How to Improve Communication in a Multilingual Workplace

by Stephanie Faris on January 4, 2013
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Keeping opening lines of communication in any office can be a challenge. As the U.S. workforce becomes increasingly diverse and multilingual, the task can prove even more difficult. However, by taking steps to ensure that your business is competent, if not fluent, in the languages spoken by your staff, you can encourage teamwork and gain a competitive edge in the global market.

Here are five tips for improving communication in a multilingual workplace:

  1. Hire multilingual staffers. Consider job applicants’ language skills in your hiring process. For example, if you have several employees who speak mostly Spanish and you speak mostly English, make an effort to add a team member who speaks both.
  2. Pursue educational opportunities. Consider taking courses to learn a foreign language, which will not only improve your ability to communicate with your employees, but also prospective clients. You’ll also be able to reach out to a broader range of candidates when hiring. Meanwhile, if you can afford to send your employees to school, offer to pay for language classes as a perk.
  3. Point out the value of becoming bilingual. Having even a basic grasp of another language is a skill your employees could add to their résumés. What’s in it for you? Having employees who speak more than one language is bound to bolster internal communication and benefit your bottom line. For example, if your company regularly interacts (or aims to do business) with customers or clients overseas, having employees who speak other languages can open up new market opportunities.
  4. Try to make non-native speakers of English feel included. Imagine being in an environment where everyone speaks a language that’s foreign to you and you have no idea what’s going on. This is how your employees who speak English as a foreign language may sometimes feel. Work to bring these workers into the conversation and encourage their ideas and input. Use translators or, better yet, act as a translator yourself to facilitate communication among all staff. If any employees show hostility toward workers who don’t speak English well, pull those employees aside and remind them of the importance of professionalism in the workplace.
  5. Don’t assume any employee won’t need to communicate. Many managers make the mistake of assuming people who work independently don’t need to speak English well. However, every employee — from a programmer to a janitor — must be able to communicate with management, even if only to ask about a paycheck or to clarify assignments. Make sure you’re adequately prepared to accommodate your entire staff.
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