Employees learn English as a second language in a class

Helping Businesses Break the Language Barrier

Sometimes, not being able to communicate what you want to say can hold you back. 

That’s the problem Better Being, formerly known as Nutraceutical, was trying to solve when the company partnered with Weber State University to offer English as a Second Language courses for its employees. 

“We have been able to identify employees in entry-level roles that are great performers,” said Heather Potsma, HR director at Better Being. “We want to retain them.” 

However, Potsma said, the barrier to those excellent employees moving up in the workplace has often been a language barrier. 

Having already partnered with Weber State on a successful leadership program, Better Being turned to WSU Professional Development for a solution. As luck would have it, the university had an already-existing ESL program that could fit the company’s needs. 

Part of the challenge in providing education, Postma said, is that employees had varying levels of English proficiency. While one employee might need to start from scratch, another might just need a refresh. That made WSU’s ESL structure a particularly good fit. 

To enter into the program, students first complete an intake test to determine their baseline knowledge of English. They are then placed in levels Pre-A through D, with D being the most proficient. Students who graduate from Level D would be up to the level of a remedial college English course. Each course is 11 weeks long. Students who begin at the basic level of instruction can expect to work up through Level D in approximately 1.5 years. 

About 30 Better Being employees have participated in their first round of ESL education, and Potsma is hoping they continue to pursue higher levels of education. She also hopes to add more employees, not only for the employees’ benefit but that of Better Being. 

“If you look at the labor market, there’s fierce competition for talent,” she said. 

She hopes that, in addition to growing its own employees’ skill sets, her company’s reputation for employee support will also grow. 

Of course, learning a new language doesn’t just benefit a person in the workplace. It opens doors in other areas of life as well. Morteza Emami, the administrator over Weber State’s ESL program knows that firsthand. He is a non-native English speaker himself.

“It has improved my life tenfold,” he said.

While he hopes that some eventually find their way to higher ed, they’ll see benefits all along the way improving their quality of life in many areas.