Bringing in an interpreter might seem like a luxury, but keeping your team unified and creating a level playing field pays dividends. “We’ve frequently hired interpreters and translators over the years to assist with staff communications, because it’s truly essential for everyone on a team to be on the same page and have equal access,” says Dana Query of Big Red F. David Slade, owner of Lanza Language, a Boulder-based translation and interpretation service, offers five tips for overcoming language barriers.
1. Provide resources in employees’ native languages.
“If you are hiring staff who do not speak English, you have a responsibility to make resources available in a language they understand,” Slade says. Provide employee handbooks in multiple languages and use an interpreter for meetings between HR and non-English speaking staff.
2. Avoid stereotyping or making assumptions.
Don’t assume your employees are not highly educated or lack a broad range of skills based upon their language abilities. Ask about their background and individual skills in the hiring process, either directly or through an interpreter.
3. Don’t assume that employees read everything.
Translated or not, many reading materials provided by employers are lengthy (and boring!) and will likely go unread by staff. Communicate important information verbally and in writing.
4. Understand cultural differences.
Asking for a raise or giving feedback may not be aligned with an employee’s cultural background. Employers can be proactive by asking the tough questions instead of expecting individuals to come to them to discuss work conditions, financial matters, or other difficult issues.
5. Don’t use fellow employees as interpreters.
Using bilingual staff members to bridge a language gap puts employees in an uncomfortable and potentially compromising position. Hiring a third-party interpreter helps avoid a conflict of interest.
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