- The Washington Times - Monday, December 31, 2012

One type of company that benefits the most from the frenzy surrounding New Year’s resolutions is those in the online language-learning industry.

People usually make New Year’s resolutions in an effort to better themselves, whether by quitting smoking, exercising more, eating better, or, increasingly, learning a new language.

“It’s the mental equivalence of weight loss and diet,” said Pimsleur Vice President Robert Riger. “We know that it’s a huge part of the business.”

Pimsleur, an online language-learning program, has noticed sales double over the past couple of weeks as consumers get ready for the holiday season, which includes giving it as a gift for Christmas or buying for themselves as a New Year’s resolution. In 2012, sales are up 300 percent from last holiday season.

Other online language companies such as Rosetta Stone and Fluenz also notice a spike in sales during the holiday season.

“The New Year’s resolution definitely helps us out,” said Sonia Gil, co-founder of Fluenz. “January is a really good month for languages.”

Learning a new language is particularly important in the business community, where it can lead to more career opportunities, Mr. Riger said. For many employees, it’s about improving their skills, to better compete for promotions and raises.

“It’s very clear that if you learn a language, it ups your pay-grade,” Mr. Riger said. “It’s clear that if you want to move up, you have to learn a language.”

Rosetta Stone spokesman Jonathan Mudd agreed that learning a second or third language plays a big role in career development.

“Likewise, workers who want to get hired or promoted are finding that being able to speak a second language makes them more attractive to employers, because they can represent the business in an increasingly diverse, global setting,” he said.

Furthermore, companies that have employees who can speak multiple languages tend to be more successful, Mr. Mudd said. In fact, many businesses that incorporate Rosetta Stone into their employee training and benefits programs notice it helps with sales, customer service and workplace safety, he added.

“We find that businesses that have multilingual employees are a lot more competitive in a global economy,” he said.

Pimsleur has contracts with companies such as IBM, CBS, Mercer and Alcoa, that let employees at those businesses use the program at a discounted price.

For business professionals, Mandarin is one of the most popular languages to learn, as China continues to emerge as a global economic power, boasting the second-largest economy in the world, behind the U.S.

“Mandarin is a big New Year’s resolution thing,” Ms. Gil said.

In fact, at Fluenz, January is known as “Mandarin month,” because it reaches 25 percent of total sales, “as people get ready to tackle their New Year’s resolutions and what they see as a difficult challenge,” she said.

Fluenz’s Mandarin program focuses on teaching work-related conversation. “Mandarin is more for business learners, someone who is going to China often for work,” Ms. Gil said.

During other parts of the holiday season, Fluenz reports, sales of its Spanish program reach nearly 50 percent of total sales in December, from a low of 30 percent in the spring.

“In December, it’s a big gift,” Ms. Gil said, noting that Spanish is used around the world and is the second-commonest language in the U.S. “The fact that so much Spanish is spoken in this country, people feel like they should know Spanish.”

Other Romance languages such as French and Italian, on the other hand, are more popular in the summer as graduation and back-to-school gifts, Ms. Gil said, explaining that “it’s mostly because of summer travel.”

One of the biggest challenges for online language companies is persuading their customers to stick with the program and not give up on their New Year’s resolutions. “The breakthrough in this business is to figure out how to get them to follow through,” Mr. Riger said.

They’re in this business, because they enjoy helping people learn — but that’s not to say they won’t profit from the quitters, too.

“Language behaves in much the same way as exercise and diet,” Mr. Riger explained. “They sign up for it. They get really excited. Some follow through; others don’t. We’re not unhappy with the ‘gym membership’ model of commerce, where you buy a year and you never go.”

• Tim Devaney can be reached at tdevaney@washingtontimes.com.

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