global economy to adapt, but learning to communicate in a foreign language can be exceptionally challenging. Business English training programs exist to help guide businesses and their staff use a more universal means of communication.

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