Jun 14 / Elizabeth Mack

The ROI Of Your Language Learning Program

Did you know that in the United States, 1% of Americans speak another language they’ve learned at school? Yet consider this from the The 2019 ACTFL study ‘Making Languages Our Business’: 

  • 85% of US employers say they’re reliant on Spanish;
  • 90% of U.S. employers demand multilingual talent in their workforce;
  • 1 in 4 U.S. employers lost business due to a lack of foreign language skills; 
  • 54% of employers surveyed in ‘trade’ expect an increase in the demand for foreign language skills on the jobsite in next 5 yrs.

The not-so-great news:
The U.S. language gap is massive (i.e., employees who don’t speak each other’s language), and that same study details specific industries with the largest language gap:  #1 is Construction, followed by Healthcare, Hospitality and Manufacturing.

The very-good most-excellent news: adults excel at learning languages. (yes, it’s true; our brains are designed for language and connection to others.) And, as you’ll see below, employees at all levels very much appreciate the opportunity to learn.

The best-news-of-all as you consider investing in language: Hard numbers back up investments in L&D and training employees. A recent Accenture study found that every dollar spent on training got a $4.53 return. That’s an ROI of 353%!

The question becomes ‘can you afford to not have a language strategy’? 

In the following points, we attempt to outline the biggest rewards of a language learning strategy, but the power of language is priceless.

#1 Recruiting, Higher Employee Retention  

Though it’s thought that the so-called Great Resignation is over, we’re still experiencing a labor shortage. Retention remains a very pesky issue, and the talent pipeline offers little consolation. McKinsey recently noted that “construction laborer positions are among the hardest jobs to fill, as about 80% of all construction firms struggle to find workers.”

According to Fast Company (2024), “companies continue to grapple with not only keeping their existing workforce but also attracting talent in the first place. Nearly 90% of small-business owners who are hiring report having few or no qualified applicants for open positions.”

As the labor gap continues to widen, savvy employers are taking an innovative approach to attracting new labor as well as upskilling and retaining employees: offering language learning programs.

It’s not fuzzy math. When employees feel valued, confidence and productivity increase. The act of learning together multiplies this effect through camaraderie.

“I’m absolutely loving my (Freestyle Spanish Level 1) class. It’s the highlight of my workdays! In 6 weeks, I’ve already had 2 or 3 instances where Spanish has helped me bridge the gap with my team.” (AGC Austin, program participant)

Google discovered that their highest performing teams were those that consisted of individuals with strong soft skills, including good communication, collaboration, and empathetic leadership. Speaking a 2nd or 3rd language not only IS a soft skill, but in turn promotes the growth of these other soft skills.

2. Safety

Is safety a value for your company?  What is the value of knowing that your teams can communicate effectively to promote and improve safety? 

The data is alarming: 25% of worksite accidents relate to the language barrier (OSHA).

Furthermore, the fatality rate for Hispanics is 41.6% higher than for non-Hispanics on jobsites, and that rate has been increasing. While language is not the only causal factor, it’s well known to be a big, obvious one.

Additionally, OSHA standards require that businesses overcome language barriers when they train their employees:

“…employee training required by OSHA standards must be presented in a manner that employees can understand… to all of the agency’s agriculture, construction, general industry, and maritime training requirements.”

Of course, this means using an employee’s 1st (native) language if English is too difficult to understand. Some strategies involve a bilingual supervisor which can be helpful on one hand but also limiting on another. There are additional risks involved in counting on one person to communicate, especially in safety training. It’s well-known that LEP (Limited English Proficiency) Hispanic employees, for example, will not indicate that they don’t understand, for fear of job loss.

And this data only speaks to physical safety. Happily, more attention is being paid to psychological safety and suicide rates, particularly in construction.

Lastly, consider the financial impact of decreasing liabilities. Whether in respect to workers’ compensation payouts, hefty fines, or in the case of a medical emergency where language barriers can literally mean life or death, minimizing liability has a direct impact on your bottom line.

What is the value in ensuring that workers can seek help, communicate their concerns, feel connected and cared for, and return home to their families every day?

3.Innovate Faster / Enhance Productivity 

The act of learning a new language in and of itself provides a multitude of cognitive benefits, useful for life in the workforce and outside of it. Researchers continue to find that language learners demonstrate higher levels of executive function, directly impacting one’s concentration and planning capabilities.

Other studies show that beyond building stronger critical thinking skills, the act of language learning can boost one’s empathy, given the perspective-shifting that takes place when communicating in another language.
The ability to innovate ultimately rests on:
  • Team interdependence and the ability to communicate
  • Fast decision making
  • Creative and critical thinking

These attributes are critical for any high performing team and rank second and third on the World Economic Forum’s top ten list of skills employees will need to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Productivity can also be measured in saved project time. Listen/ watch for yourselves how this Spanish speaker’s new English saved project time.

Interested in learning more about our Language at Work Program? Schedule a Discovery Call Today!

4. Sales & Bottom Line Growth

Consider the most direct impact on revenue. As the saying goes:

“You buy in your own language and you sell in your customer’s language…”

Consider the lost revenue if customers insist on buying in their own language and your sales teams don’t speak the language or understand the cultural norms needed to complete the sale. While some clients may not be explicit about the fact that they prefer to buy in their own language, connecting to people in their own language (which, again, goes with understanding a culture…) is where trust is built.

Exceptional customer service equates to a buyer’s journey that is in most instances a relationship built over time and through trust.

“Indeed, your language strategy must fit with your firm’s value proposition to customers if you hope to penetrate various markets and coordinate among them. You need to consider how to infuse language into your core talent practices in order to deliver that value. Attention and sensitivities to a culture gained through learning a language can mean not only improved internal communication or the difference of a contract or a sale, but they might also mean growth in terms of a successful joint venture or merger.” – Harvard Business Review

Speak To People In A Language They Understand, It Goes To The Head; Speak To Them In Their Own Language, It Goes To The Heart.” – Nelson Mandela

At the very core, it’s not just a romantic notion that you’re speaking to another’s ‘heart’. It’s about the depth of connection needed to empathize which ultimately leads more easily through negotiations, sales, return customers, and innovation.

Needless to say, the more languages a person can speak or the more multilingual your teams, the more people they can communicate with and connectedness = larger network of sales!

5. Unlock Opportunities & Build Empathy

“Non-English speakers in the U.S. today earn 40% less than workers who already speak the language proficiently. English upskilling improves workers’ ability to communicate, connect, and collaborate, enabling them to take on new roles and responsibilities, advance in their careers, and improve their lives inside and outside of the workplace.” (Fast Company)

Additionally, whether or not the terminology or politicization of the terms diversity, equity and inclusivity go in and out of favor, the fact is that there is little more inclusive than speaking another’s language.

The critical tenants and ideas that come with DEI represent a new depth to corporate culture, without which teams lack cohesion and a sense of belonging.

An exhaustive 2015 article by McKinsey & Company found that businesses who rank in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above industry medians.

What comes with racial and ethnic diversity? Multiple nationalities, languages, and cultures bring differing views and ways of communicating; and the challenges don’t stop there.

Who are the leaders of your people practices and company culture? And do they have a track record of tangible results and change, or might it be in name only, a token effort?

“As we know, the average tools in our corporate toolbox to combat bias and increase minority representation have not been effective over the last two decades.” – Harvard Business Review

Language at Work Program Manager Natasha leads an activity to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with DPR Construction students. 
“Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things.” – Flora Lewis

By investing in a language program, you're investing in true inclusivity while upskilling your organization - and society as a whole.


Once organizations tire of the fatigue from experiencing the downside of no language strategy, such as lack of understanding, high turnover, retention problems, safety issues, team cohesion and ultimately the bottom line, they can prepare to seize on and soar from these varied strong returns on investment. The value of your language training program can be measured in social and human benefits as well as the bottom line of your organization.

N.B., Freestyle Languages, unlike the standard ‘big box’ language programs, does not require an annual commitment. Our clients continue our program year after year because they’re reaping the benefits and seeing the outcomes, not because they signed a contract.

Continued learning in general is critical to an organization’s present and future prosperity.

Schedule a Discovery Call today or visit us on LinkedIn.