Some call it cultural diversity. We can use the word internationality.
The word applies to either a multinational corporation culture or to the international and cultural flavor of employees or customers. Internationality has become the norm in business, especially, as well in many governmental affairs efforts. Very rarely does work happen just within a single neighborhood, town, city or county. It often crossed state lines, national borders and even great oceans.
And when you cross into other countries or other continents, you come across very different cultures and languages. And the challenge for many international companies or companies with international clients is that language and culture disconnect, especially between English and virtually any other languagein the world.
One World, but Not One Language
Though English is widely known around the world either as a primary or secondary language – and is often the primary language by which much international business and government affairs take place – there can often be some cultural and language sensitivity with rank-and-file clients and employees in various industries. Though English is well-used, it can be insensitive to expect all employees or clients to understand English to the point that they should only use English when dealing with you or your company.
You may find yourself in a position to work around language barriers by finding ways to communicate necessary information to your employees or clients in a way that makes it understandable. Will you always have to use their native language? There may be times, but here are a few tips that can generally help you with communication regardless of the language differences:
- Use visuals. Use airlines as a perfect example. Their flights go all over the world, and passengers speak many different languages and understand varying amounts of English. Most of what you want to communicate can be drawn in some kind of picture or graphic. Take advantage of visuals whenever possible whether by pictures or video.
- Use simple words and avoid “figures of speech.” You may have employees who know English, but it does mean they know American conversational English. English is taught formally, so don’t use longer words than is necessary and don’t use these idiomatic figures of speech that only Americans would understand. “A ballpark number” is an example.
- If it’s really official, use interpretation. Many languages do not translate well from English, so if you have something really, really important to say that can’t be done in a simple yet formal way, hire a translator or interpreter to communicate.
- Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Even when speaking to a native English speaker, you won’t always be understood the first time, and of course if there is a language barrier that is even more dramatically proven. Repeat your information or instruction and have the patience to do it multiple times. But don’t shout or overdo your enunciations. Just speak slowly and clearly – and like a previous tip, use pictures or other visuals to drive home the point.
- Reach out. Your clients and employees will have a newfound respect for you if you take the time to learn at least some basics of their native language. Grasping some conversational language, or at least making an effort to do so, will help bridge the gap and may help those clients or employees make their own extra effort to understand English better.
- Learn customs. If you tend to gesture to make your point in conversation or in instruction, make sure you understand that some cultures consider gesturing (or specific gestures) rude or inappropriate. If you use those gestures, that may offend your client or employee and they may shut you off. Be sensitive to their customs and traditions as you instruct or inform them and they will be appreciative and more likely to want to pay attention to what you are saying.
Keeping these tips in mind with your language-diverse clientele or employees can help make communication more effective and improve comprehension, collaboration and productivity for your company. The bottom line is to always be open to common ground and achieve that whenever possible.