Employees fluent in three languages – it’s the norm in Lithuania

Sep 26, 2018
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The following article by Rūta Labalaukytė, Senior Investment Advisor at Invest Lithuania, was first published in Outsourcing&More magazine. Please follow this link to access the whole issue.

How many languages do you expect a modern professional to speak? Well, if you are recruiting for talent in Lithuania, receiving a CV with three languages spoken to a high level is nothing out of the ordinary. In this Baltic country, the average number of languages spoken per person is 2.7, and 97.3% of the population speaks at least one foreign language. And the competitive advantage that this multilingualism brings has already been put to good use in the country’s burgeoning Global Business Services (GBS) sector. So, how do businesses harness the linguistic potential of a workforce, and even take it up a notch through a variety of initiatives? Using Lithuania’s case as an example, this article will show how it’s done.

A communicative approach from 2nd grade onwards

Creating a culture and business environment where multilingualism is the norm means establishing the right attitude towards language learning in school. Granted, there is no magic pill that guarantees success in language acquisition, but certain methods definitely bring better results than others.

Many old fashioned methods – particularly those focused heavily on grammar – assume that students will spend years mastering a language before they actually start using it. But in today’s fast paced world, a skill that isn’t used becomes … well, useless.

The Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) method, which has been in development since the 1970s, favours a different approach. Here, the focus is on practicing and using the language as you learn.

CLT is applied widely and successfully in the Lithuanian education system, where foreign language instruction is compulsory from Grade 2. An additional foreign language is introduced in Grade 6, and students leave school with advanced knowledge of the first and intermediate knowledge of the second language.  As a result, most freshman college students start university having already attained at least a B2 level in English. And their English is further improved in their first years of university, irrespective of whether their degree is in the Humanities or in a STEAM subject (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art/Design, Math).

Crucially, languages are not taught in isolation, but rather in congress with other skills and knowledge. For example, professors at leading Technology university in the Baltics – Kaunas University of Technology – have integrated elements of critical thinking, problem-solving and co-operation training into language instruction at the University. This way language instruction is integrated with skills that are required in the modern workplace. And the techniques learned and acquired in the classroom can be instantly adapted in real life – be it during a student’s internship or first employment.

University-business collaboration enabling young professionals to level up

Relevance plays an important role in successful language acquisition. Give bright, talented students a good reason to learn a language and there’s every chance they will. This is precisely what is happening in Lithuanian universities, where companies in need of skilled professionals speaking specific languages actively participate in training courses offered at universities. The willingness of universities to collaborate shows their readiness to adapt to the changing needs of international business.

Take, for example, the elective Norwegian language course at Vilnius Gediminas Technical University (VGTU). This course is offered by Cognizant Technology Solutions, which operates a thriving Business Services Centre in Vilnius that serves customers in Nordic countries. The course is tailored for students of Finance Engineering, Economic Engineering, and Business Logistics. Students not only gain linguistic competencies but also get a better understanding of the Nordic market and business environment.

Languages powering the GBS sector

While English remains the standard for businesses around the world, customers still overwhelmingly prefer using their native language. This is why multilingualism is key to success in any client-oriented field. So a major plus for companies establishing or growing their Global Business Services centres in Lithuania is the fact that more than half the population is fluent in at least two languages. According to Lithuania’s Business Services Report 2018, 27% of the centres in Lithuania operate in 6 languages or more.

Naturally, a multilingual staff member is a valuable asset, with their ability to cover several languages making it easier to assign them roles within an organization. But what about other subject specialisations? For example, imagine you find the perfect candidate for a position in Finance who speaks fluent English and German, but you want them to work with the Norwegian market. The good news is that skilled linguists tend to pick up new languages easily – as many foreign companies in Lithuania have learned – so this doesn’t need to be a deal-breaker. The Lithuanian case shows that GBS centres are very effective at finding ways to help professionals add a language (if not two) to their skillset in the shortest period of time possible.

According to Lithuania’s Business Services Report 2018, 72% of centres in Lithuania provide language training to their employees. The most popular languages besides English are Scandinavian languages and German. While external language training is common, around a third of the centres also offer training in house. Experience of the already mentioned Cognizant and Danske Bank Global Services Lithuania shows that helping professionals reach B1 level in Danish or Norwegian is an achievable goal.

A multilingual GBS ecosystem built on talent

In Lithuania, effective language teaching in schools and universities gives students the solid base and skillset they need. Then business-university collaboration and language training programs provided by Business Service Centres allow these talents to perfect the languages they already know, or quickly switch to other languages to meet market needs.

This approach to multilingualism means the country’s GBS sector is flourishing. Lithuania’s population leads the EU for higher education levels, 80% of young people speak English and over half the population speak two or more foreign languages. The GBS ecosystem already has numerous success stories, with multilingualism a key benefit on offer. English is the most popular language, with Nordic and Western European languages close behind – 38% of GBS centres serve clients in German and French. And linguistic skills are just part of the package, as 89% of Lithuanian GBS employees possess a higher education degree, and 29% hold a Master’s degree.

Lithuania’s example goes to show how a focus on language skills, from school years onwards, can create the conditions for a thriving, globally focused services sector.

Do you want to find out more about this and other aspect of the Lithuanian GBS landscape, be sure to download this year’s Lithuania’s Business Services Report 2018.

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