New York is known to be the melting pot of the United States of America. Because of the massive socio-cultural diversity and the presence of people belonging to different social identities, the city is known for its multiculturalism. Melting pot is a term used to describe the union of multiple cultures, nationalities and ethnicities. In many ways, India is a melting pot of its own. While there may not be diversity in nationalities, you can see the variety by the number of languages people speak. In fact, it’s known to be the most ethnically diverse nation in the world.
Thanks to globalization and technology, the world is becoming one big global village. While this is creating more opportunities for people, it’s also presenting challenges. Today, organizations want to focus on creating a diverse workforce but there are multiple underlying barriers that may interfere with cohesiveness. One of the most obvious challenges is the language barrier. Read on to explore the meaning of a language barrier, its challenges and ways to overcome them.
What Are Language Barriers?
Language or linguistic barriers are the most common types of communication barriers in the workplace. It causes misunderstandings and misinterpretations among coworkers, straining their interpersonal relationships. However, language is needed for any kind of communication, whether it’s verbal, non-verbal or even sign language. The inability to communicate using language makes way for language barriers. It refers to the challenges faced by people or groups speaking different languages and dialects (in some cases).
Linguistic barriers primarily occur because people speaking different languages are unable to understand one another. There is a breakdown in language and communication. But the scope of linguistic barriers to communication extends beyond that. There are subtle differences caused by a particular industry. For example, using technical jargon at work can get challenging for a new recruit. Not using the right words can strain an employee’s experience and lead to loss of morale and diminished job satisfaction.
Additionally, there are culture-based language barriers that can create obstacles. What may be considered polite in one culture may be considered rude in another. For example, using direct language when speaking to supervisors may be considered rude in some cultures. This may prevent employees from speaking up and providing feedback to their managers. Even non-verbal cues such as body language, gestures and facial expressions carry different meanings. It’s important to be mindful of these things when interacting with a diverse workforce.
The Problems That Come With Language Barriers
The inability to address and overcome language barriers to communication in the workplace has several negative consequences. Here’s an overview of disadvantages that an organization with language barriers is likely to face:
- Loss of time, because of complex and difficult-to-understand terms, which is why employees are likely to take more time to understand the communication and get to work
- Lower quality, where a job is done incorrectly or improperly because of the communication gap in understanding instructions and processes from supervisors or coworkers
- Higher chances of accidents, where the inability to understand safety precautions may cause workplace hazards
- Higher absentee rate, because of the lack of options for understanding, accessing and claiming healthcare options or benefits
- Impact on productivity and teamwork, because of minimal or total lack of in-person communication
It’s important for businesses to consider these negative impacts likely to be caused by language barriers and find effective solutions for overcoming them.
Let’s look at some examples of how different types of language barriers to communication come into play in different situations in the corporate world:
- When you travel to another country for work, not knowing the language well can pose various challenges; without an interpreter or translator, you’re likely to create unnecessary tension with potential clients or customers
- People from different professional fields may encounter language barriers; for example, a lawyer and an engineer may have different terms and concepts they use in everyday conversations
- In the gig economy (for example, Swiggy—the online food delivery app), individuals come from various socio-economic backgrounds and not everyone will be able to navigate the apps or communicate with customers as expected because of differences in linguistic ability
- People who share a common language can also find communication gaps; some individuals may speak in a soft voice and they can’t be understood as others will find it difficult to grasp the meaning of their messages
- The choice of words, tone and grammar equally matter when communicating in professional environments; it’s wise to avoid words with dual meanings as it’s likely to create confusion and make you look unprofessional
Overcoming Language Barriers For Effective Communication
The need for overcoming language barriers becomes more pressing in the post-pandemic world. As the corporate world continues to adjust to the new normal, organizations are rethinking their hiring strategies. Now that remote and virtual working options are available across the globe, organizations are making efforts in diversifying and expanding their talent pool. Job seekers too are able to access and apply for opportunities that were once unavailable due to geographical constraints. Candidates belonging to different socio-cultural backgrounds are gaining confidence to apply for positions open in other countries and this is making way for global talent pools in businesses. It has become more common for people to work and collaborate with colleagues from another country or region, speaking another language.
While this transformation is a great leap toward creating a global community, it comes with its own hiccups. The chances of miscommunication in such a setting are more likely, which may affect the workplace culture and harmony. If you want to navigate your way around such enriching situations, it’s crucial that you take mindful steps toward minimizing language barriers. Here are some simple yet effective tips that’ll teach you how to overcome language barriers at work:
1. Make Use Of Visuals
If you’re a manager or team leader, you need to delegate responsibilities. However, if someone isn’t able to follow the brief you provided them, you’re losing time. A great way to overcome this hiccup is to use visuals while explaining concepts. Even for international clients, visually appealing and comprehensive presentations are effective in communicating your ideas. Make use of photos, infographics and diagrams to convey your thoughts.
2. Stick To Simple Language
Whether you’re communicating in a common language that everyone understands or not, it’s helpful to keep things simple. For example, if you use technical or complex words, someone who has been recently hired will find it difficult to keep pace. Moreover, even within the same linguistic group, not everyone’s vocabulary may be as wide as yours. For example, you and your coworkers know English but if you use complex words, they’re likely to get confused. The best way not to avoid confusion is to use plain and simple language.
3. Keep Repeating Words
It’s unlikely for someone to remember something you said only once. Language difference or not, one may not always remember what you said. Repetition is crucial for memory. If you want someone to understand your message and remember it, it’s good to remind them through repetition. Some may find it annoying if you keep saying the same thing over and over, but it’s necessary to bring everyone on the same page.
4. Be Respectful And Patient
Tackling language barriers to communication can get frustrating as it’s a time-consuming and mindful process. It requires plenty of patience, conscientiousness and understanding. While you may try to do your best, there may be times when you raise your voice or over-enunciate in the process. It’s important to talk slowly instead of loudly and clearly instead of forcefully. By doing so, you’re not only displaying professionalism but also being respectful of others. A good way to ease into such conversations is to find common grounds, such as likes or dislikes.
5. Look At Learning Options
One of the most effective ways to tackle language barriers is to take language training classes. If you want to establish and maintain healthy professional relationships, language learning classes can help to a great extent. Knowing the language not only helps you leave lasting impressions but also persuades people of your thoughts and ideas. For highly technical environments, several organizations offer a technical crash course during initial job training to get employees up to speed. Increased knowledge leads to improved performance.
Tackling language barriers is a process of trial and error. It can get frustrating but it can also be a really rewarding experience when you get to work with people from different walks of life. Diverse interactions are instrumental in driving creativity, innovation and success. While overcoming language barriers is one part of the process, the next step is to make people engage with, trust and connect with you. Harappa’s Building Presence course will teach you how to go above and beyond with your words and your presence. Build a personal brand for yourself that not only commands attention but also inspires others. You’ll communicate with people in a compelling way and clearly articulate future ideas and visions by using powerful frameworks. Start your free trial to leave an impactful impression today!
Explore Harappa Diaries to learn more about topics such as Basic Language Skills, What are Semantic Barriers, Examples Of Cultural Barrier and How To Improve Communication Skills to communicate with impact.