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Work in a Multilingual Workforce? Here’s What TO DO


Workforce is becoming more and more diverse. The establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) is expected to transform Southeast Asia into single market and production base, distribution, economic investment, as well as skilled labour movement. With no geographical barrier between countries, the implementation of AEC has led to increasing mobility and labour movement across the region, thus creating workforce diversity. What implication does this trend bring to the traditional employee relationship?

Working in a diverse workforce requires you to deal, mingle, and collaborate with people of different races, cultures, and ethnicities from you. While this could be an exciting experience, the changing workforce might also rise additional challenges, including language barrier and cultural awareness. When language and cultural barriers exist at work, it becomes difficult for team members to unite and achieve business goals. Therefore, in order to be able to collaborate and communicate well with foreign workers, you have to learn their languages while adapting to new cultures they bring in to the workplace.

Language barrier often leads to misunderstanding, which might be common to happen in multilingual workforce. If such issue is left unaddressed in the long run, this will hamper employee productivity and reduce employee retention. Below, we share six effective ways to improve communications in a multilingual labour force:

1   Embrace mistakes

When communicating with your coworkers who speak different language and have low level of English proficiency, you should appreciate their efforts as they might already try their best. You should also tolerate their mistakes and make sure that they understand what you are trying to convey. By doing so, you can learn how to communicate your thoughts better and hone your communication skills. The person you are talking with will also pay more respect because you do not use his mistake against him. Most importantly, you should embrace mistakes as spoken language is not the only way to communicate.

2   Use more than one platforms  

As the old adage goes, ‘all roads lead to Rome’. There are many methods to communicate with diverse coworkers other than using oral language. In other word, you might as well consider using other media such as written texts or even body language to exchange ideas or have a discussion regarding certain matters.

3   Understand the audience

When working in a multilingual workforce, the chance of miscommunication and misconception can be higher. Among ways to minimise this issue is to understand your audience or people you are talking with. Sometimes, people from different region might have different meaning for one particular word, including slang. Therefore, the best way is to ask him if you don’t know what they are saying. Given that your coworkers are still learning English, you can help them by  slowing your pace and intonation when talking to them. Adding few pauses and asking questions during conversation such as “do you get what I said?” will help them understand better.

4   Involve everyone

Set a meeting with multilingual workers can cause friction and confusion if not handled carefully. In this case, you should involve everyone’s active participation in the discussion while ensuring if they can follow the conversation. If needed, you can hire an interpreter or make adjustments to ensure that your message is delivered clearly to everyone.  

6   Attend ESL class

If your company provides ESL (English as a Second Language) class, then make sure to attend it. There are various benefits you can reap, such as you can easily interact with foreign coworkers in your office, increase your attention span, and build better relationship with other employees. Nonetheless, if your company does not provide such programme, you can suggest it to human resource department or simply learn from other multilingual employees. The point is to not stop learning and improving yourself.

Read also: 8 Exceptional Ways to Stay Inspired and Productive at Work


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