The World Council of Churches, Geneva
Employees on the move and new French language requirements for
Swiss permit renewal needs a flexible learning solution
With their headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, the World Council of Churches (WCC) is a fellowship of 350 churches from more than 110 countries, representing over 500 million Christians worldwide. The WCC is the broadest and most inclusive among the many organised expressions of the modern ecumenical movement, whose goal is Christian unity. Communication and inclusion are central to their work and with members hailing from across the world, the WCC is supportive of language learning. And now that language certificates are required for work and residence permit renewal as proof of expat integration into Swiss life, like many employers of foreign nationals, the WCC is helping staff members to upskill.
Swiss permit renewal changes create a language barrier for expats
Before the new requirements, expats could get by not speaking the local language. When English-speaking services, such as doctors, dentists, veterinarians and mechanics, are available and where English is spoken in the workplace, there is no incentive to learn another language. In the past, WCC staff members who wanted to improve their competence in English, French, German or Spanish had attended classes at a local language school. But to support staff to attain the required written and oral standards to pass the required tests, a more flexible solution would be needed to suit individual schedules and learning preferences.
Leman Language Services was approached to provide a flexible language learning solution within budget to meet the following requirements:
✔ To prepare WCC staff members and spouses to take and pass the FIDE test for their work permit renewal within six months of starting the training
✔ To improve employees’ language competence to help them become more effective operators in their work environment
✔ To provide online language learning for employees who cannot attend classes in person, for example, those employees who make frequent trips abroad
✔ To help expats living and working in Switzerland to integrate into the Swiss culture.
Babbel for business digital language platform looks promising
Leman Language Services Director Lara Epiney Takache proposed a 12-week trial of the Babbel for Business digital language platform using the Babbel Intensive product with administrative support provided by LLS.
Babbel Intensive includes six 30-minute live lessons with French native tutors. However, during the trial, live lessons were not widely taken, mainly because they were not closely aligned with preparing for the FIDE test. The participants enjoyed using the platform, however, and felt they had made good progress in French. The platform also provided learners with the flexibility and mobility they were looking for.
In their evaluation of the trial, LLS recommended Babbel Professional with an alternative solution for the oral component needed to equip staff members to pass the FIDE examination. Staff language training is the responsibility of HR Manager Laurent Veyrat-Durebex who worked with LLS to find a tailormade solution for the WCC.
Blended language learning solution ticks all the boxes
Leman Language Services provided a blended learning programme that combined the benefits of the Babbel online platform with individual oral lessons held via Zoom with LLS French trainers. LLS also set up a language café via Zoom where students of all language levels could meet to have fun and give each other support and encouragement. The aim of the café was to build close relationships between trainers, students and peers to help motivate students.
Before students started their French training, LLS held a meeting to explain the programme. The language level of non-beginners was tested to start them at the appropriate level on the platform. Learner participation in the programme was monitored through weekly reports sent to the HR Department.
LLS Babbel language programme meets WCC and students needs
When a course is required by the employer rather than chosen by the learner, extra support needs to be provided to students who may be less motivated. Staff members were also at different levels: some had already started to learn French, but others hadn’t been interested. Similarly, some staff members found the Babbel platform easy to use, whereas others needed support.
The support that Leman Language Services provided was a key factor in students finishing the course and passing the tests. It can be difficult to stay motivated, especially when learning a language is a requirement for permit renewal and not a personal choice.
Out of 21 students, 17 passed the FIDE French test and 1 passed the Goethe German test within six months of starting the programme and 3 students are completing their preparation.
A key benefit of the LLS blended learning programme is that employees who travel for work can maintain contact with their tutor. While travel was not a consideration during this training due to the pandemic, learners were still able to choose when and where to study, making it easier to fit learning into their daily schedule.
Leman Language Services developed a personal connection with students, keeping in regular contact and providing weekly reports to the WCC highlighting those students who were focused and those who were less so. This communication helped keep students on track and the WCC informed on their progress.
LLS trainers’ personalised approach and knowledge of the Swiss context complemented the Babbel platform. “LLS trainers listened to the needs and specificities of the students. They know the Swiss context, which makes a difference,” says Veyrat-Durebex. “The student language café was appealing too.” Held in the evening when students were relaxed, learners found the language café friendly and it added value to their online learning. “I think they are a lot more confident and happy conversing in French. When you have good feedback from staff members, you have reached the target.”
Our flexible language learning programme is designed for busy professionals and executive globetrotters. Whether your employees need to pass a language certificate for permit renewal, or you want to improve your team’s business communication and opportunities, this training is for you. Our experienced trainers understand the value of building close relationships through regular contact. We motivate and encourage learners to achieve their language goals. Find out more about the LLS Babbel Language Programme here.
Photo credit: Albin Hillert/WCC