Why a Language Strategy Is Crucial for All Growing Businesses

September 15, 2015

Why a Language Strategy Is Crucial for All Growing Businesses

Consumption in emerging markets is expected to hit a staggering $30 trillion by 2025. Subsequently, this growth is driving many global companies to expand in areas where English is not the native language. In fact, according to a recent study presented by strategy+business magazine, 71 percent of business leaders currently plan to grow their companies in markets where English is not even currently spoken. And with only one in ten Americans able to speak a second language, language acquisition is even more imperative to a business' emerging markets growth strategy. For today's corporations to successfully accomplish their global expansion goals, HR teams and business leaders need to work together to ensure employees are equipped with a complementary strategic language plan.


A recent study commissioned by Rosetta Stone revealed 90 percent of managers say their teams face language proficiency challenges, yet only one-third are actually working with their HR departments to overcome these linguistic obstacles. This disconnect can lead to duplicated efforts, often resulting in wasted time and resourcesincluding money. Well-meaning business line leaders in various departments who spot language barriers may try to overcome them by haphazardly purchasing and implementing a language program for their team members. More often than not, though, this strategy is counterproductive, as multiple language programs may be used throughout one company, and business leaders typically do not have the experience of HR professionals in selecting and implementing learning programs with staying power.


Anticipating the linguistic challenges that accompany growth and developing a strategic language training plan that addresses these challenges presents HR professionals with the opportunity to add value to their organizations in an area that, today, is likely a major blind spot among leadership. For example, if your company is looking to expand distribution into Latin America in the next year or two in order to achieve growth targets, your CEO may not be thinking about the fact that departments from across the organizationfrom accounting to HR to operationswill need adequate Spanish language skills in order to get the distribution channels up and running on time. It's therefore vital for HR to start planning a Spanish language acquisition program for employees in advance of this expansion.


A language strategy can be streamlined into three crucial steps:


  1. Document linguistic and cultural competency skills that exist within your workforce, as well as diagnose those skills gaps.
  2. Map the necessary language and cultural communication skills to your organizational goals.
  3. Infuse global communication skill development into employee development plans.

The implementation of a language strategy may seem daunting, but there are many resources available to help HR partner with business line leaders to assess how language skills will help drive their business plan. For example, Rosetta Stone, in conjunction with HR industry experts, developed a toolkit that addresses the steps outlined above to assist HR teams in developing and implementing strategic language programs for their employees. Included in the toolkit is a survey designed to help HR teams effectively document the existing language and cultural skills of their workforce, and diagnose employees' communication skills gaps; a talent map designed to help HR teams map language and cultural communication skills to their organizational goals; and a focused employee development plan that puts global communication skill development front and center as employees define their professional aspirations with their manager. These are valuable tools that HR leaders can leverage when determining the best path for their organization.


Bottom Line: To be successful in the global marketplace, the skills of your talent must match the needs and expectations of your customers. Global businesses need to be prepared to evolve as your customer base does.  HR professionals must ensure they are proactively thinking about the language skills that are an inevitable part of a global growth strategy. And the onus is on you to make sure employees get the training they need for the business to succeed in these new markets.

The Authors: 

Sheerin Vesin is the HR practice lead for Rosetta Stone's Enterprise & Education Marketing Group where she leads research and thought leadership in global human capital trends for Rosetta Stone's growing B2B segment. Prior to joining Rosetta Stone in 2011, she held a variety of business development and marketing roles in the U.S. and Europe for a social technology start-up and a B2B publisher. Before joining the global business community, Sheerin was a foreign language instructor with the French National Ministry of Education, where she developed an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) curriculum, and taught at multiple grade levels, including in higher education. She has also worked as a freelance French-English translator. Sheerin was a finalist for the 2014 Women in Technology Rising Star award. She can be reached at svesin@rosettastone.com.