There are many reasons why a business may have staff for whom English is not their first language and the level of English among non-native speakers can vary enormously. Some staff may be happy to chat away in English and stumble on the odd word others may be missing some major points and struggle to communicate as they want too. Whatever their level most non-native speakers would admit it can be stressful and in the workplace it can have other negative aspects too, but there is an answer and once again it’s all thanks to the internet!
This can be a contentious area but there are some simple truths most business owners and staff would agree on. Not being able to communicate as well as we would want to can put barriers up between people. This is true in the workplace as it is in any other part of our lives. Communication is the key to so much and when it is less than fluid things can slow down, become stressed, confused and even cause some animosity in extreme cases. But there are other issues that can arise from working in a primarily English speaking company and not knowing the “lingo”. Health and safety instructions could potentially be misunderstood which could lead to some very bad situations indeed. The best case might be a task not done properly, but worst case someone could get hurt! There is also a customer facing aspect where some employees may be highly skilled but due to language barriers are not able to speak to clients and customers.
Positive Effects of Improved English Skills
On the flip side staff gaining better English language skills can change things enormously. Imagine a staff room divided by a lack of a common language; there are doubtless quite a few out there. By taking a proactive role in supporting non-native English speaking staff to learn this divide can be lessened if not banished forever. There is a clear benefit to staff in terms of being happier and able to communicate with more ease. There are certainly health and safety benefits but there is also a reduced risk of errors because staff can understand instructions more. Skilled people can be frustrated by a language barrier but a company can really start to benefit from their staff when they can engage more with customers and colleagues.
Well, the obvious answer is for companies to either pay for or encourage staff to take English courses. These can, however, be very expensive and time consuming. Lessons could be during the day and take up a lot of work time or in the evening and be a poor fit for staff members in terms of family life. So, face to face traditional lessons don’t always work, cue online learning! This super flexible learning format means staff can take courses at any time and on any device. They may wish to take a lesson at lunch, on the train to work, before bed…it really is up to them and so becomes much more positive. Companies like https://perfectlyspoken.com/ are one of the leading suppliers of online English courses and are among a few others that provide this type of service. What they are doing is not altruism as such, they are businesses, but the by-product of these businesses making money is a service that can help other business improve and make money too! As well as course there are other ways a business can help support a non-native English speaker to feel more comfortable and work happily.
Care and Support
Online learning really is the best way to improve the working lives of non-native English speaking staff. For the company it means they can take on people with the right skills and help with language as part of that and for staff it may mean being happier and more productive. It may also help integration, confidence and progression in a role. However, it isn’t a silver bullet, it is something that needs to be dealt with carefully and with support. A company has to make online English courses available, but line managers must be sensitive to how they suggest this. For someone who is happy with their English skills it may be quite offensive to be put on a course, so encouragement and availability are key. Also, just because online courses are convenient it does not mean they are easy. Staff will need some support and encouragement to finish the courses as well as having them paid for. With the right support staff should make their way through their learning and gain all the benefits as well as feel looked after and supported by the business.
Online learning is becoming a very serious competitor of more traditional learning in many areas but non more so than English learning. In a multicultural country with skilled people from many backgrounds every business should be ready to offer this kind of support as it does help the business in many ways as well as helping individuals.
Photo credits: Coworking London