My sister called me last week because she was going to participate in an international business meeting and she was freaking out.
She works for an airline and when she was hired her English was much better. Even though it was a requirement to get the job, she doesn't really use it on a day-to-day basis, so 16 years (give or take) later she can't get any sleep because she is in charge of a group of executives coming from different countries all over the world and she needs to take them to dinner, make sure they enjoy their stay and get them whatever they need for this meeting. She has no clue how she will be able to communicate with them.
The issue here is if it was the employer's responsibility to make sure her English was up to date before assigning her to this project, or because it was a requirement when they hired her, it was up to her to make sure she maintained her level. I think as individuals we all need to look for continuous improvement and personal growth but I also think that employers shouldn't take that for granted, they should offer their employees ongoing training and they should be involved in their professional development. I don't think it's fair to expect an employee to perform well in a situation that is out of the ordinary with a skill that he/she hasn't practiced and is not part of his/her daily responsibilities. In the end, it is the image of the company what is at stake and the outcome of such an important meeting.
There are skills that are just like sports, if you don't practice them on a regular basis you become clumsy at them. Languages are a very good example. I always say that whatever you have learned of a second or third language stays in your brain and it is just a matter of using it again for it to all come back, but you can't expect to speak well from one day to the next. International companies (and mostly airlines) should make language learning a part of their standard benefit package, it shouldn't be considered a "nice-to-have" skill.
I wish my sister the best of luck. I am sure it will be a learning experience for her that will help her grow personally and professionally. I can't wait for this meeting to end so she can tell me how it went...