Language and Cultural Issues MATTER!

How many times have you had difficulty with communicating with a non-native speaker of English or understanding someone with a heavy accent?  Can you recall the frustration by both parties? Imagine what happens when miscommunication happens in the workplace and the impact it has on productivity, efficiency, and morale. Financial losses can result from errors, safety, lost time, or HR issues. Differences in language and culture affect business operations on the plant floor and in the office, with customer service and communication with vendors.  Ultimately, these communication issues affect the bottom line.  

Using idioms or jargon can cause problems.  Native English speakers take them for granted, but for people whose first language is not English, they are confusing.  We speak too fast for people who may be “translating” in their head as they listen to us.   Even between people whose primary language is English, misunderstandings or misinterpretations occur on a regular basis. Asking “Do you understand?” or telling someone to “call me if you have questions” are often not effective because employees may genuinely believe they understand what is being asked of them and do not ask any questions.  The absence of questions can be a result of fear—fear of looking incompetent, fear of jeopardizing their jobs, fear of losing respect.  The result can be that the error caused by miscommunication is not fully realized until the task has been completed.

Behavioral differences also create misunderstandings and tension.  There are many variations of appropriate behavior regarding personal space, eye contact and physical contact. A worker looking down to show respect when speaking with a supervisor can be perceived by the supervisor as being dishonest or “hiding something.” Sensitivity to cultural differences where you work or travel substantially reduces risk, misunderstandings, or lost business.

If you employ or market to a multicultural workforce, consider how you can assess and improve workplace communication issues:
  • Would it be helpful to provide facilitators when introducing programs or training to your workforce?  
  • Does the customer service department speak clearly and slowly to make doing business with your company easy?
  • Are safety advisories marked with universal symbols?
  • Have customers or valuable employees been lost because of language or cultural misunderstandings?  
  • When planning to upgrade sytems or equipment, will your loyal long-time workers get the training they need in a language they can understand to succeed with the new challenge?
Language and culture impacts everything. Maintaining awareness and staying current on cultural issues have major positive impact on success. Do your homework.  Learn about the cultures in your workplace. Improve your CQ. Take appropriate steps if miscommunication in your company negatively impacts efficiency or morale.  We’re here to help.

How You Sound: As Important as How You Look

She enters the client meeting; dressed impeccably, every hair in place, nails polished, well educated,  and  well-prepared.  She speaks.  Yikes!!!  Does her vocal image echo her visual image? The quality of your voice,  volume,  articulation, and body language combine to form vocal presence, a suite that either reflects your intelligence and competence…..or not!  As important as the clothes you wear and the expertise you possess are the words you use and the way in which you use and transmit them.  Your vocal image is your audible “brand” and the quality of that brand determines whether you are credible about what you are transmitting, whether your knowledge is substantive, and whether you are likeable, charismatic, and approachable enough for people to WANT to listen to what you have to say and to take you seriously.

Vocal presence can have major influence on your career path. In reality, the quality of your communication style can actually affect your listener’s perception of your capabilities and professionalism.    Your vocal presence is the vehicle to convey ‘’gravitas’’ and to minimize the differences between you (the transmitter) and your audience (the receiver).  Whether you are informing, persuading, or presenting, this vocal image is a major factor in the success or failure of your intended outcome.  These factors include, but are not limited to:
  • Volume. To be effective, voice volume should be scaled to circumstance.  Your voice should be appropriately scaled for close contact or projection to everyone in a larger room.  An intimate whisper is inappropriate for a boardroom presentation.
  •   Tonality. All dressed up in a “power suit” doesn’t impress your audience or win you any points if your voice emerges as a donkey’s bray, growly voice, or high-pitched squeak. 
  • Accents and Regionalisms.  Everyone has an accent.  It’s part of what makes you unique.  If your accent makes understanding difficult and your listener must struggle to understand you, you are not helping your cause.  The speaker must always be mindful of differences in vocabulary and usage from region to region.  The goal is always comprehension and anything that interferes with clarity of communication will subtly undermine your image and hinder the achievement of your objective.
  • Vocal Affectations. “Valley girls” don’t belong in business.  And neither do statements ending in a question (upspeak).  To be taken seriously and exude gravitas and assurance, you must not allow “vocal fry, ” “growly,” or “cute little girl” voices to be a part of your “business persona.”   A professional woman must be cognizant of pitch, word choice, distracting space fillers (“ummmm,” OK?, “like,” “you know”) and meaningless phrases or body movements like lip licking, hair twirling, head tilting, hair tossing, or looking bored or angry.
  • Word Choice. Using qualifying words or fillers can be demeaning factors to  your credibility.   Removing words like “just” from your sentences creates a more powerful sentence without changing the content.    Notice the difference between “I just want to let you know what I think could be a good solution to the problem” and “I want to suggest a potentially viable solution to this problem.
It’s a time-honored saying that you “don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. “ That wisdom still holds true.  Be sure your strengths and abilities are reflected in your vocal style.  Polish Your Vocal Image.  The effort is well worth it!

Safety for All!

Protecting the safety of construction and general industry workers is of the highest importance to everyone –  workers, business owners, and managers.  Are you or your association members at risk?  


  • Workers cannot protect themselves from harm if they haven’t been taught and shown the best practices for reducing their personal risk.  
  • A company cannot protect itself from the high costs of worker injury or litigation if it does not provide authorized safety training to its workers…ALL of them.
  • Many states (NY, NH, CT, MA, RI and others) and cities have required all workers on state or municipal construction projects to have OSHA 10 Hour cards to document their training.
  • A significant percentage of construction and industrial workers speak Spanish and are of limited English ability to absorb safety training in English

Solution!  Language Directions brings authorized OSHA 10 hour training to your plant, school, or building. It is taught in English OR Spanish, in accordance with your schedule,  to comply with all federal requirements. The 10-hour course provides basic awareness training on the recognition, avoidance, abatement, and prevention of workplace hazards.  The availability of the in-person training by authorized bilingual instructors  assures that every worker is protected……and that employer risk is significantly reduced. A 30-hour course, also available, provides a greater depth and variety of training on an expanded list of topics associated with workplace hazards in specific industries.

Affordable!  Contact us to talk.  Protect current and future construction/industrial employees and give them a competitive employment edge.  For business owners, reduce your risk resulting from safety violations and accidents in the workplace.  

Safety Through Understanding

“PUSH” and “PULL”  are both four letter English words and begin with the same two letters.  If a worker does not read English,  he or she  has only 50% chance of making the correct choice.  Making the wrong one can cause an error or even a serious injury with the result of costly down time, increased insurance costs, and possibly even litigation.   Most languages, including Spanish, have two completely separate words for PUSH and PULL and they don’t look or sound anywhere near the same.  Lead to confusion for the immigrant worker?  You bet!   Everyone knows that safety training is required, but how many are aware of the consequences of providing essential protection and safety training exclusively in English?

In 2006, fatal work injuries involving Latino workers reached the highest level ever recorded for Latino workers.  According to government sources, the fatality rate for civilian foreign-born Hispanic workers in 2006 was 6.0, or 50 percent higher than the rate of all workers.    David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA at the time  noted  that “far too many Latino workers have needlessly lost their lives just trying to earn a living and it must stop.”  

To be sure, most companies are careful to provide essential safety training for their workers; Personal Protective Equipment, Fork Lift Safety, Hazardous Materials, First Aid/CPR etc.
Typically, OSHA materials are provided in Spanish with class instruction in English or through interpretation.  When instruction is not in a language the workers speak, and there is no way to ask questions to clarify content, there is no way to determine how much essential training is understood. This can lead to accidents and errors on the job! Most, however, provide this training in English.  Is there any way of truly knowing that everyone really understood and can successfully implement the safety training  they ‘’learned?”

On April 29, 2010, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis issued an
enforcement memorandum that
directs Department of Labor compliance officers to check and verify that workers are receiving OSHA-required training in a language they understand to conform with the government goal of reducing injuries and illnesses among Latino and other vulnerable workers. Unfortunately, like many directives, the means for enforcing the directives are often not adequately in place.  To save dollars, many employers continue to offer English-only training in the hope that there will be no accidents resulting from misunderstanding.  When bilingual training is available, one must measure the additional cost of providing it against the estimated costs of a violation or accident.  Many workers can “get along” in English but are unable to grasp  sophisticated or technical instruction in their second language.  Companies can minimize their risk by assuring that their Spanish speaking workers completely understand essential OSHA and other safety concepts and techniques by providing training in Spanish.