In this post, we share five surprising soft skills your employees will develop when they start learning a new language — and consider why these skills are so valuable.
When learning a new language, you may be setting out with the goal of acquiring a valuable hard skill. But did you know that, in the process, you’ll also develop some essential soft skills?
Soft skills are transferable, interpersonal skills that relate to how we work and interact with others. While hard skills are specific to certain tasks, soft skills are universal and transferable. They include things like communication, problem-solving, creativity, and empathy. Soft skills are especially important because they determine how we work and build relationships with others, as well as how we handle conflict and solve problems. They can also enhance our ability to use our hard skills.
A well-rounded skill set requires both hard and soft skills. Hard skills enable us to perform the technical aspects of a job, but soft skills make all the difference when it comes to establishing a harmonious, productive, and psychologically safe workplace culture. As an employer, it’s essential to nurture both among your employees.
5 soft skills your employees will develop with language learning
There are five valuable soft skills your employees will develop when they learn a new language:
- Creative thinking
Let’s explore each of these soft skills in more detail, considering why they’re so important and how language learning helps to nurture them.
Communication is, without doubt, one of the most important soft skills in the workplace. It helps us build positive relationships with colleagues and clients, drives smooth collaboration and productivity, and leaves us better equipped to solve workplace challenges and conflicts.
Effective communication at work has also been shown to boost team morale, increase employee satisfaction, reduce employee turnover, and generally contribute to a happier, healthier work environment.
At the same time, the cost of inadequate communication at work is high. One survey reports that companies lose $62.4 million per year on average due to poor communication in the workplace.
Language is a crucial communication tool, and the very process of learning a new language can further enhance our communication skills. When we learn a new language, it prompts us to think more consciously about how we use the language(s) we are already proficient in. This can make us more aware of potential nuances and ambiguities in how we communicate, and thus enable us to communicate more intentionally and clearly.
Studies have also shown that being bilingual, or simply being exposed to other languages, improves non-verbal communication — another important workplace skill.
So: if you want to help your employees become better communicators all round, consider signing them up for corporate language training.
2) Problem-solving & critical thinking
The World Economic Forum lists problem-solving and critical thinking among the most important skills of the 21st century. Problem-solving skills enable us to effectively handle complex and unexpected situations, while critical thinking allows us to analyze information objectively and make decisions based on logic and reason.
Employees who are adept at problem-solving and critical thinking are competent decision-makers who can work independently, build effective strategies and processes, and adapt and respond to new scenarios and challenges as they arise. Ultimately, they’re an asset to any company and team!
Learning a new language exercises our problem-solving and critical thinking muscles as it requires what’s known as executive functioning — “a set of cognitive processes and mental skills that help an individual plan, monitor, and successfully execute their goals” (Psychology Today). Executive functions include things like attention control, working memory, and problem-solving.
Studies have shown that bilingual children can complete mental puzzles quicker and more efficiently than their monolingual peers — again, because of their enhanced executive functioning.
Learning a new language is an excellent way to not only apply problem-solving and critical thinking, but to further develop and strengthen cognitive function in those areas.
Empathy can be defined as “the ability to emotionally understand what other people feel, see things from their point of view, and imagine yourself in their place.”
Within that definition, there are three types of empathy:
- affective empathy, which describes our ability to respond appropriately to other people’s emotions;
- somatic empathy, which describes the ability to feel what another person is feeling; and
- cognitive empathy, which describes the ability to understand someone else’s response to a situation.
You can already imagine how important empathy is in the workplace, and psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen summed it up best when he said: “Empathy is like a universal solvent. Any problem immersed in empathy becomes soluble.”
Empathy is especially important in leadership, with one study by Catalyst finding that people who perceive their leaders to be empathetic feel better equipped to innovate, feel more engaged in their work, are more likely to stay with their company, and feel more able to establish a work-life balance. What’s more, 50% of respondents with empathetic leaders reported that their workplace is inclusive, compared with just 17% of those whose leaders are less empathetic.
The benefits of empathy in the workplace are truly endless. And, contrary to popular belief, there is a large body of research to show that empathy is a skill that can be learned and developed.
Indeed, empathy is another valuable byproduct of learning a new language. In 2015, a team of researchers at the University of Chicago found that multilingual children are better at understanding other people. They attribute this to an advanced capacity for “perspective taking” — that is, when communicating and conversing in another language, we need to consider the speaker’s perspective in order to understand the intention and meaning behind their words.
4) Creative thinking
Creativity is another in-demand soft skill in the modern workplace, and for good reason. Creative thinking enables us to problem-solve, innovate, and come up with fresh ideas. Creativity in the workplace is also thought to promote collaboration and teamwork, to help reduce stress, and to boost motivation and engagement.
For employers looking to nurture creative thinking skills among their teams, language training could help. Research suggests that learning a new language increases the four components of divergent thinking (the process used to generate creative ideas):
- originality, and
When we learn a new language, we are forced to experiment — be it with new vocabulary, new methods of expressing ourselves, or new ways of pronouncing things. This experimentation gets us comfortable with failure, improvisation, and venturing out of our comfort zone, which are all essential for creativity.
5) Multitasking & focus
Learning a new language provides an intense workout for the brain. It leads to an increase in size of the hippocampus and the cerebral cortex — the parts of the brain that are responsible for learning and memory. The brain’s gray matter also becomes denser, which essentially means a healthier brain and affords the individual better control over their executive functions. As we learned earlier, executive functions are a set of high-order cognitive abilities such as working memory, planning, reasoning, and cognitive flexibility.
These physical changes to the brain leave us better equipped to multitask, to focus, and to improve our short and long-term memory. Research has shown that proficiency in two languages results in better performance on attention tests, as well as better concentration, compared to those proficient in just one language.
Additional research highlights that, in training the brain to juggle multiple languages, the multilinguist is able to switch more quickly and easily between different tasks.
This has obvious benefits for the workplace — especially in the notification- and distraction-heavy world we’ve all grown accustomed to. Employees who can both multitask and sharpen their focus will benefit from increased productivity without putting in any extra hours.
Why is it so important to develop soft skills in the workplace?
From an employee perspective, having the opportunity to learn a new language and simultaneously develop essential soft skills is a huge benefit. Both learning a second language and being able to demonstrate important soft skills have been shown to boost an individual’s employability.
There’s plenty in it for employers, too. The business value of investing in soft skills at work is manifold, impacting revenue, productivity, and employee retention — to name just a few.
A Deloitte study found that training and developing soft skills in the workplace could increase a company’s revenue by more than $90,000. At the same time, a study conducted by Boston College, Harvard, and the University of Michigan found that coaching employees in certain soft skills has the potential to boost productivity by 12%. That’s a big win when you multiply that across your entire workforce!
Helping your employees to strengthen their soft skills can also lighten the hiring load and boost internal mobility. According to a report by iCIMS Hiring Insights, 94% of HR professionals believe that employees with strong soft skills are more likely to be promoted than their peers who, despite being more experienced, lack important soft skills.
In general, the act of investing in your teams’ learning and development does great things for employee retention. According to a LinkedIn report, 94% of employees surveyed said that they are more likely to stay at a company that invests in their learning and development. Another LinkedIn report suggests that providing soft skills training can also mitigate the risk of a bad hire, based on 89% of recruiters who said that, when a hire doesn’t work out, it’s due to a lack of soft skills.
Now more than ever, training your employees in crucial soft skills such as communication, problem-solving, and empathy is essential for making sure they’re equipped to navigate — and thrive in — the modern world of work.
Getting started with corporate language training
With corporate language training, you can equip your employees with a coveted hard skill — the ability to speak another language — while simultaneously helping them to develop key soft skills like those we outlined earlier.
Babbel for Business offers a flexible, cost-effective language learning solution for companies of all sizes. Babbel is the most popular language learning app in the world, and with the newly launched Babbel Live, your employees can learn via small online group classes with expert, certified teachers.
Babbel has been created to motivate and engage your employees in their pursuit of new language skills. You can choose from fourteen languages, and with 6,700 courses to suit all abilities and levels, you can ensure that individual learner needs are met. And, with the core content broken down into easily digestible, bite-sized chunks, it’s easy to fit language-learning into and around your employees’ daily schedules.
Anika Wegner, B2B Blog Editor
Exploring other cultures through language is particularly important to her. That's why she loves writing for Babbel about topics, how companies can benefit from language-learning solutions.