How to Make Sure that Your Employees Learn English?

businessenglishI have a couple of friends who work in HR for companies that are generous to pay for English lessons of their employees. However, it often happens like this: the company hires one or two teachers (often native speakers) and forms groups according to employee’s levels. Then, lessons start after working hours, twice a week, and everybody is thrilled. Next, some people have a lot of work or business trips or personal issues and start missing lessons. In a month, only half of the group is left, so the teacher starts losing enthusiasm too, especially if he or she is paid per person per hour. In two months it no longer works, so the company either starts looking for another teacher or drops the project altogether.

What went wrong?

1. The timing

If a company really needs their employees to have an excellent command of English, they can consider scheduling lessons during working hours or, at least, 70/30 (working time versus personal time). E.g., if working time officially ends at 18.00, an English lesson can be scheduled from 17.00 till 18.30.

I have several students who study by Skype from their office during working hours. They didn’t stop studying at the first hurdle, and some of them have been learning for 2.5 years without significant breaks (except holidays).

2. The payment

In my view, a company should not cover all 100% of expenses for education. A good distribution of payment would be 70/30 (company/ employee). This way employees will feel more personal responsibility for their result.

3. The search of an English teacher

If I wanted to learn another foreign language, I would rather find a teacher myself. Maybe, I would even try lessons with several teachers before I would choose the best one for me.

Why not let your employees take the initiative of arranging the lessons with the teacher? Then, after a certain “probation period” the HR department could sign a permanent contract with him or her. This way employees will be more involved in their studies and will find it more difficult to drop them.

4. Group size

Groups of 8-12 people are standard practice at English courses or universities. Nevertheless, they are not the most efficient way to learn a language. Personally, I prefer either individual lessons or very small groups (2-3 people). To illustrate, when I started learning Spanish individually twice a week, I reached the intermediate level in a year, compared to 2 years of German studies 5 times a week at university (I think, the difficulty level of Spanish is on a par with German).

It is true that the cost per person will be higher for individual/ small group lessons. But the efficiency and flexibility will make up for this. People will make progress faster with more individual attention. In addition, it will be possible to change the day of a lesson if a person has a business trip or to study by Skype if the teacher is too busy to visit the office.

5. Motivation

Maybe, this point is the most important one. Companies can create some artificial motivation by making B2 level of English a prerequisite for promotion. E.g. if an employee wants to become a head of department, they need to pass an interview in English or to bring a certificate of a reputable international exam (FCE, CAE, TOEFL, IELTS). Some companies organise “English Fridays” when employees can speak only in English.

When both, the company and its employees feel responsibility for the result, there is a much better chance that it will be achieved.