Air France-KLM has long been held up as an icon of French elegance. The nearly 90-year-old $29 billion global airline is known for its thoughtfully curated French food, designer uniforms and glamorous airport lounges. But a recent shake-up in corporate structure, coupled with the desire to better support the needs of all of its 101 million annual passengers, had the airline’s learning and development team looking for new ways to expand its employees’ skills.
That led them to Voxy, a web-based language training company that offers customized English language training to users in many countries. The platform provides training and content based on individual trainees’ interests, skill level and language learning goals as a way to keep them interested and focused on the difficult task of learning a new language.
“Not surprisingly, the most requested language from our workforce is English,” said Christine Armand, head of learning and development. “As Air France has more than 50 percent international customers, it is important for all our staff to maintain or improve their English level.”
Armand’s team wanted to meet their needs with a program that would be easy to access, engaging and adaptive for all users. “It was very important for us to have a solution that could provide an innovative, modern experience that’s available on all devices,” Armand said. Employees can use the platform from their computers or phones, making it accessible at work, at home and in transit. “We chose Voxy because its unique content and proficiency tests let employees track their progress and practice English anywhere, anytime.”
An Optional Endeavor
Air France rolled out Voxy in April 2018 to managers as a pilot effort, then expanded the offering to its entire workforce two months later. Armand’s team supported the rollout with a companywide communication campaign that included emails, newsletters and organized events for different departments. “Our goal was to make employees aware of Voxy, boost popularity and encourage people to want to learn English,” she said.
The platform offers a variety of task-based content types targeting professional language scenarios. Courses cover a range of topics including general business English, customer service terms, written emails and conversational English. It also lets learners choose how they want to learn and whether they prefer reading, listening or watching.
The program is completely optional, Armand said. Even when employees choose to use it, there is no obligation to complete a certain level or number of hours of training. It is designed to be a benefit that employees can use to improve their skills for personal or professional reasons. The only requirement is that “every learner is willing to maintain or to improve their language,” she added.
Making it optional was an intentional learning strategy, according to Katie Nielson, chief education officer for Voxy. “One thing we know about adult learning is that if you aren’t interested, you won’t pay attention,” she said. “If you don’t force people to use the platform, those who are interested in learning will use it and they will be more engaged.”
Ana Bedel is a good example. The human resources manager has been working at Air France for five years and started using the training to help boost her career skills after learning about the training during one of the department events. “In the near future I will start a new position at Air France which requires a lot of English,” she said. She uses the platform every day on her commute to and from work to prepare for that promotion.
Custom Content Boosts Engagement
When first-time users enter the platform, they are prompted to complete a needs analysis that captures details about their language proficiency and language learning goals, as well as their content interests and how they like to learn. “Based on that analysis we direct them to the best content,” Nielson said.
The platform then creates a custom learning plan with content selected based on their needs and interests. For example, learners who report low levels of English proficiency and an interest in politics may receive basic articles or news videos with captions. Others might receive pop culture articles, business materials, or videos of job interviews or business meetings. “The platform gives them content they will enjoy paying attention to and that they are familiar with,” Nielson said. She noted that when learners are already familiar with the subject matter, it is easier for them to comprehend what they are reading, which makes the experience more successful. In the future, the platform may also offer Air France case studies and content to help employees work on specific job scenarios.
As the learner progresses, the difficulty level of their content will increase, adapting with their skill development. Users also have the option to test their skills every 90 days to monitor their improvement. The platform rates proficiency using the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, which is an international standard for describing language ability that ranges from A1 (beginner) to C2 (proficient).
Bedel, who mostly uses business writing and interview preparation videos, has seen her proficiency climb from B2 (upper intermediate) to C1 (advanced). She feels like it is helping her prepare for the future. “I feel more confident in my English since I have started this training and I … feel better when communicating with clients, colleagues and friends,” she said. “Learning another language has opened my mind and I am now more curious about other cultures and I would be willing to start a position in another country.”
Tracking Tools Show Impact
While the program is optional, Armand does monitor user rates through the platform’s command center, where she can check the number of engaged learners, the time they spend on the platform, the number of tests taken and whether employees’ English skills are improving. Having the command center lets her know whether the platform is adding value.
To date, the numbers show a positive impact. Roughly 5 percent of employees are using the program about 30 minutes per week, and it is the top-rated course on the company’s learning management system, according to data from Nielson. This suggests learners like the training and are engaged in the learning process, she said.
It’s also having a business impact. One survey found 31 percent of users say they save one to two hours per week due to their improved English language ability, which was a business goal tied to the training.
“Setting goals is the most important first step in learning a new language,” Nielson said. Establishing what you want to learn, in what time frame and for what purpose helps learners stay focused and gauge their progress, and it helps companies track the value of their learning investment. “It should be included in every language learning program.”
For companies considering offering their own language learning program to employees, Armand advised them to take into account access, aim, content and price. “Access to the platform has to be very easy and needs to be available on any device, and the content has to be accurate, personalized and available for all levels from beginner to proficient,” she said. “The learning platform should also give users the possibility to test their skills on a regular basis. This helps learners and internal training administrators track their progress.”
Bedel added that offering language learning training sends an important message to employees that the leadership team is committed to their ongoing professional and personal development. “By improving their skills they boost their employability and can keep them working in the company for a long time,” she said. That’s a value proposition that is easy to get behind.