To overcome language barriers within the workplace, there are a
few things you can do:
- Translate all relevant documents into the
primary language of your employees. There are several free websites
that translate text from one language to another. However, you have
to be careful since the translation is not always in the exact same
dialect as that of your employees. Also, sometimes the meaning of a
word used in written translation does not always correspond to the
meaning you wish to convey in your work documents.
- Use an interpreter whenever you give
instructions or provide feedback to your employees. There may be
someone in your organization who speaks both languages fluently
enough to convey your message to your employees. Find someone who
you trust to translate your instructions and feedback
- Provide language classes for your employees on
the basic language requirements for your business. Teach them work
words, phrases, warnings, and other critical communication elements
that are necessary for them to perform to your performance
standards. Teach the basics first. Give all of your employees a
"survival" crash course in the predominant language of your
workplace. Later, if you have the desire and the resources, you can
provide additional opportunities for your employees to learn the
language skills they need in order to "thrive" in the
- Use both telling and showing methods of
training. Simplify your training methods, particularly
those that rely heavily on telling versus showing. Demonstrate what
you want and then have the employees perform the function as you
observe their performance. Re-demonstrate as often as needed until
the employees can perform the task successfully.
- Use visual methods of communication
more than audio. Show more than tell. Explain it with pictures as
much as possible. Take a lesson from the airlines in how they
convey their safety instructions. Use pictures in your instruction
manuals rather than words. Almost every step in every process can
be described in picture format. Give your employees signs, cue
cards or other methods to help them learn.
- Use repetition. As with any new concept, most
people don't learn something the first time they hear it. Employees
need to hear the same message over and over before they fully grasp
it. Don't expect people to learn anything after being told once.
This is true of all of your employees whether they have a language
barrier or not.
- Never raise your voice or over-enunciate your
words. Talk slower, not louder. Speak clearly, not
forcefully. People of a different language and culture can hear
fine. They probably also are intelligent enough to grasp what you
are saying if you intelligently deliver your message without
talking down to them. Don't speak "Pidgin English." Speak correct
English the correct way, just more clearly. People cannot learn the
language right if you don't speak it right.
- Use simpler words with fewer syllables. Be
aware of the complexities of your words. Use more common words that
convey your message in simpler terms. Again, don't talk down; just
use a less complex vocabulary.
- Learn the basics of your employee's language.
If you want to communicate effectively and build rapport with your
employees you should consider learning a few words and phrases in
their language. Nothing sends the message that you value the
diversity of your employees more than your willingness to learn
from them. Have them teach you how to say hello, goodbye, please,
thank you, and other important pleasantries you can use in your
interactions with them.
- Have the employee demonstrate their
understanding. Don't assume the employee understands; check for
understanding. Ask the employee to demonstrate that they know how
to do what you have asked them to do.