The modern workforce has become increasingly heterogeneous — not just because of skilled labor shortages, but also because of a stronger international orientation in the corporate world. Here at Babbel, for example, we work with colleagues from 52 different countries.
The Babbel customer base is also growing more international and expects communication and customer service that demonstrate cultural awareness. In order to be able to do justice to the diversity and variety of opinions, as well as facilitate discussion at eye level, a company must make certain adjustments. It’s not enough to simply switch the official working language to English (nor is it enough to proudly employ colleagues from 52 countries).
Diversity on the Team
Here’s a question that comes up again and again in diverse working environments: “Which values and norms can we all agree on?” In companies with little diversity, this is often irrelevant. But at a heterogeneous organization such as Babbel, this question is a focal point of discussion at both the company and team level, where we’re always aiming for a general consensus. In this way, our diversity at Babbel compels us to question long-standing assumptions about how things should be done and come up with new ways that we all agree on.
We see the kind of collaboration and company-wide agreement that diversity requires as a major opportunity to strengthen our company and solidarity among our workforce. For example, as we couldn’t simply assume certain corporate values or communication standards with our diverse group, we had to be very intentional about setting these and making sure they worked for everyone, which has led to values and standards that are very clear and well supported. We further support our diverse team at Babbel by offering internal language training, so we can all learn and understand each other and our languages better. For example, currently we offer employees a blended learning format between the app and the classroom.
What we learn from our diverse internal team, in turn, helps us to serve our customers better. For example, our internal language trainings have served as a great testing grounds for ways to better meet our customers’ learning needs. The blended learning we have been able to build and try out within our company has helped us create courses for our clients that are more efficient, fair, controllable, flexible and individualized.
In addition to the fundamental advantage of our colleagues being able to understand each other better, language skills among our employees offer something far greater. Knowledge of different languages offers a chance to perceive the world differently and offers alternative ways to interpret our own experiences, which can be enlightening. It provides the powerful understanding that one’s own perspective is not always the only valid one. For example, in English, we describe short-term conditions as something directly about us — I am hungry, I am tired. Whereas, in Spanish, we treat both of these conditions as something we have: tengo hambre, tengo sueño. In English, one eats soup, where in Turkish, one “drinks” it; , and in German, one rides “with” the train rather than riding it.
So Much Depends on Context
Learning a second language is an excellent way to understand that our long-standing ideas and opinions are actually deeply dependent on their context. Our perspective is only one of many. New languages create a new space for individuals to explore new perspectives, as well as to experience increased curiosity, empathy and creativity. We see the world with new eyes and broaden our imaginations.
Multiple perspectives make a difference at every level. Through taking an interest in each other’s perspectives and enjoying our differences and similarities within Babbel, we are taking a step to contribute to society at large and hope to demonstrate how this interest in diversity can benefit us all.