Lan­guage lessons

Employee Benefit News - - CONTENTS -

Thanks to Rosetta Stone soft­ware, em­ploy­ees of Panda Restau­rants are open­ing the lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

In the hec­tic restau­rant world — where pa­trons want de­li­cious food that is served quickly and doesn’t bust the bank — the last thing man­agers, servers and din­ers want is a com­mu­ni­ca­tion break­down. But what hap­pens when a restau­rant that is fa­mous for serv­ing Asian food is staffed with Chi­nese-speak­ing man­agers who work with a pri­mar­ily Span­ish-speak­ing work­force? Dur­ing lunch hour? Now throw in the fact that man­age­ment wants them to speak English, the pri­mary lan­guage of their cus­tomers.

This was the chal­lenge for the man­age­ment of Panda Restau­rant Group, the par­ent com­pany of Panda Ex­press, Panda Inn and Hibachi San es­tab­lish­ments, which serve Asian cui­sine in more than 2,000 restau­rants across the na­tion. To keep the lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion open among its 30,000 em­ploy­ees, Panda has been in­vest­ing in Rosetta Stone, the pop­u­lar lan­guage ed­u­ca­tion soft­ware pro­gram, and re­cently up­graded to the lat­est ver­sion, called Cat­a­lyst.

Once a sta­ple at computer stores, where its ubiq­ui­tous bulky yel­low boxes came packed with an arm­ful of CD-ROMS, Rosetta Stone has evolved for the dig­i­tal age. Cat­a­lyst works as an on­line and mo­bile ap­pli­ca­tion de­signed to de­ter­mine a user’s lan­guage skillset faster than the pre­vi­ous in­car­na­tion of the soft­ware, Rosetta Stone Foun­da­tions. De­signed for global busi­nesses, Cat­a­lyst of­fers lessons in 24 lan­guages, in­clud­ing Ital­ian, Span­ish and Ger­man.

Global busi­nesses ap­pear to be pay­ing at­ten­tion. Rosetta Stone says its soft­ware is be­ing used by nearly 50 firms glob­ally and is of­fered as an em­ployee ben­e­fit by such global firms as Citi, Ex­pe­rian, Fender Mu­si­cal In­stru­ments and BASF. It’s viewed as a non­tra­di­tional ben­e­fit that helps at­tract and re­tain tal­ent, as well as pro­vide pro­fes­sional train­ing and de­vel­op­ment to em­ploy­ees, a well-known boost to em­ploy­ers. Non­tra­di­tional perks, such as ca­reer de­vel­op­ment, are grow­ing in pop­u­lar­ity. In fact, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est ben­e­fits re­port by the So­ci­ety for Hu­man Re­source Man­age­ment, 16% of or­ga­ni­za­tions said they are likely to in­crease pro­fes­sional and ca­reer de­vel­op­ment ben­e­fits in the next 12 months.

Ac­cord­ing to Kevin Kwan, tech­nol­ogy man­ager, learn­ing & de­vel­op­ment, for Panda Restau­rant Group, of­fer­ing Rosetta Stone as a ben­e­fit is one ex­am­ple of how the restau­rant in­vests in its em­ploy­ees.

“Panda is very in­vested in our as­so­ciates, so we see Rosetta Stone as an­other re­source and tool to el­e­vate them,” Kwan says. “We don’t want lan­guage — English-speak­ing in par­tic­u­lar — to be an ob­sta­cle for an as­so­ciate to do his or her best. We don’t want that to be some­thing that will de­ter them from achiev­ing greater things at our store and also in their lives.”

He adds that Rosetta Stone is “one of those tools that just helps us in­vest more in our as­so­ciates and it helps them feel that we care about their growth and not just see them as an as­set.”

Panda em­ploy­ees use the on­line-based soft­ware to solve cer­tain prob­lems when deal­ing in a work­place with three lan­guages: English, Span­ish and Chi­nese. Panda man­age­ment pri­mar­ily wants em­ploy­ees to speak English. “Most of our users have a His­panic or Chi­nese back­ground,” Kwan says.

This echoes what Rosetta Stone is hear­ing from its clients. While U.S. busi­nesses ap­pear to be pri­mar­ily in­ter­ested in English and Span­ish tu­to­ri­als, the de­mand for the pop­u­lar Chi­nese di­alect Man­darin is grow­ing in pop­u­lar­ity, ac­cord­ing to Shari Hofer, Rosetta Stone’s vice pres­i­dent of mar­ket­ing.

Alvin Tang, learn­ing and de­vel­op­ment co­or­di­na­tor at Panda Restau­rant Group, says the com­pany is think­ing of urg­ing em­ploy­ees to learn other lan­guages in the near fu­ture. “With Rosetta Stone be­ing so ver­sa­tile with so many lan­guages, as our com­pany ex­pands, we also ex­pect them to learn lan­guages other than English,” he says. “That’s an op­por­tu­nity that we can have later on in the fu­ture.”

How it works

In­stead of load­ing a dozen Rosetta Stone CD-ROMS, as users did in the late '90s, Panda Restau­rant em­ploy­ees sign onto the Rosetta Stone soft­ware with their per­sonal email ac­counts

from their home com­put­ers, lap­tops, tablets or smart­phones. Panda pays for the li­censes, but em­ploy­ees are ex­pected to use the soft­ware on their free time away from the restau­rant.

“We def­i­nitely en­cour­age all of our as­so­ciates to take ad­van­tage of the mo­bile ac­cess that Rosetta Stone of­fers,” Tang says. “That is a huge ben­e­fit, not be­ing re­quired to sit in front of a computer to do their learn­ing.”

Cat­a­lyst fea­tures visual and au­dio tu­to­ri­als, and the com­pany even of­fers the op­tion of us­ing Skype for in-per­son classes.

“Busi­nesses may want their em­ploy­ees to have the ex­pe­ri­ence be­cause that’s where peo­ple tech­ni­cally have the hard­est time — ac­tu­ally speak­ing to some­one who is a na­tive speaker,” Rosetta Stone's Hofer says. “Hav­ing that ex­pe­ri­ence with a na­tive speaker can also help them, for ex­am­ple, if they were de­liv­er­ing a Pow­erPoint pre­sen­ta­tion and wanted to make sure that their lan­guage and their con­fi­dence level was high enough so that they could do it in a very elo­quent and pro­fes­sional man­ner.”

Rosetta Stone is push­ing to make the soft­ware ex­pe­ri­ence as in­ter­ac­tive and fun as pos­si­ble. In­stead of ask­ing em­ploy­ees to sit in a class­room and con­ju­gate verbs, Rosetta Stone tries to get them speak­ing right away.

“I stud­ied Ger­man when I was younger, and it was a pro­gram where you sat in the class­room and you mem­o­rized,” Hofer says.

“Given the dif­fer­ent way that peo­ple learn now, there’s some im­mer­sion, speak­ing, games and apps, and there’s writ­ing and gram­mar. The goal is as soon as pos­si­ble to get peo­ple speak­ing, be­cause that’s the hard­est part.”

Tang says em­ployee feed­back on Rosetta Stone has been pos­i­tive. Work­ers see it as a tool for im­prov­ing their English speak­ing, writ­ing and over­all lan­guage skills — in and out­side of the work­place.

“It’s some­thing where you get out what you put in,” he says. “Panda does its part by pro­vid­ing this re­source, cov­er­ing the cost, han­dling the reg­is­tra­tion — that’s the part that we con­trol.” Af­ter that, he says, it is up to the em­ployee to put in the work. (Both Panda Restau­rants and Rosetta Stone de­clined to re­veal the cost for of­fer­ing this ben­e­fit.)

“We’ve had some su­per­star learn­ers who we’ve been track­ing and com­mu­ni­cat­ing with as well,” he says. “We have our own Face­book page that we just launched, so we’re try­ing to use that to lever­age high-per­for­mance learn­ers, to en­cour­age our other learn­ers, and also to rec­og­nize those who are very in­spired to par­tic­i­pate in this pro­gram.”

Mak­ing a dif­fer­ence

Ac­cord­ing to Rosetta Stone’s 2015 Busi­ness Lan­guage Im­pact Study, which sur­veyed roughly 1,900 em­ploy­ees from more than 300 com­pa­nies across six con­ti­nents, learn­ing a new lan­guage was a high pri­or­ity for em­ploy­ees. Three-quar­ters of work­ers in the sur­vey re­sponded that lan­guage train­ing helps them be more ef­fec­tive in their daily jobs, and that learn­ing a lan­guage has made them more con­fi­dent in their work with in­ter­na­tional coun­ter­parts.

It’s help­ing them to work more ef­fi­ciently, too. More than half of sur­vey re­spon­dents said they saved a min­i­mum of three hours per week on work-re­lated tasks thanks to their newly ac­quired lan­guage skills.

Of­fer­ing lan­guage classes also helps when it comes to re­cruit­ing the new­est and most ea­ger mem­bers of the work­force.

“When we do sur­veys to get a sense of what mil­len­ni­als want from com­pa­nies, lan­guage learn­ing al­ways is one of the higher ranked items be­cause they want more from their com­pa­nies,” Hofer says.

Tang says mov­ing to Rosetta Stone Cat­a­lyst has been a smooth tran­si­tion. “We’re lucky to have [Rosetta Stone] rep­re­sen­ta­tives who have been able to help us along the way, to help us feel more com­fort­able with the mi­gra­tion,” he says.

He adds that Panda was im­pressed with the im­prove­ments that were made to the soft­ware based on its feed­back and sug­ges­tions from other firms.

Rosetta Stone made “enor­mous changes to in­no­vate their pro­gram to make it much more im­mer­sive and a lit­tle bit revo­lu­tion­ary in terms of their ap­proach to cap­tur­ing learn­ers’ at­ten­tion, and also plac­ing them in the right spot so they can ac­cel­er­ate their learn­ing and their learn­ing tra­jec­tory,” he says.

The orig­i­nal Rosetta Stone Foun­da­tions seemed “very gen­eral,” Tang says. “It felt very one-size-fits-all, where every­one starts at the same place and goes for­ward.”

To eval­u­ate the up­date, Kwan and Tang both signed up and were im­pressed with the new fea­tures.

“We both agree that it’s quite in­ten­sive in terms of eval­u­at­ing ex­actly what the learner’s needs are, and it also in­cludes a sur­vey for the user to spec­ify why they want to im­prove their English over­all skills,” Kwan says.

Af­ter tak­ing Cat­a­lyst’s on­line sur­veys and place­ment test, Panda em­ploy­ees are placed in a les­son plan based on their skills and ex­pe­ri­ence with the lan­guage.

“They don’t have to start at the very be­gin­ner level, as it was with Foun­da­tions,” Kwan says. “Users are able to ac­cel­er­ate their learn­ing be­cause they’re placed where they were sup­posed to be since the be­gin­ning. That was the big­gest dif­fer­ence with the pro­gram.”

Three­quar­ters of work­ers say lan­guage train­ing helps them be more ef­fec­tive in their daily jobs.

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