7 Tips for Overcoming a Language Barrier in the Workplace

How to overcome language barriers in the workplace

In today’s increasingly diverse society, it is almost guaranteed that there will be some degree of cultural discrepancy in the workplace. These differences can pose problems, especially when it comes to clear, accurate communication with those who don’t speak the same language. Because communication is crucial to the success of an office or workplace, it is important to have some techniques on hand to use when things get a little hard to convey.
Get Everyone Up To Speed
To start, make sure that everyone assigned to work with an individual of a different culture is aware of the situation. Most people will treat those of different backgrounds with respect, so allowing them to view the situation realistically is helpful. If colleagues are assuming that a coworker is simply not participating or is less intelligent, it is difficult to foster a respectful, productive environment. Employees must be aware that they may need to take action to accommodate alternate languages and be respectful of these individuals.
Speak Slower Than Usual
The key to speaking to someone that is new to a given language is to talk slowly, but not necessarily more simply. Speaking slowly, emphatically, and respectfully will help an employee or colleague interpret the meaning of what you say without sounding demeaning or disrespectful. If you approach a conversation with them like a normal, intelligent person, just at a slightly slower pace, they will be more likely to get the gist of the message while also feeling respected.
Translate Documents
It is much easier to translate a written text or document than to translate spoken words, so if the language barrier is really problematic, offering versions of work documents in other languages is beneficial to mutual understanding. If an employee can fully comprehend the text or material he/ she is working with, it’s easier to have a productive conversation about it. The more of the working material that can be fully understood, the better, so if it’s possible to translate the work, do it. Similarly, being willing to write out what you are saying is a good idea. Some language learners are more comfortable with reading or writing than with speaking and comprehension, and it can be easier to understand others when something is committed to writing.
Use Visual Aids
Visual aids transcend language barriers, so using pictures, videos, or presentations that go easy on the text ensure that everyone will interpret the message the same way. Offering resources that everyone will understand allows for greater comprehension and confidence for those who aren’t comfortable with the primary language spoken in the office.
Be Respectful
It is amazing how much harder it is to understand someone that you don’t feel respects you. Insecurity and concern about one’s inability to comprehend based on language can present a major barrier on top of the initial communication hurdles. It is harder to understand and communicate in any situation regardless of language, so staying calm and respectful is crucial to success.
Create Smaller Groups
As someone unfamiliar with a language, speaking up in a large group setting can feel intimidating. In order to boost confidence and participation for those less comfortable, assigning smaller groups to projects or assignments is helpful. The more familiar the individual is with the members of the group, the easier it will be for that person to contribute in a productive way. An easy way to facilitate familiarity is to narrow the social circles the employee is required to participate in. This way, they feel safer voicing opinions and making contributions to the team.
Facilitate Comfort
If possible in the culture of the office, it can be productive to provide or facilitate some out-of-office conversation and activity. It is often easier to communicate and understand when there is less at stake, ie, being required to make productive contributions to a work conversation. When employees are able to be more comfortable and familiar out of a work context, they will be more able to communicate calmly and effectively in the workplace. Ultimately, the crucial aspect to overcoming a language barrier in a work environment is in fostering a culture of respect and interest. The situation will be most effective and productive when colleagues can acknowledge and accommodate differences in a comfortable, encouraging manner. Being willing to be flexible and staying calm and composed guarantee a positive working environment.

Contact Clarity

For over 30 years, we’ve managed projects touching every element of learning and talent development.