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Speak English or Lose Your Job

Posted in Business English, Communication and Influence on June 17 by AJ

Massimiliano Ratti’s was going to lose his job when he started learning English. A native of Italy, he was told by his employer that his position was being cut. Ratti was given an choice- he could transfer to another job if he learned to speak English in six months or else he would be fired.

Desperate to keep his job, Ratti searched online for English courses. Comparing a half dozen, he chose a program called Effortless English due to its focus on adult learners. For the next 6 months, he worked hard and listened to the lessons for two hours or more every day. In the morning, during his commutes, during lunch breaks, and in the evenings, Ratti used every available minute for listening to the lessons.

At first he noticed only a gradual improvement, but by 6 months his speaking had improved rapidly.

“I learned it and saved my job,” he said.

His success is extraordinary, but the English challenge he faced is common around the world. Internationally, employees are expected to master spoken English, and they are expected to do so independently.

There are over 1 billion people currently learning English world wide, according to numbers available from the British Council. These large numbers are driven by adult speakers around the world who use English to communicate in the workplace.

While English is required for those living and working in English speaking countries such as the USA and UK, the tremendous demand for the language is driven by the use of English as a common language between nations where English is not the first language. In the global economy, English is the language of business.

“This is part of the new reality that employees are facing everywhere,” said A.J. Hoge, the author of Effortless English: Learn To Speak English Like A Native, “It’s been growing for a long time but now it’s reaching a critical point.”

An example is the Japanese company Rakuten. Rakuten’s founder and CEO Hiroshi Mikitani has created an English-only policy for the giant web commerce company. Mikitani said, “one of the things holding back Japanese companies from competing globally is a language barrier that prevents them from fully grasping overseas competition”.

With the new policy, all employees are required to use English for company communications, including meetings, presentations, emails, proposals, and other documents. The company expects employees to be proactive about learning English independently, on their own time.

While this is a developing trend for Japan, many international companies world wide are creating English-only policies. In the business world, increasingly, there is simply no escape from English.

Of all the challenges faced by employees in a globalized economy, achieving English fluency is one of the most difficult. It’s hard to find effective instruction, and there’s little consistency in the programs used to educate them. Despite years of study in school, most students graduate without achieving fluency.

The education industry is divided over the best way to teach English, with the traditional grammar-translation approach favored by schools but also creating an emotional debate with those who favor a natural grammar-free approach.

Adult English learners are more likely to be under tremendous time pressure and in many cases require independent learning options that fit their busy schedules.

The longer these students lack English fluency, the further they fall behind in the global economy. The earning difference for immigrants in English speaking countries is especially bad.

Employees who speak English “very well” earn, on average, 18,000 dollars a year more than those who speak “not well” or “not at all” according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Although many are highly motivated to learn English, the current system of adult education in English as a Foreign Language (EFL) is serving adult English learners especially poorly – with high drop-out rates, and poor results.

These programs are not working effectively– with only 40% of learners improving their fluency level after one year of study, and many fewer achieving full fluency, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

“The quality of education of adult English learners world wide is just miserable”, said Hoge.

“Traditional programs are simply failing adult English learners,” Hoge said. “International employees need new approaches that help them achieve true fluency in the language– that is, the ability to communicate clearly, naturally, and effortlessly in English”.

An adult English learner’s education usually started years before in the school system. Frustrated by their failure to achieve fluency in school, many look for alternative methods of learning.

While most schools continue to favor a grammar-translation approach, there has been recent demaind for a variety of natural approaches such as Effortless English, which has been a leader in online education since 2006. The company has used a grammar-free program for all students, that emphasizes spoken fluency and natureal techniques for teaching grammar and vocabulary.

The method aims to copy how students learn their native language. The approach is supported by research. In a study by Dr. Ashley Hastings, students learning with a natural approach improved 3 times faster than students using grammar-translation methods, over a 4 week period.

“The natural approach is spreading throughout the globe very, very fast, especially among independent learners” Hoge said.

One problem, however, is that it’s not always easy to find quality programs for adults. Pushed by their employers to learn independently, students struggle with the confusing choices available both online and off.

“I was fortunate” Ratti said.

“It’s just amazing,” he said, “that I did it. Otherwise, I would have lost my job.”

The question is how well other adult learners can repeat his success.

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