4 ways employers can better support a multilingual workforce

February 22, 2022 Christina DeBusk

A woman in an orange top holding out an ipad for a man to read

There are many benefits of having a multilingual workforce. One is that it fosters diversity, which one survey connects to both more innovative thinking and increases in revenue. Employing people who speak many different languages also improves your ability to communicate with colleagues and customers who might not speak English at all or don’t speak it well.

At the same time, trying to support a multilingual workforce can be a bit more complex than supporting workers who only speak one language. Here are a few strategies that can help.

Communicate in a way that everyone understands

If your workers speak multiple languages, yet you only communicate in English, this opens the door for misunderstandings and miscommunication. It also tells non-English speakers that you don’t value them enough to talk to them in their native language. Avoid both of these issues by communicating with your staff in a way that everyone understands.

Translate all important documents and forms into your employee’s primary language. This would include your employee handbook, workplace policies and procedures and any other materials that can help them perform their jobs.

You might also decide to bring an interpreter in. Even if it’s too costly to keep them on staff full-time, at least have them come in for certain events. It can also be helpful to have an interpreter sit in on meetings with employees who are struggling at work. It’s possible that they don’t understand what is expected of them and an interpreter can help clear up the confusion.

Another way to communicate in a way that everyone understands involves speaking slowly and clearly. This makes the speech easier for them to take in and figure out. Also, avoid using slang or jargon that non-native English speakers might not know.

Use multiple forms of communication

Some people have the ability to communicate in another language while speaking but give them something in that same language in writing and they are completely lost. The opposite can also be true. Using multiple forms of communication in the workplace provides the ability to reach both.

As an example, if you are planning an upcoming meeting, send out an agenda beforehand. Those who better understand written English will benefit from the agenda while those who better understand English speech will benefit from the meeting.

Offer language learning

Imagine that you lock two people in a room and the only way they can get out is to work together. The problem is that each one speaks a different language. There’s no way either is getting out unless they can learn to communicate on a basic level.

Improving working relationships takes the same type of communication and collaboration. As an employer, you can promote both by offering your staff the ability to learn some of the languages that others in the workplace speak.

One way to do this is to offer language learning in-house. Bring someone in to teach classes on a weekly or bi-weekly basis and give employees who participate training credits. Another option is to partner with a business that offers language learning services to your staff at a discount. Even doing mini language lessons before workplace meetings can promote multilingual learning.

Educate employees about cultural differences

A multilingual workforce not only speaks different languages, but they also likely have different cultures and customs. Educating your employees about these differences can help promote a more cohesive and understanding workforce.

If you have a company newsletter, create a section that talks about some of the cultures represented in your workforce. Share some interesting bits of information about them, then provide a few communication tips.

A fun way to get to know different cultures is to celebrate their holidays. Talk to employees from different areas of the world and ask about their major holidays. Pick a couple and celebrate them within the workplace. Include the employees in the planning to keep these celebrations as authentic as possible while also showing each individual staff member that they are a valued part of the team.

Read more about how to prioritize diversity and inclusion in your workforce here. 

About the Author

Christina M. DeBusk creates small business content for a variety of publications, some of which include Businessing Magazine, Compendent, Chiropractic Economics, and more. She is also the author behind the column, "The Successful Solopreneur.

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