Whether the issue is as minor as an accent or as major as a wholly foreign dialect...
Ten year ago we were servicing about 70 languages. That number has swollen to around 150! Whether the issue is as minor as an accent or as major as a wholly foreign dialect, we know that more of you are bumping up against language barriers in your workplace.
So here are our Top Ten Tips to help you break through barriers and emerge, like the phoenix, reborn! (or maybe you’ll just learn how to communicate better with a diverse range of people)
1. Use Plain Language
This seems stupid simple, but guarantee you are as guilty of it as I am. Whether you’re interacting with someone who speaks English as their secondary (or tertiary) language, or trying to convey one of those problems that drip with jargony terms to your non-technical workmates, we should all get in the habit of using plain English language whenever possible. Yes, using large, mul-ti-syll-a-bic words makes you sound smart, but you’re going to feel pretty silly if you need to repeat those words 3 times, and then explain their meaning. Keep your conversations like unbuttered toast: plain and simple.
2. Consider Easy English
There is a growing trend amongst groups engaging with diverse cultural groups, and those with low literacy, to produce versions of documents in Easy English. This is a style of writing which uses everyday words, simple sentences and images to support the messages. It is different to plain language and incorporates the layout of information on a page (large font, lots of white space). We are seeing more clients who are pursuing this style of writing as a supplement to their more traditional T&Cs and legalese laden documents.
3. Speak slowly and clearly
Like my Nana used to say to me “You’re speaking too fast!”, and you probably are too. Slow it down and annunciate. You may be communicating with someone who speaks English fluently, but that doesn’t mean they can clearly understand your excitedly blurted words.
Take a page from Audrey Hepburn, and speak your words clearly.
4. Professional Development (PD)
If your industry sector is highly technical, filled with jargon, acronyms and abbreviations, you may consider PD something inward facing. Often, capacity building and staff skilling-up are focussed on your internal processes, and not your customer interactions. Creating a culturally responsive workplace means educating not just your customer facing staff members, but also those who interact with culturally diverse workers. Lessons should include awareness of culturally sensitive issues (such as gender relations), as well as language and literacy deficits which may contribute to confusion when discussing certain topics (such as Family Violence, or financial literacy).
5. Use graphics effectively
Like the saying goes, ‘A picture paints a thousand words’. It may seem counter-intuitive for a language services company to advocate for images rather than text, but if you are going to effectively communicate some concepts, you can’t beat imagery. It is especially important when you are translating documents that they are correctly reformatted so that graphics are correctly aligned with your text.
Scientifically, people need to learn something more than once to build a solid recall. For this reason it’s important that repetition of key concepts is a core element of your communication framework. While the jury may be out as to whether it’s best to repeat verbatim, or to alter messages slightly in each repetition, from a customer engagement perspective each has their place. Your core messages should be repeated verbatim (for example “If pain persists, please see a doctor”), but your core concepts may be altered to avoid boredom and disengagement by your audience (for example we use two different phrases in our content “Language and literacy are no longer barriers” and “Language and literacy are no longer a barrier to communication”).
See Step 6 above.
8. Be patient and respectful
The person you are communicating with is having the same difficulties as you, just from the other side. Try not to get frustrated. If the tables were turned, you’d want to be shown patience and compassion. So, do unto others.
Speak carefully and naturally, clearer not louder.
9. Engage a translator
It may be shocking to learn that even amongst highly educated industries such as healthcare and law, there still exists a portion of practitioners that resort to bilingual staff or family members, rather than suitably trained, independent professionals.
Every document that you deem important to your customers should be translated by a qualified team. In some cases it is even appropriate to perform Independent Checking to safeguard against errors in the translation.
10. Enlist interpreters
Even reasonably proficient ESL speakers may experience anxiety when speaking English. Do not hesitate to engage with interpreters when it is appropriate for the customer’s experience, and to ensure a positive outcome for your interaction.
11. Upgrade your content
Video didn’t kill the radio star! Audio still has pride of place as a useful tool to enhance the effectiveness of your documents and improve understanding for low-literacy cohorts. In fact research points out that multilingual audio actually encourages better outcomes for ESL customers.
We developed our LiME Multilingual Messaging to specifically fill this gap in language services by repurposing existing written documents, and creating pre-recorded audio for customer engagements.
Hopefully you’ve picked up a trick or two, and can navigate your next cross-language engagement with confidence and capability.