This morning I spoke with a company in Philadelphia, who was toying with the idea of a 20-hour crash course in Spanish for their HR department. They wanted to be able to communicate better with their thousands of employees who speak Spanish only.

I went into teacher mode. I was more interested in educating this woman about 2nd language acquisition than trying to sell her a 20-hour course for her team. Why? Because I knew that if I sold her the desired 20-hour course that she would be sorely disappointed.

There seems to be a misconception at times about the hours it takes to learn ‘the basics’ of another language. And I knew she would be horrified with the results of a 20-hour course to be able to explain HR benefits to her employees.

We spoke for an hour about what can be accomplished in a 50-hour course, and she thanked me for my brutal honesty. She had 4 other proposals in hand, and she wanted to think it over.

The point wasn’t that I necessarily cared about getting the contract with her, but rather, that I was trying to explain to her the restraints of only 20 hours—the full scope of what it takes to be able to discuss benefits effectively.

I also helped her understand what it would mean to their employees if the HR department dedicated their time to learning Spanish and how this could positively change the work culture of her employees.

And so these are the takeaways:

1. It takes many hours to get to a comfortable back-and-forth conversation in your 2nd language, but it is 100% possible with an instructor. You must hear the language and respond to questions for hours in order to get to a level of ease when conversing in it. We don’t want to discourage you, but we want you to be realistic about the time it takes.

2. If you’re only able to have a 50-hour course in a language, and you have very specific goals (like talking about benefits), make sure that you’re getting a customized course and hiring someone who is asking you a lot of questions about the goals. The “WHY ARE YOU LEARNING?” question is the most important in order for the instructor to plan for your unique lessons. You don’t want to learn the basics from a typical textbook, such as “Where’s the bathroom?” if you mainly want to say, “Your insurance covers 50% of emergency room visits.”

3. It’s so worth it to invest in language lessons to better connect with your employees. It will change the way everyone works together. It takes time. It takes money. But it will grow your company and bring everyone together in a magical way. You’re invested in them, and they’re invested in you.  

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