One State + Many Languages = Countless Communication Challenges
The US Census Bureau recently released the most comprehensive statistics concerning languages other than English spoken at home by U.S. residents. This past Sunday, Craig McCarthy of the Star Ledger put together the Top Ten Languages spoken in New Jersey:
10. Arabic. Spoken by 59,729
9. Hindi (India). Spoken by 63,342
8. Polish. Spoken by 63,346
7. Gujarati (India). Spoken by 75,414
6. Korean. Spoken by 76,224
5. Italian. Spoken by 78,856
4. Tagalog (Phillipines). Spoken by 81,134
3. Portuguese. Spoken by 84,160
2. Chinese (all dialects). Spoken by 111,151
1. Spanish (all dialects). Spoken by 1,277,000
Why are these numbers significant?
Armed with these statistics, it is not difficult to understand why effective communication in the workplace is a challenge. With each language comes corresponding cultural behaviors which can be mystifying to those not born into that culture. It is important to note that cultural behaviors of American born residents are equally mystifying to those not born in this country.
A lack of understanding leads to a lack of trust and loss of credibility, which can negatively affect business. If confidence and mutual respect erode, safety and production errors can occur. If the only time these employees speak English is at work, an astounding 1,973,356 residents of New Jersey will have great difficulty in overcoming their language challenges to become comfortable and fluent. How can an employer be assured that all employees understand essential compliance and safety training and can ask the necessary questions to clarify what they don’t understand?Assuredly, most won’t ask those questions either for lack of sufficient English ability or fear of losing the respect of supervisors or co-workers. Is the company protected if only the English speakers receive important training? I can’t answer that one; I can only ask the question…And you should too!
A quick fix can be arranged through use of bilingual “Facilitators.” Education levels and cultural considerations often make word-by-word interpretation (spoken) inappropriate. Similarly, literacy levels might make the cost of translation (documents) irrelevant if they cannot be read. In many cases, “Facilitation” can address the challenge of communicating essential information across languages.
One or more bilingual Facilitators work in tandem with your internal trainer or vendor to paraphrase the content of the presentation to deliver it at an appropriate level of understanding to the various cultures represented in your workforce. Prepared Facilitation allow your limited English employees to ask questions to assure their total understanding of the subject being discussed. No mutual mystification. Simple, straightforward, unambiguous understanding. In any language. In your workplace.