Importance of Overcoming Language Barriers | DCR Workforce Blog

Importance of Overcoming Language Barriers

Diversity and inclusion are a matter of choice for most companies, which may then have to make some necessary accommodations to bridge language and cultural differences. Language may prove to be a major hurdle, when training new employees, managing them, setting work expectations, goals and objectives as well as when providing them with performance or behavioral feedback.

Problems caused by language barriers in the workplace

Language barriers may cause complications at the workplace between employer/manager and employee resulting in performance issues. Customers may be given misleading or patently wrong information by the employee, and it may even lead to losing the customer in certain cases. Let’s look at what else could go wrong:

  • A newcomer may not understand the safety training and may get injured on the job.
  • Good workers may fail to follow instructions and make mistakes or fail to perform to their full potential. Insubordinate employees may pretend not to have understood just to avoid doing a task or responding to any negative feedback.
  • Inability to communicate will hurt the harmony of the workplace and teamwork may become difficult and the work environment may suffer as a direct consequence.
  • Collaboration and knowledge sharing between workers becomes difficult when they cannot communicate with each other. They’re unable to exchange ideas or thoughts, leading to tension, demotivation, poor results and attrition.

How to overcome language barriers

When language presents a barrier to communication, who should change and learn a new way of communication – the manager or the employee? This is a quandary being faced across diversified workplaces in America. It’s much easier than ever before to communicate in another language, thanks to the resources offered by the Internet. Let’s look at how we can overcome language barriers using various workaround solutions:

  • Get all the relevant documents using any of the free resources on the net, but have the translation verified for accuracy by someone who is bi-lingual – so that the intended meaning is not lost or misinterpreted.
  • Give instructions or provide feedback by using an interpreter to communicate your words in your employees’ language.
  • Deliver all interactions in slow and clear diction, with repetitions where necessary. Language need not be the only way to communicate things. Use drawings, signs, cue cards, gestures, practical demonstrations and even videos of the performance and actions required of the workers.
  • Provide immigrants who propose to stay for a long time with basic training in the predominant workplace language, especially in critical communication elements needed by your business. This could include your work jargon, phrases, warnings and basic instructions. Receptive workers may be encouraged to improve their skills further.
  • Keep the language simple and use words with fewer syllables and no complexity. Avoid using idioms and metaphors when discussing office matters – or take the trouble to explain them again in plain English.
  • Avoid emails and communicate face-to-face. If you’re traveling, use video chat. Show emotions, smile a lot and generally convey your mood in the universal language that transcends words.
  • Avoid management jargon and words such as ‘dynamic’ or ‘benchmark’ or abbreviations which may confuse the non-native speaker.
  • Stipulate that after each effort at an important communication the worker explains in his or her own words what and how much they understood.
  • Repeat all the above, until you’re completely satisfied that every worker fully understands his or her work expectations as well the safety precautions.
  • Try learning a few words of greeting or pleasantries in the employees’ language to build rapport with him or her to demonstrate your commitment to diversity.
  • Remember that encouragement, empathy and compassion go a long way in motivating a person to gain proficiency in a new language, unlike ridicule and public humiliation over mistakes made or admonitions to speak English.

Here’s an interesting anecdote about the sales head of a multi-national detergent company who took charge in another country to revamp the detergent’s bleak performance. He decided nothing could vouch for their detergent’s performance better than a simple picture-based advertisement, showing a before-after scenario:

How to overcome language barriers

He was confounded to find that their meager sales plummeted to absolute zero after blowing his marketing budget on huge billboards carrying the above. Then someone took the trouble to explain to him than in that this particular country people read from left to right. So what they saw was this:

How to overcome language barriersNothing brings home the importance of overcoming communication barriers, of which language is a very important component, than this example. If you have a similar anecdote to narrate, do write in the comments and share.

The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal advice. They reflect the opinions of DCR Workforce and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney. Do contact an attorney for advice specific to your issue or problem.
Lalita is a people/project manager with extensive experience in operations, HCM and training and development across industries like banking, education, business consulting, BPO and information technology. She believes in a dynamic approach to life and learning as change is the only constant.