In this article, we’ll show you how improving your teams’ language skills can boost performance — in business and in the sports market. Keep on reading to find out what these two worlds have in common and what it could cost them to not improve their teams’ language skills.
In any large organization, how well their product or service helps their customers will fuel the core of their business, but how well their internal structure works is crucial to achieving that level of quality. More specifically, in the world of business and also sports, communication and team cohesion are of the utmost importance.
Both of these worlds are becoming increasingly multicultural and multilingual as technology connects us more and more. In the current world, the United States has an edge in the sports market — but to keep it, they will likely need to draw on lessons from Europe and the rest of the world. As our work lives become increasingly international and diverse, companies all around the world will need to bulk up their language muscles in order to maintain their competitive advantage.
Table of Contents
- What are language skills? A definition & examples
- 5 business scenarios in which language skills are essential
- Why language skills are crucial to company performance
- How language skills can foster psychological safety
- The cost of not improving your teams’ language skills
What are language skills? A definition & examples
Language skills refer to the abilities and competencies a person has in using a particular language. These skills encompass various aspects of language proficiency, including:
- Speaking: The ability to produce and articulate spoken language effectively, using appropriate pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar.
- Listening: The ability to understand and comprehend spoken language, including the ability to follow conversations, lectures, or presentations, and accurately interpret the meaning of spoken words.
- Reading: The ability to understand and comprehend written language, including reading and understanding various types of texts such as articles, books, reports, or instructions.
- Writing: The ability to express thoughts, ideas, and information effectively in written form, using appropriate grammar, vocabulary, and organization.
- Comprehension: The ability to understand and comprehend both spoken and written language, including understanding context, nuances, idiomatic expressions, and implied meaning.
- Vocabulary: The knowledge and understanding of words and their meanings, including the ability to use a wide range of vocabulary appropriately in different contexts.
- Grammar: The understanding and application of grammatical rules and structures to construct accurate and coherent sentences.
Language skills can vary in proficiency and fluency, ranging from basic to advanced levels. Developing and improving language skills often requires practice, exposure to the language, and ongoing learning. Strong language skills are valuable for effective communication, education, career advancement, and personal growth.
5 business scenarios in which language skills are essential
In our interconnected world, the lines between countries, cultures, and continents are becoming increasingly blurred. It’s possible to have calls or meetings with teams in China, colleagues in Peru, or clients in Spain all in a working day. But within this business environment, language isn’t just a means of communication — it’s a way of making connections.
So whether you need to brush up on your English, tap into Indonesian, or pick up the Portuguese basics, here are a few reasons why language skills are invaluable to your business:
1. Teamwork makes the dream work
Nothing says “collaboration” more than learning a new language. Many companies across the world are adjusting their internal policies to make room for an international workforce and cater to employees from many different nationalities.
Scout24 is an online marketplace that serves as a guide to help consumers make informed decisions when it comes to relocating. The company grew quickly, and simultaneously so did the number of international employees. The company’s language-learning manager soon found that people were struggling to communicate and noticed an increase in misunderstandings within teams. So Scout24 trialed Babbel as a means to unite company culture and foster an inclusive and adhesive spirit.
After several months, the company achieved its goal of streamlining communication and boosting the motivation and confidence of its employees. Jesko Schäfermann, Vice President of People, Organisation & Culture said, “A modern tool like Babbel increases our employees’ intercultural understanding and their enthusiasm for learning.” Thanks, Jesko!
2. Relocating abroad
There are few things more life-changing than relocating for work. And when the opportunity arises, Babbel is there to support you all the way. Carry us around in your pocket throughout your new adventure — we’ll be there to help you order tacos in Mexico City, pastel de natas in Lisbon, or fish ‘n chips in England.
A couple of years ago, Babbel teamed up with ESMT Berlin, an international business school that trains students from all over the world. Even though all programs are taught in English, the school encourages students to learn German to give them greater access to the culture and to encourage and motivate them to live in Germany once the course is over. We know German isn’t an easy language, but our flexible, bite-size lessons had the students saying “Ich liebe Berlin” in no time!
3. Business trips
Traveling abroad can be stressful, especially without the language tools needed to order a coffee, let alone pitch a presentation. Besides, business trips are about more than just meetings — they’re an opportunity to connect, network, and build relationships. So being on the same language page is vital to successful business travel.
Insight is a leading provider of IT products and services. Their learning manager chose Babbel as the best format to improve employee competency and efficiency in English. The team was able to start at their individual levels and select the appropriate lessons within the language app. As the trial continued they were able to use their new language skills in meetings abroad, building new relationships with international clients, and strengthening their communication within meetings. Nice work, Insight!
4. Customer service
Strong communication and mutual understanding are at the forefront of good customer service. Without it the customer feels frustrated and the employee can feel demotivated. That’s why introducing language learning to the customer service team can be hugely beneficial to your business.
For example, we worked alongside the food services and facilities management company Sodexo to help solve a unique problem. The company is one of the world’s largest multinational corporations — they employ over 420,000 people of over 120 nationalities. The two core languages used to communicate within Sodexo are Spanish and English. Sodexo’s challenge was that frontline employees had low proficiency in English and struggled to communicate with customers, while some of the managers had a poor grasp of Spanish and therefore couldn’t communicate with their teams.
And that’s where Babbel came in. Our flexible, personalized lessons were able to address the diverse language issues of their employees, so in just one contract the entire company could work on their individual needs. After several months of usage, staff were communicating much better with customers — and the managers were able to say “Bien hecho, team!”
5. International meetings
Of course, language learning is about strong communication — but it’s also about feeling comfortable in a different country. That’s why Babbel makes the perfect travel companion because we get our learners to speak confidently in no time. Plus, our flexible and personalized lessons can be used offline, so down-time on a plane can be used to brush up on skills.
Recently Babbel came to the rescue of the THW (Federal Agency for Technical Relief), Germany’s official civil and catastrophe protection organization. Because they often work in international settings, language learning is of utmost importance to the organization as they need proficient English in order to communicate with international rescue services and civilians. Klaus Buchmüller, THW’s Head of International Operations, was delighted with Babbel’s easy-to-use technology, especially since it can be used offline — a must in disaster areas with no WiFi. THW successfully used our services to improve their English, strengthen their communication skills, and react to emergencies quickly and efficiently. So that basically makes us heroes, too… right?
Why language skills are crucial to company performance
Internationalism and multiculturalism are already the standard in many major European franchises, particularly in the world of soccer. To that end, studying the successes of major European coaches like Jupp Heynckes, winner of four Bundesliga titles with globally recognized soccer leagues, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, can illustrate how important team language skills can be.
According to a 2014 article published in the International Journal of Cross Cultural Management, teams whose coaches had strong intercultural experience and applied that approach to team management saw more success. As Heynckes says himself, language and communication skills were crucial to that equation:
As the article explains, the European “Big Five” soccer leagues (England, Germany, Italy, Spain, and France) are already composed of 35 to 60 percent foreign-born players, percentages that seem only to be increasing. This recruiting trend is showing up increasingly in American sports leagues as well, with the NBA leading the way and the NFL exploring international markets, such as Mexico and China.
In short, managers like Heynckes, who took a multicultural and multilingual approach to their teams, saw better team performances, which then led to more wins and titles, which in turn meant more tickets purchased and more sponsorships earned for those successful franchises. With this in mind, success cases like Heynckes’ are an instructive model for innovative American leagues to follow as well.
How language skills can foster psychological safety
In sports, as in business, innovation can be the key to outperforming competitors and bringing creativity and perspective to old problems. Even so, figuring out exactly how to foster and nurture an innovative culture within an organization can be challenging — particularly in a highly diverse environment where many different languages are spoken.
According to research published in 2017, work environments that view one language as “standard” and others as “non-standard” can create in-group biases and negative outcomes for team cohesion and performance. One way to understand this effect is that language bias creates an environment that lacks psychological safety. On the other hand, work environments that are interculturally fluent seem to avoid these problems.
The concept of psychological safety is all about the importance of feeling safe to take risks without judgment — and is recognized by an entire body of research as a crucial foundation for successful innovation. Although both business and sports can be characterized by outward competitiveness, that fierceness and exclusivity need not be present within internal communication. In fact, when team members feel respected and can communicate themselves fully, their performance improves.
The cost of not improving your teams’ language skills
While American sports leagues like the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL made approximately $35 billion in 2020, they lagged in terms of international reach (with the potential exception of the NBA) compared to the English Premier League and La Liga. Meanwhile, recent market research shows the fastest-growing regions in the global sports market will be Asia-Pacific and the Middle East in the coming years — areas that have an advantage when it comes to cosmopolitanism.
As the world of sports becomes increasingly multilingual, teams that fail to adapt to international competition will miss out on an ever-increasing market share. Like anything else, team communication and language skills are muscles that require regular training. Fortunately, Babbel for Business offers forward-thinking teams a tool to get the very training they need to sharpen these skills and compete in the sports and business world of today.