5 Steps to Overcoming Language Barriers in the Workplace
Globalization has made the world a smaller place. Technology has allowed people to connect from different parts of the world and people are exposed to cultures, lifestyles, and social norms that are unique from their own. Many companies now are becoming multinational and multicultural. With so many kinds of people working together, it is inevitable that things can get lost in translation. For example, your company may operate in English but is contracted with a Vietnamese company. Don’t let miscommunication get in the way of the workflow. Read on for five tips to overcoming language barriers in the workplace.
1: Offer Language Classes
What better way to overcoming a language barrier than actually learning the language? Groundbreaking, I know. Allowing your non-native speaking employees to learn some basic language requirements may be the difference between landing a business pitch or partnering with a new client. You also could consider hiring people who are able to speak two or more languages.
Offering language classes shows that you care about your employees’ short term and long term success. Learning a language is a difficult skill to master, but doing so can open many doors.
This also could be extremely beneficial for employees working with markets overseas. It is assumed that because the US has such a global presence that the rest of the world should know English by default. However, that is a misguided point of view and we should also make the effort to learn other countries’ languages. The more you understand your target market, the better the chance you’ll succeed.
2: Hire a Translator or an Interpreter
Marie Kondo rose to fame as a celebrity tidying consultant, internationally best-selling author, and Neflix’s new star. She coined the KonMari method which has helped numerous people tidy up their homes and live a happier and more organized life.
However, when her book made its way to the US market in 2014, initially it was not received well. Kondo spoke very little English, so promoting her book was difficult. In the Netflix series, “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo”, Kondo had hired an interpreter that helped her communicate with her American clients. Kondo was able to stay true to herself and convey the core message of her work without any miscommunication. A lot of her success in the West would not have been possible without the help of her interpreter.
Perhaps you or your employees do not have the bandwidth to learn a language. Hiring a translator may be the next best alternative. This also may be a good idea when dealing with more complex concepts, such as important documents, company policies, benefits, and so on. That way, there is no room for mistakes and ambiguity.
3: Be Cognizant of Body Language and Gestures
An extremely offensive gesture to someone may be completely acceptable to another. Body language is a form of communication in itself. Some forms of body language can be universal, like folding your arms closes you off or a thumbs up is a positive indicator. However, there are still some cultural influences that must be taken into consideration. For example, some cultures look down upon making eye contact with their superiors, pun unintended.
If one of your employees is behaving in a way that does not make sense to you, try not to write them off as insubordinate or odd immediately. Instead, try to meet them halfway and open a dialogue about the messages you’re receiving and if there is any underlying miscommunication. Everyone in the workplace can benefit from increasing their sensitivity to other cultures.
4: Use Visual Methods of Communication
Show and tell. A picture is worth a thousand words, after all. About 65% of the world’s population are visual learners. The brain also processes visual information 60,000 times faster than text. In a classroom setting, visual aids improved students’ learning by 400%.
Words and audio alone can often time fail us in the work place. Sometimes even information gets lost from one native speaker to another. Using infographics, photographs, and diagrams can help people understand what you are trying to say.
Don’t underestimate the power of including eye catching visuals in your presentations and or other materials. Clarifying information with visuals will allow everyone on the team, native speaker or not, to be on the same page.
5: Emphasize the Importance of a Respectful Workplace
Immersing yourself in a work environment where you are the minority and don’t fully understand the language can be super intimidating. If your co-workers refuse to communicate with you or poke fun at your broken speaking ability, chances are you’re going to feel defeated and isolated. You also won’t be motivated to improve your skills or continue working at such an establishment.
Tensions should not be an issue with co-workers in the workplace, everyone should be able to work harmoniously together. Don’t let anyone feel too embarrassed to speak up or to involve themselves in the team.