6 Tips for Overcoming a Language Barrier in the Workplace

Working in a multicultural environment, which is often a case nowadays, can positively contribute to professional and personal enjoyment in the working process and its outcome. Research shows that it can enhance business performance and productivity, save time and money and promote employees’ health and wellbeing. On the other side, such diversity can bring along many challenges when it comes to communication. A language gap can sometimes be a significant obstacle in the workplace, making it difficult to communicate basic things efficiently, such as to give directions or provide feedback. Here are a few things you can do to overcome such a barrier at work.

Use simple language

If your coworkers don’t speak the same native language which is used in your workplace and are not very proficient in it, try to simplify it and increase the chances of their understanding. The language you use should be straightforward and common, which means that you should avoid jargon, phrasal verbs, slang or long sentences as these may cause confusion or misunderstanding. There is no need to raise your voice in order to be understood or to overenunciate what you are saying. No matter how simple the language you use is, try to keep it correct and clear, and talk just a bit more slowly so that your message could be easier to grasp. This way, you will help your colleagues learn the language more easily.


Where words don’t give expected results, you should switch to visuals and demonstration.  Our brains process visuals 60,000X faster than words, and when it comes to learning, visually oriented content can improve its effectiveness up to 400%. So, instead of giving directions for a task which needs to be done, show your team member how to do it. Use infographics, photos, and diagrams for concepts which are more difficult to grasp, and encourage your other colleagues to use them too.

Use repetition

Repetition is the mother of learning, says the famous Latin proverb, and it’s still applicable and relevant. Don’t presume you’ve been clear after you’ve said or demonstrated something for the first time because your message can easily be lost on foreign language speakers. You’ll probably have to repeat yourself from time to time until the meaning is clear. So, unless you are certain you are on the same page, repeat or ask your colleagues to tell or show you what they’ve understood.

Use translating services

While most of the common situations at work can be bridged successfully, when it comes to dealing with important things which can have serious consequences, it is always best to use professional translating services. It is a good idea to translate all your important office documents and to hire a professional interpreter when some complicated ideas and concepts are discussed. This way you can be sure you’ve avoided the ambiguity and misunderstandings.

Provide language classes

If your employee is important for your business, and you would like to keep them in your company for a longer time, give them support to take predominant language classes. While you won’t see the effects momentarily, you will most certainly enjoy the benefits after just a few months of training. Depending on the skill level it is a good idea to provide your employee with the basics of business communication or customised PTE classes. Other employees may also find it beneficial to learn the basics of the language your foreign employees speak. It is not hard to learn the most common phrases and greetings, and it will also be a great sign of how much diversity is valued in your company.

Embrace diversity

The gestures and non-verbal communication can be significantly disparate too, due to cultural differences. Sometimes, such a difference may create a gap much bigger than words, resulting in conflicts or hurt feelings. Encourage your employees and team members to learn more about other cultures, their traditions, and what they find appropriate and acceptable, in order to prevent such situations. This will also be a perfect opportunity for them to grow, both personally and professionally.

Overcoming a language barrier in the workplace is not an easy venture, still, it is something everyone will benefit from, as each person on the team will have an opportunity to reach their full potential.