Considered, nuanced and creative.

Ellias Appel
Ellias Appel | 5 Apr 2019

Three words that are rarely applied in our clickbait filled, short-attention span, twitter filtered online media landscape*. This is in spite of substantive 1 research suggesting that we need to express exactly those qualities if we want to effectively deliver our organisation’s messages. Add in the obvious barriers when communicating with non-English speaking clients, and you would be understandably intimidated by the challenge provided.

Digital communications make the potential for engagement easier than ever before. But before you jump in and begin creating snazzy ‘solutions focussed’ posts and the occasional cat video, it’s crucial you get know who you’re engaging with, what their literacy and comprehension requirements are, and the real toughie – how to gain their loyalty and trust.

Language needn’t be a barrier, and if you understand the following you can craft meaningful content which is engaging for your non-English speaking clients.

*​yes, we do see the irony of this statement given the title of this piece


1 – Non-English Speakers access their information from many sources


Many organisations depend on interpreters, but not every situation requires one. Non-English speakers use multiple platforms to communicate, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t consider doing the same. This was a lesson the Australian Government learnt way back in 1975 when they formed the precursor to the SBS. Originally the goal of this new radio broadcaster was to communicate key social policy changes to migrants and refugees. (learn more about this in our article on SBS and the history of multilingual media).


“SBS’s popularity presents a prism through which organisation should view (and often need to rethink) their communication methodologies.”


Organisations should take into account the varied digital proficiencies of their audience. What works for some, may not work for all. Skilled migrants, for example, are likely to value messaging apps, social media and on-demand audio content. Conversely, older migrants and refugees may appreciate (or even require) communication via more traditional means (Migliorino, 2016), for example via a ​telephone message service.


2 – Verbal proficiency does not equal literacy ability


It’s not uncommon for non-English speakers to struggle with literacy. The OECD estimates that the ​average rate of illiteracy worldwide is 18.9%, and is as high as 30% in some countries​. Don’t ignore the significance of literacy issues.



Audio-messaging for frequently repeated information introduces efficiencies not available with traditional technologies. Our LiME Multilingual Messaging system enables you to deliver pre-recorded audio to low literacy clients across multiple communication channels. And when those communications become conversations it’s time to involve ​telephone, video and on-site interpreters. With potentially 6 million Australians struggling at the very lowest end of the English literacy and comprehension scale, implementing these systems is a no-brainer.


3 – Non-English speakers probably have as much trouble understanding your accent, as you do understanding theirs


Elongated vowels. Slightly nasal. Finishing sentences with an upward inflection. Oh it’s so easy to do the Australian accent. Yet how many times have you cringed at an American attempting it? Or been perplexed on your travels when you’re asked if you come from London. All accents have an idiolect, shaped by the people you’ve lived with and the culture you’ve grown up in. The Australian accent, can be spoken broader in some areas and more cultivated in others. This doesn’t make it any easier for a foreign to mimic, let alone understand.

Non-English speakers can already find themselves in a ​state of uneasiness​, as they attempt to navigate cultural and linguistic differences when accessing services. Your organisation can ease this process by using messaging services, interpreters and the like to improve communications. We even suggest using ​voice talent with different accents ​for different audiences.




4 – Improving Engagement Builds Better Loyalty


In simple marketing terms, it’s crucial you establish a connection with your clients for them to remain engaged and loyal to your business. And it shouldn’t be any different for your non-English speaking clients. In fact, with the ubiquity of “always-on” technology, it’s more important than ever. Clients expect to receive communications that are personal, accessible and targeted to their needs. If your organisation can achieve this, the ultimate result will be happy clients who feel valued and appreciated.


Don’t be afraid to engage with your clients via social media, and encourage them to see your website, forums and socials as safe places for them to start conversations and ask questions. The more dialogue you can create, and the more deeply engaged they are, the more ownership and agency they will feel. In an ideal world, they will not only be your fans or supporters, but also your stakeholders and spokespeople. For non-English speakers and people from culturally diverse backgrounds, this presents an opportunity to provide them with a sense of belonging.


“Ultimately, your non-English speaking customers have the same needs as you. They require content that is clear, accessible, and targeted to their needs.”