How to Handle Language Barriers in the Workplace

Minimizing language barriers in the workplace will help improve productivity.

Minimizing language barriers in the workplace will help improve productivity.

Most of us have experienced difficulty in understanding the speech of a non-native English speaker at some time. While this can be frustrating, it is really not all that surprising. English is a difficult language to learn, especially given the complex and inconsistent rules of pronunciation. This problem is particularly common in adult second language learners, who are unable to keep in mind all of the complexities of the second language, even with years of practice. Language barriers can be a major problem in the workplace, so proactive managers will take steps to deal with the issue.

Acknowledge that poor communication is a problem in your workplace. Language barriers are found at many workplaces simply because no one wants to hurt anyone else's feelings by admitting they frequently have difficulty understanding what is said. Recognize that there is a problem so you can get everyone on the same page to effectively solve the problem.

Develop a series of improved communication training sessions for all employees. Focus the training on language barrier problem areas such as the overuse of slang or professional jargon or speaking too fast. Consider including other training topics such as adjusting language level to fit your listeners, the importance of precise diction and careful pronunciation, and awareness of cultural differences. Bring in a professional communications consultant to help you design the training if you are having difficulty getting the project off the ground.

Schedule improved communication training for all employees. Try to make the training fun and interactive, and use role playing to illustrate your points. Keep in mind that breaking down language barriers is as much about building bridges and motivating employees to make sure they are communicating with each other as it is about using these new techniques to improve communication.

Tip

  • Use visual aids to enhance your communication. Visuals can be highly beneficial in adding to verbal communication. Pictures or graphics along with a PowerPoint presentation are obviously ideal, but just using hand gestures or pointing to an object of reference can significantly improve communication.

Warning

  • The situation can get a little tricky if the workplace communication problems are stemming from just one or two individuals. In this case, it might be a good idea to have these employees enroll in English as a Second Language classes, or conversational practice classes to improve their English, as well as taking the steps described.
 

About the Author

Clayton Browne has been writing professionally since 1994. He has written and edited everything from science fiction to semiconductor patents to dissertations in linguistics, having worked for Holt, Rinehart & Winston, Steck-Vaughn and The Psychological Corp. Browne has a Master of Science in linguistic anthropology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

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