English Language Gap Puts International Businesses at Risk


With company brands now being defined by employee ‘digital chatter’, new report finds only 37% of today’s workforce is appropriately skilled


— 84% of respondents feel social media has changed the nature of communications

— 83% see social media increasing in importance in the next three years

— However, only 37% of the current workforce has the language and social media skills needed for the digital age

Although four fifths (84%) of business professionals think social media has changed the nature of communications, only a third (37%) of today’s workforce have the English language skills required to communicate effectively through digital channels, according to a report published today by leading academic Professor Michael Hulme and Education First Corporate Language Learning Solutions (EF CLLS)*. Leading the way in providing a positive digital communications experience are a young, motivated demographic – the “Linguarati”. These employees have the level of English language proficiency and digital know-how to communicate effectively on social media and are eager to improve their skills.

Commenting on the findings of the report, Andy Bailey, CMO of EF CLLS, said: “Social media has radically changed the way that customers interact with brands, and businesses need to ensure they have the caliber of workforce to respond to that change.”

Professor Hulme added “businesses should train the many, not the few. If you train only the Linguarati you will have areas of weakness. Failing to take advantage of many employees’ appetite to improve their language skills could affect the international competitiveness and global brand of your business.”

Digital and social media have come to dominate communications at both a personal and professional level. The report found that 82% of all employees are now using social media to some extent at work. This shift represents a new risk for businesses given the ‘permanent footprint’ of digital communication, and the greater opportunity for miscommunication that social media allows. Even employees’ personal conversations can be traced back to their place of work through information published on Facebook or LinkedIn profile pages.

The report coins the term Reputational Resource to describe the sum of the digital conversations a business has with the outside world. The strength of this resource is dependent on the English language and digital communication skills of its employees. Those employees who pose the greatest risk to a business’ Reputational Resource were those who are very active on social media, yet have very low English proficiency, termed the ‘Loose Cannons’.

According to the research, businesses should be looking to the Linguarati as the example to help boost the global brand of their business through engaging customers in positive digital communications. The Linguarati are young, connected both online and offline and committed to further improving their language skills despite being fluent in English.

However, whilst a significant 85% of employees aspire to improve their English language skills, a mere 46% of companies are currently supporting these ambitions through the provision of language training. This trend needs to be rectified for organisations to regain control of their global brands and manage their reputations online effectively.

There are four key ways businesses can rectify the current employee skills gap, according to the report. Businesses must face up to hyper-connectivity by being capable of representing themselves in English across many different types of media. They must also support staff members who are reticent to improve their skills by encouraging all staff levels to be personally ‘market ready’ as part of their career development. Businesses should develop English language skills appropriate for the digital world, and not keep the digital and social media skills separate. Finally, they should offer learning opportunities tailored to individual learning styles.


From: EF Corporate Language Learning Solutions


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One thought on “English Language Gap Puts International Businesses at Risk

  1. As a healthcare leader (health system CEO) from the United States working in the international sector of the industry, I agree with the author of this article. I have worked in the leading hospitals of Bangladesh, India, Mauritius and in Africa. In all cases , I came into environments where “English” was the business language and, ostensibly, everyone spoke English fluently. Such, frankly, was not the case. In fact, my experience is that less than twenty percent of staff in these complex business activities speak English well enough to communicate in a fully effective manner. Organizations are seeking to define themselves as healthcare providers of international standard and, yet, allow that their staff can not read and understand business materials, let alone write effectively in the business language. Like the author, I hold senior leadership and management responsible to create a culture of continuous and life-long learning in these organization. That includes consistent and advancing language (speaking, reading and writing) proficiency training. This training, to give it credence and significance should be formalized and provided during working hours. Actually, I did see this happen to some extent in Mauritius, but English was not the focus. As Mauritius has a large French-speaking population and the company had recruited a large number of Indian physicians, the company offered French lessons to its Medical Staff. The goal was to effect better physician/patient communication. It began with great support, participation and enthusiasm. Sadly, the initiative faltered because the staff was inconsistent in their attendance (having other priorities) and leadership/management did not reinforce the importance of the activity (it was seen as extracurricular). Of course, most initiatives fail if not demonstratively supported from all quarters of the organization, particularly by the highest levels of the organizations’ leadership. – Dr. Ed

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