July 30, 2021

Language Learning Increases Effective Global Communication

New language skills benefit globally mobile talent and employers alike

There are many lessons we can all take from the global pandemic. One that quite a few of us have come to appreciate is just how much the ways in which we communicate with and stay connected to each other really DO matter.

Given the sheer volume of employees and managers who had to learn to navigate online meetings, desktop cameras, speakers, lighting, backdrops and noise reduction in home office settings – or speak through masks and other protective equipment in person, and at safe distances – we quickly came to know the value of effective communication in new ways, including the importance of language learning.

Many professionals used some of their newly found extra time during the worst stages of lockdown in early 2020 to master a hobby or learn a new skill. Not a bad plan, considering The World Economic Forum’s predictions that half of all employees will need some form of reskilling by 2025, with active learning and new learning strategies at the top of the list.

However, now that business travel and assignments are resuming in many parts of the world, we’re re-learning some nuances to social and workplace communication skills that we might have taken for granted in a pre-COVID world. What’s the elevator capacity and meeting room etiquette? How do we handle in-person greetings appropriately without causing offense or making people uncomfortable? What can we do to make the most of meetings where some are together in the same room and others are connecting virtually?

“There is an art to adapting to new ways to communicate, 
either through digital tools and changing social norms – 
not unlike the art of learning to appreciate a new culture and language.”


It can be uncomfortable and bumpy at first, and we can make some embarrassing, maybe even meme-worthy mistakes, but perseverance and learning pay dividends in cultivating stronger business relationships that lead to greater success.

Why Multilingual Skills Are Important

    • Staying current with travel and emergency health alerts. We’ve made good progress in getting COVID-19 under control, but we’re clearly not out of the woods yet. Global access to vaccines, the rise in additional variants of the virus, and rapidly changing case numbers mean that regulatory updates surrounding entry and travel restrictions and quarantine terms can still change – and fast. While English is widely used and understood across the globe, business travelers and assignees are well advised to have a command of the local language in the countries in which they are traveling or spending significant amounts of time too, to help stay on top of crucial announcements and change notifications. Without a doubt, online translation tools are helpful in emergencies, but they are not perfect, and important nuances may be missed that a native speaker or highly skilled student of the language would fully understand.

      Most major medical facilities around the world are staffed with multi-lingual experts, but if business travelers, expatriates or their family members become ill and require care, an ability to communicate effectively in the local language would be of significant benefit to all, particularly in more rural locations.
    • Helping non-native speakers gain more from virtual meetings. Even as travel, assignments and return-to-work plans gather steam, it’s safe to assume virtual meetings are here to stay, especially for global teams. Virtual connectivity continues to present some additional challenges for non-native speakers of the host language. If cameras are off, it can make it even harder for attendees to see and understand who is speaking, and what is being said. Those with multi-lingual skills are well ahead of the game and can help others by summarizing the key points in different languages following the meeting, or even in real time, interpreting essential items and decisions in the chat function, so all team members come away with the same information and understanding at the same time.
    • Contributing to efforts to attract, recruit and retain a more global and diverse workforce. A good deal of research has been done to demonstrate the effectiveness of mentorship programs and strong relationships with host country nationals in contributing to expatriate and family success on assignment. Those who have positive experiences can then become ambassadors for the global mobility program overall, and potentially help recruit future assignees and hires. As companies seek to expand and diversify their talent pools using new recruiting resources, locations and tools, the more expansive the language and cultural literacy you enjoy within your talent ambassadors, the more success your business is likely to have.
    • Boosting personal health benefits. Outside of the business benefits, globally mobile talent may find that learning a new language gives them some personal ones, too. Studies have linked the bilingual brain to greater creativity, increased memory skills, and improved decision-making, among others.

Virtual language learning versus online, self-paced language learning

In relocation, most company’s policies include either face-to-face language lessons or virtual language lessons with a live trainer. The benefit of this approach is that the lessons, materials and methodology are adapted to each assignee or family member.

Some people prefer to learn by themselves at their own pace with an online platform. This is more flexible in terms of schedule, as the platforms are available 24/7, and the learner can really focus on the content that they feel they need to improve. However, it is recommended to complement the self-paced tool with some lessons with a live qualified teacher (either face-to-face or virtual), as there is no substitute for speaking directly with others. This blended language learning can provide the assignee with a good balance of flexibility and structure.

Global mobility professionals have long known that the more we communicate with and understand each other – through our body language, our spoken words and our cross-cultural respect – the more we all benefit. A silver lining of the pandemic is that now many other business unit leaders may better understand that, too.

Sterling Lexicon and BiCortex Languages stand ready to help your mobile talent cultivate their language learning skills through in-person and online options, individually or in group settings – or a blended approach. Sterling Lexicon’s complete package of destination services is wide-ranging, and they help set your mobile employees and their families up for success with personalized solutions. Contact us to learn more.


Kristin White

Kristin White

Kristin brings nearly 30 years of experience in global workforce mobility, PR, marketing, editorial planning and communications to her role as a member of the thought leadership and content development teams. Before joining the company in 2020, she worked for many years at Worldwide ERC® in collaboration with cross-departmental teams and industry stakeholders to develop in-person and virtual event programming, digital and print content, and served as editor of Mobility magazine. Contact Kristin at kristin.white@sterlinglexicon.com.

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