When we think about language training, do we think beyond being able to speak and write in something that is not our mother tongue? Armin Hopp, founder and president of Speexx, certainly believes we have to in order to understand how our globalized world will communicate in the future.

Speexx is a Germany-based company with eight offices worldwide, developing and selling online language training solutions worldwide. Or, to be more accurate, Speexx helps large organizations everywhere to drive productivity by empowering employee communication skills. With over seven million users in 1,500 global organizations, Armin (Figure 1) has a great perspective on the power of effective communication in creating alignment and synergy in international enterprise.

Figure 1:
Armin Hopp of Speexx

The Speexx 2014 survey of learning and business professionals reveals that 90 percent consider foreign language skills of high importance for global business success.

Armin sees an urgent, compelling need as the advent of cloud-based activities drives a shift to centralized management, and a reduction in local silos. Over two billion people speak English around the planet, but in many areas skill levels are inadequate for effective communication within enterprises. Armin explains:

Southern Europe, APAC, China, and South America are particularly weak. In some countries, such as China and Chile, national initiatives are aiming to upskill in the English language. China is currently concluding a program to provide English language training to 300-million people—which will make it the largest English speaking country on the planet!

Nations and enterprises that do not recognize the need for increased communication skills—which in practice means English language—are facing some difficult times ahead. The Speexx survey reinforces that view: Forty-one percent of respondents believe that lack of foreign language skills is hampering communication across borders in their organizations.

Armin cites his own country, Germany:

There are many companies with global business activities that have a local internal LMS. The LMS is set up in German to teach production line employees in German. But that just will not work for a company with 80,000 employees around the world speaking 90 different languages. The choice is simple—either put 90 languages on the LMS or upskill the workforce in English! The drive for standards in skills cannot move forward if there is no standardization of communication. One of the most famous German names in the automotive business discovered that around the world their plants were using 42 different names for a small and essential component in every motor car ever built. They had to get to a single term that is understood globally.

It is a powerful argument and one that applies to any area of compliance or skill assurance.

So where does eLearning come in? Language learning is seen by many people as difficult and time-consuming. The ability to learn online, particularly through mobile devices, gives people the chance to learn in a relaxed way at their own pace, but using time that is not sacrificed from the workplace. Sitting on a bus or a train, in an armchair at home—these are all places where people can practice their language skills.

There is another dimension to all of this that Hopp described to me.

It is about integration that is not just technical, process or content. The cloud enables and compels so much more. The battle in enterprises is the critical task of assessing the availability of skills. So recruitment has to become much smarter—and with it onboarding before employment commences. This all requires good communication skills to respond to and assimilate information supplied in a standardized way around the world.

What benefits do people see? Armin again:

Strong, integrated communication strategies are seen by my customers and networks to give cost savings, improved customer service, and greater collaboration across borders as major benefits.

To get it right for Speexx customers and prospects, Armin takes extraordinary trouble to listen to them. In addition to the normal business processes, the company runs a series of Speexx Exchange seminars for HR and L&D managers each year (Figure 2). The events are designed to stimulate thinking about trends and development needs in corporate learning and to inform his company’s internal thinking and service development strategies.

Figure 2:
The company runs annual Speexx Exchange seminars for HR and L&D managers, in order to stay in touch with its customers

He left me with a tantalizing thought:

The instructional designer is no longer the ruler of the process—it is now all about technology backbones and being able to customize closely, but to integrate into main ERP systems. The failure of current systems will become obvious as results emerge. There will be a melt-down in the industry from which the survivors will be the people who have listened to their customers and designed around their needs—hence using APIs to provide that fine tuning.

Armin Hopp can be contacted at a.hopp@speexx.com.