7 Red Flags That Your Employees Need Better English Language Skills

In the world of global business, being able to communicate in multiple languages is more than a nice-to-have: it’s essential. And with English being very much the language of international business, it’s more important than ever that your staff are competent English communicators. But what are the red flags indicating that your teams might benefit from English language training? We’ve gathered together some warning signs for you to bear in mind.


Frequent miscommunications are perhaps the most obvious sign that employees need stronger language skills. These can arise either from difficulties with listening comprehension, or because an employee has trouble expressing themselves clearly and accurately. In both cases, individuals may need to focus on fine-tuning pronunciation and vocabulary; or may need a boost in terms of functional phrases: these are the words we commonly use to get certain tasks done, for example, starting or ending a telephone call, ordering at a restaurant, or guiding an audience through a presentation, to name but three. If a staff member in the Sales or Finance Department frequently mishears “thirty” as “thirteen”, or customers complain that your employees are rude and unhelpful on the telephone, it could be time to offer them some targeted listening practice or functional language training.

Task Avoidance

Employees who don’t feel confident using English in certain situations may try to avoid those situations or tasks altogether. Whether it’s not answering the phone, not volunteering to meet and greet visitors, or even calling in sick on the day of a presentation, employees who are unsure about their language abilities may try to hide their nerves or lack of confidence by dodging activities where speaking English would be required. However, the best way to build competence in a language is by practicing those difficult tasks: offer your team members a safe space and the opportunity to rehearse conversations and try out the language they need before they need to ‘perform’ in public or with strangers.

Lack of Confidence

Linked to task avoidance is a lack of confidence in owning projects or taking up leadership roles. Employees who feel that their language skills are not up to scratch may not want to take on extra responsibilities. In these cases, projects could be delayed because of lack of clear direction and capable candidates are passed over for promotion because they don’t trust themselves to use English in their daily work. Here, again, giving employees a chance to polish their language skills in a safe environment, with support in mastering those specific business functions they will need for the new role, can help. Encourage your staff to maximize their potential in terms of language as well as leadership and other responsibilities by offering them self-study opportunities, not just for management skills but for English, too.

Poor Team Spirit

A team that cannot communicate efficiently does not bond as effectively. This is even more important when we think about international or remote teams: if members do not feel confident communicating in the common team language, rapport cannot be built, levels of trust will be lower and communication is more likely to break down. These breakdowns in communication between team members can have lasting effects. As well as damaging a current project, it is difficult to rebuild trust once it has been lost, causing problems with future endeavors. By ensuring that all team members – whatever their role – can communicate effectively in English, companies can lay the foundations for lasting and productive collaboration. Here again, training can focus on the functional language a team actually needs as well as offering a general solution. Perhaps a course in remote communication styles is necessary in addition to industry-specific training?

Missed Networking Opportunities

As well as building rapport within the company, strong language skills lead to increased successful networking opportunities. This is especially important for those working in Sales or Marketing. Here, lower levels of competence in English could mean that opportunities to make that vital connection are missed. In this case, training in active listening skills as well as polishing small talk vocabulary can help employees build connections outside the company, opening up vital business opportunities.

Loss of Motivation

A little challenge is good for personal development, but if employees feel that they are continually being pushed outside of their comfort zone in terms of language and being asked to complete tasks which are far too challenging for their level of English, their motivation to work may decrease through overload or fear of failure. Low self-confidence when facing assignments that demand they use their language skills can reduce an employee’s willingness to persevere and complete the task successfully. You might find team members procrastinating over work that they don’t – or don’t believe they have – the skills to complete successfully. Equipping your team with the language tools they need to do the job ensures a more successful outcome, which builds confidence and in turn boosts motivation, leading, again, to a greater chance of success in the future.

High Staff Turnover

This is a situation which HR managers dread: employees join a company but do not choose to stay very long. This problem can have several root causes, two of which lie in language competence and training.

One reason employees quit is skills mismatch. If they feel the job is too difficult for them, they may become discouraged and leave. This is linked to a second reason, which is a lack of necessary training to do the job in question. If a company fails to equip their hires with the language skills they need to achieve their objectives, this not only leads to loss of revenue (through poor relationships or lost leads) but causes frustration on the part of the employees who want to succeed and feel that they are not being supported in their efforts to do so. Frustration can lead to dissatisfaction which increases the likelihood that employees resign…causing the hiring process to start all over again, possibly with the same results. The bottom line is – investing in employees’ language skills is never money wasted, and can have immediate returns.

At Learnship, we help people develop the skills they need to thrive in the workplace. We have a wealth of knowledge and experience that can help unlock your potential and help you succeed in international business. Our Solo learning program offers employees the chance to improve their English skills in their own time, at their own pace, with or without the support of a specialist trainer, and irrespective of their language level: from complete beginners to near-experts.


Kirstie Jackson Wilms worked as a Business English trainer for Learnship for eight years before joining the Publishing team in 2018. She holds a CELTA and has recently completed DELTA certification. Her professional interests are in developing learner autonomy through materials writing and classroom practice. In her free time she enjoys hiking, reading crime novels and visiting museums.