In today’s global business environment, executives often need to connect with employees who speak different languages. That was the case for one of Fluency Corp’s recent corporate language training clients, American Airlines.
Since this company’s needs are increasingly common, we wanted to tell you about what their experience was like with Fluency Corp. Hopefully, this case study can help you as you make decisions about language training for executives at your own organization.
Customizing a Spanish Language Training Plan
American Airlines has many employees on both U.S. coasts who speak Spanish as their first language. Now, these employees can speak English. But the company wanted its executives to be able to reach out to Spanish-speaking employees in their own language when they visited their work locations.
Many of these employees have been working for American Airlines for decades, and the company wanted to respect them and pay homage to the fact that they had been such long-standing employees.
They chose ten of their executives to go through one complete level of Spanish fluency classes. Every Monday from 3 to 5 p.m. they met in a conference room to learn the basics of Spanish. They made mistakes, they got nervous, and they got frustrated. But they continued to work hard throughout the fifty-week course.
What can happen in one hundred hours — realistically?
When a hundred-hour private course is taken, a client can easily get through CEFR (Common European Framework Reference) Level A1 of Spanish. A1 is roughly one hundred hours of a client speaking the language. Then it would be another 150 hours to get through A2, but only if the classes are one-on-one.
Why only if they’re one-on-one? Because the only action that drives people to fluency is talk time.
Writing in a notebook does not help with speaking and listening. Reading a book doesn’t, either. Of course, you can learn vocabulary.
But your brain needs a hundred hours of trying to piece together a huge puzzle. It needs to listen to a language, hear the patterns, and put the patterns together — just like it had to do with your first language when you were a kid. The brain can do all of this, but it needs time.
So, when you do a group class, you are going to get individual progress at a lower rate than in private, one-on-one lessons. After one hundred hours in a group class of ten, each person got about twenty-thirty hours of speaking. That’s about one-third of what would be accomplished in a private lesson. This is understandable, though.
Everyone cannot be talking all the time; speaking time must be shared during class. And speaking time with a native speaker is even less, as there is only one native speaker in the class – the instructor.
Measuring Progress with Spanish Fluency
Our team came in to assess the American Airlines executives halfway through the course. They were exactly where they should be at fifty hours.
They had begun to read an A1-level novel, and the instructor asked around sixty questions to them each hour of class. Just listening is a very passive learning.
Clients must be asked questions and be made to answer them logically. Only in this way do we know they are understanding the spoken language and are able to respond. We focus on the most relevant vocabulary and most-used words.
Why would we focus on irrelevant vocabulary that can often be found in textbooks (academic!), when they would never use a lot of those words on a daily basis with coworkers?
It makes no sense to follow the textbooks to a T. We always customize lesson content throughout the course. If not, it’s a waste of the client’s time and money. And we would never do that.
American Airlines Executives Spanish Classes Results
In the end, the American Airlines executives had taken one hundred hours: listening, speaking, a bit of reading (to be followed by question/answer method, aka The Bellieu Method). There was no need to focus on writing, as their goal was just conversing with Spanish-speaking workers.
They reported truly being able to connect better and feeling more confident about using the little Spanish that they knew. We are sure that the Spanish-speaking employees really appreciated that their bosses and colleagues cared enough to spend a hundred hours in lessons for them, and wholeheartedly felt that they were seen and heard as longstanding employees at the company.
After this year, American Airlines decided to give language learning opportunities to even more of its employees. So they chose an online program (no live teacher) so that over five hundred people could take advantage. Using a computer-led system definitely has its perks. It’s inexpensive and accessible. But deciding whether to go with a live instructor or a language learning app or software program really depends on your goals.
Do you want your employees to learn a few words and sentences? If that is your goal (rather than learning to have a conversation in real life), then software or apps can be the right choice.
Do you need your employees to address communication issues that are affecting business, collaboration, productivity, and creating tensions? This is a reason to get a language fluency coach, who can improve communication on a daily basis and help break down those barriers so that the company can be successful.
There are so many options for language learning today, but you must ask yourself first, what is the goal? Who should get an app, and who is in dire need of a live coach? Start with that list. Then you can get those fluent who need to be more fluent. Those just having fun can learn a few phrases online. This way, you will not purchase the wrong program for the wrong group.
The fluency program American Airlines put into place for the ten executives helped them reach their goal; they made the right choice for those executives. An app would not have given them the exact questions they wanted to ask their Spanish-speaking colleagues, like:
– “How are your kids?”
– “How long have you worked here?”
– “Where do you live?”
– “How can I help improve things?”
Apps cannot yet give you the customized course that you want, so our client reached across the language barrier and cultural divide and embraced a huge part of their workforce by investing in Spanish language training. Great job!