Why haven’t employees learned English if there are free opportunities?
Blog Series: The Unasked Questions.
Erin Janklow, Founder and CEO, Entrada ESL, www.entradaesl.com
The truth is that your employees probably have learned some English or have tried in the past. Maybe they downloaded a language app, attended community-run classes, or even asked friends or family about how to say words in English.
So, the question really is less, “Why haven’t people learned?” but rather, “Why are people hesitant to use what they’ve learned?” and, “Why is it hard for folks to learn more?”
Either way you ask, it’s not a simple answer. That said, neither is learning a new language.
A larger question remains: Why is it simple for some people to learn new languages, where it’s challenging for others?
In one of the more extreme instances of trying to learn English we’ve encountered, we met Maria, who worked two jobs while raising three children. To account for her commute, she started her day at 4 a.m. and continued to make her best effort to attend English classes at the local community college. Classes started at 9 pm and lasted 2 hours.
Maria attended English class twice a week, if not three. Despite this dedication, finding the confidence and the energy to speak with strangers and coworkers in English was challenging — and rightly so!
Personally, after 9 pm — let alone after a 17-hour workday — is never my best time to learn a new skill, and certainly not a skill as challenging and tiring as learning a new form of communication.
There are many remarkable organizations — churches, community centers, nonprofits, and local colleges — providing free or affordable English classes for immigrants, whether they are new to the U.S. or have been here several years. Some employers even offer various English language learning opportunities.
That said, different commitments, learning styles, motivations, support systems, educational backgrounds, etc make a one-size-fits-all solution to language learning nearly impossible. Thus, a larger challenge remains: language barriers continue to isolate people from one another in neighborhoods and workplaces alike.
Receiving outward judgement on lack of English aptitude, demonstrated by derogatory comments like, “Speak English already!” only adds pressure to the already daunting task of assimilating into a new culture.
Change starts with encouraging people to connect, no matter the language.
The blue-sky, anything is possible solution that we all desire is to have a more compassionate, supportive society that encourages adults to learn and practice speaking a new language without fear, adopting the same can-do attitude we use to teach our children their first language.
That’s a tall order, and not one we’re going to solve by any means in one blog post — I launched Entrada to accomplish this lofty goal! ;)
One piece of the solution begins with changing the environment in the workplace. Change at scale can and should come from organizations that employ large numbers of limited-English speakers. As with any task, the right tools are needed to maximize change effectively. Language programs must be designed to meet the needs of typically low-income, busy working adults in hourly roles.
At Entrada, we’ve spent the past few years doing exactly that — offering innovative, customizable, language programs to immigrant working adults and their employers to improve internal communications, operations, and customer service along the way.
Here’s what we’ve found works best for employers to promote a supportive learning environment:
- Open up the possibility: We can do our part to build others up and offer opportunities for growth. While it is ultimately up to an individual to master the vocabulary and grammar when learning a language, as employers, and as a society, we can provide adults with the tools they need to succeed. Investing in an effective workplace language program demonstrates that you believe in an employee’s ability to learn and grow.
- Understand the challenges: The more we understand the challenges for hourly, limited-English employees, the better the solution. In our past programs, we’ve had participants like Maria with multiple jobs, non-traditional schedules, and family commitments that limit the hours available to attend English classes. More, last minute schedule changes often preclude someone from regularly committing to a rigid class schedule. While not insurmountable, it means the solution for teaching hourly employees English needs to be mobile, adaptable, and supportive.
- Strengthen the community: Employees don’t have to go it alone. Learning a language can feel like a daunting, solitary task, but the goal is to ultimately use that knowledge to connect with colleagues and customers. We encourage employers to use existing workplace tools and technologies to foster a stronger sense of community for language learners, whether it’s creating employee groups, finding practice partners, or sharing highlights.
- Change the status quo: A new solution to an age-old challenge means changing how things may have been done in the past to better align with the needs of today. Many companies rely upon bilingual supervisors or translated documents on bulletin boards to address language barriers and support limited-English speakers. However, there are ample opportunities to strengthen internal communications and improve professional development across all levels of the organization.
For many of us, there’s likely a goal that we haven’t completed. When we think about why we haven’t done it, many of those reasons are often the same: lack of support and feedback, fear of failure, lack of confidence, or not knowing how to start. To move forward, compassion is necessary to find a solution.
Access to the right resources and a positive support system are vital components of enabling someone to succeed.
That’s why at Entrada, we focus on building a strong community in the workplace to support English language learners. Employees learn daily on their own via mobile lessons, and also work with colleagues and supervisors to share progress, compare high and low points, and build camaraderie and trust with their supervisors.
Our goal is never to create excuses as to why things are the way they are. But, it is our goal to question the status quo for language learning, think of radical solutions, and encourage others to do so as well.
Share your perspective on workplace language learning!
Reach out: email@example.com or visit www.entradaesl.com