BRIDGING LANGUAGE GAP LEADS TO MORE PRODUCTIVE STAFF
Wanta proven morale booster to use at yourcompany? Have yoursupervisors learn tothanktheir employeesforjobswelldonein the workers’native languages.Notjust asimple“thankyou,”mindyou, but afew phrasesaddressing the specific task and how it was done.
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How about giving yourmanagersthecommunicationtoolsto explain proceduresand safety rulesand theability toknowtheyare being understood? Whatbetter way toimprove safety and toretainhappy, productiveworkers? Everyone benefits. But who has time to implement these changes?
Let’sface it, most general managers and ownersareburdened with atimecrunch,tosaythe least.Theyaretoobusy tosendtheirsupervisorsor employees out tolengthy and expensivelanguage courses offsite.Ontheother hand, mostmanagers and supervisorsare awareof acommunicationgapaffectingtheirindustry thattheycannolonger affordto ignore.
This influx is no longer limited to the coasts. In Minnesota, where I live and teach workplace-specific language skills to managers and employees, the majority of my contracts involve Spanish-speaking employees. But immigrantsby thethousands are settling in MinnesotafromIndia,Pakistan,Europe, Russia,theMiddle
East,Asia, SoutheastAsia, the Pacific Islands, Eurasia,Africa, Guyana, LatinAmerica, the Caribbean, South Americaand Mexico.I’ve learned thatthegrowthof immigrant workers nowis affectingall50 states and willhave a greatimpact on future economic conditionsfor everyone.
Eachpopulationarrivesnotonly speaking different languagesbut alsobringingamazingdiversityof culturalhistory and practices, all of which influence how those workers will approach their new jobs. Of course, that often results in confusion and miscommunication.
Fortunately,however, there are solutionsto addressing thecommunicationgapsinvolving the growing numberof hospitality workers with limited-English proficiency, or LEP, skills.
Infact,I believe anyindustry cantake what mightbeperceivedas a hugeproblem and transform it into avaluableresource.Thatresourceis a group of workers whowill stay at theirjobs andpotentially couldworktheir way up in the organization as their skills and language proficiency grow.
When I first started teaching Spanish to English-speaking corporate supervisors, I used the methods provided tome,traditionallanguage instruction emphasizinggrammar and writing skills.It became cleartomethatthese programs weren’t cost-effective or efficient.They didn’t do much to help either the workers or managerssolve the problems that arose in their workplaces without a long-term commitment
thatmostpeople didn’t have theresourcesor timetoinvest.
Todealwithworkplace languageproblems, Irealizedthatthe answers werenot traditionalEnglish as aSecond Language, or ESL, courses or grammar-based language courses. What was needed were programs that addressed the needs of the specific workplace, whether teaching managers the language and cultures of their workersorin teaching LEPworkers English language skills andAmerican expectationsin the workplace.I found that teaching managers basic phrases in Spanish or other languages that were specific to their needs not onlyhelped to get the jobsdone,but resulted inworkers who feltmorerespected and motivated.FortheLEPworkers learning job-specific English not only allowed them to improve their productivity, but also gavethemthehope forfuture advancement. Inall casesrelationships improved and there was less stress in theworkplace.
My advice,then,is this:
- Whatlanguage barriers exist at yourcompany?Whatculturalgroups are youdealing with?
- What are your job-specific communication goals? What are yourspecific problem areas? If you are lookingtoimprove communicationswith yourLEPworkers, seek instruction that addresses the needs of yourwork-place.There are a growingnumber oforganizations and companiesthatspecialize in tailoring languageand cultural instruction to the specific needs of the work environment. Look for resources that can construct a program to meet the specific needs of your Some companies even offer on-site preliminaryresearch so they can tailor instruction specifically to your workplace. With the appropriate training program, managers can learn enough language and cultural diversity tips in a one-day seminar to get them started in bridging thecommunication gaps at their workplaces.
Depending on your needs,programs can last aday, afew daysor afew weeks.Remember this:You don’thave tospendmonths and yearsof time and expense tocommunicatebetterwith yourLEPworkers.
- Takethetimeto understand your workers’cultural and social backgroundsand the lives they Show-ingthatyou havean interestin their lives andwant toknowmore about theirculturescan go a long wayinfosteringmotivation andloyalty.
- Takethetimeto learn afewphrases thattellyouremployees thatyou’ve noticed and valuetheir It’samazingwhat showingappreciation fora job welldonein aworker’s ownlanguage can do.
- Do notinterpret alack of English proficiency as a lackof intelligence. Do not believe an inability to expressthoughtsclearlymeans LEPworkers can’t understand
- Ask yourselfif you aredoing all youcanto be understood.
- Keepphrasesand sentences as simpleDon’tuse broken English.Think ofat leastoneotherway torephrase what you want.Check tomakesureyou wereunderstood.
- Avoidasking yes or no questions such as, “Do you understand?”Instead, ask open-ended questions. Forexample, insteadof asking, “Didyoutalktoyoursupervisor?” ask “Who did youtalkto?”In placeof “Doyouwork tomorrow?”ask “Whenare you offthis week?”Thepointis to ask a question thatcallsforaspe-cific response instead of ayes or no
- Whenyour LEPworkers are speakingtoyou, invite themtospeakslowly and give themtimetocommuni-cate.Successfulcommunication always hasbeen thekeytogoodNow thegrowingneed toconnectwithworkers from other culturesmeansboth managers and employees must learnhow to bettercommunicate.Therewardscan begreatif the educational methods areappropriate. Success doesn’tnec-essarilytakea great dealof time; it just takestherighttraining.
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