5 tips to overcome language barriers at work
There are no two ways about it. English is the global language of business and a working knowledge is a must for every employee. However, this has always been a challenge in the Middle East. The Education First (EF) English Proficiency Index (EPI) ranks the Gulf countries lowest in terms of proficiency in English. “The Middle East and North Africa have the lowest levels of English proficiency in the world, and overall proficiency is declining,” it notes in a report.
Communicating at the workplace can be an ordeal for those who lack English expertise. Apart from creating misunderstandings, it could lead to feelings of exclusion and inadequacy. The best way to deal with the problem is to brush up on your English. However, gaining command over a language is a time-consuming process—and your job isn’t going to wait. These tips will help you communicate efficiently in the workplace till your English is up to scratch.
Think clearly and speak slowly
The best communication always stems from clear thinking. Get a good idea of what you want to say and why before you start to communicate. Then speak slowly and enunciate clearly so that it’s easy for the listener to understand.
Ensure that you get your doubts clarified
It’s not unusual to see people who are not fluent in a language assume things rather than seek clarification because they are too embarrassed to ask. Doing this is dangerous, especially at the workplace, where making assumptions could seriously raise your chances of making professional errors. Don’t hesitate to ask a person to repeat what s/he said until you clearly understand.
Consider your medium of communication carefully
Some messages are best delivered face-to-face, others over telephone, and yet others over mail. The medium of communication you choose goes a long way in ensuring that the message is understood correctly by the intended recipient. For people not proficient in the common language, it’s wise to use multiple channels. For instance, following up a message delivered on the phone with an email could both reaffirm the importance of the communication, as well as remove any scope for confusion.
Check whether you’ve understood correctly
It’s always a good idea to cross-check with the speaker about whether you’ve understood the communication correctly. One way to do this is to sum up the conversation after it’s over and ask if what you’ve just said is right. When you are the speaker, watch out for body language signs like frowns or blank stares. If you notice those signs in the listener, ask whether they understood what you said. Repeat the communication if necessary.
Patience is paramount when it comes to getting accustomed to a new language. You may notice signs of exasperation in other people when they are attempting to communicate with you, and there may even be times when you may be exasperated with yourself, but be patient and persistent.
The only way to overcome a language barrier is to learn the language. The tips above are only a short-term solution for a problem that could undermine your career and self-confidence if not addressed. So make an effort brush up on your English, and don’t get disheartened. Getting past a language barrier is often just a matter of time.