If you've ever left the Portland area to live where English wasn't the main spoken language—or even lived in a neighborhood of Portland where English was less common—you know the challenge non-native English speakers face daily. Even people with impeccable language skills must process many cultural, contextual, and idiomatic elements of the workplace while also doing whatever work you hired them to do.
The United States gains a lot of strength from being a place where people from anywhere can find their place and succeed. If your workplace has hired non-native English speakers, you must make an effort to promote strong communication between colleagues of different backgrounds. You may also need to account for more considerable language barriers, such as when coworkers or employees do their work well but with intermediate English language proficiency, resulting in misunderstandings.
By improving office communication and helping everyone get on the same page, you can make your workplace a safe and prosperous environment for native and non-native English speakers.
Management Sets the Tone for Respect and Communication
When the people in a community speak English with different dialects, accents, or proficiency levels, management must shape the attitudes of communication. A manager who pretends not to understand anything that a team member with an accent says creates a hostile culture. That alienates workers who cannot instantly adjust to an accented form of English. Whereas a manager who clearly sets out that everyone's jobs include working to avoid misunderstandings while being respectful will positively impact the environment. Furthermore, feeling respected and valued helps team members speak up more often. And speaking up is how most of us improve our language skills!
Permitting hazing, jokes, or rudeness around language skills in the workplace, even if only turning a blind eye, quickly creates a toxic environment for employees from different language backgrounds. You will likely lose strong talent, and others may fear encountering discriminatory language along other identity lines. When management quickly addresses misbehavior regarding language differences, they take a firm stance not to disrespect anyone in the workplace. It's a chance to uplift your whole community as an employer.
Conscious Communication Overcomes Language Barriers
Everyone in a workplace can be more conscious with their communication and gain a broader, more substantial audience of those who understand. For instance, you might change your speaking style during presentations to accommodate English language learners in your workplace. You might also benefit your clients in the room who happen to be English language learners. Some strategies for being a more conscious communicator in varied language contexts include:
- Speaking slowly and clearly (without mumbling) can do a lot for people who speak multiple languages.
- Using visual aids helps those who might not have heard you confirm they know what you're saying.
- Never use a big, jargon-y word where a smaller, clearer word would do.
- In workplace contexts, aim not to emphasize specific cultural or religious traditions, like Christmas, that may or may not apply to all members of your audience. Communicate about things that everyone can share. Many people have a winter or end-of-year celebrations rather than a Christmas party, making it inclusive to different cultural and religious backgrounds.
- Simple modifications like asking questions or clarifying can help everyone, including English learners.
Courses in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Help You Design Great Policies
Portland Community College offers a variety of courses in intercultural communication and diversity education. These courses help more than only those in charge of DEI initiatives. Many managers, coworkers, and other team members can better grasp how to respect and assist diverse team members through these courses. While the topics covered are necessarily somewhat general, there are plenty of opportunities to apply the lessons to your context and work toward equitable, thoughtful, respectful communication with everyone at work.
As more and more jobs require complex and thoughtful problem-solving skills, your need for cultural understanding and the ability to communicate across differences will only increase. Let the affordable, flexible coursework at Portland Community College help you stay ahead of the curve!