"We believe that the largest limitation to any company with international ambitions is no longer technological – it's human," says Jake Jollis, cofounder and CEO of online language-learning platform Verbling. "Companies that want to successfully strengthen their international business aren't limited by how equipped their computers are, but rather by how equipped their people are."
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The Problem: Language Barriers
Verbling Enterprise aims to address one of the biggest problems in international business: language barriers. Although email, chat, and video conferencing make it easy to communicate across long distances, international colleagues do not necessarily understand one another when they do get in contact.
According to a 2013 U.S. Department of Commerce report, foreign-owned companies employed 5.6 million people in the U.S., and U.S.-owned businesses employed 11.6 million workers abroad. While some companies strictly hire multilingual employees to make sure employees can communicate across national boundaries, that requirement disqualifies talented individuals who are willing and eager to learn.
Normally, companies would address the language barrier by hiring language consultants who visit their offices during set hours to teach group lessons. Human resource managers get stuck coordinating schedules among dozens of employees, and inevitably, there are conflicts, which means attendance for these classes is low. Few employees learn new language skills, and the company doesn't see much, if any, return on its investment.
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Learning Language Through Tech
Verbling Enterprise wants to change that by making corporate language programs digital. When companies sign up for Verbling Enterprise, employees are able to book their language lessons with professional, native-speaking teachers. Employers don't have to worry about scheduling lessons, contracting instructors, or tracking language proficiencies. Their teams can learn new languages from the office or at home, and lessona are available 24/7.
"We are a technology company, and we don't believe the role of technology is to replace teachers. It's to empower them," Jollis says. "Software is good at many things, but it's awful at the spoken conversation practice people desperately need. When learning a foreign language, access to the human-to-human speaking practice is what usually makes the difference between novice and expert."
Lessons take place with individual teachers over video chat, and Verbling vets prospective teachers to ensure they meet rigorous standards. Instead of codifying a certain way of teaching, Verbling believes learners are unique and their teacher should be, too.
"That is what makes us so powerful for businesses," says Jollis. "HR doesn't have to worry about trying to find a one-size-fits-all teacher for their company, and employees get to pick a teacher who matches their style of learning."
Different companies have different needs. Moreover, different employees within each company have different needs. Verbling Enterprise personalizes lessons around the individual employee's goals.
Setting Companies Up for International Success
Two of the biggest challenges international businesses face when battling language barriers materialize in internal communication and efforts to expand. For some of these businesses, internal communication between offices in different countries functions as a central concern. And for companies that want to offer their services to customers whose first language is different from their own, international expansion becomes problematic without a linguistic common ground.
"In both cases, we reduce language barriers within the company through investment in foreign language skills," Jollis says.
From growing revenue in a new market to cutting costs by improving a supply chain, conducting business across language barriers remains critical to any company with global ambitions.