Case Study


The Language of Business

BY SARAH FISTER GALE

C

ampari Group may be best known for its signature aperitif, but the 158-year-old company has more than 50 brands in its portfolio, including Grand Marnier, Skyy Vodka and Wild Turkey bourbon. The $2 billion organization has more than 4,000 employees in offices in every region of the world. Its global presence means Campari employees often do business with clients in other countries, making language barriers a frequent concern.

Many global organizations rely on English as a language of choice when communicating across borders because it is so widely spoken. That’s great for English speakers, but it can be a challenge for everyone else. “Being a multinational company, our employees have had increasingly more contact with the English language in their day-to-day activities,” said Ana Claudia Gonçalves, human resources manager for Campari Group in Sao Paulo, Brazil. “Moreover, Campari is highly committed to its employees’ careers and development, and we understand how important English proficiency is for professional growth in today’s world.”

Campari has offered language training to its employees for years. However, in 2016 Gonçalves’ group conducted a review of the language training program and found it came up short. The programming took a one-size-fits-all approach that wasn’t meeting every learner’s needs, and the vendor didn’t provide enough metrics to track learners’ progress. “That’s when we found Voxy,” Gonçalves said.

Voxy is a web-based English language training company that provides adaptive curriculum and personalized instruction for corporations and individual learners. Unlike a lot of language training programs that use formal scripts and tiered vocabulary lessons, Voxy is built around the idea of using authentic conversations to teach language, said Katie Nielson, Voxy’s chief education officer in New York. “We use real-world content to personalize the instruction to the needs of the learner,” she said.

Language on the Go

Campari partnered with Voxy in April 2017 to deliver an eight-month English language pilot program for 30 employees to test its impact. From the beginning employees were excited, Gonçalves said. “We received nearly 80 applications for the 30 spots, which shows our team’s commitment to their own professional development.”

Snapshot

Campari Group is using political articles and lifestyle magazines to help employees learn English.

The program offered a combination of self-paced lessons and live virtual classes customized to the kinds of business conversations and contacts the learners were likely to experience on the job. Based on feedback from Gonçalves’ team and the duration of the course, Voxy determined that learners should complete a minimum of 48 self-paced activities and two live classes per month to meet their language proficiency goals.

Once students were selected, they completed a survey to assess their current English language skills, their personal and professional goals for the class, and the types of content they like to read. Voxy used the data to provide content that was relevant to their interests and abilities. This step is vital to the Voxy training methods, because they’ve found that when lessons are too simple or boring, learners disengage, Nielson said. “They have to be interested in the content or they won’t pay attention.”

By using content built around current events and trends, the learners are more invested in deciphering it. For example, Ana Rodriguez, a trade marketing analyst who participated in the pilot and considered herself a high beginner, noted that she liked to read articles about world news and food and drink trends, so those articles populated her lessons. “It made it more interesting to do the work,” she said. It also exposed her to more common English language expressions and casual conversational terms, which she found helpful. “As a marketing analyst, I encounter English expressions every day, so these lessons helped me in my job,” she said.

The live classes are similarly adaptable, with instructors responding on the fly to the needs of whoever shows up to class. “We train our instructors to respond to what the learners want to talk about, rather than coming in with a PowerPoint presentation,” Nielson said.

Each virtual class includes a live instructor but also enables students to talk to each other and share documents so they don’t disrupt the flow of the class. Rodriguez appreciated the opportunity to practice with her Campari colleagues in the live sessions and to talk about topics relevant to their collective work. “It was an important part of the program,” she said.

You Can’t Game the System

Rodriguez feels the class helped her to improve her English and said she is more confident having conversations with peers and clients. And she’s not alone.

The pilot project was a success based on multiple measures, said Gonçalves. “Program adoption was high among the majority of users, who were also able to commit to the study goals we set.” The active user rate was 86 percent throughout the program based on the number of lessons students completed and their attendance in group sessions. Nielson noted that this number is especially impressive because Voxy only measures “active participation,” which means if learners just open a lesson or enter a live class but don’t participate, they don’t get credit. “You can’t game the system,” Nielson said.

To ensure a high rate of participation, Gonçalves’ team worked throughout the program to remind learners to stay engaged. “Maintaining consistent engagement levels is a big challenge with language learning, but we overcame it by coming up with creative ways for learners to keep track of their performance and reminding them regularly of how essential English is for their growth,” Gonçalves said. Their strategies included creating a leaderboard to rank learners’ performance, sharing news articles on the importance of English for career growth and sending English language study tips. The most highly engaged users were rewarded with private tutoring credits. She also met face-to-face with learners who were falling behind to try to revert the situation. “When it comes to keeping them motivated and engaged with their learning, all efforts are worthwhile,” she said.

Nielson agreed. She noted that when companies have an active champion who monitors employees’ engagement with language learning, it can have a dramatic impact on participation and results. “If you have someone who holds learners accountable, they are more likely to take it seriously,” she said. “It doesn’t take a lot of effort, and it has a big impact.”

“They have to be interested in the content or they won’t pay attention.”

— Katie Nielson, chief education officer, Voxy

Voxy’s tracking also showed a steady increase in proficiency across the learner population. “At the beginning of the program, 61 percent of the group consisted of beginners and high beginners,” Gonçalves said. “But after eight months, 57 percent of the learners had already reached low intermediate.” Learners also rated their satisfaction with the program at 4.5 on a 5-point scale.

“We’ve noticed that people really do see value in the program,” Gonçalves said. “Even a year and a half after launching the initial pilot, employees still reach out to us requesting to participate after hearing their colleagues’ positive remarks about the course.”

Campari and Voxy and now working together to expand the program and to offer it to employees across the company. “Our goal is to see our employees improving their English proficiency and, consequently, achieving more growth opportunities within the company,” Gonçalves said.

Every Program Needs a Champion

For companies interested in launching their own language learning program, Nielson suggested starting with a needs analysis to determine who in the company would benefit from language training, how the training will help them do their jobs better and what proficiency looks like. “If you set clear goals, they learn faster,” she said.

“User outreach is also crucial to the program’s success,” Gonçalves added. “Staying in touch with employees through newsletters, monthly rankings and other engagement activities can be extremely useful in helping the project gain strength within the organization.”

Sarah Fister Gale is a writer based in Chicago. To comment, email editor@CLOmedia.com.