linguarati THE RISE OF THE

Reputational and legal risk may be largely determined by the body of the weakest language speakers, because future communication will not be...

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linguarati THE RISE OF THE





TABLE OF CONTENTS Foreword.................................................................................................... 3 About this report........................................................................................ 4 Executive summary.................................................................................... 5 1. Behold the Linguarati.................................................................................8 2. Why hyper-connectivity matters...............................................................12 Atos case study..........................................................................................17 3. Nurturing ‘Reputational Resource’......................................................... 18 Accenture case study................................................................................21 4. Recommendations................................................................................... 22 Appendix.................................................................................................. 23


A report on the internationalization of English

FOREWORD I help organizations achieve digital leadership, and so I often meet with the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Three or four years ago, many of them were asking me: “should I be on Facebook?” I would say: “Don’t go there if you’re not comfortable.” Then, nine times out of 10, I get a message from them: they had joined up. They developed their digital skills because, they told me, they no longer felt relevant in meetings. The message is that, if you are not comfortable communicating across all today’s digital channels, you don’t properly understand the future of your work, and the opportunities for your role and your organization. Digital media is not a fad. It’s a fundamental shift in the way we do business. Successful companies in a world full of social media understand that communication involves listening and understanding, not simply selling. Today we all have what I call a ‘Digital Stamp’, comprised of two things. Your ‘Digital Footprint’ is anything that you upload yourself, the things that you have control over. The other part, often ignored, is your ‘Digital Shadow’ – that’s what other people post and say about you. Your company’s Digital Stamp and your employees’ communication skills are fundamental to building and protecting your business’ reputation. For this reason, this report calls the combination of digital

and communication skills ‘Reputational Resource’. Two things will determine how tomorrow’s leaders build this Reputational Resource. First, what they do to keep and nurture talented communicators, who create the Footprint. They want to learn and improve. Their demand for language and communication skills is a wonderful problem to have: when your employees or colleagues demand more education, it means you are working in the right place. Second, how creatively you respond to the Shadow – the conversation about you, wherever it happens. That needs the ability to speak the customer’s language, when the customer wants to talk, whether it’s on a call, in email, on social media, or in person. Reputation has always depended on word of mouth, and now word of mouth is on digital steroids: your customers are your best salespeople. We don’t have a choice over whether we embrace digital media by developing our Reputational Resource; the choice is how well we do it. This report shows that some forward-looking organizations have recognized this. It demonstrates they are developing the language skills and the social media skills that they need to compete, treating Reputational Resource like the valuable business asset it is.

Eric Qualman Author - Speaker - Professor – Entrepreneur

Erik Qualman is the author of Socialnomics, which made Amazon’s #1 Best Selling List for the US, Japan, UK, Canada, Portugal, Italy, China, Korea and Germany. He is listed as a Top 50 MBA Professor and is no stranger to the executive suite, having served as the Head of Marketing at Travelzoo (TZOO); today he sits on several company boards.




ABOUT THIS REPORT This is the second in a series of reports that looks at the internationalization of English language skills in companies that have international aspirations. This report examines the effect of the digital infrastructure that is the ‘highway’ for this internationalization. Social Futures Observatory Ltd bears sole responsibility for the content of this report. The findings do not necessarily reflect those of the sponsor. The paper draws on a number of sources and is authored by Professor Michael Hulme from the Social Futures Observatory. Supporting material is drawn from a wider range of academic, commercial and public sources, including an international research study undertaken by Redshift Research. The study polled 1,023 business professionals with decisionmaking responsibilities working in large organizations. The interviews were conducted in April 2013.*


* Please refer to the Appendix on page 23 for the full methodology.

A report on the internationalization of English

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY In 2013, the pervasiveness of digital communication, and especially social media communication, means that business customers expect conversational, instantaneous interaction using digital channels, no matter where they are. In a digital world the winners won’t necessarily have the best product or service but more likely be the brands that have the best customer conversations using all forms of communication. Winning organizations will differentiate themselves because they commit the energy and resources to increase the international skills of their people. This report lays out the challenges associated with this and suggests that they can only be met by providing opportunities to learn for all employees, encouraging both the best English speakers to excel and helping the rest to catch up. Failure to do so may damage an organization’s global brand and growth plans.

BEHOLD THE LINGUARATI Leading the way in providing a positive digital communication experience are a young, motivated demographic: the ‘Linguarati’, who understand both the digital world of social media and have the language skills needed to use it. They are a powerful asset, and should be nurtured and developed. Fortunately, they want to improve their skills. Slightly over a third – 37% – of respondents fall into this category. They are younger, more motivated to study English, and have stronger existing English language skills than the overall sample. They are enthusiastic about social media (90% are on Facebook, 89% use Twitter). The Linguarati are most prevalent within companies in emerging economies.

WHY HYPER-CONNECTIVITY1 MATTERS Hyper-connectivity, the ability to conduct customer and supplier relationships across a number of platforms, is at the heart of international business: 82% of respondents use social media at work to some extent and 83% of respondents see it as increasing in importance in the next three years. Hyper-connectivity requires English. It is still the de facto language of international business, with 90% of foreign language speakers believing English will be useful to them in the future, and 81% of emerging economies (Brazil, Russia and China) stating they needed to use English every day. On the internet, 41% of respondents see English as a universal

1. Hyper-connectivity: the growth in and total connectivity of an individual including internet, general media accesses and more mundane connectivity such as text or voice. See Wellman, Barry (June 2001). “Physical Place and Cyber Place: The Rise of Networked Individualism”. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 25 (2): 227–52




language. This is more remarkable because western social media applications are largely unknown in several of the countries in the survey. This is a concern in light of the fact that conversations are moving away from telephone and face-to-face meetings towards social media and video conferencing. These newer forms of communication channels introduce a permanence to the communication as they tend to be recorded, shared or archived for posterity. This permanence puts pressure on even the best non-native English speakers. There is less ‘margin for error’ in communication: errors of presentation or nuance are becoming a bigger problem than simple errors of grammar or understanding. The penalty is, at best, damage to reputation. At worst there may be legal consequences. Only the Linguarati (ie. 37% of the workforce) have adequate English language skills to communicate on a global scale in this hyper-connected environment. The other groups identified in the workforce have a much lower proficiency level that, most likely, is not sufficient to cope with the nuances and instantaneous nature of communication over these channels. Reputational and legal risk may be largely determined by the body of the weakest language speakers, because future communication will not be restricted to a few enthusiasts.

NURTURING ‘REPUTATIONAL RESOURCE’ As a result of hyper-connectivity, a business serious about international success and building a strong international brand must do all it can to ensure that the digital conversations that consumers have with their business are positive ones. We call the sum of these digital conversations an organization’s Reputational Resource, because it influences how an organization presents itself. This is a powerful element of international strategy. The Linguarati are a business’ strongest asset for building an excellent Reputational Resource as they are very proficient in digital and English skills. In contrast, we identify a group we call the ‘Loose Cannons’. This group forms 26% of the overall sample. They use social media frequently but are the least likely (of the entire workforce) to be fluent in English. They therefore have the highest potential to damage their company’s reputation through their poor grasp of the English language being broadcast publically via their social media use.


A report on the internationalization of English

Successful competitors will ensure that their Reputational Resource is broad-based. The Linguarati may distract attention from an older group, often the more senior managers. This group is usually responsible for setting strategy and culture within organizations, but tends to value English and social media skills less. The ability to develop this group’s Reputational Resource may determine competitiveness in the future.

PROVISION OF TRAINING Strengthening employees’ English language skills is the surest way for a business to regain control of their brand and reputation in the marketplace and build a strong Reputational Resource. But worryingly, on this point, there’s a gap between aspiration and execution. There is a clear and strong desire to improve English language skills from 96% of emerging economy respondents, (the most enthusiastic) to 79% for France and Spain, (the least enthusiastic), demonstrating a personal and corporate desire to internationalise through communication2. This is, worryingly, contrasted by the fact that less than half (46%) of organizations are currently supporting and encouraging the desire to learn English. This training deficiency needs to be addressed through the provision of flexible learning solutions. Employees have many demands on their time already, and so learning modes must fit around work and leisure time. Classroom teaching is historically dominant (73%), but there is a strong desire from employees to introduce flexible formats (70%).

2. H. Mikitani, “Unify Your Global Company Through a Common Language”, (2013-April) HBR Blog, Harvard Business Review





BEHOLD THE LINGUARATI Last year, a report by The Economist Intelligence Unit3 entitled ‘Competing Across Borders: How Cultural and Communication Barriers Affect Business’ found that the economic downturn had spurred companies into becoming more international. Cross border collaboration is critical to international business success. This year, we are looking at the process of collaboration: who, in your company, is doing the communicating, what channels do they use, and what skills and resources do they need to deliver a seamless customer experience in an increasingly digital world? When we looked at the communicators in international companies, we found four distinct segments. One of which is rapidly emerging as the driver of global communication in business. The evidence shows that they are not only more skilled, but more enthusiastic and more hungry to learn. We have called them the ‘Linguarati’, and they make up 37% of our sample.

3. “Competing Across Borders” (2012), The Economist Intelligence Unit, London 4. J Palfrey, U Gasser, (2008) “Born Digital”, Basic Books, New York

The Linguarati form a younger, highly digital, connected group. They have been surrounded by digital media from birth and it’s natural for them to use digital media to share and represent themselves4. The Linguarati (fig. 1) are easier to find in the emerging economies (52% of all the Linguarati are there), particularly in contrast to France and Spain.

Figure 1


26% 37%


Emerging economies


France & Spain


A report on the internationalization of English

There are three other broad segments identified in the sample: • Loose Cannons: This group constitutes 26% of the sample. They use social media a moderate amount, mainly for forums and blogging. However, they are the least likely to be fluent in English. So this is the segment of the workforce that could be particularly worrying for a business; they have the highest potential to damage their company’s reputation through their poor grasp of the English language and have only a moderate interest in learning English. • Active Adopters: This group constitutes 17% of the sample. They are advanced in English and use twitter and Facebook a fair amount. They accept that social media is changing the way English is evolving. They are very keen to improve their language skills further. • Traditionalists: This group constitutes 20% of the sample and tends to be older than the rest of the sample. They have a reasonably high degree of fluency in English already, but are less keen than others to study further. They rarely use social media and feel it has a limited impact on their working life. Clearly there are two business problems to solve. The first is how to develop existing Linguarati. The second is how to move the laggards from their segments to join them, building ‘linguistic capital’ in the business.

Figure 2



Active Adopters

Traditionalists Danger zone

‘Loose Cannons’

Digital ‘connectedness’




It is also crucial that businesses identify and contain the ‘Loose Cannon’ segment of their workforce. In light of their relatively high usage of social media and their poor English proficiency, this is arguably the segment that most urgently needs English language training. Without it, all the good work that the Linguarati do to build and strengthen Reputational Resource could potentially be ruined (fig 2).

WHO ARE THE LINGUARATI? It’s no surprise to find that the Linguarati are young, connected both online and offline, and eager to learn. Three in five (59%) in this segment are under 35, likely to be involved in customer-facing jobs, especially sales or marketing. Many are executives, and they are more likely to be working in technologybased businesses, such as IT or telecoms. They are already competent in both spoken and written English and are committed to further improve their skills. They are more likely to see themselves as part of a global generation with an international mindset, but are still heavily influenced by locality. Linguarati are much more likely to use social media than the rest of the work­ force: 90% actively use Facebook, 89% use Twitter and 77% LinkedIn (fig. 3).

Figure 3



89% 79%




70% 60% Linguarati Rest of sample


48% 38%

40% 30%




20% 10% 0% Facebook




Read & write blogs

Online community participation

A report on the internationalization of English

The LinkedIn figure alone is 30% greater than any other segment. They are more likely to search the internet for business information (58%) than non-business information (51%), which is unlike the pattern in other segments. They believe that social media is changing the workplace, and changing English too.

THINKING GLOBAL AND LOCAL It must be noted that the Linguarati aren’t a homogenous global group. Much of their behavior still depends on where they live and how that has shaped them, as behavior and identity are context-specific5. This is not least because local social media often dominates their communication; in China, (where 57% state English is the language of the internet), or Japan, South Korea and Russia, local social networking sites are still influential6. For example, Cyworld in South Korea connected more than 50% of the population in 20107. The most international, Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter, have much less impact. But this is rapidly changing in many places. India, Brazil, Russia, the Middle East and Africa are providing some of the biggest gains in Facebook’s worldwide user base. According to estimates from eMarketer, Facebook will pass 1 billion active users worldwide in 2013, driven by strong growth in its Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa, and Latin American user bases8.

ON THE OUTSIDE? What of the other segments? We know they are older, less public facing, less connected, and with lower English language fluency. But that doesn’t mean they are content to stay that way at work. Our Active Adopters have an appetite for improving English fluency, and an interest in both traditional and online learning. They do use social media, just not as much. Even among the Traditionalists, 26% often search the internet for business information. Some, at least, would like to join the Linguarati. If the Linguarati overshadow them, their desires and needs for better language skills will go unheard. It is not simply a question of whether they can join the group – over time, if trends continue, the outsiders will become less able to support the business plans of their employers. The result: less competitiveness. There is also the risk that if these groups are dominant within organizations, there is less incentive for the next generation of Linguarati to join such companies as they will look increasingly parochial.

5. Foresight Future Identities (2013), The Government Office for Science, London 6. Often, names alien in the West dominate local social media: in China, for example, sites such as Sina Weibo, Renren, and Jiepang. See C. Chiu, C.Ip & A. Silverman (2012) McKinsey Quarterly “Understanding Social Media in China” 7. S E Park, Y S Lim, S Sams, S M E Nam, H W Park, (2010), Networked Politics on CyWorld: The Text and Sentiment of Korean Political Profiles, Social Science Computer review, Sage online 8. “Emerging Markets Drive Facebook User Growth”,, published 9 May 2013





WHY HYPER-CONNECTIVITY MATTERS Businesses have always needed communication skills, and especially skills in English. But these days we see that the need is both broader – more people need to speak or write in some form – and deeper, as there are many more platforms for communication. We call this modern phenomenon ‘hyper-connectivity’. We anticipated strong cultural differences, by both nationality and region. But the numbers show that international business, particularly in technology and consumer-facing sectors, is transcending local cultures. In short, an international culture of English-speaking global business already exists in force. The question businesses need to be asking themselves now is how to best capitalize on this.

THE FUTURE SPEAKS ENGLISH 9. M Cleveland, M Laroche, Acculturation to the global consumer culture: Scale development and research paradigm, (2007) Journal of Business Research, Volume 60, Issue 3 pages 249-259, Elsevier

We say this culture is English-speaking and it is arguably getting more so. Our research supported previous studies which cited an international business culture, based on the use of digital media9 where English is the de facto language. In our research, 35% of respondents cited English as the language of international business and 90% believe English will be useful to them (fig. 4) – in both business and across the digital world.

Figure 4


Average: 90%







Emerging Economies

France & Spain




Middle East

A report on the internationalization of English

Most respondents believe that English is becoming more widely used (for instance, 84% of respondents in Saudi Arabia, 76% in Brazil and 68% in UAE). Even the figures for those least supporting this statement – 41% in France and the UK – are significant. The growth of English usage is higher in emerging economies and on emerging platforms. English is already the de facto language for 44% of such economies. Combined with digital and social media, we see that English is becoming both more widely used (60%) and is seen by 41% as the universal language of social media. Again, this figure is higher (50%) in the emerging economies, second highest in the Middle East – but only 23% in France and Spain. This has practical consequences. Among the emerging economies, 81% of respondents need to use English everyday (62% in France and Spain), but only 54% of emerging economies are fluent or advanced in English. This competence gap must be addressed by businesses.

COMPETING SOCIALLY Hyper-connectivity is both an opportunity and a challenge. The opportunity is clear: a company that can communicate with the largest number of potential customers or suppliers, using the medium they prefer,

Figure 5


Vitally important 27%

Not important at all 7%

Not very important 10% Fairly important 37%

Of some importance 19%




Figure 6


More email conversations Greater online dialogue via online forums/Facebook/Twitter More dialogue with people in other countries More virtual meetings (using Skype or similar tools) Development of an ongoing dialogue outside of normal working hours Fewer telephone conversations More direct dialogue with individual customers/suppliers Fewer face-to-face meetings

is clearly more likely to succeed. But this openness, expressed in a nonnative language, brings with it risks as well as rewards. Our research shows that the battle for customers is already being fought, in a large part, across social media. Overall, 84% of the sample felt the nature of communications had changed through the use of social media. Although respondents see a rise in the use of social media (fig. 5) in the next three years, with 83% of respondents seeing social media as important, this is only 5% above current levels. That means a new type of customer conversation is taking shape. In fact, as figure 6 shows, the typical conversation has already changed, with more emphasis now on both dialogue and information sharing. Indeed, we found that 82% of the workforce use social media to some extent. However, the social revolution isn’t over yet by any means, because social media is set to become the default way to communicate for many businesses. Our respondents also think that the mix of business communication will change in the next three years (fig. 7), with more virtual communication (social media and video conferencing) taking the place of face-to-face, telephone and even email. This also means that a conversation that starts via email may be concluded in a chatroom, a videoconference or via instant messaging. Moving seamlessly across media that have very different demands on language skills will be normal business activity.


A report on the internationalization of English

Figure 7









60% 50%



48% 40%





20% 10% 0% Email


Face-to-face meetings

Video Conferencing

Social Media

Our research found that business people are already thoroughly ‘at home’ in a hyper-connected business world. Three quarters (76%) see social media as of some importance and 59% as either vital or fairly important (fig. 8). Social media is already entrenched, particularly as a means to increase awareness of brands and to strengthen relationships with both customers and suppliers (fig. 9).

Figure 8


Not very important 12%

Vitally important 24%

Fairly important 35%

Of some importance 17%




For ambitious, globally-focused emerging economy businesses, virtual modes of communication are increasingly popular. Respondents from emerging economies anticipate significant increases in video conferencing (20% against 8% for France and Spain) and social media (22% against 17%). But, the catch: social media conversations require levels of language competence and flexibility that are sometimes challenging even to native English speakers. Worse, local customs and practices – slang, abbreviations, unexpected informality – make those conversations even more confusing for a non-native speaker. Therefore, with the opportunity comes a Pandora’s box of pitfalls. For the Linguarati, it’s a challenge at best. For the other groups, without careful training, it’s a legal and reputational risk. The difficulty isn’t just about linguistic dexterity. In the offline world of meetings, phone calls and conversations, few of our interactions leave a permanent footprint. In contrast, email, chat and even videoconferences leave a permanent record by default. And worse still, for the unprepared, the ‘broadcast’ nature of social media can be seen (and saved) by a broader group. We tweet at our peril. At the very least, communicators need to understand the nuances of English, and be confident to use them. Companies need to identify who has the skill, where the risk is, and manage it. If not, the damage is there for all to see, forever. The ways to manage this are covered in the next section.

Figure 9


Increases awareness of our brand/products Helps establish our image as a modern business Strengthens relationship with customers/suppliers Key role in promoting our brand/products Generates sales leads Gathers feedback from customers & understand what they want Good training resource


A report on the internationalization of English

ATOS CASE STUDY Robin Ajdari, Vice President for Learning & Development and Head of Atos University at Atos International, has two reasons for encouraging the growth of Reputational Resource in his organization. Firstly, Atos is four years into a strategic transformation to become a global leader of the IT services industry. Secondly, one of the most important ways in which global project management is being encouraged is through a social collaboration platform called blueKiwi, which Atos owns, as well as selling it to clients. blueKiwi helps enterprises improve their business performance through collaborative social networking. It has 1 million users in 10,000 communities globally – and its largest user is Atos, with 76,000 employees in 40 countries. “blueKiwi is a powerful tool to build collaboration and communities,” he says, “We train all our employees for group communication. Many collaboration platforms are quite straightforward, but a powerful platform like this one needs training, so thousands of our staff are trained to make sure they understand the potential of what we do.” English teaching is a fundamental part of this development, because collaboration on blueKiwi is mostly in English – the corporate language. The need for collaboration has increased due to the development of offshoring at Atos. “With large numbers of people in India, Africa and Latin America, many colleagues are not in the same town any more. Often they are not even

in the same country. So these changes also help drive the need for English language training,” Ajdari explains. With the company dedicated to providing services globally, client communication is another driver of language skills. “The level of English that our employees possess, if it was not good enough, would be detrimental both to the service we provide and further development of our business,” Ajdari says. Therefore, to collaborate better and improve client service, all employees have the opportunity to learn English. “Our first option is our online English school. This is free for all our employees. They don’t even need to ask for approval to start to study. Already, close to 20,000 employees have taken advantage of it,” Ajdari explains, “We also provide an online teacher for some of our staff who want audio lessons so they can learn to speak with more skill.” There is still the challenge of how to encourage those who are reluctant to learn: in Spain and France – traditionally strong regions for Atos business – English language skills, as demonstrated in the survey, are less valued. Also Ajdari understands that less motivated employees might try one lesson, but give up. “We have a challenge,” Ajdari admits, “We know there are some people who are less engaged at the moment. This is understandable, because when people do not need English on a daily basis, they are less motivated to learn. “But we explain that for many of them, if they want to grow their career in the future, they will need a high standard of English.”

The need for collaboration has increased due to the development of offshoring at Atos. “Many colleagues are not in the same town any more – often they are not even in the same country. These changes also help drive the need for English language training”





NURTURING REPUTATIONAL RESOURCE Digital and social media channels mean that customers expect to communicate with businesses instantaneously, no matter where they are in the world. The winners today will be those businesses with a clear understanding of these channels, and who develop their employees’ language and digital skillsets to use them. They communicate and meet their customers’ needs in a way that strengthens their brand and reputation; we term this Reputational Resource. Before social media, nurtuting Reputational Resource would be achieved by language training for selected customer or supplier-facing staff. Today it is a skill that needs to be pervasive in the organization: 58% of respondents outside the English-speaking world consider social media (pre-dominantly in English) to be vitally or fairly important to communicate with customers. Looking forward three years, that figure rises to 74%. The bad news: there is a significant gap between demand for the language teaching that will create Reputational Resource, and the supply of it. This is both a lost opportunity and an unsecured risk. Ambition does not match execution. Last year, in the ‘Competing Across Borders’ survey conducted with the Economist Intelligence Unit, one in ten Chinese companies reported that at least 50% of their workers use a foreign language in their job. However, almost nine in 10 expect that 50% of their employees will need to know English to make a success of their growth plans. Evidently, a clear gap exists between the status quo and the skills needed for international success. Given this gap, it is surprising that only 46% of employers are actively offering training and support to build up such skills. It would be difficult to imagine an equivalent fundamental skill that is so neglected.


10. R.Lane Greene, Cultural Revolutions in Megachange 2050 (2012) ed D.Franklin, J.Andrews, The Economist, London


If businesses are slow to develop Reputational Resource, it’s not because there’s no desire to learn internally. The combined strength of English as both the language of business (for example, 90% of all science papers were written in English as recently as 2001, with no other single language accounting for 2%10) and its prevalence in the media drives a clear aspiration to improve language skills. Across the whole sample, 85% aspired to learn or improve their English skills. Among the emerging economies this was 96% and, even in France and Spain where the desire is lowest, 79% wanted to improve.

A report on the internationalization of English

Interestingly, there appears to be a strong link between perceived need to strengthen English language skills and current fluency and connectedness. The Linguarati, not surprisingly, are the most ambitious. They are the most connected and the most eager to improve – and so the most open to learning flexibly as well. Note that this does not mean that the rest are not connected, are not using English or do not want to learn.

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM Space and time constraints may be an obstacle when developing Reputational Resource. There is, though, little to suggest that employees want to learn in a classroom. Online and spare-time learning is most likely to both satisfy this desire and bring the skills of the least proficient up to a minimum level while minimizing disruption to the business. It also seems to meet with the approval of the learners (fig. 10).

Figure 10



Study using online/digital resources


Classroom environment

Hardcopy books/materials



Learn flexibly to own schedule

Study regularly, at a particular time


Historically, 73% of respondents learned English in a classroom, with online or digital resources given a much smaller role (fig. 11). But new generations are responding by moving away from traditional classroom teaching towards more flexible digital learning options, which more closely match their lifestyle and the changing nature of communication. In our survey, almost three quarters (72%) of respondents want to learn




Figure 11



60% 50% Emerging economies France & Spain




30% 19%


23% 17% 8%

10% 0% Classroom

CD/DVD at home

Picked up online

PC/online course at work

flexibly to fit their lives and schedules (fig. 10). In short, they want to learn English in the same way that they want to use it at work. Indeed, 87% of respondents from emerging economies are looking to digital learning. Overall, we see that while the classroom remains important for 61% of the sample, the balance has shifted to online or digital resources, and is important for 70% of them. Integrated and flexible training provision may go a long way to satisfying the demands of the most connected, while convincing the least connected to improve English skills, and so take a full part in the future of their business.


A report on the internationalization of English

ACCENTURE CASE STUDY “Social media has given us a chance to be inclusive, and we encourage it,” says Robert Hamwee, a Learning and development lead at Accenture. “It’s amazing how much our employees use social media and new methods to communicate.” As a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company, with approximately 275,000 people serving clients in more than 120 countries, Accenture is constantly communicating externally and internally. Also, with English as the common corporate language, when colleagues in those countries meet, they do it online, largely using the English language. Hamwee helps to develop Accenture’s Linguarati: “We do have a group of Linguarati who have developed their language and communication skills to be able to do their job more competently and to be part of a global work community. It’s a large proportion of the people in the firm. It has revolutionized the way we work, because it allows people to work remotely without feeling excluded,” he says. While Hamwee says that the general level of competence – both for language and digital technology – has increased dramatically in the last 10 years, this is also in response to the

“E-learning is often much more effective than classroom training, because the technology enables us to be inclusive.”

pressure of success for Accenture. Winning confidence and trust requires fluency in every situation. “When you look at our senior staff, then trying to influence our clients – for example when making a presentation – means we need not just knowledge of the language, but an appreciation of the subtleties of communication in that language. Fewer people have those skills. An Accenture managing director on a project needs to be persuasive and clear – that demands a very good command of English.” Yet, equally often, the same staff will be using the same skills online – Hamwee points out that instant messaging, for example, is now routine for internal and external communication. Training those skills has also evolved out of all recognition in the last 10 years. “We use online training, because people would not have the time for face-to-face training. It becomes impossible to assemble classroom groups and, to be honest, it becomes unnecessary: people don’t learn in a classroom anymore,” he says. Online training is especially popular with the Linguarati, according to Hamwee: “If you have traditional classroom training, people will say, where’s my online learning, where’s my social noticeboard, where are my collaborative tools? E-learning is often much more effective than classroom training, because the technology enables us to be inclusive. Ten years ago, training people who were sitting in India, China or Argentina was difficult and expensive but with the advent of virtual and collaborative learning a whole new world of learning opportunities has been made available.”





RECOMMENDATIONS We know there is an international business culture based on proficiency in English, particularly pronounced in media, technology, services, marketing or sales. A minority of employees, the Linguarati, are competent (though not necessarily fluent) in English, show a propensity to learn and are comfortable using English in social media, online, and in person. We have also identified a hyper-connected business world that needs the skills that the Linguarati have developed. On the other hand, there’s a significant risk: 82% of employees use social media at work but only 37% (the Linguarati) have adequate English language skills to communicate on a global scale through these channels. Other groups have language skills that are not sufficient for this hyper-connected environment. The nature of social media means that conversations are not just more complicated, but also more public and more permanent. Meanwhile, only a minority of these international businesses are providing urgently needed language education.

11. The Worldwide Market for Digital English Language Learning Products and Services: 2011-16 Forecast and Analysis, Ambient Insight Research Report, 2012


Developing these skills must be a priority. We make four key recommendations to this end.

1. FACE UP TO HYPER-CONNECTIVITY Though it may be unwelcome, especially for an older generation of managers, organizations must understand that a successful international company will be one most able to express and represent itself, in English, across many different types of media. Leadership by example must emphasise that English communication cuts through every job type and level.

2. TRAIN THE MANY, NOT THE FEW Not everyone wants to improve their English skills. Support those staff members who are reticent as well as the committed minority. If you train only the Linguarati, you will have areas of weakness. You can do this by encouraging all levels to be personally ‘market ready’ as part of their career development inside the organization. Emphasise that this will include both digital and language skills.

3. STRATEGISE ‘REPUTATIONAL RESOURCE’ Develop appropriate English language skills for this hyper-connected world. Accept that the two work together. Invest in only one, or keep teams separate, and you risk significant financial cost without benefits.

4. GO BEYOND THE CLASSROOM As teaching inevitably becomes more mobile and flexible11, provide learning opportunities that are tailored for individual learning styles if you want to achieve lasting change. Many of the most important students are busy, or have other commitments, or travel a lot, so they cannot learn in a classroom. Your language training may include traditional learning models, but give increasing emphasis to flexible self-managed resources.

A report on the internationalization of English


ABOUT THE AUTHOR Michael Hulme is Hon Professor at Lancaster University and Director of the Social Futures Observatory specializing in exploring emergent social futures and the role of media and technology. He advises many leading global media/technology organizations, Government and several NGOs, has spoken at many international conferences and is a regular contributor to the media and academic journals.

Survey methodology The report drew on a wide range of academic, commercial and public data sources, as well as original research from 1,023 business professionals across 10 countries: Sweden, USA, Brazil, France, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, UAE, UK and China. All respondents were business people with decision-making responsibility working in large organizations across a range of sectors: IT, Manufacturing, Retail, Finance, Business Services, Education and Training, Healthcare and the Public Sector. The interviews were conducted online by Redshift Research in April 2013 using an email invitation and an online survey.


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