Effective language training for international assignees

Eric Aasheim of Global LT explains how and why integrated blended language learning works for multinational corporations, international assignees, and accompanying family members.

Man learning on computer
As VP of Strategy and Business Development at US-based destination services provider Global LT, Eric Aasheim oversees the delivery of cultural and language support around the world, and explains here the benefits of this type of training:Trying to learn a foreign language without the full benefits of an integrated blended training programme is like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube with one hand tied behind your back: you may eventually succeed, but not without unnecessary delay and frustration, and a powerful temptation to give up along the way.I’ll admit the analogy is a little forced (not to mention several decades out of date), but hopefully you get my point.Trends in corporate training and development have evolved dramatically over the last decade, in response to emerging technologies and the ways in which an ever-younger workforce of busy adult business professionals chooses to learn. For language training to remain relevant, convenient, and effective for international assignees and family members, blended learning approaches need to keep pace with these changing trends.It’s hard to read a recent article or white paper about corporate learning and development that does not delve into the benefits of blended training. However, most blended training approaches only go as far as recommending the combination – and not necessarily the integration – of instructor-led training and self-paced online learning.They tend to focus on blended training from the point of view of the instructors and facilitators, and not on blended learning from the point of view of the learners and the organisation.At a minimum, effective blended language programmes should provide customised instructor-led language training via face to face and a virtual classroom platform that is aligned to the scope and sequence of a self-paced online language-training programme.

Combining approaches

The integration of the instructor-led approach with an e-learning programme provides the necessary level of engagement and accountability to help ensure a successful language learning experience for relocating employees and family members. Since most employees and busy family members only have time for one or two language lessons per week, the addition of the integrated self-paced online programme is necessary to provide the opportunity for critical daily practice in between the scheduled lessons with an instructor.In addition, the e-learning solutions offered by industry leading companies like Rosetta Stone and Pearson English and enhance the blended language training approach: mobile applications, social and collaborative learning platforms, on-demand resources and practice activities to improve pronunciation, writing skills, scenario-specific business communication and vocabulary, interactive videos, and gamified learning environments that keep language learners engaged and motivate them to succeed.When these resources are successfully integrated with customised instructor-led training, the result is a student-centred learning experience that optimises an organisation’s cost and time, and has measurable benefits. Companies that provide a blended language learning programme for their international assignees and approved family members utilise from 10 per cent to 30 per cent more of their approved instructional hours on average than companies that provide only instructor-led or self-paced online training as stand-alone programmes.Higher utilisation rates lead to more accelerated language proficiency attainment, better feedback, and overall higher levels of satisfaction.The addition of virtual instructor-led training and self-paced online language programmes effectively extends the training reach of organisations while optimising cost and time.Small-group virtual training classes allow for increased diversity of participants. Employees from different countries, company locations and divisions can participate together in a virtual group class in a convenient and cost-effective way that is not possible within the traditional face-to-face instruction. Self-paced e-learning programmes are on-demand tools that help encourage employees to continue learning outside the traditional workday.

Engaging employees

To be best-in-class training programmes, blended language learning approaches need to ref lect the way adult business professionals learn best in general. They also need to consider the way a distinct and growing sector of the workforce prefers to learn in particular.Gen Y will make up 75 per cent of the workforce by the middle of the next decade. Yes, everyone is looking at you, Millennials! In addition, 78 per cent of those same employees say they feel more motivated and engaged when they can access learning content on a mobile device, for instance.How do adult business professionals learn best? The answer is, in a lot of different ways. A multi-modality learning approach that combines opportunities for formal (face-to-face and virtual instructor-led), informal (social and collaborative), and technology-based (online and mobile) learning is key.The best way to engage today’s workforce in a blended learning programme is to make sure there is equal emphasis on the importance of these synchronous and asynchronous learning approaches.Gamified learning is also finding a firm toehold in corporate training environments. Gamification employs game mechanics to motivate participation, engagement, and loyalty through intrinsic reward systems that allow employees to earn points, attain levels, purchase real and virtual goods, and participate in competitions and challenges with fellow team members and employees.A gamified structure is more common than not in most recently developed language apps and e-learning programmes, and an obvious and ideal way to spark higher levels of utilisation and engagement in a comprehensive blended language learning programme. Research on gamification in corporate learning demonstrates that high levels of engagement lead to increased productivity, profits, quality and employee retention.Lastly, today’s workers want learning to be relevant to their day-today responsibilities and useful in developing broader workplace abilities.It sounds obvious. However, for blended language learning to be effective, it needs to be designed to align with strategic business objectives. It’s not just about developing second language proficiency, but equally about closing skills gaps, achieving job-specific performance metrics, and influencing desired workplace habits and behaviours positively.

A better way

When blended language programmes are built in such a way that they contribute directly to a company’s learning and development imperatives, employees move away from the concept of Beginning Mandarin or Business English Writing merely as courses to be completed. They view them as part of a continuous learning process with active participation by the entire organisation.The variety of tools and resources provided by the blended learning approach is particularly well suited to international assignees working in a global business environment, living in a culture and target language that is not their own, and making daily use of a vast array of technologies and techniques – mobile, virtual, video, collaborative – to perform critical workplace responsibilities.During the course of an international assignment, expatriate employees will be bombarded by the target language through various mediums and from every possible direction, both traditional and technological. It makes sense to bring this same diversity of tools to help them learn their target language and increase their value to their organisations.Integrated blended language learning is an optimal approach for multinational corporations and international assignees. Don’t take on the Rubik’s Cube-like challenge of learning a foreign language with one hand tied behind your back. There is a better way.For further information go to Global-LT.comTelephone: +1 (888) 645 5881Email: Don't miss the Re:locate Guide to International Education & Schools, click here.Click here to read the full digital issue of Re:locate magazine Autumn 2015Download the Relocate Global App by searching for "Relocate Global" at the Apple iTunes App Store or the Google Play Shop now.   If you're a Relocate subscriber, you can get the latest content by logging into the App using your subscriber email address and the password "relocate".  If you're not a Relocate subscriber, you can register now for a digital subscription, which will also give you access to all of our App con

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