How to help your employees love learning

Perceived obstacles and how to overcome them

Learning a second language can be a smart career move, yet many employees find themselves terrified of tackling such a challenge.

This can be both frustrating and baffling for you as a manager – especially if you find language learning easy yourself – so how can you best support your employees to not shy away from the benefits of bilingualism?

For those companies that trade or converse with customers overseas, the benefits of encouraging your team members to learn a language are obvious. Even for those employees who may not be dealing directly with foreign language speakers, an awareness of the language and culture is undoubtedly beneficial.

If your company doesn't trade using a foreign language, the benefits of bilingual employees are still far reaching – from increased efficiency in multitasking to improved problem solving skills and better decision making.

With these benefits in mind, many businesses are keen to offer language training to employees, but find the take-up of such opportunities is low. So how can you proactively encourage your employees or team members to take up the challenge of learning a second language? And how can you support them to overcome the mental obstacles they may have erected?

If linguistics is something you find comes quite naturally, it can be hard to understand why other people on your team back away from it in fear. The key to helping your employees overcome their anxiety and reap the benefits, is to understand where their concerns are coming from.

At the Marlow Language Centre, we hear the same reservations being raised time and time again. We've been in business for more than 28 years so there isn't an excuse that we haven't heard, but understanding their mental blocks and encouraging the right attitude to overcome them can dispel any uncertainty your employees feel.

Not the "right" type of brain

This is one we hear more often than any other reason as a justification for shying away from learning a new language. Many people can recall horror stories from their language classes at school and it's all too easy for this feeling that they "just aren’t suited" to learning languages to become ingrained over the years. The fact is, it’s a myth. Everybody is perfectly capable of learning another language – and believe me, we've helped hundreds of people overcome the belief that they can't.

The important thing to highlight to employees is that the learning environment as an adult is entirely different from their negative experiences at school. By necessity, school probably dealt in mixed-ability groups, with lots of focus on one particular way of learning which naturally wouldn't suit every student. The benefit of learning a language as an adult, and with a forward-thinking language school, is that every lesson can be tailored to specifically fit the student.

Everybody learns in different ways. Even as adults our brains work differently. IT industries, for example, tend to attract the type of brain that likes a logical method and the right teacher can maximise that by making the course very structured, emphasising the areas of language learning that logical brains find effortless, such as understanding grammar. Conversely, creative industries tend to favour a more practical, hands-on approach with less structure and plenty of opportunity to chat and ask questions.

A good teacher will realise these differences and alter their teaching accordingly, dispelling the myth that there is one "right" type of brain.

"You can't teach an old dog new tricks"

The idea that older brains aren't as well suited to picking up a new language is widespread, but unfounded. While a child's brain does absorb information in a different way to an adult mind, there are other benefits that adults bring to the classroom which can make them particularly suitable for learning.

As you've probably noticed within your team, some employees naturally lean towards learning new things and taking on new challenges while others prefer to stick with what they know. To an extent, these differences come down to different mindsets but regardless of how individual employees naturally operate, it’s important to make the point that age can never be used as a genuine excuse because it simply isn't accurate.

Our students range from 4 years to 82 years old and every single one of them is capable of learning a language. Age is truly no barrier and, in fact, the life experience that comes with age – a self-awareness of how they learn, how they process information, how well they function in a classroom environment, how they can self-motivate and have the self knowledge to understand what the best study methods are for them as individuals – can definitely be a bonus for older learners and help them progress their studies in ways that younger learners can't appreciate.

Fear of embarrassment

Sheer embarrassment and lack of confidence in their own ability is another killer excuse for putting people off learning a new language. This is another one that harks back to school days where speaking in front of a large group of your peers and getting it wrong created long-lasting negative associations. The key here is to reassure your employees that learning as an adult allows you to take it at your own pace, without a national curriculum to adhere to, and gives you the chance to grow in confidence gradually.

One-to-one learning eliminates the fear of failing in front of classmates at all, and even in small group tutorials, you will be among like-minded individuals of the same ability as you who are all experiencing the same fears.

In an adult education environment, everybody has made the decision to attend a course and, with their added life experience, each student is better placed to support others and understand the anxiety of making mistakes which everyone experiences to different degrees.

Working so closely with students and teachers of all nationalities as we do, we can certainly say that the overwhelming fear of making a fool of yourself seems to be a predominantly British affliction and one which other cultures don't seem to share. Learning a language can open up a whole new view point for many learners – in addition to new vocabulary, you could find you acquire a whole new attitude to learning and lose that British "stiff upper lip" along with the fear of making mistakes!

Learning a language can undoubtedly be a smart career move – benefiting your company's bottom line, benefiting you as a manager and the individual learner themselves. There will always be people to whom languages come more naturally but if you feel members of your team are missing out on the opportunities language learning would give them because they feel unsuited, too old or too afraid of making mistakes, try to understand where their fears are coming from and give them the reassurance and support they need.

We've seen literally hundreds of students overcome the same anxieties and, take our word for it, the benefits of surmounting those obstacles are worth it.