Around 8.3% of Americans don’t speak English as well as they would like. This may not sound like a lot, but it actually amounts to around 30 million people.
If you’re struggling with language barriers in the workplace, you’re far from alone. It’s normal to feel frustrated when contending with those who can’t easily understand you. However, it’s also rewarding to get the unique perspectives of those who are in touch with other languages and cultures.
Here, we’re going to learn how you can break down barriers to communication and reap the benefits of multiple viewpoints. Read on for some ideas on how to overcome language barriers in the workplace.
1. Use Plain and Clear Language
Native English speakers often use idioms and colloquialisms to make their point. Metaphors also often fly over the heads of non-native speakers since terms are studied literally in academic settings.
Because fluent speakers use these terms and concepts without thinking, it’s important that you recognize your colloquialisms. Nip them in the bud with non-native speakers.
Use clear vocabulary and simple sentences. Convey your point without using any idioms or metaphors. You also may want to avoid American pop culture references that immigrants may not be aware of.
Another thing to consider is that people in business settings tend to use jargon and esoteric language to prove that they know what they’re doing. Don’t do this. Explain things with simple language that makes sense to even those who aren’t knowledgeable in your field.
This ensures that no one will feel bad if they can’t understand what you’re saying. It also will save you time needing to re-explain a concept that you only glossed over with jargon terms previously.
2. Use Appropriate Visuals
Speaking in plain English sounds simple, but what happens when you need to explain a technical concept? What if it’s important that you go more in-depth than you can explain with 0 technical terms?
Showing is a much better option than telling in these scenarios.
This is even beneficial for English-speaking employees. The human brain processes visuals 60,000 times faster than it processes text. Since the majority of people are visual learners and the eye is drawn to bold images and colors, it’s always good to queue up a PowerPoint or animation.
With non-native English speakers, these aids serve another function: conveying meaning.
While a non-English-speaking warehouse worker may not know the term for a bailer, for example, they definitely could identify it in an image. Display a photo of a bailer during a meeting and discuss proper safety in managing it. Emphasize the word ‘bailer’ so that the employees learn a new term.
3. Provide English Classes for Employees
If you can afford to, it’s a good idea to provide your non-native-speaking employees with English language lessons. While this may sound expensive, it has a high ROI.
Teaching non-native employees English will help them communicate with coworkers and clients alike. You won’t need to waste time on the clock explaining various concepts, figures of speech, and jargon terms to those who don’t know them.
This can literally save your company $62.4 million per year. That’s the amount that poor communications can cost an average business. Compared to those costs, English lessons are incredibly inexpensive!
But why hire non-English-speakers in the first place?
There are tons of reasons that this is a good idea. First, outside perspectives can help a company grow. Immigrants bring new ideas, values, and methods into the workplace that can help you to become better at your job.
Hiring people who speak other languages can also help you with expanding to new markets. They can talk to clients that you wouldn’t be able to reach. You’ll be able to get a foot in the door both internationally and to other local audiences.
Finally, many companies have benefits and rewards for those who hire immigrants and other non-native Americans. You can get financial benefits by doing so directly from the company.
4. Hire an Excellent Translator
Whether or not you have English lessons for your employees, it’s important that you bring in an expert translator. This will let people hear what you’re saying in their own language so they can better interpret and follow instructions.
There are many reasons to hire a professional translation company. Many business translators have industry-specific knowledge and translation experience. They can help to interpret concepts specific to your industry because they know all of the jargon.
Translators also can allow for full transparency between you and your employees. Nothing will get lost due to language barriers in business. Everyone will always be on the same page and there will be far fewer workplace disputes and disagreements.
Translators also allow you to have a faster turnaround when working with clients.
All employees, even those who don’t speak English well, need to talk with clients. Translators can facilitate these interactions easily. Your clients won’t need to deal with the same frustrating language barrier that you do daily.
5. Learn Some Phrases on Your Own
Respect is key when overcoming language barriers. They’re extremely frustrating, but keep in mind that they aren’t anyone’s fault.
Your non-native employees have learned a whole new language solely to communicate with you and others. Even imperfect English means that they’re doing great. Remember that poor communication doesn’t have anything to do with their actual intelligence.
Continue to speak proper English as you look to communicate, but also learn a few phrases in the employee’s native languages. This will show that you respect them and care about communication in all forms. They’ll likely develop more respect for you and be more receptive to what you need to say.
Overcome Language Barriers in Business Today
Now that you know how to conquer language barriers in the workplace, it’s time to get started. Check out the ‘business’ tab on our home page for more ideas on how to work with employees that speak different languages.
You can also search the ‘technology’ section for ideas about digital classes and online translators. Because it’s important that you learn how to communicate effectively with people of all backgrounds, start browsing ASAP.