ADVERTORIAL

Education as an investment

English courses in the workplace: investment in the future or merely a fringe benefit?

Bridge studentsBridge students (Source: Janca Korcek)

Tomáš Baťa first began exporting shoes to Egypt. During his honeymoon through the land of the pyramids, he noticed that the locals wore mainly shoes constructed of lightweight materials. Sturdier, more substantial footwear was missing from the local market. He soon began to branch out and look for other opportunities in neighboring countries. He decided to send two sales representatives deeper into Africa. The first of them soon sent back a report. According to him, the chances of expansion were slim. Nobody wore shoes here. But a second salesperson enthusiastically reported on a land of unlimited possibilities and great potential: "No one in Africa wears shoes yet." Talk about perspective!! Some of us see the glass as half empty and the more visionary among us see the glass as half full.

Experts in the fields of human resources and foreign language teaching see a parallel to English fluency. "English opens a gateway to the entire universe. Nowadays, it is as if you emerge from a tiny dark room into a huge radiant garden full of thousands of flowers and colorful nooks and crannies,”says Klaudia Bednárová, the founder of The Bridge English language school. Klaudia is an entrepreneur who has her finger on the pulse of the international business community in Bratislava.

Anna Hudáková, business consultant, coach and mentor, agrees. She reiterates the importance of English in the modern workplace. "In today's fast-paced and interconnected business world, English is not simply a competitive advantage. It is a necessity. For example, the internet contains a wealth of useful information and most resources are only available in English. One finds the answer to most questions or work problems, which saves resources, energy, time."

Self-confidence, position and acceptance in an international environment

According to Anna Hudáková, strength in language gives a person confidence, security and poise. "I often see managers who are satisfied with their English abilities regardless of the level. They don´t see a point in continuing to work further to achieve the level where they are truly free to express themselves confidently in English. They are satisfied with merely communicating at a basic level. Studies have demonstrated that in many instances the crucial step from good to excellent is missing. "

Drawing from her extensive experience and expertise, Hudáková assures us that confidence in expressing oneself in English will guarantee management a position of stature in international negotiations. "A manager who can conduct business professionally, express him or herself comfortably at transborder gatherings, defend ideas and perspective, and argue and present at international events is perceived much more favorably by foreign partners. Even the best manager, who not entirely at ease in English, will not feel comfortable participating in discussions at meetings and instead, just listens, remains in the background does not leave a lasting impression of a pro and a winner".

Klaudia Bednárová offers an additional example. " Let us consider the marketing departments in two different companies. In the first, the team members speak excellent English, while those in the other establishment simply manage to get by. When the largest social network announces changes and new innovations, the marketers of the first company have access to English tutorials and blogs and are immediately up to date and off and running. Without any difficulty or delay they can shift gears and put new ideas into practice. Company number two will take a while to master the new features, fumble, waste time and will probably be left behind in the dust! Maybe then management will send their people for training, which will cost time and money and they will lose days, even weeks, instead of hours studying and getting up to speed".

A skill that saves costs and bring new opportunities

According to Anna Hudáková, any company can save a lot of employees’ time and energy thanks to a strong working knowledge of English. "You don't have to 'reinvent the wheel' if they've invented it elsewhere in the world. If you draw on the information available online, and by researching all available sources, you can organize and arrange many things by yourself, quickly and efficiently, without external support. "

According to our mentor and coach, the COVID-19 crisis has also opened many new doors in education. "Several of the world's top universities have made online courses and education available at affordable prices or even for free. Suddenly we were forced to learn to work in a virtual world. And we discovered that it has practically no boundaries and brings endless opportunities for growth, but especially for those who are prepared for it by possessing solid language skills. "

According to Klaudia Bednárová, English offers the opportunity to send a colleague abroad for quality workshops. "Excellent knowledge of the language will ensure that the participant will not just sit in a corner and vegetate but will bring valuable know-how back to the workplace. He will go for a beer, a glass of wine or coffee with others, socialize and make valuable contacts, "adds the director of The Bridge. Klaudia illustrates the competitive advantage with an example from her own experience, "Recently, we needed to develop a better evaluation system for our lecturers. We do not have a methodology for evaluating teachers' work in connection with the remuneration system in Slovakia. There are thirty known schemes abroad, which are recognized at the European Commission level. All we had to do was read about all of them and decide which was the best one for our needs. As a result, we did not have to hire an external consultant and this saved us a considerable amount of time and money. "

Anna Hudáková also mentions an example from her own work environment. "The owners of a client company asked me to help them with the wording of an e-mail to their potential foreign client. As there was apparently an interest in our client’s product, the communication had already begun. However, the interaction soon became very formal, stiff and businesslike. Difficulties arose when their potential client wanted to discuss next steps. No one from the company could venture into a business meeting in English. They opted for an interpreter and over time had to hire a new colleague more proficient in English. Fortunately, it is, today, an interesting and successful business alliance. However, from the onset it was financially taxing and time-consuming for the entire company due to the lack of language skills. "

Missed opportunities, missed profit

According to experts, the opportunities that companies may miss due to insufficient English are difficult to express mathematically or with economic or statistical accuracy. "If you already have a foreign client who is determined to buy from you, he will do so even if you do not speak English. Even in the corporate world, you can come to terms without a complete proficiency in English. The question is whether, thanks to better and more efficient communication, you would be able to find more inventive, economical, and beneficial solutions that could save the company time and money. If you are not able to express yourself as easily in English as you do in Slovak, then sooner or later the company will suffer from the negative impact and lack of expertise. "

Where will the company feel this negative impact?

According to Anna Hudáková, it is sufficient just to calculate how long it takes to write an e-mail with a dictionary in hand versus the amount of time it takes without the dictionary. "How many resources can we use directly without translations and an interpreter and how many new business opportunities can arise? I do not see language courses as a benefit, but as an investment. It is not only the company that commits to the investment, but also the individuals who dedicate their time and effort to building new skills”.

Klaudia Bednárová explains that it is also necessary to take into account the negative influence that stress creates. "If a colleague is preparing for a presentation in English, but is already experiencing stress a week in advance, it will have a disastrous effect on his work performance."

Paradoxically, according to the headmaster of a language school, people with good English take the most care and effort in preparing to present. "We have a student who attends Harvard University. Although his English is excellent, he will routinely go through each presentation with our lecturer in advance. The lecturer doesn´t just perfect the language but also asks challenging questions. This way, he doesn't have to spend so much time alone thus minimizing the stress and enhancing the productivity of the exercise. "

Anna Hudáková adds that the training the company provides to employees should be reflected in their better creativity or better performance. It is essential that the employer and the employee set realistic goals and monitor the results on an ongoing basis. This will maximize the effectiveness of the language training.

"It is not enough to merely pay for English language courses, but also to monitor the quality that your investment will bring you. A quality language school has developed qualitative indicators and their measurement, which it can provide to the company as feedback. A first-rate school will advise employers to have pre-determined requirements for their people to whom they provide language courses. "We don't just learn language" casually. " We study it so that we can use it for professionally and to enhance our personal lives.

Creating a positive and productive atmosphere in the company

According to experts, social ties also depend on quality communication and well-mastered language. Have you ever found yourself walking down the hall, seen a foreign colleague walking in front of you, and you lowered your head so you didn’t have to talk to him? Imagine an environment in which your employees are comfortable and eager to speak because they have the skills to do so in a second language. And this amazing skill will carry over into their collegial relationships enhancing cooperation and creating motivating environment. Work-life balance gets a bit more balanced having friends at work. “Hey, let’s go grab a beer at that new English pub that just opened in Old Town! Sorry, I can’t come up to your flat later for a hot toddy, I am going to my friend’s apartment for a hot buttered rum! Cheerio or is it Later Dude?" Colleagues become friends and cooperation flourishes. All fun aside, this is the goal we seek to assist our clients in attaining, continues the director of The Bridge.

We provide individual English lessons to our Slovak-speaking receptionists. "At the Bridge we all have the skills to converse comfortably in English not just because that is the product we market, but more importantly we have more than half of our colleagues English speaking only and we want them to feel included and welcomed. Every client and student can see that we create a world of English inside the walls of the school and throughout our virtual lessons. The key to well-being in a company is to foster an atmosphere in which everyone can interact with each other to talk, praise or even just crack a joke. Only in this way can we create a productive and rewarding environment of trust and a motivating workplace."

Júlia Mekyňová and John Liebeskind, a teacher at The Bridge

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