What Do Language Proficiency Levels Really Tell Us About Learning?

Men and women attending a lecture on language training for business

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There is no question that offering your workforce language tutoring will positively impact employee retention, engagement, recruitment, and even global business expansion. It’s no longer a nice-to-have benefit but one that sets the foundation for successful workforce practices that span organizations, not just individual roles. 

But how can you really know if offering your workforce language benefits is worth it? Learning a language is time-consuming and requires a significant investment in vulnerability – two things that aren’t readily offered to employees regarding benefits. Traditionally, language proficiency levels have been the best tool to determine how well a person is evolving through their language-learning journey, but the model is flawed. 

To understand why the model is flawed, we must first examine how language learning is traditionally measured. 

Understanding Language Proficiency Levels

Language proficiency is commonly categorized into levels ranging from basic to advanced. The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) provides a widely accepted scale divided into six levels: A1 (beginner) to C2 (proficient). Each level represents a set of skills, including speaking, listening, reading, and writing.

1.    A1 and A2 (Beginner Levels): Employees at these levels can understand and use basic expressions in familiar situations. They may be able to introduce themselves and ask simple questions, but their communication is limited. Think back to your first year of high school language. What’d you really retain? How to say your name, a few greetings, maybe talking about the weather? This is a surface-level conversation that won’t significantly impact meaningful communication. 

2.    B1 and B2 (Intermediate Levels): Individuals at these levels can handle more complex language tasks. They can express opinions, discuss work-related topics, and understand the main ideas of professional conversations. This isn’t full language proficiency, but it is enough to be effective. Language learning during this phase goes beyond niceties and typically includes role and job-specific language learning. 

3.    C1 and C2 (Advanced Levels): Proficient speakers can communicate effectively and professionally. They can understand complex texts, engage in discussions, and produce well-structured written content. Achieving this level means you can be dropped into any conversation about any topic and communicate effectively. 

Those are pretty reasonable and straightforward ways to understand how language is taught and learned, right? 

Nope. They don’t even scratch the surface of what it takes to learn a language and don’t tell the whole story about what it takes to have a meaningful conversation in a second language. So, how can you really know if your workforce is excelling in their language-learning journey? You have ROI to worry about, after all. 

Assessing Language Proficiency in the Workplace

Now that you understand the proficiency levels evaluating whether your workforce is meeting these language goals is crucial. Consider the following strategies. 

1.    Conduct Language Assessments. A simple language assessment is a great way to understand where learners start. They aren’t great for long-term validation of learning, but having a jumping-off point will give you a baseline for how much time and commitment is involved in achieving language goals. This can be done through standardized tests, language courses, or interviews. Language assessments should be taken with a grain of salt, though. Not everyone tests well and may do poorly on a test when they can communicate effectively in real life. 

2.    Monitor Workplace Communication. Not in a ‘Big Brother’ way, but rather in a “where can we plug the gaps through language” way. Pay attention to how well your team communicates in various situations. Are they able to articulate ideas clearly? Can they engage in effective cross-cultural communication? If the answer is unclear or even a “no,” then you know it’s time to either implement or ramp up language tutoring. 

3.    Encourage Professional Development. Support language learning initiatives within your organization. Provide resources such as language courses, workshops, and online tools to help employees enhance their skills. Prioritize learning with a specific goal in mind. It is less about conjugating verbs (although useful information to know) and more about exchanging valuable information. Closing the knowledge gap through language acquisition is the easiest way to transfer ideas, improve collaboration, and signal employees that you’re dedicated to their long-term success. 

Benefits of Learning a Language with Workplace Goals in Mind

Have you ever started a project or a hobby without a goal in mind? Imagine going to the gym without a goal. You don’t know if you want your legs to be stronger or if you want to increase your endurance. Kind of hard to come up with a plan to get there, right? The same applies to language learning. Without a goal, it turns into another task, and the benefits won’t be tangible to you or the employee learning that language. In fact, starting language learning without a goal will increase the likelihood that learners will quit learning, and that’s not helpful for them or your organization. 

Before anyone takes their first lesson, it’s up to you to determine why they’re learning anything in the first place. Is a merger happening, and you need a team to speak to lawyers, bankers, and other stakeholders? Great, then your goal is business-specific language. Do you want to hire employees with diverse cultural backgrounds but want to ensure they’re successful in their communications with other employees? Amazing! Your goal is better team communication, and lessons can be tailored to include watercooler talk, how to give a presentation and more tangible takeaways. 

Here are a few ways that language learning at work is beneficial. 

1.    It improves collaboration. Language proficiency facilitates better communication and collaboration among team members, reducing misunderstandings and enhancing productivity. No one is successful unless they can authentically express their ideas and thoughts.
2.    It enhances problem-solving capabilities. Proficient language skills enable employees to tackle complex issues more effectively, fostering innovative problem-solving within the workplace. This makes the employee feel valued, heard, and respected – all three important factors keeping them engaged and excited about their contribution to the work. 

As a people manager, understanding and promoting language proficiency within your team is key to achieving workplace success. You can create a more communicative, collaborative, and globally competitive workforce by assessing current proficiency levels, encouraging professional development, and recognizing the real-world benefits of language learning. 

If you’re ready to create a culture of learning and diversity, let’s chat about how language and cultural training can bridge survival and success. Global LT’s teachers are trained to teach any language, anywhere in the world. We focus on real-world goals and outcomes, not just levels of proficiency. 

Click here to get started. 

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