Businesses are living in the era of global culture, communication and commerce, greatly increasing the need for multilingual capacity. Little wonder that language learning has become a crucial component of corporate learning programs in the past decade.
Research from Technavio indicates that the corporate language learning market is on the cusp of major expansion. The market research firm released its findings in a press release, showing that corporate online language learning in the U.S. is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 16% between 2017 and 2021.
Is the corporate language learning industry headed for big changes in the next couple of years? Experts seem to think so.
Why all this attention on language learning in the corporate world?
For starters, businesses no longer operate with geographic limits anymore. The internet has made every industry a global one. Because of this, nearly every working adult will at some point encounter language and cultural barriers that can make things challenging. Emerging technologies will have an impact as well.
“Artificial intelligence is now pushing up against human learning of languages," said Jeremy Stynes, President of Lootok said, "and with it being so much more accurate now, it’s easy to see how this could become scalable.”
Ignore these trends at your own risk. Stynes shared the story of a former employer that spent a great deal of time and money on localizing the language of corporate training content, only to discover that there were tools (like Google translator) that provided a far better solution.
Is AI the solution to language learning?
Tech commercials now tout the benefits of wearable translation devices that help travelers talk to locals. Devices like ‘Pilot,' manufactured by Waverly Labs, and ‘ili,' created by Logbar, Inc., give us a fascinating look into what should be a revolutionary moment for human communication.
Yet, there are some things that a machine cannot do well, says Stynes. For example: "understanding the very human traits and cultural diversity of other nations." This is where companies can and should focus their learning efforts — cultural sensitivity training first, language second.
Think about last year's blockbuster movie “Arrival”, when ominous space craft appear on earth and a linguistics professor (played by actress Amy Adams) must interpret the message from an advanced species of aliens. In the movie, Adams is unable to communicate with the aliens until she embraces the uniqueness of their culture, something that other characters overlook.
The takeaway: technology has its limits when it comes to language, whose true meaning lay behind the literal translation of specific words and phrases.
Increasing employee engagement with language learning
Another benefit that the Technavio report revealed is that language learning may beget greater employee engagement. The findings indicate that language learning programs help to engage employees in professional development, and once they are proficient in a new language, this skill can support leadership and loyalty.
As Rosetta Stone indicated in a report published in Chief Learning Officer magazine, “8 out of 10 respondents feel more engaged on the job because of employer-provided language training.” The investment in helping employees better understand other languages and cultures can bring people together so they can be more productive and sensitive to diversity in the workplace.
“Employers can provide language training, but it must be approached from the cultural standpoint first, language second," said Stynes.