I know you’re probably thinking “My company is based in the United States, I don’t need to offer training in multiple languages.” That may very well be the case, but:
- What if delivering training in the learner’s native language could save their life?
- What if accidents could be avoided because learners better understand the training?
- What if training costs could be lowered by learners returning to their jobs faster?
Many global organizations operate under the auspices that all business (written and spoken) should be conducted in English. The term “Global English” describes this business practice: when business is expected to be conducted in English, even when it’s not the native tongue of the person(s) conducting the business.
Accordingly, organizations that practice Global English conduct training solely in English, irrespective of the learning audience, demographic or location (i.e., whether or not those attending training are native English speakers). However, one could argue that training conducted in the learner’s native language could be understood more quickly and more easily applied when back on the job.
In Global English organizations, typically all communication, documentation and training are in English. Training non-native English speakers in English can affect the delivery and outcome of the intended instruction.
For example, at a global professional services firm, technical computer training for non-native English speakers took longer than native English-speaking classes because the trainers had to present their curricula more slowly to ensure comprehension, answer questions and repeat themselves. The increased delivery time had real implications. It delayed learners from getting back to their jobs, and limited the amount of training topics covered during each session. As a result, training costs increased because of the need to schedule additional training sessions, which also required trainer’s and learner’s time. These additional costs likely wouldn’t have incurred if the training had been offered in the learners’ native language, since native English speakers were able to complete training in the allotted time, whereas non-native English speakers typically were not.
Increased cost and time definitely impact a company’s bottom line, but perhaps the implications for training solely in English are more impactful when safety training is being delivered. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recently finalized its data on worker fatalities for 2014 and found that workforce deaths were the highest in seven years. The BLS also went on to say that 100 percent of the fatalities were avoidable.
To further explore real-world implications of offering training in the native language of the learner, four case studies will be presented.
Food Safety Training
Background: The training program was developed in English and translated into Spanish.
Problem: The numbers of non-English speaking laborers (often immigrants) employed in meatpacking and food manufacturing industries will continue to grow. These immigrants are many times unable to communicate in English. Their inability to read, write or speak in English makes it particularly difficult for them to perform their jobs effectively.
Solution: Training was administered to 1,265 adult learners. Assessments were conducted by comparing scores before and immediately following training.
- Scores concerning food safety knowledge and food handling behavior improved dramatically when training was conducted in the learners’ native language.
- Spanish-speaking participants averaged an impressive 96.60 percent on post-training scores.
- Demonstrates identical food safety training programs are most successful when presented in native language.
Background: Wenner Bread Products implemented a Safety and Health Management System and took other steps to address language and cultural barriers in its workplace.
Problem: Language and cultural barriers contributed to on-the-job accidents and injuries. One of the company’s greatest difficulties was that safety training and other information was shared solely through verbal translation.
Solution: Separate Spanish-language safety orientations are offered for all new hires and made available in English and Spanish, including: all educational, operational and regulatory information; daily and weekly safety briefings; weekly safety tips; and monthly safety committee meeting minutes.
- Substantial decrease in injuries and illnesses.
- Average injury and illness incident rate for the last 10 years was 5.1, compared to the industry average of 6.5.
- Improved labor relations with its Spanish-speaking workers.
- Significant increase in productivity and product quality.
Background: As part of an overall insurance and loss prevention program, a bilingual and mandatory 40- hour safety training program was created to improve job-site safety for over 14,000 workers.
Problem: As part of the design of the loss prevention program, actuaries provided disturbing predictions regarding injuries and deaths that could be anticipated based on the size and type of construction projects being considered for the expansion program. Additionally, the construction industry in North Texas has a large number of Spanish-speaking workers. These workers were experiencing a high number of fatalities and injuries at construction projects.
Solution: A mandatory 40-hour safety training program.
- Classes were presented in English and Spanish.
- Students choose which language class they would attend.
- Spanish classes had half day verbal terminology for basic construction tool names and terms in English.
- English classes taught verbal terminology for basic construction tool names in Spanish.
- Zero fatalities over the five-year construction period.
- Recordable and lost time rates were significantly below both state and national averages.
- Lost time rate of 0.42/200,000 hours (compared to average of 3.60/200,000 nationally and 2.4/200,000 statewide).
- Recordable (incident) rate of 3.68/200,000 hours (compared to average of 6.80/200,000 nationally and 4.3/200,000 statewide).
Background: Torcon, Inc.’s bi-lingual communication and safety training program has contributed to an estimated 30 percent decrease in injuries at the company’s job sites, as well as improved employee relations and greater client satisfaction.
Problem: To stay competitive in the construction industry, the company decided to employ more Hispanic workers. However, many of these potential workers lacked proper safety training.
Solution: Site safety orientation and materials were developed in both English and Spanish, including health and safety posters, emergency evacuation procedures and safety training videos. In addition, all contractors must conduct weekly bi-lingual safety meetings.
- Estimated 30 percent decrease in injuries at its job sites.
- Improved employee relations and greater client satisfaction.
The results of these case studies are clear. Comprehension increases when learners can give their complete attention to the content in their native language without first needing to mentally translate the information into their first language. The learner is focused on the subject matter, not on trying to interpret the material. Misinterpretation can lead to lower productivity, lost revenue and more seriously, injury and loss of life.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that language barriers are a contributing factor in 25 percent of job-related accidents. These case studies prove that providing training in a learner’s native language increases comprehension and has the potential to decrease accidents.
By offering training in a learner’s first language, learner comprehension is increased, safety-related accidents can be reduced, worker absences can be reduced as a result of fewer accidents, injuries can be reduced on the job and countless hours of time can be saved by learners and trainers. Learner satisfaction also increases by offering training in a learner’s first language. Global English is quickly becoming a business practice of times passed.